The End of Edwin

After a long career on the American stage, Edwin Thomas Booth retired from the acting in 1888. He spent his declining years in his private room above The Players club that he founded. By 1893, his health had worsened considerably. The events of his life had aged him far beyond his 59 years, with insomnia and lifelong tobacco use taking their toll as well.

A photo of Edwin Booth taken in 1892. This is probably one of the last ever taken of him.

In the days prior to his death, Edwin was visited by many of his acting contemporaries. One such visitor was the comedian Joseph Jefferson who found early fame by debuting as Asa Trenchard in the play “Our American Cousin” in 1858. The actor (who was actually 3 years older than Edwin) visited Booth two days before his death:

On June 7th, 1893, Edwin fulfilled his New Year’s Eve prediction that, “You drink tonight to my health. A year from tonight you will drink to my memory.” He passed away at around 1:00 o’clock in the morning – a time he had witnessed often in his solitude. Edwin Booth died during his own “vulture hours” and the world lost the greatest actor of the day. Joseph Jefferson was elected president of The Players following Booth’s death and would serve until his own demise.

References:
My Thoughts Be Bloody by Nora Titone
The article was found through Genealogybank.com
The image of Booth in 1892 comes from the Harvard Theatre Collection

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 17 Comments

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17 thoughts on “The End of Edwin

  1. Rich Smyth

    That may be the most revealing photo of Edwin that I have seen.

  2. Agreed, Rich —

    He looks really sad and worn there — and Egad! He’s only MY AGE?!? Now that’s scary!! But then my own dad died at age 58….

  3. The Harvard Theatre Collection has over 300 photographs of Edwin Booth. The photo I put up is one of two that were taken in 1892 most likely inside of The Players Club. The two men with him in the pictures are William Bispham and Charles Carryl. Bispham was the Treasurer of The Players, while Carryl was later elected the Secretary of the club.

    http://via.lib.harvard.edu:80/via/deliver/deepLinkItem?recordId=olvwork615782&componentId=FHCL.Hough:5140784

    http://via.lib.harvard.edu:80/via/deliver/deepLinkItem?recordId=olvwork616020&componentId=FHCL.Hough:5141022

  4. dawnefoster

    I had never seen this picture. I agree, as melancholy as he always seemed to appear, there’s such a sense of sadness …

  5. Thank you for posting. I have never seen this photo before. I feel so sorry for him.

    • Carolyn,

      Search the VIA (Visual Information Access) catalog through the Harvard Library for Edwin Booth. There’s enough pictures there to keep the Spirits of Tudor Hall page busy for a year straight.

  6. “Telegrams and letters poured in. The actor’s face, once chiseled and striking, became flaccid and pale. A large number of friends paid calls, but were unrecognized by the actor. Although Booth was only 59, a doctor said he had the tissue and frame of a 75-year-old.”

    Link to this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/11/nyregion/thecity/11boot.html?scp=1&sq=edwin%20booth%20a%20finale,%20frozen%20in%20time&st=cse&_r=0

  7. Also check this article: http://www.bbcamerica.com/copper/blog/the-booth-bros-a-legacy-on-stage-and-off/

    If you get BBC America, there is new series called Copper. And if you can get BBC America On Demand, check out episodes 8 (early part), 9 and last episode airing this Sunday. Hint: Booth brothers and their only performance together.

  8. Hello again,

    A question…you mentioned about Edwin’s opium use. Could you tell me where I can find that info. Thanks again.

    • You know what Carolyn, when I wrote that I didn’t have any source I was going from. I’ve read so many times how much Edwin loved his pipe, that I must of just created this idea in my head of him sitting above The Players smoking tobacco and opium. After doing some searches trying to support my claim, I can’t come across anything. In fact, in one letter Edwin wrote and is collected in Edwina’s book, Edwin complains of a trip that left his clothes smelling of opium. I’m just so used to reading how commonplace opium use was back then, that I assumed Edwin would partake in it. This is a mistake. Edwin loved his pipe but only for tobacco it seems. In Ruggles’ Prince of Players, she states that when a friend of his questioned him what he would do if his soon to be wife, Mary McVicker, disapproved of his pipe, Edwin replied, “Well I can’t get rid of my pipe.”

      • Thanks for the clarification 🙂 . I spent all Saturday afternoon going thru all my books to try to find that reference. He sure did loved his pipes but I firmly believed that caused all his health problems.

  9. Lincoln Assassination Eyewitness (Feb 9, 1956): this person was only 5 years old when he witnessed the Lincoln Assassination at Ford’s Theatre. http://youtu.be/I_iq5yzJ-Dk

  10. Laurie Verge

    I’m so old, I remember seeing this program! Roger Norton posted about this several years ago, and it brought back some great memories of the oldtime TV shows. Now, that was great reality tv!

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