Posts Tagged With: Booth Family

An Assassination Cane

An Interesting Artifact

The collection of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, Tennessee contains many fascinating artifacts relating to the 16th President. Among their collections is a cupboard made by Abraham’s father, Thomas Lincoln; a china set owned by the Lincolns in their Springfield home; a lock of Willie Lincoln’s hair taken from his head after his death; and a massive archive of art, books, manuscripts, photographs, and ephemera relating to Lincoln. One of the most famous artifacts in the museum, however, is an ebony cane topped with a sterling silver knob handle which bears the inscription “A. Lincoln”.

Compared to modern canes which are mainly used as functional tools to assist in walking and balance, this 35.5 inch long cane owned by Lincoln was solely a fashion piece. Short canes, or walking sticks, were very common accessories for men during the Victorian era. Many men carried canes as evidence of class and elaborate canes were common affectations designed only to impress or convey prestige. For example, Lincoln’s future assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was often photographed with walking sticks. Since Booth would often give out these photographs to friends and admirers, the cane helped to subtlety reinforce his self-image as a member of high society.

While Lincoln was not known to crave prestige, canes were also often presented as gifts. Visiting dignitaries often received decorative canes as tokens of esteem. There are many accounts of Lincoln being presented with canes during his career as a lawyer and politician.

The question remains then, why is the Lincoln cane at the ALLM one of the highlights of the museum’s collection? What sets it apart from any number of canes that are said to have been owned or presented to Lincoln? Well, this cane is said to have been with Abraham Lincoln when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.

The Provenance

The Lincoln cane arrived in the collection of the ALLM on September 10, 1929. It was given to the museum by a former resident of Troy, New York named Joseph Mayhew. In his donation of the cane, Mr. Mayhew included two notarized letters conveying the history of the cane. One letter was written by Mr. Mayhew and the other was by his sister, Emma Cuenin nee Mayhew. The following is from Emma’s affidavit:

“In 1875 my father, Stephen Mayhew, was the proprietor of a grocery and meat market at the corner of Fifth and Ferry Streets, Troy, N.Y. After school I would often wait on the customers who came into the store. This was when I was about 11 years old.

I remember a man and his wife named Phelps trading at the store. Phelps was an actor. He would purchase groceries and meats and then charge them. When his bill amounted to about $40.00 and he was unable to pay he offered father Abraham Lincoln’s cane in lieu of the bill. Father accepted the cane as payment in full.

Phelps related how he became possessor of Abraham Lincoln’s cane, saying that he, Phelps, was an actor having a minor part in the play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on the night President Lincoln was assassinated. In the excitement that followed Lincoln’s being shot Phelps entered the President’s box and seeing the cane in the corner where Lincoln left it he picked it up and kept it as a memento.

Father often carried the cane, making no secret that it at one time belonged to President Lincoln.”

Stephen Mayhew continued to own and display Lincoln’s cane to his friends and neighbors. According to the affidavits, the display of the cane caused jealously among a certain Troy resident who sought to claim the cane as his own.

“Some litigation was started concerning the cane, as a man named Kisselberg though he would like to gain possession of it. My father’s interests in the matter were defended by a lawyer named Palmer. After spending some money and time in the courts Palmer caused the cane to be sold at Sheriff’s sale in order that a clear title could be obtained. It was bought in for my father.

During the litigation a letter was written to Lincoln’s son concerning the cane, in which it was explained how father became possessor of it. Lincoln’s son replied, stating that as long as father had obtained it through an honest debt he was entitled to it.”

Joseph Mayhew’s affidavit contains a bit more detail regarding the legal battle concerning the cane, but fails to mention the detail regarding Robert Todd Lincoln’s involvement in the case:

“At a later date, when it became generally known that my father had the cane in his possession, it was seized by the local authorities. It was kept for a time by the Sheriff of Rensselear County and also in a jeweler’s safe. This jeweler’s name was Kisselberg and his place of business was on River Street in Troy, N.Y.

My father took legal action to recover the cane. He engaged a lawyer, named Palmer. Palmer caused the cane to be sold at Sheriff’s sale and bought it in for my father so that my father would have a clear title to it. The litigation cost my father between eighteen hundred ($1800.00) and two thousand ($2000.00) dollars.”

After recovering his property, Stephen Mayhew continued to own Lincoln’s cane. In 1914, Stephen gave the cane to Joseph. The elder Mayhew died in 1917.

With these two pieces of evidence in hand and a priceless, highly fought over, silent witness in their collection, the assassination cane has been a centerpiece of the ALLM’s collection for years.

Recently, I have been looking through my files relating to my own visit to the ALLM back in 2014. Though I was only able to spend a brief period of time researching in their archives, I was amazed at the breadth of their collection. I previously did a blog post about a letter owned by conspirator Samuel Arnold that is in the museum’s collection. In revisiting my files, I decided it would be worthwhile to publish a quick post about the Lincoln cane with the intention of bringing about some more awareness to this unique artifact. After a bit of research into this cane and the provenance behind it however, I have come to an unexpected conclusion.  I do not believe this cane was at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.

The Research

Near the end of Joseph Mayhew’s affidavit he mentions that when his father finally presented the cane to him, it was also accompanied by, “a copy of ‘The Trojan Observer,’ a newspaper dated Monday, January 26, 1880, and published at Troy, N.Y. This newspaper contains an account with reference to the Lincoln cane.” It turns out that the seizure and legal battle concerning the cane was a newsworthy event. The local Troy papers talked about the recovery of the cane and how it would, undoubtedly, be returned to Robert Todd Lincoln. The story of Lincoln’s cane was reprinted across the country. The newspapers, likely getting their information from Stephen Mayhew, reported that the man who recovered the cane was named A. R. Phelps, the stage name of actor Alonzo Raymond Phelps. This name concurs with the Mayhew children’s statements years later. Also helpful to the Mayhews’ statements is the fact that Alonzo Phelps, for a brief period of time in the mid 1870s, did reside in Troy, NY as evidenced by his inclusion in a Troy city directory.

From this point onward, however, the evidence against the cane’s provenance begins to add up. By consulting Thomas Bogar’s impeccably researched book, Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination, one finds that Alonzo Phelps did not perform in Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre that night. He was not part of the Ford’s stock company and was not a member of Laura Keene’s visiting troupe. The idea that Phelps was acting at Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s death is not supported by the evidence.

The question then becomes, if Phelps did not perform at Ford’s Theatre that night, was it possible for him to be there in the role of an audience member instead? Unfortunately, that does not appear to be likely.

The entry for A. R. Phelps in the 1870 edition of Brown’s History of the American Stage states that, “in 1854 [Phelps] sailed for California, in company with the Denin Sisters, where he opened in ‘Love’s Sacrifice,’ on April 10 of that year. He remained on that coast, playing through California, Oregon, Nevada, etc., until 1866, when he took the overland trip to New York.” Further research demonstrates Phelps’ long residence in California where he worked as both an actor and a theater manager. In 1856, for example, A. R. Phelps and fellow actor Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. leased the Union Theatre in San Francisco. Among the actors the business partners brought in that season was June’s younger brother, Edwin Booth, who was just beginning his starring theatrical career.

Phelps stayed in California during the course of the Civil War and the evidence indicates that Phelps was likely still in California when Lincoln’s assassination occurred. In addition to the entry in Brown’s History of the American Stage which states that Phelps did not return east until 1866, we also find A. R. Phelps’ name in the 1864 and 1865 city directories for San Francisco. Newspaper advertisements also indicate that he was performing at the Metropolitan Theatre in San Francisco as late as March of 1865. With the journey between San Francisco and New York lasting about a month in those days, it is extremely unlikely Phelps was on the correct coast when Lincoln was assassinated. The bulk of the evidence points to him still being in California when Lincoln was killed.

With it having been established that Phelps was not performing at, or likely even near, Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, the provenance of the “assassination” cane is dealt a significant blow. What is interesting, however, is that this is not the first time the authenticity of the cane has been questioned. In fact, the true history of the cane may have very well been established back in 1880 when the initial reports went out about its recovery from Stephen Mayhew. An article, originally published by the Troy Evening Standard and reprinted by other newspapers across the country, gives a different history of where this cane came from:

“Many years ago, when President Lincoln was a poor lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he carried about with him a plain ebony cane, with a silver ferrule, marked ‘A. Lincoln.’ The cane may have cost $5.

When Lincoln found himself in Washington he still carried the old ebony, being loath to part with his old friend. One day a delegation of friends waited upon and presented him with an elegant modern cane with an elaborately engraved gold handle. He accepted the gift more to accommodate his friends than to please himself. The old cane was given to a trusty valet who often frequented a prominent restaurant in Washington, where nightly assembled many professional men, actors, lawyers and musicians. Among the number was A. R. Phelps, the first manager of the Grand Central Theatre. Hard pushed for money, the valet pawned the cane with the proprietor of the restaurant, and from the latter it passed into the hands of Phelps. In his vocation as a theatrical manager and actor Phelps struck Troy some three or four years ago, and assumed the management of the Grand Central Theatre for Thomas Miller, the proprietor. Finally adversity overtook him. Misfortune fell heavily upon him, and he with his wife and six children was left in the direst distress, and he pawned the cane to a down-town citizen for $25. He then left town and has not since been seen here…”

If accurate, this article paints a very different story as to the circumstances surrounding Alonzo Phelps’ attainment of Lincoln’s cane. Rather than having retrieved the cane from the President’s box at Ford’s Theatre, Phelps is said to have received the cane as a gift from a restaurant proprietor in Washington on an undetermined date. In addition, the article claims that the cane was one purchased by Lincoln himself while living in Springfield and given away by the living Lincoln when he received a different one in Washington. While the article does not provide any sources for the history behind Lincoln’s cane, it is clear that at least some research was undertaken in its reporting. The article gives the circumstances of Phelps’ residence in Troy in the mid-1870s stating that he was the theatrical manager of the Grand Central Theatre. This appears to be backed up by a January 20, 1877 article in the New York Clipper which announced that Phelps was to receive a complimentary benefit at the Grand Central Theatre.

However, there are some small discrepancies in the article as well, such as the amount Phelps owed to Mayhew ($25 vs $40) and the number of children Phelps had at the time (6 vs 5). In addition, the article goes on to recount the involvement of Robert Todd Lincoln in attempting to recover the cane:

“Robert T. Lincoln, son of the dead President, learning that the cane was in this city, corresponded with Chief Markham with a view of obtaining possession of it. Yesterday morning Markham received track of its whereabouts and served a search warrant upon the proprietor of a meat market at the corner of Federal and North Fourth streets. There the cane was recovered. In the police court yesterday afternoon, before Justice Donohue, the matter of the disposition of the cane was taken up, and postponed for two weeks. It is supposed Phelps gave the cane as security for the meat consumed by his family.”

According to this article, Robert Todd Lincoln was taking an active role in the recovery of his father’s cane. This is in contrast to the Mayhews’ statements which claim the seizure of the cane was brought upon by a jealous and covetous neighbor and that it was a letter by Robert Lincoln which allowed them to retrieve the artifact. After some further digging, however, it appears that neither set of these circumstances are true.

Between 1903 and 1926, Robert Todd Lincoln maintained a correspondence with a former journalist named Isaac Markens of New York. Markens was studying Abraham Lincoln and wrote many letters to Robert asking him questions about his father. Markens published a few pamphlets on Abraham Lincoln and was said to have been working on a full biography of the President that was never completed. In the 1960s, the 82 letters written by Robert Lincoln in answer to Isaac Markens’ questions were donated to the Chicago Historical Society. In 1968, the CHS published the bulk of the letters as a book titled, A Portrait of Abraham Lincoln in the Letters by his Oldest Son. While the book does not contain the original letters Markens sent to Robert, it seems clear that at one point Markens came across one of the 1880 newspaper stories regarding the assassination cane and decided to ask Robert about it. The following is part of a letter Robert Lincoln sent to Markens on January 25, 1918 in which he discusses the cane:

“The story about the cane is queer. I think I should have remembered any such events as are described in it if they had occurred, and I do not. I do not think there is a word of truth in the story. I do not own any cane ever possessed by my father, and I never took any interest in any such cane. He never used a cane himself at all. At various times in his life there were presented to him canes. I remember such things, but he never cared anything about them, and gave them no attention. I think it is true that after his death my mother gave away to servants some canes which had come to him in Washington, for which none of us had any regard whatever. Such canes may be in existence, but they possess no real interest in connection with my father.

Very sincerely yours,

Robert T. Lincoln”

In this letter, Robert Lincoln makes it clear that he never had any involvement regarding a cane belonging to his father. This is in contrast to both the newspaper articles and the affidavits from the Mayhews. Nevertheless, Robert Todd Lincoln is a more reliable source on these matters than the other two and his statement must carry the most weight.

Conclusions

We are left with an “assassination” cane whose provenance is full of holes and half-truths. Each piece of the story can be broken down into categories of likely and unlikely.

It seems likely that Alonzo Phelps gave Stephen Mayhew a cane in exchange for a debt the actor owed the grocer. This piece of the story is consistent across all sources and there is evidence that places Phelps in Troy during the applicable time period.

It seems highly unlikely that Alonzo Phelps retrieved the cane from the President’s box at Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. Evidence proves that Phelps was not performing at Ford’s Theatre in direct contradiction to the claims of the Mayhew family. Given Phelps’ established residence in California up until March of 1865, it seems incredibly unlikely that he was even in Washington, D.C. that fateful night.

It is unlikely that this cane was even carried by Abraham Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre on April 14th. For this point we have two pieces of evidence. The first, and admittedly weaker, piece of evidence is Robert Lincoln’s assertion that his father did not regularly carry a cane. Since Robert was not a witness to his father’s assassination, this piece alone does not prove much. However, there was an eyewitness to Lincoln’s assassination who publicly disputed the idea that Lincoln carried a cane with him that night. After the story of Lincoln’s cane was published across the country in 1880, a brief retort was published in Washington, D.C.’s the Evening Star. The article stated, “The story telegraphed from Troy about the recovery of a cane stolen from Mr. Lincoln’s box in the theater on the night of his assassination, is pronounced by Mr. Charles Forbes, who was an usher at the White House at the time, to be false, as Mr. Lincoln had no cane with him.” Though the brief article failed to mention it, Charles Forbes was far more than just a White House usher. Forbes had accompanied the Lincoln party to Ford’s Theatre that night and he was the one sitting outside of the President’s box when John Wilkes Booth approached. Booth presented Forbes with a calling card of some sort and Forbes allowed Booth entry into the box. Forbes is a very reliable witness in this matter and his claim that Lincoln had no cane with him that night is further evidence against the cane’s reported history.

Charles Forbes, the man who sat outside of Lincoln’s box and allowed John Wilkes Booth to enter. He denied Lincoln carried a cane that night.

After looking at all of the evidence, I do not believe the “assassination” cane held by the ALLM was ever with Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. The most likely history of this cane, in my mind, was largely laid out by Robert Lincoln. We know that Abraham Lincoln was presented with many canes during his lifetime. The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection contains an entire file folder of clippings relating to Lincoln canes. In addition to ones gifted to him, Lincoln himself was known to present canes as gifts. In 1864, for example, 19 silver headed ebony canes were purchased by the government and presented to the 19 governors of the Pueblo tribes in New Mexico. Each of these canes were engraved with the name of the governor and also the name of the President “A. Lincoln”. In his letter, Robert Lincoln mentions how, after his father’s death, Mary Lincoln gave away canes that had been presented to her husband. I believe a situation similar to this likely occurred with the cane at the ALLM. Somehow, perhaps from a restaurant owner in D.C. as the newspaper account stated, Alonzo Phelps acquired a cane that had, at one time, been owned or presented to Abraham Lincoln. Phelps cherished the cane until he was forced to part with it in Troy in the 1870s to Stephen Mayhew. Over time, either through outright lies or faulty memories, the story of the cane morphed, giving it a far more dramatic backstory. Lincoln Memorial University was more than happy to acquire this unique piece for their growing Lincoln collection and the two notarized statements from the Mayhew children were provenance enough in the 1920s. However, with the help of modern tools and resources, we can more deeply investigate the provenance behind artifacts like the Lincoln cane. While such investigations may lead to disappointing conclusions, like the debunking of a cherished Lincoln artifact, the process is an important part of evaluating and reevaluating what we think we know about the past.

References:
Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum (ALLM)
Provenance records for President Lincoln’s cane at the ALLM (80.0379)
Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination by Thomas Bogar
San Francisco Theatre Research: Theatre Buildings Vol. XV Part 1 edited by Lawrence Estevan
History of the American Stage (1870) by T. Allston Brown
San Francisco City Directory, Oct 1864 and Dec 1865 accessed via Ancestry.com
“Lincoln’s Cane” Troy Evening Standard article reprinted in the San Francisco Bulletin, February 2, 1880
A Portrait of Abraham Lincoln in Letters by his Oldest Son edited by Paul M. Angle with assistance of Richard G. Case
Charles Forbes Statement in the January, 23, 1880 edition of the Evening Star
Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection: Canes Owned by Lincoln file, Cane – Assassination file
“At the Griswold Opera-House, Troy, N.Y. …The veteran actor and manager A. R. Phelps, and wife, who recently resigned from the Griswold Opera-house, are to be the recipients of a complimentary benefit at the Grand Central.” – The New York Clipper January 20, 1877

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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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Grave Thursday: Julia Ward Howe

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.


Julia Ward Howe

Burial Location: Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

A Happy Women’s History Month to you all you researchers out there. This is Kate, taking over for Dave today.

For this Grave Thursday, we are going to discuss the strong willed social activist and suffragist who not only gave the Union one of its most recognized anthems but also wrote a lesser known, though equally beautiful, poem for the Booth family.

Julia Ward Howe is most often remembered for transforming the lyrics of “John Brown’s Body” into the patriotic hymn “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” This is rather appropriate considering her husband, Samuel, was a member of the Secret Six, a staunch abolitionist group that financed John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. However, Howe wrote many other poems during her lifetime that were never set to music.

Long before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, Julia Ward Howe had made the acquaintances of various members of the Booth family, specifically John Wilkes’ older brother, Edwin, with whom she developed a close friendship. In writing about her life, Howe spoke of her early admiration and introduction to the great actor:

“It was in the days now spoken of that I first saw Edwin Booth. Dr. Howe and I betook ourselves to the Boston Theatre one rainy evening, expecting to see nothing more than an ordinary performance. The play was “Richelieu,” and we had seen but little of Mr. Booth’s part in it before we turned to each other and said, “This is the real thing.” In every word, in every gesture, the touch of genius made itself felt. A little later I saw him in “Hamlet,” and was even more astonished and delighted. While he was still completing this his first engagement in Boston, I received a letter from his manager, proposing that I should write a play for Mr. Booth. My first drama, though not a success, had made me somewhat known to theatrical people. I had been made painfully aware of its defects, and desired nothing more than to profit by the lesson of experience in producing something that should deserve entire approbation. It was therefore with a good hope of success that I undertook to write the play. Mr. Booth himself called upon me, in pursuance of his request. The favorable impression which he had made upon me was not lessened by a nearer view. I found him modest, intelligent, and above all genuine, — the man as worthy of admiration as the artist. Although I had seen Mr. Booth in a variety of characters, I could only think of representing him as Hippolytus, a beautiful youth, of heroic type, enamored of a high ideal. This was the part which I desired to create for him. I undertook the composition without much delay, and devoted to it the months of one summer’s sojourn at Lawton’s Valley…

Edwin Booth circa 1860

And here, through the summer heats, and in spite of many wasps, I wrote my five-act drama, dreaming of the fine emphasis which Mr. Booth would give to its best passages and of the beautiful appearance he would make in classic costume. He, meanwhile, was growing into great fame and favor with the public, and was called hither and thither by numerous engagements. The period of his courtship and marriage intervened, and a number of years elapsed between the completion of the play and his first reading of it.

At last there came a time in which the production of the play seemed possible. Charlotte Cushman and Edwin Booth were both in Boston performing, as I remember, but not at the same theatre. They agreed to act in my play. E. L. Davenport, manager of the Howard Athenaeum, undertook to produce it, and my dream was very near becoming a reality. But lo! On a sudden, the manager bethought him that the time was rather late in the season; that the play would require new scenery; and, more than all, that his wife, who was also an actress, was not pleased with a secondary part assigned to her. A polite note informed me of his change of mind. This was, I think, the greatest ‘let down’ that I ever experienced. It affected me seriously for some days, after which I determined to attempt nothing more for the stage.

In truth, there appeared to be little reason for this action on the part of the manager. Miss Cushman, speaking of it, said to me, “My dear, if Edwin Booth and I had done nothing more than to stand upon the stage and say ‘good evening’ to each other, the house would have been filled.””

Despite Howe’s deep disappointment over Edwin never performing the play she had written for him, the two remained close friends. This friendship extended to the woman who would become Edwin’s wife and the love of his life, Mary Devlin. Howe recalled the object of Edwin’s affection with great fondness:

“Mr. Booth, in the course of these years, experienced great happiness and great sorrow. On the occasion of our first meeting he had spoken to me of “little Mary Devlin” as an actress of much promise, who had recently been admired in several heavy parts.” In process of time he became engaged to this young girl. Before the announcement of this fact he appeared with her several times before the Boston public. Few that saw it will ever forget a performance of Romeo and Juliet in which the two true lovers were at their best, ideally young, beautiful, and identified with their parts. I soon became well acquainted with this exquisite little woman…”

Mary Devlin Booth, Edwin Booth’s first wife

In time, Howe’s friendship with the Booths extended to their daughter, Edwina. Much later in her life, Howe maintained a correspondence with Edwina Booth, even after her father’s death. In 1908, just two years before Howe’s own death in 1910, the 89 year-old Howe sent two poems to Edwina. According to the accompanying letter, Edwina, who was 48 at the time, had come across two poems that had been in her father’s possession. She believed one or both of them to have been written by Howe many years before. Edwina asked Howe to write her name below the verses she recognized as her own so she could correctly identify them. One of the pieces included with the letter was authored by Mary Elizabeth Blake, though Howe mislabeled the work as belonging to poet T. W. Parsons. The other poem, which was the work of Howe herself, was entitled To Mary. This poem had been written by Howe in 1863, upon her attendance at the funeral for Mary Devlin Booth.

To Mary

Thou gracious atom, verging to decay,
What wert thou in the moment of thy stay?
The flowers in thy faded hands that lie
More briefly than thyself scarce bloom and die.

How was it when swift feet thy beauty bore,
And Life’s warm ripple sunned thy marble o’er?
A slender maiden, captured by a kiss,
Wed at the altar for a three year’s bliss;

No longer space my life’s indenture gave,
From Juliet’s courtship to Ophelia’s grave.
The modest helper of heroic art,
The heaven bound anchor of a sinking heart.

Ask him who wooed me, earliest and last,
What was my office in Love’s sacred past?
What was she, here in silken shell empearled?
But my life’s life – the comfort of the world.

In addition to the poem, Howe recalled Mary Devlin Booth’s funeral in her autobiography:

“These lines recall to me the scene of Mary Booth’s funeral, which took place in wintry weather, the service being held at the chapel in Mount Auburn. Hers was a most pathetic figure as she lay, serene and lovely, surrounded with flowers. As Edwin Booth followed the casket, his eyes heavy with grief, I could not but remember how often I had seen him enact the part of Hamlet at the stage burial of Ophelia.”

Julia Ward Howe was one of the few guests present at Mary Devlin’s funeral. Edwin was also joined by his mother, Mary Ann Holmes Booth, who had traveled from New York to Massachusetts to comfort her son. Edwin’s brother-in-law, John Sleeper Clarke was present but not his wife Asia Booth. Asia had never liked Mary Devlin (or really any other woman) and stayed home in Philadelphia. Howe described the only other family member who tended to Edwin in his grief:

“Beside or behind [Edwin] walked a young man of remarkable beauty, to be sadly known at a later date as Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Lincoln and the victim of his own crime.”

John Wilkes Booth was the only Booth sibling who was able/willing to attend the funeral service of his sister-in-law. John Wilkes cancelled his upcoming acting engagement and hastened to Cambridge to be with his grieving brother.

Though life expectancy in the nineteenth century was much lower than today, Julia Ward Howe was one of the exceptions to the rule, living to the old age of 91. During that time, she buried her own husband at Mount Auburn Cemetery in a grave about 80 yards away from Mary Devlin’s. In 1893, Howe returned to Mount Auburn to mourn the loss of Mary’s husband, Edwin. She returned to Edwin’s grave a year later when his beautiful monument was unveiled.

Julia Ward Howe, the groundbreaking poet, abolitionist, and suffragist died of pneumonia on October 17, 1910. She was laid to rest next to her husband in Mount Auburn Cemetery. Howe now lies just across from the hill atop which, 47 years earlier, she witnessed the funeral of a soul taken too soon. She never forgot the picture of the heartbroken husband, “his eyes heavy with grief,” and the dutiful brother by his side, “a young man of remarkable beauty.”

Until next time.

Kate

P.S. By Dave: Julia Ward Howe stated that one of her greatest disappointments in life was that the play she had written for Edwin Booth was never performed. After Howe’s death, actress Margaret Anglin sought to rectify this oversight. During her engagement in Boston in March of 1911, Anglin received permission to perform Howe’s forgotten play. Hippolytus was performed for one night only on March 24, 1911 with all the proceedings going to benefit the Julia Ward Howe Memorial Fund. The title role, which had been written for Edwin, was played by Walter Hampden with high praise. Years later, Hampden would become the fourth president of Edwin Booth’s private club, The Players. Today, the research library housed in The Players is known as the Hampden-Booth Library.

GPS coordinates for Julia Ward Howe’s grave: 42.369612, -71.147075

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

Come See Us: Spring 2017

Spring is the busy season for Lincoln assassination events. Kate and I will be attending and participating in several of the offerings that will occur in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia area. As much fun as it is to research and write here on BoothieBarn, there’s something special about being out in public and sharing aspects of the Lincoln assassination with others, face to face. For those of you who live in the region, here are some of the upcoming Lincoln assassination talks that Kate and I (or some of our learned friends) will be giving that you might be interested in attending.


Date: Saturday, April 1, 2017
Location: Colony South Hotel and Conference Center (7401 Surratts Rd, Clinton, MD 20735)
Time: Full conference runs from 8:50 am – 8:30 pm

Speech: Assassination “Extras”: Their Hidden Histories
Speaker: Dave Taylor
Description: The Lincoln assassination story is filled with characters who play the part of background extras. They are men and women who very briefly enter the scene, play their small part, and then are forgotten. All of them are connected by their minor involvement with the events of April, 1865, yet many have fascinating personal stories all their own. In his speech, Dave will highlight some of these extra characters and talk about their hidden histories.

Speech: “Beware the People Whistling”
Speaker: Kate Ramirez
Description: As the evening’s entertainment for the Surratt Society’s annual Lincoln assassination conference, Kate will perform her one woman show depicting Mary Surratt as she reflects on her life and choices in the hours leading up to her execution.

Cost: Dave and Kate’s speeches are two of the seven that will be presented at the annual Surratt Society Lincoln Assassination Conference on the weekend of March 31st – April 2nd. The day of speakers is on Saturday, April 1st. The cost of the full conference is $200. The event is always worth the cost and filled with fascinating discussions about so many aspects of the Lincoln assassination story. Other speakers this year include, Dr. Blaine Houmes, Karen Needles, Burrus Carnahan, Scott Schroeder, and William “Wild Bill” Richter. Please visit: http://www.surrattmuseum.org/annual-conference for full details and registration information.


Date: Friday, April 7, 2017
Location: Port Tobacco Courthouse (8430 Commerce St., Port Tobacco, MD 20735)
Time: 6:00 pm
Speech: A Conversation with George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt
Speaker: Kate Ramirez Description: Join Kate Ramirez and Mike Callahan as they portray conspirators Mary Surratt and George Atzerodt and discuss their involvement in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Cost: Free. Donations to the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco appreciated.


Date: Saturday, April 8, 2017
Location: Surratt House Museum (9118 Brandywine Road, Clinton, MD 20735)
Time: 7:00 am – 7:00 pm
Speech: John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Bus Tour
Speaker: Dave Taylor Description: Dave is one of the narrators for the Surratt Society’s John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Tour. The 12 hour bus tour documents the escape of the assassin through Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. While Dave will only be narrating the April 8th tour, there are other tours set for April 15th and 22nd. Please call the Surratt House Museum to see if there is any availability left on these tours. If they are booked up, Dave and the other guides will also be conducting tours in the fall.
Cost: $85. Information can be found at: http://www.surrattmuseum.org/booth-escape-tour


Date: Saturday, April 22, 2017
Location: Port Royal, Virginia
Times: 11:00 am – 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Speech: John Wilkes Booth in Port Royal Walking Tour
Speaker: Dave Taylor and Kate Ramirez Description: Dave and Kate will conduct walking tours of Port Royal, giving the history of some of the landmarks connected with the escape of the assassin. Interested participants should park and meet at the Port Royal Museum of Medicine (419 Kings St., Port Royal, VA 22535). The entire tour is about one mile of walking. At the end, participants will be instructed to drive across 301 to the Port Royal Museum of American History (506 Main St., Port Royal, VA 22535) where they can view artifacts relating to John Wilkes Booth and enjoy some light refreshments.
Cost: The suggested donation for the tour is $10 per person and all proceeds benefit Historic Port Royal’s museums.


Date: Sunday, April 23, 2017
Location: Rich Hill Farm (Rich Hill Farm Rd, Bel Alton, MD 20611)
Time: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Speech: An Open House at Samuel Cox’s Rich Hill
Speaker: Dave Taylor and Kate Ramirez Description: Come out and see the progress that has been done on the restoration of Rich Hill, one of the stops on John Wilkes Booth’s escape. Dave and Kate will both be there in costume to give talks and answer questions about the house and its history.
Cost: Free, but donations encouraged in order to facilitate the restoration of the home.

Also on Sunday, April 23, 2017

Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: John Wilkes Booth and Tudor Hall
Speaker: Jim Garrett Description: Lincoln assassination author and speaker, Jim Garrett, will be presenting about John Wilkes Booth at the Booth family home of Tudor Hall. Since Kate and Dave will be at Rich Hill all day, they’d really appreciate if someone could go and heckle Jim on their behalf.
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Saturday, May 6, 2017
Location: Grant Hall (Fort Lesley J. McNair, 1601 2nd St. SW, Washington, DC 20024)
Time: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Speech: Grant Hall Open House
Speaker: Kate Ramirez and Betty Ownsbey Description: Once a quarter, Fort Lesley J. McNair opens up the third floor of Grant Hall, the site of the trial of the Lincoln conspirators, to the public. Visitors can see the restored courtroom, the site of the conspirators execution, and different artifacts relating to the assassination and the 2010 movie, The Conspirator. Historian Betty Ownsbey is usually present to tell the history of the assassination and trial while Kate will be there in the persona of Mary Surratt to share her story with visitors.
Cost: Free, but registration is required for entry into the military base. When registration opens a link will be supplied.


Date: Sunday, May 7, 2017
Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: Junius Brutus Booth, Jr.: The Eldest Brother of John Wilkes Booth
Speaker: Dave Taylor Description: While born almost a generation apart, June Booth was very close to his younger brother, John Wilkes. June paved the path that most of the Booth brothers would walk when he became an actor in defiance of his father’s wishes. In his speech, Dave will discuss the life of Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., pointing out the ways in which he replicated his father and how he reacted to the news that his brother had killed Abraham Lincoln. More information can be found at: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2016/11/make-plans-to-visit-tudor-hall-in-2017_7.html
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Saturday, May 13, 2017
Location: The Historical Society of Harford County (143 N. Main Street, Bel Air, MD 21014)
Time: 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm (doors open at noon)
Speech: Lincoln’s Final Hours and the Hunt for John Wilkes Booth
Speakers: Kathy Canavan & John Howard Description: The Junius B. Booth Society (JBBS) and the Historical Society of Harford County (HSHC) are holding an intriguing, one-of-a kind fundraising event titled Lincoln’s Final Hours and the Hunt for John Wilkes Booth featuring author/historian Kathryn Canavan and Lincoln assassination historian John Howard. Kathy will speak about her book, Lincoln’s Final Hours.  John, as one of the narrators for the John Wilkes Booth escape route tours, will give an overview of Booth’s escape. All proceeds from this fundraiser will be split between JBBS and HSHC. All proceeds to JBBS will be used for the Tudor Hall museum (childhood home of the Booth family including Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth). Seating is limited to 100 people, so reserve your seats now. Drinks and snacks will be provided. Following the closing remarks, the first floor of Tudor Hall, the childhood home of John Wilkes Booth will be open to attendees till 5:30 PM. For more information, including biographies of the speakers, visit: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2017/02/lincolns-final-hours-hunt-for-john.html
Cost: $25.00 per person. Tickets can be purchased from: http://www.harfordhistory.org/events.php


Date: Sunday, June 4, 2017
Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: “A Long Look Backward”: From the Pen of Asia Booth
Speaker: Kate Ramirez Description: Asia Booth was the chronicler of the Booth family’s greatest triumphs and their most heart breaking failures. In her speech, Kate will look more into Asia Booth and her myriad of writings. More information can be found at: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2016/11/make-plans-to-visit-tudor-hall-in-2017_7.html
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Sunday, June 25, 2017
Location: Tudor Hall (17 Tudor Ln, Bel Air, MD 21015)
Time: 2:00 pm
Speech: Junius Brutus Booth and Tudor Hall
Speaker: Jim Garrett Description: Jim Garrett returns to Tudor Hall with his presentation about the patriach of the Booth family, Junius Brutus Booth. More information can be found at: http://spiritsoftudorhall.blogspot.com/2016/11/make-plans-to-visit-tudor-hall-in-2017_7.html
Cost: $5.00 cash for the talk and a tour of Tudor Hall


Date: Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Location: The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (112 N 6th St, Springfield, IL 62701)
Time: 5:30 pm
Speech: “You know best, Captain”: The Executed Conspirators in Lincoln’s Assassination
Speaker: Dave Taylor
Description: On April 26, 1865, the manhunt for the murderer of President Abraham Lincoln came to fiery end when John Wilkes Booth, trapped in a burning tobacco barn in Virginia, was shot and killed after refusing to surrender. With the assassin dead, attention turned to his group of co-conspirators. Nine individuals would eventually be put on trial for their involvement in Lincoln’s assassination, with four paying the ultimate price. In this speech, Dave will delve into the lives and actions of the four conspirators who helped plot the death of Abraham Lincoln and then followed him to the grave.
Cost: This speech is a private event for the museum’s volunteers but, if you are interested in attending, please email Dave.


You also might see us out and about in costume. Kate is a docent for the Dr. Samuel Mudd House Museum and can be found giving tours there on a regular basis. In addition to the scheduled bus tours, I can sometimes be seen giving escape route tours for private groups. If you have a private group or organization that is interested in booking your own escape route tour, you can contact the Surratt House Museum to make arrangements and can request me as your tour guide.

A condensed version of our upcoming speaking engagements can always be found on the sidebar menu for desktop users and near the bottom of the page for mobile users. Kate and I hope to see you out in the real world and we thank you all for your support.

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edwin Booth and the “Big Hole in the Ground”

edwin-booth-circa-1876-harvard In 1876, eleven years after his brother assassinated Abraham Lincoln, Edwin Booth was still making his living as a touring actor. After a brief period of respectful grief and contemplation in the months following his brother’s crime, Edwin’s success and fame as an actor had only increased through the years. However, while Edwin was widely respected and praised for his talents, his business dealings over the past decade had hurt him considerably. The lavish theater he financed, constructed, and named after himself in New York had bankrupted him and he had been forced to sell ownership of it to help cover his debts. As much as he disliked the stress of touring, it was the only way he was able to recoup his losses and provide for his family. He had hoped the Booth Theatre would be his home for years, but its failure required him to retake the role as a touring star.

One man who knew the pain of losing a theater all too well was John T. Ford – he having lost his theater in Washington due to Edwin’s brother’s crime. John T. Ford approached Edwin Booth with an idea for a tour of the heart of the former Confederate states. Edwin Booth had not played in these areas since before the Civil War and John T. Ford assured Edwin that there would be a fortune to be made in his return. Edwin agreed and starting in January of 1876, he began a tour of cities in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. Joining him on this tour was his second wife, Mary McVicker. As Ford had predicted, Edwin was widely acclaimed during his performances in the South. “It was an ordinary sight to behold the ladies standing in double lines throwing flowers in his path as [Edwin] walked from his hotel to the theatre,” the company manager John Barron later recalled.

While the tour was a financially successful one and Edwin was pleased by the reception of his audiences, he was often displeased with the newspaper articles that accompanied his tour. The articles often contained “disgraceful anecdotes” about his father, Junius Brutus Booth, “all in the main false or exaggerated.” Worse yet, Edwin could not escape the shadow of his brother’s crime. He would write to a friend that during his tour he was, “daily reminded of the disgrace and misery that can never be forgotten by me or any member of my family.” Edwin was no doubt aware that there was a strong desire by many Southerners to see not just “Booth, the great Tragedian” but also “Booth, the brother of the assassin.”

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The tour with Ford was a short one with Edwin completing his final performance in Bowling Green, Kentucky on March 3rd. The entire tour grossed almost $90,000. Edwin made his own arrangements to perform in Louisville, Kentucky starting on March 13th, leaving him with a few days of downtime. Edwin decided to take this opportunity to visit a local landmark, Mammoth Cave.

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Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world with over 405 miles worth of surveyed passageways. Edwin Booth was greatly impressed by his experience touring through just a small bit of the cave system and wrote about his experience to his daughter Edwina. Please be aware that in this letter Edwin writes the words of his black guide, William Garvin, in the form of “negro dialect” which is most widely known today due to the writings of Mark Twain. Edwin also demonstrates his racial views which, while not acceptable today, were common with white men of the period. Edwin Booth was likely unaware that his guide was a veteran of the Civil War and had done more to protect the country that they shared than the actor ever did.

“I must tell you of our ride from Mammoth Cave, that ” big hole in the ground.” I shall try to relate the wonders I heard in the cavern, and describe our jog over the stones through the forest. Our guide was a bright young colored chap, who produced by his imitations of dogs, cows, etc., some fine effects of ventriloquism on our way through the cave. In pointing out to us a huge stone shaped like a coffin he would remark: “Dis is de giant’s coff-in”; then, taking us to the other dilapidated side of it : ” Dis is what he coughed out.” Then we reached what they call down there “The Altar,” where some foolish folk were married once upon a time. “De young lady swore she nebber would marry any man on the face ob the earth, so she came down yer and got married under de face ob de earth. ‘Spec’ she wanted materomony inter de groun’.” Then he would cry out, ” Hi ! John ! ” and we could hear the echo, as we thought, far away; then he would strike the ground with his staff, and we could hear a loud, reverberating sound, as tho’ all beneath were hollow, though when any of us tried it, no sound would come. He had finally to own up that he was both cause and effect.

William Garvin, Edwin Booth's guide through the Mammoth Cave

William Garvin, Edwin Booth’s guide through the Mammoth Cave

Frequently we found in different chambers in the cave crystallizations hanging from the rocky ceilings called “stalactites,” and others rising from the ground directly beneath them, reaching up and often joining the ones from above, and forming a solid pillar from floor to roof; these latter are called ” stalagmites.” William, our guide (very serious all the time), remarked that ” De upper ones was called stalac-tite ’cause dey stuck tight to de roof, and de odder ones stalag-mite — cause dey might reach the upper ones, and den again dey might n’t.” A facetious and comical darky, truly! One of these columns, or pillars, had a sort of knob on it shaped like a fat dumpling face, which is named here “Lot’s Wife.” William said, “And she has n’t done poutin’ about it yet.” So we went laughing at his weak jokes; for it was funny to us actors to see this fellow throwing his wit at us, and our appreciation of his acting made him very happy. I think I have already written about the pretty little bats that hang about the walls and roof of the cave in clusters, with heads down and mouths wide open, as if laughing in childish glee at the fun they are having in playing “upside down.”

One of the geological formations pointed out by William Garvin was the “Giant’s Coffin”. This large slab of rock, about 40 feet long resembles a huge coffin when viewed from the right angle.

giants-coffin-engraving-mammoth-cave

giants-coffin-mammoth-cave

This and the other features of Mammoth Cave must have made a lasting impression on Edwin. Perhaps it was seeing these sights in person and then recounting them in his descriptions to Edwina that fueled Edwin’s desire to return. Over a year would pass, but as soon as it was convenient, Edwin made a return visit to Kentucky with both Edwina and Mary McVicker in tow.

In November of 1877, Edwin had a break of a little over a week after his engagement in Philadelphia ended and his new engagement in Cleveland was set to begin. Though it was certainly out of the way, Edwin rushed his family off to Cave City, Kentucky so that he could visit Mammoth Cave, once again. Whether Edwina was invited to join her father in exploring the cave on this trip is unknown, but I’d like to think that she was. It was, after all, a special day for the Booths. Edwin had scheduled his return visit to the cave to fall on November 13th, his 44th birthday.

Edwin revisited much of the same sites he saw in the year prior, possibly with William as his guide once again. This time, when the group of Edwin and his friends got to the “Giant’s Coffin”, Edwin enacted a plan he had thought up.

“While there Mr. Booth laid the first stone of what he hopes will become a monument to the memory of Shakespeare. The stone, weighing about two hundred pounds, was, with considerable exertion on the actor’s part, placed in position at the foot of the ‘Giant’s Coffin’ and the name of Shakespeare and the date painted on it in large white letters. Mr. Booth hopes that visitors to the cave, in the future, will each add a stone to the monument until it becomes one fitting the memory of the great author.”

Various searches have failed to come up with anything regarding a Shakespeare monument near the Giant’s Coffin, so I think it’s safe to say that Edwin’s dream never came to fruition. However, it would be an interesting piece of research to see if the cornerstone he laid and painted still exists somewhere near the coffin formation.

While Edwin Booth’s monument to Shakespeare may not stand today, he still managed to leave an indelible mark on Mammoth Cave just as the cave had left on him. According to local stories, during one of Edwin’s two trips to the cave he gave an impromptu recitation from Hamlet, his signature piece. He gave his recitation from high up on a ledge outcropping that was known as the Theater Gallery. To his few friends and the other souls who were lucky enough to be present, this was a truly unique performance by the greatest actor of the day in the most breathtaking of settings. Ever since that performance, the area in which he gave his recitation has been appropriately called “Booth’s Amphitheater” in honor of the great tragedian who enjoyed his visits to that “big hole in the ground” in Kentucky.

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edwin-booths-ampitheater-mammoth-cave

References:
American Tragedian: The Life of Edwin Booth by Daniel J. Watermeier
Edwin Booth: A Biography and Performance History by Arthur W. Bloom
Edwin Booth: Recollections by His Daughter, Edwina Booth Grossmann, and Letters to Her and to His Friends by Edwina Booth Grossman
“Edwin Booth’s Birthday” Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, Saturday, November 17, 1877
Mammoth Cave National Park
Black Guides of Mammoth Cave
Pictorial Guide to the Mammoth Cave, Kentucky by Adam Binkerd

Categories: History | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Grave Thursday: Junius Brutus Booth

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

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Burial Location: Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland

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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
5594

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

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Grave Thursday: Mark Gray Lyons

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.


Mark Gray Lyons

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Burial Location: Oakland Cemetery, Keokuk, Iowa

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Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On the night of Shakespeare’s birthday in 1879, Edwin Booth was performing in Richard II at McVicker’s Theatre in Chicago. While the world renowned actor and brother of Lincoln’s assassin demonstrated his histrionic talent upon the stage, a crazed man by the name of Mark Gray Lyons leveled a revolver at him and fired.

Mark Gray Lyons was the subject of a previous post here on BoothieBarn. Please click here to read the story of Mark Gray Lyons and the aftermath of his attack on Edwin Booth.

When Mark Gray Lyons died in May of 1904, he was buried at Oakland Cemetery in his home town of Keokuk, Iowa. The above images were taken when Kate and I drove through Keokuk last year on our way to visit Boston Corbett’s dug out home near Concordia, Kansas. Check out the Maps page for more details about these places.

GPS coordinates for Mark Gray Lyons’ grave: 40.403335, -91.402980

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

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