Each week we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.
Junius Brutus Booth
Burial Location: Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland
Connection to the Lincoln assassination:
Junius Brutus Booth, the father of the Maryland Booths, needs no introduction to anyone who has done any reading about the Lincoln assassination. In addition to the many books that include brief stories about him in order to provide background on the upbringing of John Wilkes Booth, Junius Brutus Booth’s life has been thoroughly documented in Stephen Archer’s wonderful book, Junius Brutus Booth: Theatrical Prometheus. I will not insult that text by trying to summarize the life of such a brilliant tragedian in only a few paragraphs.
So while I will not go into a full history of Junius Brutus Booth, I do want to recount one aspect of Junius’ life that I feel is especially appropriate given the recent events here in America. I want to preface this by acknowledging that Junius was not a perfect man and had his fair share of personal demons, often brought upon by drink. However, despite all of the negative or troubling aspects of Junius’ life, he did have one personality trait that was considered eccentric that I wish more of us sought to emulate today. Junius Brutus Booth had a great an appreciation for the different religions and beliefs in the world and a desire to learn about them.
In Asia Booth Clarke’s 1865 book about her father entitled, Passages, Incidents, and Anecdotes in the life of Junius Brutus Booth (the elder), she writes the following about her father’s views on religion.
“All forms of religion and all temples of devotion were sacred to him, and in passing churches he never failed to bare his head reverently. He worshiped at many shrines; he admired the Koran, and in that volume many beautiful passages are underscored; days sacred to color, ore, and metals, were religiously observed by him. In the synagogues he was known as a Jew, because he conversed with rabbis and learned doctors, and joined their worship in the Hebraic tongue. He read the Talmud and strictly adhered to many of its laws.
Several fathers of the Roman Catholic Church recount pleasant hours spent with him in theological discourse, and aver that he was of their persuasion, by his knowledge of the mysteries of their faith. Of the numerous houses of worship to which I have accompanied my father, the one he most loved to frequent was a floating church or “Sailor’s Bethel.” The congregation was of the humblest degree, and the ministry not at all edifying. I remember kneeling through a lengthy impromptu prayer, which contained no spirit of piety to my childish ears, and looking around wearily at my father, I beheld his face so earnestly inspired with devotion that I felt rebuked, and it became pleasant to attend to that which was so devoid of interest before.
His reverence for religion was universal and deep-rooted. It was daily shown in acts of philanthropy and humane deeds which were too misdirected. He was not a sectarian, but made many creeds his study, and although the dogmas of the church might have yielded him a more enduring peace, the tenderness of his heart, from which which emanated his loving-kindness and great charity, afforded strength to his declining years.”
Junius Brutus Booth’s appreciation and study of different religions is evident in his own writings as well. In 1825, he wrote to his father Richard about visiting a settlement of Shakers (an offspring of the Quakers) a few miles from Albany, New York. He wrote of this sect of Christians far more sympathetically than most of his day:
“They are the most singular people I ever beheld. They have more simplicity and apparent primitive Christianity than all other classes of Christians…There is nothing to disgust – much to admire in them, and their ceremonies whose description would excite ridicule, produce a very contrary effect in witnessing. They are the best of Christians for they don’t prosecute and are harmless. All they desire is to live and die unmolested – but they are often insulted by the foolish and thoughtless.”
Booth’s knowledge of different faiths extended beyond the Abrahamic religions. Booth was especially found of Hinduism and seemed to favor it writing in 1834 that:
“Although practical Christianity is a beautiful type of Man’s approach to perfection, he is not so near it as is the poor despised and unavenged Hindoo [sic]. So thoroughly am I convinced that these Asiatics are nearest the Truth, that were I acquainted with their language and living in Hindustan, I should most conscientiously and devotedly become a worshipper…of those Images, which every minute satisfy the Hindoo who and what he is himself and also of his relative position in the World…”
To Junius Brutus Booth, all faiths were valid and possessed an inherent value. Junius was fluent in so much of the world’s religions that he would analyze and find commonalities in their teachings. While others would use religion to separate and isolate, Junius found ways to combine them. In 1834, he began a letter to merchant with the heading:
“Year of the Christ
Feb. 3. 1834
of the Planet
Praise be to Allah!”
In this way he included the year according to the Christian (1834) and Jewish (5594) calendars and also gave reverence to the Islamic name for God (Allah).
Junius also demonstrated his ability to merge the teachings of multiple religions together upon the death of his own father, Richard Booth. When Richard died, Junius cut a lock of hair from his father’s head and tied it with a green cord, green being the symbolic color of paradise to Muslims and the color most associated with the prophet Mohammed. Junius then had Richard’s funeral presided over by a minister of the Episcopal church, the Christian religion his wife most associated with and under which his children were raised. Finally, the gravestone Junius placed on his father’s grave was originally engraved in Hebrew and the text spoke not of one god or faith, but more of the Hindu belief of oneness with the universe:
“I take my departure from life as from an inn
Thee I follow to the internal kingdom of
The most renowned ruler –
– thence to the stars”
After Junius Brutus Booth’s own death in 1852, Asia would recall a visit from two of the Booths’ neighbors who considered themselves “pillars of the church”. They visited the grieving Mary Ann and her children and told them of their desire to “convert” the household to Christianity. Mary Ann replied succinctly that she was a Christian and that her household did not require converting. The neighbors were unhappy that the Booth children had experienced the “wickedness” of different faiths and provided Mary Ann various pamphlets on how to set her children back on the correct path to their one true salvation. They even gave Rosalie Booth a short pamphlet entitled “Her Feet Take Hold on Hell” in their attempt to aid her conversion to the true path. After the neighbors departed, Asia Booth seethed with anger over their sanctimonious nature and “narrow comprehension of devotion.”
“I could not reconcile the two ideas,” Asia later wrote, “but I felt it a sacrilege, their intrusion and brazen ignorance. I remembered [my father’s] respect of all creeds, his silent reverence for every man’s peculiar faith, his great regard even for a little picture of a Mosque given to him by a Moslem [sic], and here were these egotistical little people teaching us our prayers, trying to make us accept his death as a judgement for our wickedness, a call to righteousness. His life had been a living lesson, for his piety was so real and deep it did not show itself in Sunday clothes, a conspicuous missal, or studied countenance, but calm and unassuming it always took the lowest seat, that his Host coming might say, ‘ Friend, go up higher.'”
In the 1800’s, Junius’ appreciation for different religions may have been considered eccentric. Today, however, I see the desire to understand the belief systems of others as a crucial trait for us all. The world is far more connected in 2016 than it was in 1852. Being completely ignorant and dismissive of faiths is no longer an option. Whether our country wants to admit it or not, we live in a global community and, despite a recent success to the contrary, America will not go back to limiting the equality of others due to their beliefs. Like Junius Brutus Booth, we must respect the beliefs of others and acknowledge the shared humanity of all people.
GPS coordinates for Junius Brutus Booth’s grave: 39.307097, -76.606022