The Forgotten Lincoln

Steven C. Owens
5 min readMar 20, 2023


Robert T. Lincoln Eldest son of the 16th President lived a full life filled with odd coincidences and surrounded by death but dies an older man.

Who knew?

Robert T. Lincoln lived until his 83rd Birthday.

Why I never knew that Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son was the only child of he and wife Mary Todd to survive into adulthood, I am really not sure? Not only survive but live to 83? It is worth repeating that it was their oldest (not the youngest) child that lived a full life and was able to navigate some near death and strange situations.


Not many Father’s receive a memorial in Washington D.C. and you live to see it. That was the case with Robert T. Lincoln. In his final public appearance in 1922, Robert T. attended the dedication ceremony for the newly completed Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. A weighty occasion for a man who very well may have felt that his father loomed large in his life, perhaps even more so in due to how his Father passed.


Where the fictitious character of Forrest Gump played by Tom Hanks appeared at every major historical event, Rober T. Lincoln seemed to do the same thing at assassination's but not his own Father's?

In a series of eerie coincidences, Robert would find himself present at not one, but two presidential assassinations. First, he was a direct witness to the shooting of President James Garfield. The second was the shooting of President William McKinley. When Robert was later invited to a formal function during another President’s tenure, he said:

“No, I’m not going, and they’d better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.”

Robert Todd Lincoln was ironically absent from his father’s own murder, however. The Lincoln’s notorious outing to the Ford Theater took place a mere six days after the final moments of the civil war and Robert, understandably tired from the battlefront, decided to stay behind. He thus avoided the assassination of his father, the 16th President of the United States.

Scene of the crime. Fords Theater where Lincoln was shot.


An odd and rather chilling coincidence preceding President Lincoln’s assassination took place sometime in either 1863 or 1864;

Robert Todd Lincoln was saved from near-certain death by none other than Edwin Booth, the brother of the very man who would take the life of Abraham Lincoln in the wake of the Civil War.

Recalling the incident that took place on the platform of a train station to the editor of The Century Magazine, Robert said:

“The platform was about the height of the car floor, and there was, of course, a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I happened to be pressed by it against the car body while waiting my turn…I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.”

Edwin Booth ironically would save Lincoln from almost certain death. Unlike is brother John who would kill Robert Todd’s Father Abraham.

MOTHER MAY I (Commit You)

After his father’s death, Robert moved to Chicago with his mother and brother Tad. He completed his law studies and was licensed to practice law in 1867.

Around this time, Robert Todd Lincoln married his long-time girlfriend, Mary Harlan, on Sept. 24, 1868. The two had three children together and spent their summers in the idyllic Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

But tragedy only continued to strike the Lincoln family. Young Tad passed away unexpectedly at the age of 18. With the shock of having now lost both her husband and son so suddenly, Mary Todd Lincoln was understandably beside herself. The cause of death was most likely tuberculosis.

With Robert in charge as the man of the house and concerned about his mother’s erratic behavior, he arranged to have her committed to a psychiatric hospital in Illinois.

The court proceedings took a dire toll on Mrs. Lincoln. She made attempts on her own life. Once committed, it did not take long for her to attempt to orchestrate an escape. With the help of her lawyers and some sensationalized letters to the Chicago Times, however, Robert Lincoln made sure that his mother stayed put.

After Mary was deemed competent enough to leave the sanitorium to live with her sister in Springfield Illinois, she and Robert never fully reconciled.

Mary Todd Lincoln


Even with all the tragedies in the Lincoln family, Robert’s professional career seemed to prosper. Having the last name of ‘Lincoln” no doubt eventually secured a position in President James Garfield’s cabinet as his Secretary of War. This would be the closest that the son of Abraham Lincoln would ever get to the office of the Presidency himself.

Perhaps sensing that the Lincoln’s were not meant to stay in politics since every time he got close it was marred with tragedy. Robert decided to put his law degree to use and served as general counsel for George Pullman and his Pullman Palace Car Company, a company that made train-travel more comfortable for passengers by ensuring that trains were equipped with luxury sleeper cars instead of simply upright seats. Following George Pullman’s death, Lincoln was made President of the company, and eventually even Chairman of the Board, a role he held until 1922.


Unlike his siblings and Father, Robert lived out his life until 83 years old and died at home in his sleep. Finally an uneventful death in the Lincoln Family.


The bloodline of Abraham Lincoln ended on Christmas Eve (1985) when his last direct descendant, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, died in Hartfield, Va. at the age of 81. Beckwith was Lincoln`s great-grandson. Although he married three times, he died childless, ending the 16th president`s family line.

The Last Lincoln



Steven C. Owens

Writer of life lessons sprinkled with meaningful sports and history editorials.