Wednesday, April 14, 2010


A very historic day is today. For on April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed by actor John Wilkes Booth at a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre in Washington DC. The lithograph of the event is one of the finest reproductive renderings of the event still around. As a reminder, Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to be assassinated. The brother of Booth, Julius Booth was also (and even more so) a famous actor than his disturbed brother. Following the death of Lincoln, dear Julius, beset with grief retired from the stage for two long years after the assassination. Of course most people know that Lincoln's guard John Frederick Parker supposedly fell asleep (which today would have gotten him executed) but other accounts claim that he went off to a tavern with Lincoln's footman and just never returned to his post (same difference) But what most people do not know is that the death of Lincoln might have been prevented except for the hatred of two women: Mary Todd Lincoln and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant. Grant and his wife had been invited to Ford's theatre that fateful night and Booth planned to shot Lincoln and stab Grant, while others were to kill William Seward and Andrew Johnson,the vice president. But Booth's wife threatened to divorce Grant in public if he "compelled her" to sit in that same theatre box with "that woman". Grant had a bodyguard that would have made others pale in comparison. He was a huge mountain man. There was simply no way that John Wilkes Booth could have gotten past this huge "mountain of a man". That same afternoon when Grant very quietly declined Lincoln's invitation because of the two women's conflict, Major Henry Rathbone accepted instead along with his fiancee Clara Harris. The original plot had simply been a kidnapping of the president, but after Booth heard Lincoln proposing to give voting privileges to black, Booth declared that that was the last speech Abraham Lincoln would ever give. It was. The play that night was "Our American Cousin'. Booth knew not only Ford's Theatre layout very well, but knew the play backwards and forwards. Booth knew where all of the "laugh lines" were. That night on stage, actor Henry Hawk was performing as "Cousin Asa" and remarking to the matron actress the following line: "Well, I guess I know you well enough to turn you inside out, old gal: you sockdollingy old man trap" -- There was a big a laugh from the audience: Booth leaned forward and shot Lincoln directly into his head. Lincoln slumped forward, Mary Todd screamed and Major Rathbone lunged forward and tried to stoop Booth from escaping. Booth stabbed in the arm and as he tried to escape Rathbone tried again and got stabbed again. Wilkes Booth climbed over the box railing. His riding spur caught on the US treasury flag. He landed on the stage and broke his fibula. The rest as they say is well known history. It is amazing that a mere three days before his assassination Lincoln dreamed that he was wandering a weeping and wailing White House. When he asked "Who is killed in the White House?" The answer was "The president." Amazingly enough the day of his killing, Abraham Lincoln was in the happiest mood he had been in a long time. Mary Todd didn't like his optimism and called it "bad luck" Lincoln ignored her. Amazingly enough on the very day of the killing Lincoln met with Vice President Andrew Johnson: their first meeting since Johnson had shown up at the White House intoxicated on Inauguration Day. Can you imagine the ramifications of Wilkes Booth original plan: the murder of Frant, the murder of Andrew Johnson and the slaying by knife of William Seward. Seward was to cause Andrew Johnson great trouble in his succession term of Lincoln and it was Seward who had arranged for the purchase of Alaska from Russia. Seward was ridiculed for that little buy out. Can you imagine what would have happened without it? By the way, dear readers, next April 12th-- in 2011 will be the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. This indeed is something to think of. Just how far this nation has gone in a brief century and a half.