Posts Tagged With: Asia Booth

In the Words of Asia Booth

Asia Booth Clarke was the chronicler of the Booth family. In a few hours from this posting, Kate will be up at at Tudor Hall to give her first of two talks this year about Asia and her writings. The basis of Kate’s speech is the collection of letters Asia wrote to her life long pen pal Mary Jane “Jean” Anderson.

As Kate put the final flourishes on her speech, I decided to put together this animated .gif showing some of Asia’s words from her letters to Jean. Asia’s original letters to Jean are housed in the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.

If you are not able to make it to Kate’s speech this time around, she will be at Tudor Hall to give it again on October 8, 2017.

Lastly, if you want to learn a little more about Jean Anderson, here is a short and unfortunately shaky video I recorded at her grave in Green Mount Cemetery:

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John Wilkes Booth’s Acting Debut

On August 14, 1855, John Wilkes Booth, the seventeen-year-old son of the late, great Junius Brutus Booth, made his professional debut upon the stage. For one performance only, John Wilkes Booth performed the role of Richmond in the third act of Shakespeare’s Richard III at Baltimore’s Charles Street Theatre.

As shown by the above newspaper advertisements, the performance was part of a benefit for Booth’s friend and fellow actor, John Sleeper Clarke. Clarke had known John Wilkes and Edwin Booth from their shared boyhood in Baltimore. The three boys and a few other friends used to perform together in self produced children’s shows for their neighbors, dubbing themselves The Tripple Alley Players. Using makeshift costumes and borrowed props the boys would stage shows in back rooms, stables, or cellars charging their friends a penny for a ticket. These performances definitely made an impact on the boys as four of The Tripple Alley Players would grow up to become professional actors. Clarke’s real name was John Sleeper and he had been nicknamed “Sleepy” by his peers. Seeing how such a name would make him a subject of ridicule on the stage, he wisely chose the stage name of John Sleeper Clarke for the rest of his life.

John Sleeper Clarke

It is interesting to note that this performance was not only the debut of John Wilkes Booth, but also the first time Clarke performed in the play of Toodles. This comedy would later become a staple for Clarke and the role he was best known for. As a benefit performance, Clarke was entitled to all of the box office returns for that night after expenses, so the young actor was eager to draw in as many patrons as possible. Clarke heavily advertised the debut of John Wilkes, the son of the great tragedian Booth, in order to pull in the largest audience he could. Sadly, there do not seem to be any reviews in the days that followed about John Wilkes’ performance. Booth himself, however, was very happy with his performance. He had not told his family of his intentions to act on the stage for Clarke and so they did not witness his debut. Instead he came riding back to Tudor Hall after the fact to inform them. The story of his return is recounted in Asia Booth’s memoir about her brother and follows below. Please note that the following text demonstrates racial language and views which are not acceptable today but were held by John Wilkes, Asia, and most of the Booth family.

“Wilkes went for a brief visit to Baltimore, and on the day of his return I was under the low trees outside our grounds pulling mandrakes, gathering may-apples and dew-berries. Six little darkies, seven dogs, and a couple of cats who always followed the dogs, were my company. Our baskets were partly filled, and the clatter of hoofs sounding clear, I looked out from the bushes to see Wilkes returning on Cola. He came up rapidly then dismounted, while the dogs yelped and the cats rubbed against his legs, and the piping querulous voices of the darkies called out in the uproar, ‘How do, Mars’ Johnnie.’

He had a greeting for all and threw a packet of candies from his saddle-case far beyond where we stood, saying, ‘After it, Nigs! Don’t let the dogs get it!’ The never-forgotten bag of candies was longingly looked for by the blacks, young and old, whenever ‘Mars’ Johnnie’ came from town or village.

Turning to me, he said, ‘Well, Mother Bunch, guess what I’ve done!’ Then answering my silence, he said, ‘I’ve made my first appearance on any stage, for this night only, and in big capitals.’

He had acted ‘Richmond’ at the St. Charles’ Theatre [sic], Baltimore. His face shone with enthusiasm, and by the exultant tone of his voice it was plain that he had passed the test night. He had made his venture in life and would soon follow on the road he had broken. Mother was not so pleased as we to hear of this adventure; she thought it premature, and that he had been influenced by others who wished to gain notoriety and money by the use of his name.”

Mary Ann Booth was right on the money when she expressed her belief that Wilkes had been used for the sake of his name in his first performance. Clarke asked his friend to perform, literally, for his own benefit. Even from early on, Clarke understood the power in the Booth name and sought to gain from it. Later he would go into business with Edwin Booth and then come into the family by marrying Asia. However, even if Clarke’s inclusion of John Wilkes as an actor stemmed from his own self-interest, he did help foster the young man’s growth. When the next theatrical season began, Clarke got John Wilkes a job as a stock actor in Philadelphia. From here Booth would start down the road of learning his craft. Thus, it is from this minor performance in Baltimore’s Charles Street Theatre, that John Wilkes Booth’s career as an actor began.

References:
John Wilkes Booth Day by Day by Arthur F. Loux
John Wilkes Booth: A Sister’s Memoir by Asia Booth Clarke edited by Terry Alford
Newspaper extracts from Genealogybank.com

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John Wilkes Booth’s Crimson Claw!

Our friend and fellow Lincoln assassination researcher, Scott Schroeder, was a recent guest on a podcast that discusses comic books of the horror genre. The subject of Scott’s appearance on Midnight The Podcasting Hour stems from his own interest in depictions of Abraham Lincoln and his assassination in comic books. On the podcast, Scott shared one of the many unique stories he had found that centers around Lincoln and his assassination. Specifically, Scott highlighted a story from a 1972 issue of the analogy Ghosts entitled The Crimson Claw!

the-crimson-claw-page-1 the-crimson-claw-page-2 the-crimson-claw-page-3 the-crimson-claw-page-4

In the podcast, Scott leads a fascinating discussion with the host regarding the almost unbelievable facts behind this work of artistic fiction. The entire podcast is 51 minutes long but Scott doesn’t really start in until the 5:30 mark and his segment ends at 39:30. You can listen to the podcast by clicking here to stream it, or by clicking here to download it.

Scott Schroeder will be speaking more on the topic of the Lincoln assassination in comic books at this year’s annual Surratt Society Conference on April 1, 2017. The conference is put on by the Surratt House Museum and takes place at the Colony South Hotel and Conference Center in Clinton, Maryland. Scott’s speech topic perfectly fits my description of the event as Boothie Comic-Con. The conference is a wonderful way to learn more about the Lincoln assassination and meet others who share an interest in the history. Please visit the Surratt House Museum website for information on how to register. Both Kate and I will be joining Scott as presenters at this year’s conference, so I hope you’ll be able join us.

I want to thank Scott for his kind references to BoothieBarn and Roger Norton’s Lincoln Discussion Symposium during the podcast.

To tide you all over until Scott’s speech in April, here is a far inferior post I put up a few years ago about some of the other depictions of The Lincoln Assassination in Comic Books.

Categories: History, Levity | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

“To Whom it May Concern”

On this date in 1865, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a telling letter written by John Wilkes Booth, the recent assassin of President Lincoln.

To Whom is Published

The letter is known to readers of the Lincoln assassination story as John Wilkes Booth’s, “To Whom it May Concern” letter. Its title is derived from the letter’s greeting which was appropriated by Booth from a letter written by Lincoln in July of 1864. At that time, a small delegation of “peace emissaries” representing the Confederacy had approached the Union government under the guise of facilitating a cessation of hostilities and possible re-unification of the nation under the condition that they be allowed to continue the practice of slavery. It was a difficult period in the war and Lincoln himself knew his chance of winning re-election later that year was slim. Knowing that Lincoln would never agree to their terms, the so-called “Niagara Falls peace conference” was a piece of propaganda for the Confederacy, which was more aimed to further diminish Lincoln’s approval and chance of re-election. Lincoln was likely well aware of conference’s true purpose and wrote to the “peace emissaries” that any discussion of peace must include the “abandonment of slavery”.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Knowing that his position would be viewed and lamented as stubbornness by the Confederacy and by the Democrats running against him, Lincoln decided to add further insult to injury by refusing to address the emissaries by name. Instead, Lincoln wrote his note “To Whom it May Concern,” diminishing the importance and respectability of the so-called “peace emissaries.” John Wilkes Booth subsequently used this somewhat insulting address in his own explanatory letter that follows.

The letter was published due to the efforts of Booth’s brother-in-law, John Sleeper Clarke. Following the assassination of Lincoln, Clarke and his wife, Asia Booth, recalled that John Wilkes had left a package of papers in the safe of their home in Philadelphia. Upon opening the package they found this letter, another addressed to his mother, Mary Ann Booth, and some oil stocks. As more and more Booths arrived at the Clarkes’ home (Mary Ann came from New York very soon after hearing the tragic news in order to comfort Asia, who was pregnant, and Junius Jr. arrived from an acting engagement in Cincinnati to be with the family), John Sleeper thought that the letters would be of help in proving the family’s innocence as to John’s plan. Clarke had copies made of both the To Whom it May Concern letter and the one addressed to Mrs. Booth. Then, accompanied by a member of the Philadelphia press corps, Clarke went to the office of William Millward, the Provost Marshal of Philadelphia.

John Sleeper Clarke

John Sleeper Clarke

Clarke asked the Marshal for permission to publish the letters and the circumstances surrounding their discovery in order to demonstrate that the family had no foreknowledge of John Wilkes’ crime. Millward approved the publication of the To Whom it May Concern letter for the next day but not the letter that John Wilkes wrote to his mother. Millward did not want anything published that might garner sympathy for the assassin. This was a let down to Clarke, as Booth’s letter to his mother more effectively demonstrated how completely unaware the family was as to John Wilkes’ intentions. While the To Whom it May Concern letter was published, it did not assuage the suspicion on the Booth family. Shortly after the letter was published, both John Sleeper Clarke and Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. were arrested and taken down to Washington, D.C. The youngest Booth, Joseph, would also be arrested leaving Edwin as the only male Booth not to be locked up. This series of events greatly bothered Clarke, who would complain about his improper treatment and the favored treatment of Edwin for the rest of his days. The assassination and the events that followed it marked the beginning of John Sleeper Clarke rejecting all things Booth, including his wife, Asia, whom he would grow to loathe.

Though not dated besides the year, Booth’s letter was likely written just following Lincoln’s miraculous re-election in November of 1864. The letter lays out John Wilkes Booth’s political and ideological beliefs and provides his reasons for his plan to abduct President Lincoln. Booth had started, sort of halfheartedly at first, to assemble a crew of conspirators in the summer of 1864 with the idea of abducting the President and taking him South. In this manner, Booth hoped to use Lincoln as a hostage to reinstate the prisoner exchange program between the Union and the Confederacy. This idea took on an increased importance in Booth’s mind after Lincoln’s surprise re-election on November 8, 1864. Immediately following this date, John Wilkes Booth began acting more in earnest and less than a week after the election, he was in Southern Maryland scouting the area and looking for others who might help him in his plot.

John Wilkes Booth Gutman 27

John Wilkes Booth

This letter, therefore, was written right at the beginning of Booth’s plot to abduct the President. It contains perhaps the most honest look into the mind and thoughts of John Wilkes Booth. In less than six months after this letter was written, the same motivations that led Booth to consider abduction, led him to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

"To Whom It May Concern" 1864 RG 60 Department of Justice Segregated Documents from Attorney General Letters Received, 1809-1870 Box 4 ReDiscovery Identifier: 6542

My Dear Sir                                                                                                                  1864.

You may use this, as you think best. But as some, may wish to know the when, the who, and the why, and as I know not, how, to direct, I give it (in the words of your master)

“To whom it may concern”

Right, or wrong, God, judge me, not man. For be my motive good or bad, of one thing I am sure, the lasting condemnation of the North.

I love peace more than life. Have loved the Union beyond expression. For four years have I waited, hoped, and prayed, for the dark clouds to break, and for the restoration of our former sunshine. To wait longer, would be a crime. All hope for peace is dead. My prayers have proved as idle as my hopes. ‘God’s’ will be done: I go to see, and share the bitter end.

I have ever held the South were right. The very nomination of Abraham Lincoln four years ago, spoke plainly – war – war upon Southern rights and institutions, his election proved it. “Await an overt act.” Yes till you are bound and plundered. What folly. The South were wise. Who thinks of argument and patience when the finger of his enemy presses on the trigger. In a foreign war, I too could

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 1 NARA

say, “Country right or wrong”, but in a struggle such as ours (where the brother tries to pierce the brothers heart) for God’s sake choose the right. When a country such as ours like this, spurns justice from her side, she forfeits the allegiance of every honest freeman, and should leave him untrammeled by any fealty soever, to act, as his conscience may approve.

People of the North, to hate tyranny to love liberty and justice, to strike at wrong and oppression, was the teaching of our fathers. The study of our early history will not let me forget it. And may it never.

This country was formed for the white not for the black man. And looking upon African slavery from the same stand-point, held by those noble framers of our Constitution, I for one, have ever considered it, one of the greatest blessings (both for themselves and us,) that God ever bestowed upon a favored nation. Witness heretofore our wealth and power, witness their elevation in happiness and enlightenment above their race, elsewhere. I have lived among it most of my life and have seen less harsh treatment from master to man, than I have beheld in the North from father to son. Yet Heaven

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 2 NARA

knows no one would be willing to do, more for the negro race than I. Could I but see a way to still better their condition. But Lincoln’s policy is only preparing the way, for their total annihilation. The South are not, nor have they been, fighting for the continuance of slavery, the first battle of Bull-run did away with that idea. Their causes since for war, have been as noble, and greater far than those that urged our fathers on. Even should we allow, they were wrong at the beginning of this contest, cruelty and injustice, have made the wrong become the right. And they stand now (before the wonder and admiration of the world,) as a noble band of patriotic heroes. Hereafter, reading of their deeds, Thermopylae will be forgotten.

When I aided in the capture and the g execution of John Brown, (who was a murderer on our Western Border, and who was fairly tried and convicted, – before an impartial judge & jury – of treason, – and who by the way has since been made a God – I was proud of my little share in the transaction, for I deemed it my duty and that I was helping our common country to perform an act of justice. But what was a crime in poor John Brown, is now considered (by themselves) as the greatest and only virtue, of the whole

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 3 NARA

Republican party. Strange transmigration. Vice to become a virtue. Simply because more indulge in it. I thought then, as now, that the abolitionists, were the only traitors in the land, and that the entire party deserved the fate of poor old Brown. Not because they wish to abolish slavery, but on account of the means they have ever used endeavored to use, to effect that abolition. If Brown were living, I doubt if he himself would set slavery, against the Union. Most, in or many, in the North do, And openly curse the Union, if the South are to return and retain a single right guaranteed them by every tie which we once revered as sacred. The south can make no choice. It is either extermination, or slavery for themselves, (worse than death) to draw from. I would know my choice.

I have, also, studied hard to discover upon what grounds, the rights of a state to secede have been denied, when our very name (United States) and the Declaration of Independence, both provide for secession. But there is no time for words. I write in haste. I know how foolish I shall be deemed, for undertaking such a step, as this, where on the one side, I have many friends, and everything to make me happy. Where my profession alone has gained me an income of more than twenty thousand dollars a year. And where my great personal ambition in my profession has such a great field for labor. On the other hand- the south have

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 4 NARA

never bestowed upon me one kind word. A place now, where I have no friends, except beneath the sod. A place where I must become either become a private soldier, or a beggar. To give up all of the former for the latter, besides my mother and sisters whom I love so dearly, (although they so widely differ with me in opinion) seems insane. But God is my judge. I love justice, more than I do a country, that disowns it. More than fame and wealth. More – (Heaven pardon me if wrong) more than a happy home. I have never been upon a battlefield, but O my countrymen, could you all but see the reality or effects of this horrid war, as I have seen them (in every State, save Virginia) I know you would think like me. And would pray the Almighty to create in the Northern mind a sense of right and justice, (even should it possess no seasoning of mercy), and that he would dry up this sea of blood between us, – which is daily growing wider.

Alas, poor country, is, she to meet her threatened doom. Four years ago I would have given a thousand lives to see her remain, (as I had always known her) powerful and unbroken. And even now I would hold my life as naught, to see her what she was. O my friends if the fearful scenes of the past four years had never been enacted, or if what had been, had been but a frightful dream, from which we could now awake, with what overflowing hearts could we bless our God and pray for his continued favor. How I have loved the old flag can never, now, be known. A few years since and

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 5 NARA

the entire world could boast of none so pure and spotless. But I have of late been seeing and hearing of the bloody deeds of which she has been made, the emblem, and would shudder to think how changed she had grown. O How I have longed to see her break from the mist of blood and death that now circles round her folds, spoiling her beauty and tarnishing her honor. But no, day by day has she been draged deeper and deeper into cruelty and oppression, till now (in my eyes) her once bright-red stripes look like bloody gashes on the face of Heaven. I look now upon my early admiration of her glories as a dream. My love, (as things stand to day,) is for the South alone. Nor, do I deem it a dishonor, in attempting to make for her a prisoner of this man, to whom she owes so much of misery. If success attends me, I go penniless to her side. They say she has found that “last ditch” which the North have so long derided, and been endeavoring to force her in, forgetting they are our brothers, and that its impolitic to goad an enemy to madness. Should I reach her in safety and find it true, I will proudly beg permission to triumph or die in that same “ditch” by her side.

A Confederate, at present doing duty upon his own responsibility

J WilkesBooth

To Whom it May Concern Letter Page 6 NARA

References:
“Right or Wrong, God Judge Me” : The Writings of John Wilkes Booth edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper
NARA

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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)

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