Alice Gray: Successful Partnerships

This is the second installment in a series about actress, Alice Gray. Gray’s photograph was one of the five discovered upon the body of John Wilkes Booth when he was cornered and killed on April 26, 1865. Gray’s theatrical career has largely been forgotten with very little biographical material readily available about her. The following post was developed by consulting a variety of sources including digitized newspapers such as the Buffalo Courier, Baltimore Sun, New York Clipper and D.C.’s National Intelligencer. In all, it took several days’ worth of work to find and organize the material. This post is the second in a series about Alice Grey’s life, career, and connection to the Booth family. To read Part One entitled, Alice Gray: An Actress is Born, please click HERE.

Alice Gray

Part Two: Successful Partnerships

Research completed thus far has yet to solve the mystery of how Alice Gray became acquainted with theater owner John T. Ford. Alice had met many prominent actors and actresses during her run at the Metropolitan, Charleston, and Mobile Theatres. During that time she had acted side by side to both Edwin Booth and H. B. Phillips, two men who were very close to John T. Ford. Perhaps one of them told Ford about Gray’s acting abilities and encouraged him to seek her out. Or perhaps Gray reached out to Ford on her own and inquired about working for him. Regardless of how it happened, when the 1860-1861 theatrical season began, Alice Gray found herself employed by John T. Ford to be the leading stock actress at his Holliday Street Theatre.

In the year prior, John T. Ford had lavishly renovated the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore. The Holliday Street Theatre was the only theater Ford owned outright at this time, but he had prior experience leasing and managing other theaters. This was Gray’s first time in Baltimore but the public there quickly took a liking to her. The August 29th, the Baltimore Sun newspaper reported that, “Miss Gray sustained the part of Mrs. Haller last night with quite unexpected grace, talent and effect and received in this case no unmeaning tribute of a call before the curtain to receive the congratulations of the audience. She is a brilliant accession.”

While in Baltimore in the fall of 1860, Alice Gray became acquainted with another member of the Booth family, John Sleeper Clarke. Clarke had known the Booth family from childhood when he played with young Edwin and John Wilkes in Baltimore. Clarke had been a member of Edwin’s kiddie acting troupe that put on plays for the neighbor kids. Clarke followed the Booths into the acting profession but became a comedian rather than a tragedian. In 1859, John Sleeper Clarke married Asia Booth, the youngest Booth daughter. Clarke was a popular comedian for John T. Ford and would make frequent appearances in his theaters. These first performances with Clarke in September of 1860 would be the first of many for Gray.

The respect and approval Gray received from Baltimore audiences was no doubt gratifying to Gray, but once again she was called back to New York City’s stages by her friend, Edward Eddy. Eddy was performing an engagement at the New Bowery Theatre and must have requested Alice Gray by name to be his leading lady. Ford gave Gray permission to leave the Holliday Street Theatre to join Eddy for his engagement in New York.

Engraving of Edward Eddy in the role of Posthumus (click to see the full image)

Engraving of Edward Eddy in the role of Posthumus (click to see the full image)

1860 With Eddy in NY Alice Gray

Alice Gray eventually ended her engagement with Eddy early. Whether this was contracted by Ford when he allowed her to leave or whether she returned back to the Holliday Street Theatre before the end of Eddy’s New York engagement on her own is unknown. Regardless, the decision to depart New York early to return to Baltimore was well founded. That eminent star of the stage, Edwin Booth, was starting an engagement at the Holliday Street Theatre. It had been almost three years since Booth and Gray had performed together back in Buffalo and the young actor’s fame had only increased since then. Booth in Baltimore was more of a draw than Eddy in New York and so Gray took her place alongside him.

Edwin Booth circa 1860

1860 Performing with Edwin Alice Gray

Gray played Juliet to Edwin’s Romeo, Katherina to Edwin’s Petruchio and Desdemona to Edwin’s Othello. Ford no doubt witnessed these performances and felt contented that he had chosen his leading stock actress wisely. By the end of October of 1860, Edwin departed for his next engagement in Philadelphia. Gray continued to act at the Holliday Street Theatre for the remainder of the 1860-1861 season, regularly receiving advertised benefits.

It was while Gray was in Baltimore that the Civil War began. The conflict commenced on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces laid siege upon Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The simmering cauldron of the secession crisis had finally boiled over due to the election of Abraham Lincoln. Working and residing in Baltimore, Alice Gray would have been acutely aware of the anti-Lincoln and anti-war feeling that permeated the city. On April 19, 1861, a deadly riot occurred in Baltimore, causing the first hostile deaths in the Civil War. The Sixth Massachusetts Militia was passing through Baltimore on their way to Washington, D.C. when they found themselves surrounded by anti-war and pro-Confederacy sympathizers who called themselves the National Volunteers. After some tense moments, members of the National Volunteers attacked some of the members of the Militia with rocks, bricks, and pistols. In response, the Militia fired at the mob. A melee broke out and ended only after the Sixth Massachusetts Militia left behind most of their supplies and made it to Camden Station. In the end, four soldiers with the Militia and 12 civilians with the mob were killed.

Baltimore Riot 1861 Harper's

The pro-Southern residents of Baltimore used this event as propaganda, comparing it to the 1770 Boston Massacre that helped spur the American Revolutionary War. However, the pro-Northern public decried the violence and bloodshed caused by the rebels in Baltimore and demanded swift action against them. The federal government responded quickly and showed Baltimore and the rest of Maryland in no uncertain terms that it would not be allowed to foment insurrection like this again. In May of 1861, General Benjamin Butler entered Baltimore with about 1,000 soldiers, occupied the city and declared martial law.

All of these events were likely troubling to Alice Gray. Gray had lived most of her life in western New York, which was a largely anti-slavery region. Her home of Buffalo, New York was filled with safe houses for the Underground Railroad and was a common meeting place for abolitionist societies. It is unlikely that Gray shared the same pro-slavery sympathies as many of those she was surrounded by in Baltimore. John T. Ford was largely anti-Lincoln, though he would become more pragmatic as the war continued. In March of 1861 however, Ford seized upon the fact that Lincoln had to slip through Baltimore incognito on his way to his own inauguration for fear of physical harm. He included the scene in a patriotic piece called “Uncle Sam’s Magic Lantern” in which the audience was presented with several scenes of America’s gloried past, present, and future. “The Flight of Abraham” was included as a scene along with “Our National Troubles,” demonstrating Ford’s pro-Confederate sympathies. Alice Gray no doubt played her assigned role in these “patriotic scenes.”

It is perhaps for these reasons that, when the 1861-1862 season commenced, Alice Gray did not stay at the Holliday Street Theatre with John Ford. Instead she made her way to Philadelphia where she was employed at the Walnut Street Theatre. The 1861-1862 theatrical season was a lean one for the entertainment industry. Many of the big British stars decided against visiting the United States with the Civil War raging. Even some American actors, like Edwin Booth, left the country for European tours of their own during this year. Audiences were smaller as the news from the war occupied everyone’s thoughts. At the Walnut Street Theatre, Alice Gray once again performed with John Sleeper Clarke when the comedian was engaged there for three weeks straight. She received little press during her time at the Walnut Street Theatre. One quick mention described her as a “handsome young actress, who evidently has not very much stage experience.” Such a review must have hurt the 26 year old actress who had been acting on the stage for almost 10 years at that point. When Gray’s season with the Walnut Street Theatre ended she decided to try her luck somewhere else.

It was during Gray’s time in Philadelphia that John Ford had decided to invest in a new theater. Ford may have disliked Lincoln and the war but he was an astute business man. Washington, D.C. was a growing city during the war with thousands of soldiers and private citizens coming to the nation’s capital. Ford believed he could succeed in establishing a new theater in this growing metropolis. In December of 1861, Ford signed a five year lease on the First Baptist Church of Washington. The parishioners of the First Baptist Church had merged their congregation with another church and were no longer using the edifice on Tenth Street. The church already had a raised platform on which the pulpit and choir would be situated and so Ford realized that the building could be remodeled fairly inexpensively to serve as a theater. At first Ford rented the church to a minstrel group, but then, in February of 1862, he began a $10,000 renovation on the building. The building reopened on March 19, 1862 under the name “Ford’s Atheneum.” Ford’s renovations had been done quickly so as to preempt the reopening of another of Washington’s theater’s, Leonard Grover’s New National Theater, which completed its renovations on April 21st.

Ford's Atheneum 1862

Ford’s Atheneum proved a considerable success from the start. With his connections, Ford was able to attract first rate stars despite the war. The stationed soldiers and citizens of Washington proved devout theater goers. Even President and Mrs. Lincoln attended an operatic performance at Ford’s on May 28, 1862.

When the 1862-1863 theatrical season opened, Ford renamed the building “Ford’s New Theatre” and looked forward to another prosperous year. The theater opened with an engagement by John Sleeper Clarke and it’s possible that Ford missed his former leading actress. When Gray had departed for Philadelphia, Ford had replaced her at the Holliday Street Theatre with actress Annie Graham. Graham was brought down to Ford’s New Theatre for a few performances with John Sleeper Clarke, but it doesn’t seem like they had the same chemistry (or marketability) as Clarke and Gray once had. It appears that Ford reached out to Gray with an offer to be his leading stock actress again. Perhaps this time he promised she would act in his new D.C. theater and therefore not have to relive the unpleasant scenes in Baltimore.

Gray had spent the summer and fall months of 1862 up in Montreal, Canada. The Theatre Royal was famous for “importing” American talent during the summer months. This was also a wise way for American performers to keep a steady paycheck between seasons. Alice Gray played to good crowds but as fall gave way to winter, an engagement down in D.C. likely looked more hospitable to her.

Whether John T. Ford originally intended for Gray to perform at his new D.C. theater or whether he wanted her back at his Baltimore establishment we may never know for sure because on the evening of December 30, 1862, cruel fate made the decision for him. Under the stage of Ford’s New Theatre in D.C. a fire was started by a faulty gas meter. While there was no loss of life from the severe blaze that followed, the fire completely consumed the inside of the theater. Ford lost over $20,000 in the inferno but the outside walls of the theater survived. While other theater owners might have given up and left the capital, Ford decided to rebuild his theater and make it bigger and more grand than had ever been seen in D.C. before. Ford would spend the next eight months raising money for and constructed his new theater. In the mean time, at the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore, the show must go on.

Alice Gray made her return to the Holliday Street Theatre in January of 1863 with great fanfare in the press:
1863 Return to Baltimore 1 Alice Gray 1863 Return to Baltimore 2 Alice Gray 1863 Return to Baltimore 3 Alice Gray

Gray acted alongside John Sleeper Clarke again, with Ford highly advertising their partnership. In this way, Gray replaced her own replacement, Annie Graham, who was assigned smaller female roles when Gray came back. Gray and Clarke performed together at the Holliday Street Theatre throughout Clarke’s engagement which ended on February 14th. Clarke himself must have realized that he and Gray had good chemistry together. They had performed several long engagements with each other since 1860 and the results had been paying off in the box office. When Clarke went off to his next engagement in nearby D.C., he brought Alice Gray with him.

Clarke was scheduled to make his debut at the Washington Theatre on February 23, 1863. The Washington Theatre was a slightly rundown edifice that only had intermittent productions when there was a lessee. The building lacked a full time manager/owner and was instead leased out to different individuals who staged their own shows at their own expense. It was essentially a rental theater, and hardly a five star establishment. However, John T. Ford had proven with his Atheneum that theaters were a sound business in war-time Washington. With that establishment burnt, the only other theaters of note were Grover’s New National Theater, the Washington Theatre, and Grover’s Canterbury Hall – a far seedier establishment which only catered to men. Until Ford completed his construction on his new theater, the only real places to act in Washington were the New National Theater or the Washington Theatre.

On the Saturday before Clarke’s engagement began, the managers of the Washington Theatre gave Alice Gray a headlining performance of her own.

1863 Solo in Washington Alice Gray

This was Alice’s first appearance in D.C. and the papers did a nice job of advertising it:
1863 First time in Washington

Aside from her summer engagements in Cleveland and Montreal, this was Alice Gray’s first time being the “sole attraction” for a performance. For once she was not playing second fiddle to a visiting star or receiving the assistance of other stars for her benefit. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Richard III, “She was herself alone.” Gray likely reveled this chance, even if it was only for one night. She had a good reputation in nearby Baltimore and a good solo performance here would help her establish herself as a star quality actor to the Washington public. The next day, Gray’s performance was described as a “decided sensation” but was sadly overshadowed by her anticipated debut with Clarke, who took much of the press. Clarke was scheduled to make his debut alongside Gray in Our American Cousin on February 23rd. However, when the curtain rose, Clarke was markedly absent. An advertisement in the next day’s newspaper announced that Gray would appear alongside a different comedian, C. B. Bishop, with the following note from the management:

“The Managers regret exceedingly the disappointment to their patrons last evening in not being able to present the popular Comedian, Mr. J. S. CLARKE, in his celebrated characters, and beg to assure them that the severe domestic affliction which compelled his absence will only defer his first appearance for a night or two.”

In all, Clarke would be absent from the stage until Thursday, February 26th. The “severe domestic affliction” that prevented Clarke from performing during that time was a death in the family. Mary Devlin Booth, the wife of Edwin Booth, died on the morning of February 21st. Clarke and his wife Asia (who, coincidentally, had never cared for Mary Devlin) rushed to Edwin’s side at his time of need. They were also joined by John Wilkes Booth, who had left his upcoming engagement in Philadelphia to be with his brother. Clarke and the rest of the Booth’s attended Mary’s funeral and burial at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Mary Devlin Booth, Edwin Booth's first wife

Mary Devlin Booth, wife of Edwin Booth

Alice Gray had continued to perform at the Washington Theatre without Clarke: “During Mr. Clarke’s temporary absence they have introduced a young and beautiful actress, Miss Alice Gray, who has made a decided sensation in every character she has appeared in.” When Clarke returned to town, he and Gray once again began their successful partnership. Clarke’s absence for a few days increased his appeal and so Clarke and Gray performed to full houses for the rest of his engagement. However, when Clarke left for his next engagement in Philadelphia in mid March, Gray did not join him. Instead, she returned to Ford’s Holliday Street Theatre to act alongside a new member of the Booth family. This young, handsome actor would make an indelible mark on Alice Gray and, in a couple years, would alter the course of American history.


This concludes part two of the series about Alice Gray’s life, career and connection to the Booth family. The third installment, “Alice Gray and John Wilkes Booth,” will be posted soon.

References:
Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination by Thomas Bogar
Additional research graciously provided by Thomas Bogar
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre by George J. Olszewski
American Tragedian: The Life of Edwin Booth by Dr. Daniel Watermeier
Edwin Booth: A Biography and Performance History by Arthur Bloom
John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Arthur Loux
Images of America: Ford’s Theatre by Brian Anderson for the Ford’s Theatre Society
Ford’s Theatre Society
Ancestry.com
Library of Congress
Newspaper extracts from: University of Illinois (free), FultonHistory.com (free), GenealogyBank.com (subscription)

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alice Gray: An Actress is Born

As John Wilkes Booth was running from the authorities after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, he carried with him a total of five carte-de-visite photographs. These photographs were placed safely in a wallet like pocket of Booth’s diary as he struggled through swamp and stream, darkness and dawn, for 12 long days. When Booth was finally cornered and killed on April 26, 1865, these photographs were removed from his dying body. A previous post highlighted how the process of identifying these ladies was a slow one that did not even commence until several years after the assassination. In the end, the women of Booth’s wallet were determined to be Lucy Hale, his fiancée, and four actress friends, Effie Germon, Helen Western, Fanny Brown, and Alice Gray.

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Though these actresses were each talented and respected during their careers, they have largely become footnotes to history. Their photographic presence on the body of the assassin has become the defining moment of their entire lives. For one of these actresses in particular, very little exists about her life outside of John Wilkes Booth. While Fanny Brown may have been dubbed “The Mysterious Beauty,” the truly mysterious and unknown beauty in Booth’s possession was Alice Gray.

While there is some biographical information readily available about Effie Germon, Helen Western, and Fanny Brown, the fourth actress in Booth’s pocket is a bit more elusive. The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, which contains copies of Booth’s CDVs, had this to say about Alice Gray when they highlighted the photographs in a post on their blog:

“Little is known about Alice Grey.  In 1858 she toured with Barry Sullivan and performed at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia in the early 1860s.  She appeared as Juliet opposite John Wilkes Booth as Romeo in Baltimore in 1863.  By 1865, she was a leading lady in the company at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where she again played opposite Booth in a production of The Apostate on March 18.  She was not at the theater the night of Lincoln’s assassination.”

With so little known about Alice Gray, an in depth search was enacted to discover more about the life and career of this forgotten lady.  The following biographical sketch was developed by consulting a variety of sources including digitized newspapers such as the Buffalo Courier, Baltimore Sun, New York Clipper and D.C.’s National Intelligencer. Further information was discovered using creative searches on Ancestry.com and in cemetery records. In all, it took several days’ worth of work to find and organize the material. This post is the first in a series about Alice Grey’s life, career, and connection to the Booth family. To read part two, Successful Partnerships click HERE.

Alice Gray

Part One: An Actress is Born

In order to find out about Alice Gray’s beginning, it was first necessary to look at her end. Initially, the only information found about her birth came from her later obituaries.  According to most of the obituaries, Alice Gray was born in Boston in 1833 to Irish parents. The more detailed obituaries also stated that she commenced her acting career when she was 16 years old by performing in the Federal Street Theatre in Boston. Numerous genealogical searches were conducted with this information to try and find out more about Alice Gray’s family. All were fruitless until one final obituary contained the partially blurred name of a brother in Cincinnati. The brother’s true name was discovered by searching an old Cincinnati directory, which led to his burial record, which gave the incorrect name of his father (which wasted a lot of time looking for and led me back dejectedly to the brother’s burial record) and correct name of his mother, which led me to Alice’s mother, which led me to the true identity of Alice Gray.

Alice Gray’s true name was Alice Dehan. According to census records, she was born in New York between June 16 – July 31, 1835. Her parents were Patrick and Ann Dehan who were both immigrants from Ireland.

1850 Census Alice Gray

I have been unable to find a record of the family living in Boston, but in the 1870 census Alice’s brother John gives his birthplace as Boston. This is a contradiction to the 1850 and 1860 censuses which give his birthplace as New York, however. If the family did live in Boston, it was for a short time. By 1850, the family was living in Livingston County, New York, near Buffalo. Alice’s father, Patrick, was a laborer and likely worked on the expansion of the Erie Canal. Patrick died sometime between 1850 and 1860, leaving his wife and two children without a means of support. It appears that it was after the death of her father that Alice, then around 16 years of age, began her career as an actress. She chose the stage name of Alice Gray and would be billed as such for the rest of life.

Metropolitan Theater advertisement 1855Since her family had settled near Buffalo, NY, it was appropriate for Alice to commence her career in that city. She was able to acquire a position at the recently opened Metropolitan Theatre.

A theater historian in Buffalo later recalled, “When she came to the Metropolitan Theatre in 1851 or ’52, she could neither read nor write, but she was naturally bright and advanced rapidly.” Alice must have started with minor roles as her name did not receive billing very often in the early years. If she was learning the craft it is likely that she merely acted in walk on roles and silent characters. It was not until 1854, that Alice’s name began to make appearances in the advertisements for the Metropolitan Theatre performances. Over the next few years she stayed at the Metropolitan, honing her craft and receiving larger and larger roles. In 1856 she met and acted alongside a visiting star named Mr. Edward Eddy. Though Eddy’s engagement at the Metropolitan was short, Gray made an impression on him. In the upcoming years, Eddy would keep in touch with Gray and provide her with further acting opportunities. By 1857, Alice Gray had graduated to the main stock actress for the Metropolitan Theatre, in which she was responsible for playing the leading female roles opposite the visiting stars.Edwin Booth circa 1860

In November of 1857, a young, 24 year-old star billed as, “The Wonder of the Age” made his first appearance at the Metropolitan Theatre. The noted star who was greeted with such fan fare was Edwin Booth. Though the weather was poor during Booth’s time in Buffalo, the theater was packed every night. This was not only good for Edwin, but also for Alice Gray who ably played alongside Booth as his female counterpart. The increased crowd at the Metropolitan allowed more of Buffalo’s theater patrons to see how much Alice Gray’s abilities had progressed over the last few years. These performances with a member off the Booth family would be the first of many for Alice Gray. In a few short years she would become extremely familiar with practically all acting members of the Booth family.

After Edwin departed Buffalo, the very next performance at the Metropolitan Theatre was a benefit in Alice Gray’s honor. Her performances with Edwin had clearly garnered her some more attention. The newspapers, in describing her benefit, gave kind, but realistic descriptions of Gray’s abilities:

“…the merit of of Miss Gray as an actress deserves to be substantially recognized. The steady improvement she has made since her first appearance in Buffalo, is acknowledged by all. She personates the leading female characters acceptably; is uniformly accurate in the text, and evinces care and study in the business of the stage. Her many friends should encourage and reward her efforts by their presence this evening.”

Gray was undoubtedly becoming a better actress, but had not yet achieved the talent of a star. She continued with the Metropolitan Theatre for the remainder of the 1857-1858 season with a small break in March of 1858 where she performed briefly at the Bowery Theatre in New York City. At that time, the Bowery Theatre was being leased by her friend Edward Eddy. The chance to act in New York City and possibly become a star performer on those elite stages was the dream of many actresses. While Alice Gray acted ably alongside Eddy and even received a benefit in her honor one night, once Eddy was finished leasing out the Bowery Theatre, Gray’s first foray in New York City was over.  While she had not been “discovered” by the New York City patrons, this experience would help her in the future. She returned home to Buffalo.

When the theatrical season of 1858-1859 was advertised, Alice Gray was given top billing as the leading lady of the Metropolitan Theatre once more. However, when the season debuted on September 20, 1858 and Gray took the stage for the first time as Lady Teazle in School for Scandal, she found herself faced with an agitated audience:

1858 Hissed from the stage Alice Gray

Gray must have been traumatized by this sudden betrayal of the audience. The same people who had supported her growth over the last few years were now hissing her from the stage. A newspaper from a few days later explained the reason:

1858 reason for hiss Alice Gray

As reported, Alice Gray had apparently made some enemies in the Buffalo theatrical world. The business then was just as cut-throat as it is today (if not more so). Perhaps the other actresses were jealous of Gray’s recent debut in New York City due to the generosity and assistance of Edward Eddy. Whatever the reason, the scheme against Alice Gray worked as planned. Whether by her own choice or the decision of the manager, Gray did not appear at the Metropolitan Theatre for the rest of the 1858 season. Coincidentally, she was replaced at first with “Mrs. J. B. Booth”. This was Clementina DeBar Booth, the first wife of Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. Though Mr. and Mrs. Booth were divorced due to Junius running off to California with another woman in 1851, Clementina kept the name and used it professionally. Not long after this, the gossip reported in the above article came to fruition when the manager of the Metropolitan Theatre had his own wife take over some of the main female roles.

After being shunned from the Metropolitan Theatre, Alice Gray made her way back to New York City, where she had briefly performed in March. At that point, her friend Edward Eddy had leased the Broadway Theatre for the season. Though the season had already begun and Eddy already had his stock company, he hired Alice Gray. She acted at the Broadway Theatre with the rest of the stock actors until the end of the season. She received very little press during her time at the Broadway Theatre and without good press and attention, it was practically impossible for a supernumerary to make it as a star. During the next season, Alice began to travel outside her home state of New York, perhaps hoping that good word of mouth from audiences in smaller cities would help her establish herself the next time she acted in New York City.

The beginning of the 1859 season found Alice in Charleston, South Carolina. She was the lead stock actress for the Charleston Theatre, an establishment which promised its public a diverse selection of entertainment. The theatrical portion of the season only lasted until November 12, 1859, which was a benefit performance for Henry B. Phillips, a Charleston native. Phillips was a well known actor who had toured the eastern states. He was also known for helping to coach novice actors and teach them the proper points and recitations.  In a few short years, H.B. Phillips would be hired by John T. Ford to be the acting manager of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. In that capacity, Phillips sole job would be to train inexperienced actors on how not to make fools of themselves. For his benefit performance, Phillips choose two pieces, The Poor Gentleman, in which Alice Gray was billed as his leading lady, and the very popular comedy of the day, Our American Cousin. This would be Alice Gray’s first experience with the play, Our American Cousin, but, due to the events connected with it in the future, this performance would hardly be the most memorable. After the Phillips’ benefit in Charleston, the whole theatrical company traveled to Mobile, Alabama. In the mean time, the Charleston Theatre opened to an opera troupe while advertising its next, diverse entertainment offering to the public, stating that a “troupe of learned monkeys, goats, and dogs, will present themselves,” in the week to come.

Alice Gray found a welcoming audience in Mobile and her abilities were praised when she was given a benefit performance there:

1860 Nice review Alice Gray

The company stayed in Mobile until late March of 1860, when the Charleston Theatre reopened (hopefully after they cleaned up the mess from the “learned” monkeys, goats, and dogs) for theatrical events.  The headlining star for the reopening was none other than Edwin Booth. Though there were no advertisements billing him as the “The Wonder of the Age” as there were in Buffalo more than two years ago, he was nevertheless warmly welcomed by the Charleston public. Booth played at the Charleston Theatre until April 4th, likely teaming up once again with Alice Gray as his leading lady. Not long after his departure, however, Alice became sick. An article in the April 14th edition of the New York Clipper reported that Alice had “been quite ill” and “confined to her room for more than a week”. She recovered from her illness and finished up the rest of the season in Charleston but this would not be the first time that illness and other personal matters would preclude Alice from performing.

During the summer of 1860, Alice Gray made extra money by taking a little more than a week long summer engagement at Cleveland’s Academy of Music. For most performers, summers were the dry times. Most theaters closed down or engaged cheaper entertainments for the few patrons who would visit during the hot months. The few theaters that did engage actors at this time, however, generally did a wonderful job advertising them. Alice Gray received star billing in the Cleveland newspapers for her brief run with her name in the largest type size that she would ever see in her career:

1860 Star billing Alice Gray

As Alice Gray performed as a star in Cleveland, back home in Buffalo the census taker was knocking at her mother’s door for the 1860 census. Despite her almost year long absence in the South and Midwest, Alice’s mother included her daughter as a member of the household. Ann Dehan gave the census taker her daughter’s real name, Alice Dehan, and set in stone what she was going to be for the rest of her life: a “Theater Actress”.

1860 Census Alice Gray


This concludes part one of the series about Alice Gray’s life, career and connection to the Booth family. To read the second installment, “Successful Partnerships,” click HERE.

References:
Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination by Thomas Bogar
Additional research graciously provided by Thomas Bogar
American Tragedian: The Life of Edwin Booth by Dr. Daniel Watermeier
Edwin Booth: A Biography and Performance History by Arthur Bloom
John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Arthur Loux
Images of America: Ford’s Theatre by Brian Anderson for the Ford’s Theatre Society
Ford’s Theatre Society
Ancestry.com
Library of Congress
Newspaper extracts from: University of Illinois (free), FultonHistory.com (free), GenealogyBank.com (subscription)

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

John Wilkes Booth’s Richard III

NOTE: The live event has already occurred but you can still watch a video of the production embedded below.

Tonight (2/2/2016) at 7:00 pm CST (8:00 pm EST) a very special staged reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III will be enacted by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Hidden Room Theatre troupe will be recreating the production as it appeared using a promptbook which belonged to, and was annotated by, John Wilkes Booth.

John Wilkes Booth's Richard III promptbook

John Wilkes Booth was famous for his portrayal of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and he regularly opened his engagements in different cities with Richard III. Booth’s first full appearance as Richard occurred on October 5, 1860 and his last was on May 12, 1864. Between those two dates he performed the lead role a total of 115 times. Richard was truly Booth’s title character and the one he was most known for. The adaptation of Richard III that Booth used for the role was one that was filled with sword fighting and intensity that suited the younger Booth well. Just as Edwin Booth is known today as being the world’s greatest Hamlet, John Wilkes Booth could have been remembered as the world’s greatest Richard, had he not chosen a different path.

The Harry Ransom Center has in its collection one of only two known promptbooks belonging to John Wilkes Booth. The complete book has been scanned and is available digitally HERE. The book is filled with John Wilkes Booth’s handwritten instructions and cues regarding how his version of Richard III should be staged and enacted. It makes alterations to the printed script’s directions and adds supplemental material on how he wanted scenes to go. Promptbooks were common for stars to send out to different theaters ahead of their engagements. The stock actors in the theater’s company would then read the book in order to know how a particular star wanted “their” version of the play to go.

Usually, other than traveling back in time ourselves, reading through John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook would be the best way to get an idea of what Booth’s acting looked like. However, tonight, John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook will be used as the source material for a production of Richard III. The event will be streamed live over the internet on the Harry Ranscom Center website. The live stream is scheduled to start at 7:00 pm CST and can be accessed by clicking this link: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/multimedia/webcast/

During the event, Harry Ransom curator Eric Colleary will be live tweeting the event and answering your questions about the production and source material. You can follow along with the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #BoothR3.

I hope you are able to watch this unique production tonight. It is the closest we are able to get to actually watching John Wilkes Booth himself on the stage. For more information, please check out this program from the Harry Ransom Center.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Treasures of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum

Dr Mudd House 2015-11

Located off of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Road in Waldorf, Maryland is, appropriately, the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. Situated on 197 acres of farmland, the museum tells the story of Dr. Mudd and his involvement with the tragedy of 1865.

Dr. Samuel A. Mudd

There are so many fascinating objects to see at the Mudd House. In fact, one could return time and time again and still find new items of captivating interest.  The following are just a few of the countless treasures to be found at the Dr. Mudd House Museum.

A Doctor’s Life (Prior to 1865)

Dr. Mudd’s Medical Book

Mudd medical book

Dr Mudd's name on medical book

Mudd medical book interior

This volume of Beck’s Materia Medica (the text of which can be read online here) was owned by Dr. Mudd and was conceivably used by him while he was studying for his degree in medicine. Perhaps he also consulted this book from time to time during his practice. In addition to his name being written on the cover of the book, there is also an interior inscription of “Saml. A Mudd MD, Bryantown Char. Co., M.D.” While Dr. Mudd’s handwriting changed over time, the interior inscription does appear to match the handwriting on Dr. Mudd’s doctoral thesis, making it likely that he wrote the inscription himself. This book is sometimes seen laying out on the secretary in the doctor’s office or is otherwise shelved with some other medical books.

Dr. Mudd’s Mortar and Pestle

Mudd's mortar and pestle

In his occupation as a physician, Dr. Mudd owned and used this mortar and pestle to create medicines for his patients. It is on display in the doctor’s office.

Clay Jars made by Dr. Mudd’s slaves

Jars made by Dr Mudd's slaves

The practice of medicine was largely secondary to Dr. Mudd, who was first and foremost a plantation owner with a large farm. Dr. Mudd own several slaves who worked in his fields tending to his crops and in his home doing domestic chores. These clay jars, on display in the kitchen of the Mudd house, were made by some of the Mudd family slaves. Dr. Mudd could be a very harsh master at times and at the trial of the conspirators several of his former slaves testified against him. One of his former slaves, Elzee Eglen, recounted how Dr. Mudd had shot him for being “obstreperous” and then threatened to send him south to Richmond to build defenses for the Confederacy. Elzee escaped from slavery by running away from Dr. Mudd’s farm in 1863. On the other hand, a few of Dr. Mudd’s slaves testified in his favor and stated that he was a kind master. After Emancipation, three of Dr. Mudd’s slaves stayed with the family and continued to work for him for several years. We do know that Dr. Mudd participated in “slave catching posses” to recapture escaped slaves. At the very least, Dr. Mudd’s strong ties to slavery and the cause of the Confederacy dispels the concept that he was “a Union man,” as he tried to paint himself after being arrested. To learn more about those held in slavery by Dr. Mudd, I recommend the book, The Doctor’s Slaves by Robert K. Summers.

The Booth Sofa

Booth Sofa Mudd House

The centerpiece of the Mudd House parlor is an antique settee. This small sofa is undoubtedly the most iconic item on display in the Dr. Mudd House and the most photographed piece in the museum. After the assassin of Abraham Lincoln and his accomplice arrived at the Mudd farm during the early morning hours of April 15, 1865, the injured assassin was brought inside and laid upon this couch. It was while here that Dr. Mudd first examined the leg of John Wilkes Booth.  To subsequent generations of the Mudd family, this couch perfectly personified the desired mythology for Dr. Mudd. This settee was an innocent bystander, a piece that unknowingly gave comfort to an assassin. One can not place blame a sofa for being laid upon just as one cannot blame a doctor for fulfilling his Hippocratic Oath. However, while the sofa is free from any wrong doing, history has proven that Dr. Mudd had known Booth long before the assassination and likely provided assistance in Booth’s plot to abduct Abraham Lincoln.

Mrs. Mudd’s Painting

Mrs Mudd's Painting

On the wall of the bedroom where John Wilkes Booth slept during most of the daytime hours of April 15, 1865, hangs a beautiful painting called, “The Sleeping Beauty.” This painting was painted by Sarah Frances Dyer, Dr. Mudd’s wife. She painted this portrait when she was in school and it demonstrates Mrs. Mudd’s creative talents.

Wood Working to Pass the Hard Time (1865 – 1869)

A. Fort Jefferson

Many of the unique treasures contained in the Mudd house consist of objects Dr. Mudd created while carrying out his prison sentence at Fort Jefferson. During his imprisonment, Dr. Mudd (and the other prisoners) tried their hands at various crafts and trades to help pass the time. The imprisoned conspirators often sent boxes of crafts and carpentry projects back home to their loved ones. Here is a newspaper article which mentions the Lincoln conspirators’ handiwork:

Gifts from Fort Jefferson article

The following artifacts, on display at the Mudd house, are all items created by Dr. Mudd while he was in prison.

Shark Cartilage Cane

Dr Mudd Cane

Fort Jefferson is located approximately 67 miles west of Key West, Florida. This island prison was so isolated and the threat of survivable escape from it was so low that prisoners were allowed almost complete access to the entire island. As such, there were many chances for Dr. Mudd and the others to collect specimens from the tropical waters. Dr. Mudd made several canes and walking sticks while at Fort Jefferson but this one has the unique feature of being decorated with shark cartilage likely scavenged from the remains of a shark that had washed up on the Dry Tortugas. This cane is displayed on the bed in Dr. Mudd’s bedroom.

Book of Pressed Flowers

Dr Mudd's pressed flowers

Though a limited amount of flora grew on Fort Jefferson due to the lack of fresh water, Dr. Mudd still took the time to collect samples of flowers and leaves from the island’s vegetation. He put his specimens into this album, which appears to have been originally created to hold CDVs, common photographs of the day. This book is on display in a case in the second floor hallway.

Letter Opener

Mudd letter opener

Dr. Mudd created this plain yet practical letter opener while at Fort Jefferson. It is displayed in the second floor case.

Frame of Shells

Dr Mudd Frame of Shells

Though fresh water was scarce, what was not lacking on the shores of Fort Jefferson’s beaches were shells. As such, Dr. Mudd took to collecting shells and affixing them to many different objects. This frame decorated by shells is in the second floor display case.

Jewelry Boxes

Mudd jewelry box 1

Mudd jewelry box 2

The Dr. Mudd House displays two jewelry boxes built by Dr. Mudd which he ornately encrusted with a plethora of seashells. Another jewelry box created by Dr. Mudd appeared on Antiques Roadshow several years back.

Cribbage Board

Dr Mudd's cribbage board

Jewelry boxes and cribbage boards appear to have been the most popular items to construct when spending time at Fort Jefferson. In 1867, Dr. Mudd’s fellow conspirator Edman Spangler sent a package of gifts to his former employer John T. Ford. The package contained several items to be distributed among the friends and families of Spangler, Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen. The items were four decorated boxes and six cribbage boards.  So it appears that the conspirators had a veritable cribbage board factory at Fort Jefferson and honed their skills making them. This board, said to have been created by Dr. Mudd, is in the second floor display case.

Checkerboard Tabletop

Dr Mudd's checkerboard top

This checkerboard tabletop, created by Dr. Mudd, is affixed to a small table just inside the front door of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. It demonstrates Dr. Mudd’s increasing skill at inlay and marquetry. It is worth noting that lumber was fairly scarce on the islands of the Dry Tortugas. These pieces would have been made with either driftwood that washed up on the shore, or with surplus wood from the Fort’s carpentry shop where Dr. Mudd was sent to work alongside Edman Spangler.

Circular Game Table

Dr Mudd's inlaid table

As Dr. Mudd’s time on Fort Jefferson increased, it appears he became more and more adept at woodworking and general carpentry. This game table shows great skill and is likely due to the teachings of his fellow inmate, Edman Spangler, who had been a carpenter by trade. Spangler helped construct the Booth family home of Tudor Hall many years before he was employed by John T. Ford to work as a carpenter and scene shifter in his theaters. It is likely that Spangler gave lessons in carpentry to his fellow prisoners and assisted Dr. Mudd in the creation of this table. It is on display next to the Booth sofa in the front parlor of the Mudd house.

A Familiar Guest (1873 – 1875)

As we know, Dr. Mudd eventually secured a pardon from President Andrew Johnson due to his conduct during a Yellow Fever epidemic that swept Fort Jefferson in 1867. That epidemic took the life of Michael O’Laughlen, one of the other Lincoln conspirators. President Johnson pardoned Dr. Mudd shortly before the end of his term. He also pardoned the two remaining conspirators, Samuel Arnold and Edman Spangler. The men had bonded quite a bit due to their shared ordeal and circumstances. Though they parted ways, there was a reunion of sorts between Dr. Mudd and his teacher of carpentry, Edman Spangler.

Spangler Icon

Spangler originally went back to work for John T. Ford in his theaters. John T. Ford always believed in his employee’s innocence and worked hard to get Spangler released. However, when Ford’s Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore burned down in 1873, Spangler found himself out of a job. Spangler made his way to Dr. Mudd’s farm where he was welcomed in with open arms. Spangler lived with the Mudds for about 18 months doing carpentry, gardening, and other farm chores. Some of the artifacts on display at the Mudd house were owned or built by Edman Spangler.

Doll Chairs

Spangler doll chairs

These doll chairs, on display in the second floor case, were made by Edman Spangler for Dr. Mudd’s young children. Nettie Mudd, the doctor’s youngest child, recalled that Spangler’s, “greatest pleasure seemed to be found in extending kindnesses to others, and particularly children, of whom he was very fond.”

Spangler’s Wood Plane

Spangler's wood plane 1 Mudd house

This wood plane, used in carpentry work to flatten and smooth a piece of wood, belonged to Edman Spangler and he likely used it while doing carpentry projects around the Mudd farm. It is usually regulated to a shelf in the doctor’s office but if you ask about it, and your docent is willing, he or she may take it out so that you can see the stamped ends that bear Spangler’s name.

Spangler's wood plane 2 Mudd house

Spangler’s Dresser

Spangler's dresser Mudd house

This dresser was made by Edman Spangler while he lived at the Mudd farm. Today, this piece furnishes the children’s bedroom, a fitting place due to Spangler’s affinity for children.

Spangler’s New Testament

Spangler's New Testament from Ewing

In the second floor display case of the Mudd house is a 1861 copy of the New Testament which belonged to Edman Spangler. It was inscribed to him by Mrs. Ewing. At the trial of the conspirators, Edman Spangler was one of the last to find legal representation and it was essentially appointed to him by the court. His lawyer was General Thomas Ewing, Jr. Ewing had already been hired to defend Dr. Mudd and Samuel Arnold and was then asked to defend Spangler as well when the latter could not find any other representation. When Mrs. Ewing, the wife of Spangler’s lawyer, gave him this New Testament is unknown. However, whether he received it in the midst of the trial or at its conclusions when his fate was known, Spangler likely read thorough it for guidance and hope during the dark days at Fort Jefferson. It was found among his things when he died in the Mudd house on February 7, 1875. Edman Spangler died at the age of 49 while being cared for by his good friend, Dr. Mudd.

Endings and Beginnings (1883 – Present)

Dr. Mudd’s Original Gravestone

Mudd Outbuilding with grave

Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd died on January 10, 1883 at the age of 49. He was interred at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Cemetery where his parents were buried. Dr. Mudd’s wife, Sarah Frances, outlived her husband by 28 years before passing away in 1911. She was buried alongside her husband but for many years had no stone of her own. Around 1940, some of Dr. and Mrs. Mudd’s descendants decided to replace Dr. Mudd’s old headstone with a new one that would include both of their names. This was also deemed advantageous to do because there was a mistake on Dr. Mudd’s original tombstone that needed to be corrected. When the gravestone was replaced, Dr. Mudd’s old headstone was brought back to the farm. It was eventually placed in an old chicken coop located right behind the Mudd house. Look closely at the image below and see if you can find the mistake on Dr. Mudd’s original headstone.

Former Mudd Stone

The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House

One cannot discuss the wonderful treasures in the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum without acknowledging the treasure that is the restored house museum itself. Dr. Mudd’s home continued to be owned and lived in by his descendants all the way up to the present day. As a family home, it underwent its share of upgrades and changes. In the 1970’s, the house looked quite a bit different than it did in Dr. Mudd’s day:

Dr. Mudd House circa 1970

It is very fortunate that generations of the Mudd family came together in the 1970’s and embraced the house’s historical importance. They choose to restore the house to its 1865 appearance and open it as a museum. The earliest known photographs of the Mudd house, like this one from 1895, were consulted during the restoration in order to duplicate the exterior of the home as accurately as possible.

Mudd house 1895 Victor Mason

Dr. Mudd House 1

Today, the restored Mudd house sits on almost the same amount of land it did in 1865, preserving the historic landscape that John Wilkes Booth and David Herold saw when they departed the home after receiving aid.

Mudd house landscape

Click to enlarge

Even ignoring the massive repository of items and artifacts relating to Dr. Mudd’s life and saga, the Mudd house is definitely a treasure all its own.

Plan Your Visit (The Future)

Despite the numerous artifacts highlighted in this post, there is still so much to see at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. There’s Mrs. Mudd’s original cruet set, the Mudds’ original sideboard table, a large format photograph taken of Dr. Mudd at Fort Jefferson, a secretary built by Dr. Mudd while in prison, keys said to be from Dr. Mudd’s prison cell, a chair from Ford’s Theatre, and so much more. Just to see these artifacts in person is worth the $7 admission price. The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum closes down for the winter season so you have plenty of time to plan your future visit to this very worthwhile museum. Please visit DrMudd.org for more information.

References:
The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum
The Doctor’s Slaves by Robert K. Summers
The Assassin’s Doctor by Robert K. Summers
American Brutus by Michael Kauffman

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , | 22 Comments

John Wilkes Booth’s “Mysterious Beauty”

“Some Photographs of Females”

After John Wilkes Booth was shot and pulled from the Garretts’ burning tobacco barn, his body was subjected to a search. While the assassin of President Lincoln lay paralyzed and dying on the front porch of the Garrett farmhouse, the detectives rifled through his pockets, removing pieces of evidence. The items the detectives discovered worked to confirm his identity (which was never really in question), and give them the evidence they needed to prove back in Washington that Booth had, indeed, been taken. With reward money on their minds, such proof was of the utmost importance. Detective Everton Conger was so anxious to spread the news that Booth had been captured that he departed with some of Booth’s possessions before Booth had even died. One of the objects Conger brought back to Washington with him was Booth’s diary which contained the photographs of five ladies.

Historians Richard Sloan and Art Loux view the five photographs found on John Wilkes Booth's body when he was killed. The man in the middle is former Ford's Theatre curator Michael Harmon.

Historians Richard Sloan and Art Loux view the five photographs found on John Wilkes Booth’s body when he was killed. The man in the middle is former Ford’s Theatre curator Michael Harmon.

These images, like the diary itself, were turned over to the War Department where they languished for quite some time. Booth’s collection of ladies were deemed unimportant to the official investigation and were not used at the trial of the conspirators or at the 1867 trial of John Surratt. They eventually were boxed up along with some other evidence used at the trial and Booth’s other possessions. They were stored with the War Department files in the Judge Advocate General’s Office.

It was quite some time before the existence of these photographs became known to the general public. When the text of John Wilkes Booth’s diary was published for the first time in 1867, the affidavit attached to it from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton stated that only the quoted entries and “some photographs of females” comprised the contents of the diary. There appears to have been no follow up or inquiry about who these females were or why Booth had their photographs in his diary. It wasn’t until several years later, when the occasional newspaper reporter convinced the Judge Advocate General’s Office to let them take a peak at the relics of the assassination, that any discussion of the photographs began.

An inquisitive reporter with the Cleveland Herald visited the relics in the JAG office in 1884. Entranced with the more vivid relics such as Booth’s derringer and pieces of Lincoln’s skull, the reporter only made a passing mention of the ladies in Booth’s diary. He stated, “among the articles found in the ‘pocket’ of the book are five photographs of young women, presumably actresses.” It appears that the identities of the ladies in Booth’s pocket had not been researched much prior to this, seeing as this reporter was given no information about who they were.

Visitors to see the relics were relatively scarce and those who were able to view the artifacts could only do so with advance permission from either the Secretary of War or Judge Advocate General. The artifacts were viewed by “about three or four people a year,” considerably slowing down the process of identifying the ladies. It was essentially left to the few clerks who acted as custodians over the relics to attempt to identify them, which they did with varying degrees of success.

Effie Germon and Lucy Hale

It appears that the identity of two of the ladies contained in Booth’s diary were identified a bit earlier than the rest. A reporter who was given access to view the relics in 1891 was correctly told that two of the images in the set were of actress Effie Germon and of “a daughter of one distinguished Senator from a New England state.”

On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, Effie Germon was performing the lead of Aladdin at Grover’s Theatre in D.C. In the audience was young Tad Lincoln, who heard the news of his father’s assassination when the play at Grover’s was halted to announce the tragedy. The 1891 reporter was kind in describing the image Booth possessed of this easily recognizable star of the stage, “Miss Effie Germon, once leading lady at Wallack’s, is one. It is a fair young face, strikingly beautiful.” However the reporter is not so kind when he relates Ms. Germon’s current state, “Miss Germon, if living, is now an old woman, and they say she is fat.”

Lucy Hale was the daughter of U.S. Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire. She was also John Wilkes Booth’s secret fiancée. The main evidence for believing that Booth and Lucy were actually in love is not only the collections of the Booth family who supported the idea of an engagement but also from Booth’s own words. Some of Booth’s final thoughts were of Lucy and this is demonstrated in his diary.

It is largely forgotten or ignored that the very first words written in Booth’s diary are “Ti Amo.” “Ti Amo” is Italian but seems to be an understandable misspelling of the Spanish “Te Amo.” Regardless, both translate into English as “I love you”. This announcement of love, coded a bit, seems out of place in Booth’s diary. Before starting his manifesto about why he shot the President, John Wilkes Booth was compelled to write a brief note of love to someone. It seems likely that this message was meant for Lucy Hale.

Ti Amo

Prior to the assassination, Lucy’s father, Senator Hale, had been appointed as a minister to Spain.  All of the Hales were in earnest to learn some Spanish before heading abroad with their father. Lucy vowed to John Wilkes that she would return in a year, with or without her father’s permission, in order to marry him. Lucy lived in the same Washington hotel as Booth, and he would have almost assuredly witnessed his fiancée practicing Spanish.

It may be a romantic idea, but it’s possible that the Ti Amo in Booth’s diary was his final message to the woman he loved. It was a message Lucy would know was meant for her and for no one else. It was a way for him to announce his love for her, for the last time, without endangering her further.

What would have become of Booth and Lucy’s relationship had he not assassinated the President is unknown. Perhaps it was always doomed to fail due to Booth’s womanizing as evidenced by his diary’s collection of other beautiful women. Still, the presence of Lucy’s image and the coded “I love you” message in Booth’s diary could easily demonstrate that, in his final days on the run, John Wilkes Booth thought of, and loved, Lucy.

Mistakes and Misidentifications

Though it was correctly concluded that Effie Germon and Lucy Hale were among those represented in Booth’s photographs, this did not mean that they were always identified correctly. In 1891, a reporter was shown the relics by a clerk of the Judge Advocate General’s office named Mr. Saxton. You can read the reporter’s article about the visit by clicking this line. Unfortunately, Mr. Saxton appears to have been all mixed up when it came to which image was of which woman.  In addition, he provided incorrect identifications for the rest of the images and only seemed to show the reporter four out of the five images.

Mr. Saxton’s mistakes and misidentifications, which demonstrate the JAG office’s lingering uncertainty about who these women were, are as follows:

Actress Alice Grey was mistaken for fellow actress Effie Germon:

Lucy Hale was misidentified as a singer named Caroline Richings:

Actress Helen Western was mistaken for actress Olive Logan by the reporter before Mr. Saxton misidentified her as Lucy Hale:

And actress Effie Germon was mistaken for another actress named Rose Eytinge:

While we may laugh today about the numerous mistakes in Mr. Saxton’s 1891 identifications, it does demonstrate that there was somewhat of an attempt by someone in the JAG office to learn the identities of these women. This leads us to the last image in the set photographs and the case of John Wilkes Booth’s “Mysterious Beauty”.

“The Mysterious Beauty”

Fannie Brown CDV

We know that, eventually, the first four vignetted photographs were correctly identified as Alice Grey, Effie Germon, Helen Western and Lucy Hale. It is likely that the clerks of the JAG office consulted a few more visitors who possessed far better knowledge about the theatrical leading ladies of the 1860’s and that they helped fix the mistakes. However, even after four out of the five women were identified, the identity of the woman in the last image was still uncertain. This woman, her image different from the rest in that it showed her full body rather than just a vignette of her face, was still unknown. A more active search was undertaken to learn who she was.

As has been demonstrated by other images of artifacts in possession of the Judge Advocate General’s office (this one for example), the items relating to Lincoln’s assassination were not always treated with the same degree of preservation or care as they receive today. Some of the smaller pieces found on Booth’s body mysteriously disappeared over the years, such as a small horseshoe charm, a diamond stick pin, and a Catholic medallion. In addition to these losses, the clerks at the JAG office even burned some of the clothing collected as evidence when moths began to eat away at it. Modern museum curators would cringe at the way in which these artifacts were locked up in a box with no thought of temperature or humidity.

It is therefore unsurprising that the images of Booth’s ladies would also be subjected to neglect or ignorant mistreatment. Such was the case when one of the custodians of the artifacts decided he really wanted to know the identity of the woman in the standing photo. Until she was recognized, some unnamed clerk nicknamed her “The Mysterious Beauty” and went so far as to write that moniker on the bottom of the original image itself.

The Mysterious Beauty Cabinet card

One must remember that the entire collection of assassination related artifacts stored by the Judge Advocate General’s office was still considered to be official evidence and property of the U.S. government. In the years after the assassination, several organizations had tried, and failed, to gain ownership of the artifacts. There were even efforts by various Judge Advocate Generals to rid themselves of the pesky items that garnered such macabre interest. The items were almost transferred to the Smithsonian before the Judge Advocate General’s office declared that even if they were transferred to the Smithsonian, the government would still own them and the Smithsonian essentially couldn’t do anything with them other than store them. After that, the Smithsonian was no longer interested.

With this in mind, it is amazing to picture a clerk of the Judge Advocate General’s office causally taking this CDV, a piece of government owned evidence that even the Smithsonian couldn’t be trusted with, out of the JAG office and into the Washington streets. The clerk walked to the nearby photography studio of J.J. Faber and had the photographer duplicate the image with “The Mysterious Beauty” inscription onto larger format images known as cabinet cards. A photocopy of one of the cabinet cards is pictured above. How many copies were made of this image is unknown, but it is likely that the unnamed clerk made enough copies to pass around. The original, defaced, image was subsequently returned to its governmental prison.

How long it took to correctly identify this beauty after her image was duplicated and passed around, or who eventually made the correct identification, is not known, but eventually the unnamed clerk’s effort paid off. On the back of the photocopied cabinet card pictured above (which was sent to author Francis Wilson in the 1910’s – 1920’s as he was working on his book about John Wilkes Booth), the following statement was recorded:

“The original of this picture was found, after his death, in the diary of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln. It was not known for a long time who the subject of the picture was and the custodian of the ‘Booth diary’ and other articles connected with the great tragedy, stored in the archives of the War Department, had some copies made of it for the purpose of identification. It was finally recognized as being the picture of Fanny Brow, an actress who died many years ago. Since that time the words “The Mysterious Beauty” have been effaced from the original in the War Department.

War Department
Office of the Judge Advocate General

John P. Simonton
Custodian”

Indeed, this final image was determined to be that of actress Fanny Brown.

Revealed at last, John Wilkes Booth's "Mysterious Beauty" was Fanny Brown.

Revealed at last, John Wilkes Booth’s “Mysterious Beauty” was Fanny Brown.

Fanny Brown had known John Wilkes Booth since at least 1863 when they performed together throughout cities in New England. Gossip of the day even hinted at a romantic relationship between the pair, which would not be surprising given Booth’s established success in wooing women:

JWB and Fanny Brown Gossip

As clerk John Simonton* states, after Fanny Brown’s identity was established, the words “The Mysterious Beauty” were erased from the original image. However, as any museum curator will tell you, alterations to an artifact can never truly be erased. A close inspection of the bottom of Fanny Brown’s CDV shows the faint outline of the words that were once carelessly scribbled onto her gift to John Wilkes Booth:

The-Mysterious-Beauty-anima

A Fitting Repose

Eventually Alice Grey, Effie Germon, Helen Western, Lucy Hale, and Fanny Brown escaped their prison in the Judge Advocate General’s office. On February 5, 1940, the artifact evidence held by the JAG was officially transferred to the Lincoln Museum, also known as Ford’s Theatre. In the years since then, the ladies have spent some on display but still spent more time in a couple of National Park Service storage facilities. Today, however, all five of these beauties are on display in the assassination section of the Ford’s Theatre Museum.

Booth's Ladies

After so many years of being confined to a box, ignored, misidentified, and forgotten, it’s great to see these ladies on display so prominently at Ford’s Theatre. Their innocent beauty is a much needed contrast to the dark tools of the assassination that surround them. These images of Lucy Hale, Alice Grey, Effie Germon, Fanny Brown, and Helen Western perfectly represent the beautiful life that John Wilkes Booth mysteriously threw away when he committed his violent act of hate on April 14, 1865.

References:
Denver Rocky Mountain News, January 13, 1884 (republishes the article from the Cleveland Herald)
“Relics of a Tragedy”, The World, April, 26, 1891
The Richard and Kellie Gutman Collection
The Art Loux Archive
Ford’s Theatre Museum
Library of Congress
New York Public Library

*John Paul Simonton, the clerk who wrote the note on the back of the cabinet card explaining the story of “The Mysterious Beauty” is occasionally referenced by those who believe John Wilkes Booth was not killed on April 26, 1865. Simonton worked as a law clerk in the JAG office from 1877 – 1920. After his retirement, he wrote an affidavit in 1925 stating, in part, “I studied the evidence in this case and examined all the exhibits as an expert and found no definite proof that John Wilkes Booth was ever captured. The fact that John Wilkes Booth was captured could not be established before any court in the United States on the evidence submitted at the time of the trial and now on file at the War Department.” Conspiracy theorists use this as “proof” that Booth escaped. Interestingly, they largely ignore an 1898 letter from Simonton to Finis Bates (of the Booth mummy story) in which Simonton stated, “While I have not what may be styled direct or positive evidence that the man killed was Booth, I have such circumstantial evidence as would seem to prove the fact beyond doubt.” In addition, Simonton clearly states on the back of this cabinet card that “this picture was found, after his death, in the diary of John Wilkes Booth,” solidifying that it was his firm opinion that it was John Wilkes Booth who was killed. When it comes to his 1925 statement, Simonton is very clearly pointing out the fact of Booth’s death was not definitely proven at the trial of the conspirators and in this he would be correct. The object of the trial of the conspirators was not to conclusively prove that Booth was dead, it was was to try the conspirators for their involvement in Lincoln’s death. The files and evidence of the conspiracy trial do not definitely or directly prove Booth’s death as this was not the objective of the trial. However, evidence from sources outside the conspiracy trial (i.e. autopsy reports, the numerous identification of Booth’s body by his friends and family, official statements from David Herold, the Garrett family, the troopers that captured him, etc.) along with the circumstantial evidence presented at the conspiracy trial (i.e. Booth’s possessions taken from him after he was shot) do conclusively prove that Booth was killed.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Boothie Wonderland

With the holidays upon us, it’s time once again for our annual tradition of revising a classic Christmas Carol into a Lincoln assassination themed Boothie Carol. This year’s song is a remixed version of the classic, “Winter Wonderland”. I hope you all enjoy it in the humorous manner in which it is intended.

Boothiewonderland

Boothie Wonderland

As sung to, “Winter Wonderland”

A gun shot rings, are you listenin’?
In the lane, an assassin’s blitzin’
A terrible sight,
He slips through the night.
Fleeing in a Boothie Wonderland.

Far away, is his young guide,
“Old King Lincoln, has now died.”
They reflect on his deeds,
While exhausting their steeds.
Fleeing in a Boothie Wonderland.

At Surratt House they can get some whiskey,
From a man who’s had too much, himself.

Then they’ll find a doc who’ll fix him for free,
And later say he was dressed like an elf.

Later on, they’ll get tired,
As they wait, without a fire.
They’ll be dirty and bleak,
Waiting almost a week,
To go Boating in a Boothie Wonderland.

In Port Conway, they will meet three draftees,
Of the cause that Booth hoped to revive.
They lead them to the Garretts’ who were quite pleased,
To aid Booth, a wounded soldier in disguise.

But they’re found, ain’t it thrillin’?
With smoke and fire, the barn is fillin’.
The guide will bail out,
His master will pout.
Shot in a Boothie Wonderland

Previous years’ Boothie Carols can be read here:
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Play” / It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
“We Bruti” / We, Three Kings of Orient Are
“Wilkes Booth the Head Conspirator” / Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
“Lewis Powell is Coming For You” / Santa Claus is Coming to Town
“Little Doctor Mudd” / Little Drummer Boy

Categories: Levity | Tags: , | 4 Comments

The Fake “Mrs Surat”

In the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination, photographs of the assassin were highly sought after. Newspaper classifieds of the day often contained advertisements for Lincoln memorial ribbons right beside advertisements offering photographs of John Wilkes Booth.

JWB photos ad 1

The lucrative business of assassination related imagery extended not only to photographs of the assassin, but also to his conspirators. As a result, photographer Alexander Gardner was quick to reproduce his mugshot photographs of the accused conspirators into carte de visites for the masses to purchase:

However, two of the conspirators who were put on trial, Dr. Samuel Mudd and Mary Surratt, never had their photographs taken with the rest of the conspirators.  While the public could easily do without a picture of Dr. Mudd (himself little more than another male face in Booth’s crew) the desire to see and own a picture of the solitary woman accused of helping plot the death of the President was something worth attaining. One would think that the lack of a legitimate mugshot photograph of Mary Surratt would hinder the creation of a massively produced CDV like the ones pictured above. However, such trivialities did not stop some unknown photographer from creating and selling the following CDVs of Mary Surratt:
Fake Mary Surratt CDV BoothieBarn

The small details of spelling Mary Surratt’s name correctly or attempting to find an actual likeness of the conspirator were not important to the photographer who created these fabricated CDVS. The public purchased and filled their albums with these fraudulent “Mrs Surat” images, with most having no idea that the woman pictured was not the assassin’s accomplice. The identity of this “Mrs Surat” has not been determined, but she bears very little resemblance to the true Mrs. Surratt:

Mary Surratt's CDV 1

Despite being fake, these period “Mrs Surat” CDVS are still sought after by collectors and can often sell for more money than legitimate images of John Wilkes Booth himself.

At the end of the day,  “Mrs Surat” is a perfect example of America’s unwavering devotion to the entrepreneurial spirit and the old adage, “Caveat emptor” – Buyer beware!

For more pictures of Mary Surratt, check out the Mary Surratt Picture Gallery.

Categories: History, Uncategorized | Tags: | 5 Comments

Picture This: A New Image of Michael O’Laughlen

At around 9:00 p.m. on April 17, 1865, a young, mustachioed man in handcuffs was brought to Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard and placed aboard a ship named the U.S.S. Saugus. The Saugus was lying at anchor in the middle of the water in preparation for its role of becoming an island fortress to hold those arrested as conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination. This 24 year old man, whose presence on board christened the Saugus as a prison ship, was named Michael O’Laughlen.

O'Laughlen from Harper's Weekly

O’Laughlen was a long time friend of John Wilkes Booth. The two grew up as boys together on Exeter St. in Baltimore, where the Booth’s lived across the street from the O’Laughlen family. Though Booth had a more personal relationship with Samuel Williams O’Laughlen, Michael’s older brother, Booth still had fond memories of Michael. As both Booth and O’Laughlen grew up, their lives went in different directions. Booth became a noted Shakespearean star, following in the footsteps of his father and brothers, while O’Laughlen ended up joining a Maryland regiment which fought on the side of the Confederacy. Much of O’Laughlen’s time in the Confederacy was plagued with illness and by 1862 he was back home in Maryland assisting his brother in the hay and feed business.

In the fall of 1864, Booth reconnected with his old friend and the charismatic actor easily convinced O’Laughlen to join his plot to abduct President Lincoln for the benefit of the Confederacy. Delays and inaction continued for several months and O’Laughlen eventually lost interest in the plot and returned to work with his brother. On April 13, 1865, O’Laughlen traveled from Baltimore down to D.C. in order to take in the Grand Illumination celebration with friends. He allegedly made a couple of attempts to meet with Booth on this date, but failed to connect with the actor. When the assassination occurred on April 14th, O’Laughlen was terrified due to his intimate connection with the assassin. O’Laughlen returned to Baltimore but, after a few days, realized that his arrest would be unavoidable and imminent. O’Laughlen was the only conspirator to have turned himself in, arranging his surrender at the home of his sister.

And so it was that Michael O’Laughlen was the first of John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators to be placed aboard the Saugus, confined for his own protection away from mob violence that might do him harm but also in a condition that would prevent him from communicating with anyone. As other conspirators were arrested, they would be place aboard the Saugus as well, until the ship no longer had enough space to adequately isolate them all and the U.S.S. Montauk was brought alongside for additional space. O’Laughlen was kept aboard the Saugus during this time, confined to the ship’s head.

O’Laughlen was on the Saugus from April 17th until April 29th when all the accused aboard the ironclads were transferred to the Arsenal Penitentiary. The research of authors Barry Cauchon and John Elliott has shown pretty conclusively that during this period of confinement, photographer Alexander Gardner made four visits to the ships to photograph the conspirators. O’Laughlen’s mugshots were taken with the bulk of the other conspirators’ images on April 25th. The following are the two images previously known of Michael O’Laughlen:

Michael O'Laughlen Mug Shot Front

Michael O'Laughlen Mug Shot Profile

Until now, these two images were the only images we have ever found of Michael O’Laughlen. Mugshots such as these were used by artists to create engravings for the illustrated newspapers of the day. However as a low interest conspirator and one who was not involved in the actual assassination plot, few took the time to make an engraving of the mild mannered O’Laughlen. The public was far more interested in getting a look at Lewis Powell, the scoundrel who viciously attacked the Secretary of State, so far more impressive engravings were made of him.  One of the lesser known illustrated newspapers, the Washington Weekly Chronicle, contained engravings of most of the conspirators when they published their July 15, 1865 issue:

Washington Weekly Chronicle 7-15-1865

Though Lewis Powell took center stage, the Chronicle also provided this engraving of Michael O’Laughlen:

O'Laughlen Washington Weekly Chronicle

A detailed look will demonstrate that this particular engraving does not actually match either one of the two known mugshot photos of Michael O’Laughlen. It is somewhat similar to the hat-less photo of O’Laughlen, but this engraving shows more of his face than the original source image.

The easiest conclusion to draw is that the engraver added a little bit of their own artistic license when creating the drawing of Michael O’Laughlen. This is not unheard of. As a matter of fact, the large image of Lewis Powell in this edition does not match a known image of Lewis Powell. Despite the tagline that this engraving was based on a photograph taken especially for the Washington Weekly Chronicle, according to author Betty Ownsbey, this engraving of Lewis Powell appears to be a sort of composite between two images of Powell, instead.

Composite Powell Engraving Washington Weekly Chronicle

So it seemed reasonable that the engraving of Michael O’Laughlen in this issue was also not based on an actual photograph, but instead on an artist’s extrapolation of O’Laughlen’s mugshot photographs.

It turns out, however, that this engraving actually isn’t an extrapolation or artistic license. Today, while searching through the online digital collections of the Huntington Library in California, I decided to click on a thumbnail that I assumed was one of the two common mugshot photographs of Michael O’Laughlen.

O'Laughlen Thumbnail Huntington

Immediately I was struck with the suspicion that something was wrong. It was a strange feeling to have. Before me was obviously the hat-less mugshot photo of Michael O’Laughlen, and yet, at the same time, it wasn’t right. As a longtime researcher and reader on the Lincoln assassination I have become so accustomed to seeing the same images over and over again. My accustomed brain was saying, “Yep, this is the same picture of O’Laughlen you always see,” but, at the same time, I couldn’t shake the idea that something was different. Suddenly, I had to see Michael O’Laughlen’s mugshot photographs, I needed to silence the voice saying something was wrong. I opened up my O’Laughlen Picture Gallery and stared at the mugshots. Then it hit me, this image was not the same as the traditional hat-less mugshot. I was surprised and ecstatic to see that this was the photograph that the Washington Weekly Chronicle engraving was based on. Here, at long last, was O’Laughlen’s missing mugshot photograph:

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot Huntington Library

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 2 Huntington Library

Unlike the original hat-less photo, O’Laughlen’s face is angled more towards the viewer in this image. The fact that O’Laughlen’s chin is slightly blurry here also hints that he was moving, possibly turning, when the photo was taken.

While Michael O’Laughlen escaped formal execution at the conclusion the trial of the conspirators, his ultimate fate would be equal to it. While serving his life sentence at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, O’Laughlen was one of the many souls who contracted Yellow Fever in the fall of 1867. Despite the attentive care provided to him by his fellow prisoners, Dr. Mudd, Edman Spangler, and Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen perished from Yellow Fever on September 23, 1867. Dr. Mudd lamented that O’Laughlen had become a dear friend to him and that he would miss his, “warm friendly disposition” and, “fine comprehensive intellect.”

This newly discovered mugshot of conspirator Michael O’Laughlen gives us another, much needed angle on a man whose life was tragically cut short due to his involvement in John Wilkes Booth’s plot against Lincoln. It gives us an additional chance to look into the eyes of a young man who has realized that he allowed a charismatic friend to lead him down the path of his own destruction.

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 3 Huntington Library

This image should also remind us that there are still new discoveries to be made. The book of the Lincoln assassination will never be completely written, and, as demonstrated here, it will never be completely illustrated either.

References:
The Huntington Library Digital Collections
A Peek Inside the Walls: 13 Days Aboard the Monitors by John Elliott and Barry Cauchon
Betty Ownsbey
The Assassin’s Doctor by Robert K. Summers
LOC

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , | 28 Comments

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