Booth: A Favor-able Man

During the course of the investigation, Booth’s room at the National was searched.  In the room, the investigators discovered a treasure trove of materials in Booth’s theatrical trunk.  Several of the documents in Booth’s trunk were used in the investigation and even in the trial.  The “Sam” letter written by Samuel Arnold was one such important discovery.   Some other papers were unrelated to Booth’s plot.  The following is a letter written by an actor, J.H. Young, asking Booth for a favor, twelve days prior to his assassination of Lincoln:

“Baltimore, April 2nd, ’65

Dear Friend John:

I have been so devilishly unfortunate as to be drafted the other day, and very scarce of funds just at present, (having been put to considerable expense by the death of a brother-in-law in Washington and the consequent necessities of his widow and children.)  I avail myself of old intimacy to ask if you will be willing to play “Richard” for my benefit at Front Street Theatre on Saturday afternoon next, provided I can get the Theatre.  I spoke to Kunkel last night, and he will give me an answer tomorrow.  Necessity, only, John, induces me to make this request.  Mary wishes to be particularly remembered.  I trust you will favor me with an early reply, and oblige yours, as ever, in friendship.

J. H. Young,

Sun Office.”

It is unlikely that Young went to war, seeing as Richmond fell and Lee surrendered to Grant shortly after this letter was written.

While Booth did not perform a benefit for Young, this letter still presents a look at how well Booth was viewed by his acting peers.  Young clearly thought Booth was a talented and popular enough actor to bring in a crowd, thus gaining him significant funds.   In addition, Booth had a reputation for generosity which made him a likely candidate to help out a fellow thespian.  Had his mind not been on other pursuits, it is probable that he would have come out of “retirement” to help Mr. Young.

References:
American Brutus by Michael Kauffman

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9 thoughts on “Booth: A Favor-able Man

  1. SO INTERESTING!! HOW I ENJOY NEW THINGS TO SEE AND READ ABOUT JWB.

  2. J. Beckert

    Very neat, Dave. If you have photos of anything else that was found in Booth’s trunk, I’d love to see them.

    • Joe,

      Go here: http://www.fold3.com/image/#249|7360943
      (You’ll have to copy this whole link and paste it into your address bar. Clicking it will not take you to the right place.)

      Everything that follows this (up to page 420) comes from Booth’s papers from the National. Have fun!

  3. J. Beckert

    Very cool. Thanks, Dave!

  4. Pingback: Mail for Mr. Booth « BoothieBarn

  5. Donna Peterson

    Dave, tell me about these “benefit performances”. Why were they so prevalent? Why did the theater owners allow these? What about their profit? Wasn’t “Our American Cousin” a benefit for Laura Keene the night of the assassination? Donna

    • Hey Donna,

      Unfortunately I am not a theater history person. This site does a good job of explaining what a benefit performance is: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/60652/benefit-performance

      As to why theater owners did them, I can only hypothesize. I would think it would help them attract high profile talent by offering their stars money making benefits. Star actors may be willing to perform for less during a run if they think they’ll be able to recoup the losses with a benefit. Just my ideas.

    • And, yes, “Our American Cousin” was supposed to be Laura Keene’s money making benefit. I wonder if she ever did get the box office proceeds from that night.

  6. Robert Freitag

    Dumb question regarding the use of the word “drafted”. This late into the war the all indications was nothing less than a union victory, would they still be drafting for the army? Or possibly was Young referring to a financial situation?

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