In Chicago’s Lincoln Park, there stands a magnificent bronze sculpture of Abraham Lincoln.
The statue was erected by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1887. Saint-Gaudens was a celebrated sculptor and a member of Edwin Booth’s exclusive club, The Players. This statue is one of the most celebrated of the 16th President and replicas of it are located in Springfield, Mexico City, and London.
While countless individuals have visited this sculpture since its unveiling, none have done so with the same degree of personal angst as Edwin Booth. A witness to the event described the visit of the Player to the statue of the fallen President
“When I was a boy, I lived in Chicago near Lincoln park. Once when Edwin Booth was playing in the city, I went with another boy to hear ‘Hamlet’. I was permitted to spend the night at my friend;s house but went home for breakfast.
At that early hour Lincoln park was deserted, but as I drew near Saint-Gaudens’ great statue of Lincoln, I saw a carriage approach, driven by a negro coachman. It stopped before the statue, the door opened and out stepped – Edwin Booth. Curious to see what would happen, I stepped behind a clump of shrubbery where I might watch, unobserved.
The great actor stood for a moment before the wonderful bronze, with his head bared. Then he took a rose from his buttonhole and laid [it] at the base of the statue. He entered the carriage and was driven away, utterly unconscious that the incident had been witnessed by one who would ever after cherish its memory.”
Though the writer of the above account is unknown, it is likely that it was written by George Middleton, a playwright who later became a member of The Players. A similar version of this account is attributed to him in the book, A Certain Club:
“Over him constantly appeared to hang the memory of his family’s disgrace. George Middleton, one of the earliest Players, who had met Booth at his father’s home, recalled coming upon him accidentally in the Chicago park where Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ statue of Lincoln had recently been unveiled. Booth had driven alone in a carriage to see it. Getting out, he did not notice Middleton and, looking around, observed no one else. With bared head, he contemplated Lincoln’s sorrowful face for a long time, then plucked a flower from his buttonhole and placed it at the statue’s feet. Returning to the carriage, he turned and made a gesture of sorrow and infinite regret, climbed in and drove away.”
While Edwin Booth was celebrated as the greatest tragedian of his generation, he was forever haunted by his brother’s horrible crime. Recent conspiracy theorists have called for the exhumation of Edwin Booth’s remains in order to “prove” genetically that John Wilkes Booth wasn’t killed on April 26th, 1865. Not only do they ignore and manipulate the thorough documentation of John Wilkes’ death at the Garrett’s farm, but they now desire to desecrate the grave of his noble brother in order to “prove” their misconceptions. I would ask all who may choose to support their plans to read this account. Understand the lifetime of personal suffering all the Booths were forced to endure after John Wilkes’ act. Though it is unfortunate, history will always remember John’s anger over Edwin’s talent. The last ounce of respect we can give to Edwin is to let him rest in peace. His life was marred by his brother. Let us not dishonor him further in death.
My Thoughts Be Bloody by Nora Titone
A Certain Club: One Hundred Years of The Players by John William Tebbel
A Tribute to Lincoln – The Pittsburgh Press (5/2/1915)
Very nice, Dave. I’ve heard that story about Edwin’s pilgrimage before. I wonder if his sleepless nights, (He had a name for them I don’t recall) weren’t also related to JWB’s crime.