Posts Tagged With: Acting

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.

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
Library of Congress
Newspaper extracts from: University of Illinois (free), (free), (subscription)

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Alice Gray: An Actress is Born

As John Wilkes Booth was running from the authorities after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln, he carried with him a total of five carte-de-visite photographs. These photographs were placed safely in a wallet like pocket of Booth’s diary as he struggled through swamp and stream, darkness and dawn, for 12 long days. When Booth was finally cornered and killed on April 26, 1865, these photographs were removed from his dying body. A previous post highlighted how the process of identifying these ladies was a slow one that did not even commence until several years after the assassination. In the end, the women of Booth’s wallet were determined to be Lucy Hale, his fiancée, and four actress friends, Effie Germon, Helen Western, Fanny Brown, and Alice Gray.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Though these actresses were each talented and respected during their careers, they have largely become footnotes to history. Their photographic presence on the body of the assassin has become the defining moment of their entire lives. For one of these actresses in particular, very little exists about her life outside of John Wilkes Booth. While Fanny Brown may have been dubbed “The Mysterious Beauty,” the truly mysterious and unknown beauty in Booth’s possession was Alice Gray.

While there is some biographical information readily available about Effie Germon, Helen Western, and Fanny Brown, the fourth actress in Booth’s pocket is a bit more elusive. The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, which contains copies of Booth’s CDVs, had this to say about Alice Gray when they highlighted the photographs in a post on their blog:

“Little is known about Alice Grey.  In 1858 she toured with Barry Sullivan and performed at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia in the early 1860s.  She appeared as Juliet opposite John Wilkes Booth as Romeo in Baltimore in 1863.  By 1865, she was a leading lady in the company at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where she again played opposite Booth in a production of The Apostate on March 18.  She was not at the theater the night of Lincoln’s assassination.”

With so little known about Alice Gray, an in depth search was enacted to discover more about the life and career of this forgotten lady.  The following biographical sketch 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. Further information was discovered using creative searches on and in cemetery records. In all, it took several days’ worth of work to find and organize the material. This post is the first in a series about Alice Grey’s life, career, and connection to the Booth family. To read part two, Successful Partnerships click HERE.

Alice Gray

Part One: An Actress is Born

In order to find out about Alice Gray’s beginning, it was first necessary to look at her end. Initially, the only information found about her birth came from her later obituaries.  According to most of the obituaries, Alice Gray was born in Boston in 1833 to Irish parents. The more detailed obituaries also stated that she commenced her acting career when she was 16 years old by performing in the Federal Street Theatre in Boston. Numerous genealogical searches were conducted with this information to try and find out more about Alice Gray’s family. All were fruitless until one final obituary contained the partially blurred name of a brother in Cincinnati. The brother’s true name was discovered by searching an old Cincinnati directory, which led to his burial record, which gave the incorrect name of his father (which wasted a lot of time looking for and led me back dejectedly to the brother’s burial record) and correct name of his mother, which led me to Alice’s mother, which led me to the true identity of Alice Gray.

Alice Gray’s true name was Alice Dehan. According to census records, she was born in New York between June 16 – July 31, 1835. Her parents were Patrick and Ann Dehan who were both immigrants from Ireland.

1850 Census Alice Gray

I have been unable to find a record of the family living in Boston, but in the 1870 census Alice’s brother John gives his birthplace as Boston. This is a contradiction to the 1850 and 1860 censuses which give his birthplace as New York, however. If the family did live in Boston, it was for a short time. By 1850, the family was living in Livingston County, New York, near Buffalo. Alice’s father, Patrick, was a laborer and likely worked on the expansion of the Erie Canal. Patrick died sometime between 1850 and 1860, leaving his wife and two children without a means of support. It appears that it was after the death of her father that Alice, then around 16 years of age, began her career as an actress. She chose the stage name of Alice Gray and would be billed as such for the rest of life.

Metropolitan Theater advertisement 1855Since her family had settled near Buffalo, NY, it was appropriate for Alice to commence her career in that city. She was able to acquire a position at the recently opened Metropolitan Theatre.

A theater historian in Buffalo later recalled, “When she came to the Metropolitan Theatre in 1851 or ’52, she could neither read nor write, but she was naturally bright and advanced rapidly.” Alice must have started with minor roles as her name did not receive billing very often in the early years. If she was learning the craft it is likely that she merely acted in walk on roles and silent characters. It was not until 1854, that Alice’s name began to make appearances in the advertisements for the Metropolitan Theatre performances. Over the next few years she stayed at the Metropolitan, honing her craft and receiving larger and larger roles. In 1856 she met and acted alongside a visiting star named Mr. Edward Eddy. Though Eddy’s engagement at the Metropolitan was short, Gray made an impression on him. In the upcoming years, Eddy would keep in touch with Gray and provide her with further acting opportunities. By 1857, Alice Gray had graduated to the main stock actress for the Metropolitan Theatre, in which she was responsible for playing the leading female roles opposite the visiting stars.Edwin Booth circa 1860

In November of 1857, a young, 24 year-old star billed as, “The Wonder of the Age” made his first appearance at the Metropolitan Theatre. The noted star who was greeted with such fan fare was Edwin Booth. Though the weather was poor during Booth’s time in Buffalo, the theater was packed every night. This was not only good for Edwin, but also for Alice Gray who ably played alongside Booth as his female counterpart. The increased crowd at the Metropolitan allowed more of Buffalo’s theater patrons to see how much Alice Gray’s abilities had progressed over the last few years. These performances with a member off the Booth family would be the first of many for Alice Gray. In a few short years she would become extremely familiar with practically all acting members of the Booth family.

After Edwin departed Buffalo, the very next performance at the Metropolitan Theatre was a benefit in Alice Gray’s honor. Her performances with Edwin had clearly garnered her some more attention. The newspapers, in describing her benefit, gave kind, but realistic descriptions of Gray’s abilities:

“…the merit of of Miss Gray as an actress deserves to be substantially recognized. The steady improvement she has made since her first appearance in Buffalo, is acknowledged by all. She personates the leading female characters acceptably; is uniformly accurate in the text, and evinces care and study in the business of the stage. Her many friends should encourage and reward her efforts by their presence this evening.”

Gray was undoubtedly becoming a better actress, but had not yet achieved the talent of a star. She continued with the Metropolitan Theatre for the remainder of the 1857-1858 season with a small break in March of 1858 where she performed briefly at the Bowery Theatre in New York City. At that time, the Bowery Theatre was being leased by her friend Edward Eddy. The chance to act in New York City and possibly become a star performer on those elite stages was the dream of many actresses. While Alice Gray acted ably alongside Eddy and even received a benefit in her honor one night, once Eddy was finished leasing out the Bowery Theatre, Gray’s first foray in New York City was over.  While she had not been “discovered” by the New York City patrons, this experience would help her in the future. She returned home to Buffalo.

When the theatrical season of 1858-1859 was advertised, Alice Gray was given top billing as the leading lady of the Metropolitan Theatre once more. However, when the season debuted on September 20, 1858 and Gray took the stage for the first time as Lady Teazle in School for Scandal, she found herself faced with an agitated audience:

1858 Hissed from the stage Alice Gray

Gray must have been traumatized by this sudden betrayal of the audience. The same people who had supported her growth over the last few years were now hissing her from the stage. A newspaper from a few days later explained the reason:

1858 reason for hiss Alice Gray

As reported, Alice Gray had apparently made some enemies in the Buffalo theatrical world. The business then was just as cut-throat as it is today (if not more so). Perhaps the other actresses were jealous of Gray’s recent debut in New York City due to the generosity and assistance of Edward Eddy. Whatever the reason, the scheme against Alice Gray worked as planned. Whether by her own choice or the decision of the manager, Gray did not appear at the Metropolitan Theatre for the rest of the 1858 season. Coincidentally, she was replaced at first with “Mrs. J. B. Booth”. This was Clementina DeBar Booth, the first wife of Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. Though Mr. and Mrs. Booth were divorced due to Junius running off to California with another woman in 1851, Clementina kept the name and used it professionally. Not long after this, the gossip reported in the above article came to fruition when the manager of the Metropolitan Theatre had his own wife take over some of the main female roles.

After being shunned from the Metropolitan Theatre, Alice Gray made her way back to New York City, where she had briefly performed in March. At that point, her friend Edward Eddy had leased the Broadway Theatre for the season. Though the season had already begun and Eddy already had his stock company, he hired Alice Gray. She acted at the Broadway Theatre with the rest of the stock actors until the end of the season. She received very little press during her time at the Broadway Theatre and without good press and attention, it was practically impossible for a supernumerary to make it as a star. During the next season, Alice began to travel outside her home state of New York, perhaps hoping that good word of mouth from audiences in smaller cities would help her establish herself the next time she acted in New York City.

The beginning of the 1859 season found Alice in Charleston, South Carolina. She was the lead stock actress for the Charleston Theatre, an establishment which promised its public a diverse selection of entertainment. The theatrical portion of the season only lasted until November 12, 1859, which was a benefit performance for Henry B. Phillips, a Charleston native. Phillips was a well known actor who had toured the eastern states. He was also known for helping to coach novice actors and teach them the proper points and recitations.  In a few short years, H.B. Phillips would be hired by John T. Ford to be the acting manager of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. In that capacity, Phillips sole job would be to train inexperienced actors on how not to make fools of themselves. For his benefit performance, Phillips choose two pieces, The Poor Gentleman, in which Alice Gray was billed as his leading lady, and the very popular comedy of the day, Our American Cousin. This would be Alice Gray’s first experience with the play, Our American Cousin, but, due to the events connected with it in the future, this performance would hardly be the most memorable. After the Phillips’ benefit in Charleston, the whole theatrical company traveled to Mobile, Alabama. In the mean time, the Charleston Theatre opened to an opera troupe while advertising its next, diverse entertainment offering to the public, stating that a “troupe of learned monkeys, goats, and dogs, will present themselves,” in the week to come.

Alice Gray found a welcoming audience in Mobile and her abilities were praised when she was given a benefit performance there:

1860 Nice review Alice Gray

The company stayed in Mobile until late March of 1860, when the Charleston Theatre reopened (hopefully after they cleaned up the mess from the “learned” monkeys, goats, and dogs) for theatrical events.  The headlining star for the reopening was none other than Edwin Booth. Though there were no advertisements billing him as the “The Wonder of the Age” as there were in Buffalo more than two years ago, he was nevertheless warmly welcomed by the Charleston public. Booth played at the Charleston Theatre until April 4th, likely teaming up once again with Alice Gray as his leading lady. Not long after his departure, however, Alice became sick. An article in the April 14th edition of the New York Clipper reported that Alice had “been quite ill” and “confined to her room for more than a week”. She recovered from her illness and finished up the rest of the season in Charleston but this would not be the first time that illness and other personal matters would preclude Alice from performing.

During the summer of 1860, Alice Gray made extra money by taking a little more than a week long summer engagement at Cleveland’s Academy of Music. For most performers, summers were the dry times. Most theaters closed down or engaged cheaper entertainments for the few patrons who would visit during the hot months. The few theaters that did engage actors at this time, however, generally did a wonderful job advertising them. Alice Gray received star billing in the Cleveland newspapers for her brief run with her name in the largest type size that she would ever see in her career:

1860 Star billing Alice Gray

As Alice Gray performed as a star in Cleveland, back home in Buffalo the census taker was knocking at her mother’s door for the 1860 census. Despite her almost year long absence in the South and Midwest, Alice’s mother included her daughter as a member of the household. Ann Dehan gave the census taker her daughter’s real name, Alice Dehan, and set in stone what she was going to be for the rest of her life: a “Theater Actress”.

1860 Census Alice Gray

This concludes part one of the series about Alice Gray’s life, career and connection to the Booth family. To read the second installment, “Successful Partnerships,” click HERE.

Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination by Thomas Bogar
Additional research graciously provided by Thomas Bogar
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
Library of Congress
Newspaper extracts from: University of Illinois (free), (free), (subscription)

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

John Wilkes Booth’s Richard III

NOTE: The live event has already occurred but you can still watch a video of the production embedded below.

Tonight (2/2/2016) at 7:00 pm CST (8:00 pm EST) a very special staged reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III will be enacted by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Hidden Room Theatre troupe will be recreating the production as it appeared using a promptbook which belonged to, and was annotated by, John Wilkes Booth.

John Wilkes Booth's Richard III promptbook

John Wilkes Booth was famous for his portrayal of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and he regularly opened his engagements in different cities with Richard III. Booth’s first full appearance as Richard occurred on October 5, 1860 and his last was on May 12, 1864. Between those two dates he performed the lead role a total of 115 times. Richard was truly Booth’s title character and the one he was most known for. The adaptation of Richard III that Booth used for the role was one that was filled with sword fighting and intensity that suited the younger Booth well. Just as Edwin Booth is known today as being the world’s greatest Hamlet, John Wilkes Booth could have been remembered as the world’s greatest Richard, had he not chosen a different path.

The Harry Ransom Center has in its collection one of only two known promptbooks belonging to John Wilkes Booth. The complete book has been scanned and is available digitally HERE. The book is filled with John Wilkes Booth’s handwritten instructions and cues regarding how his version of Richard III should be staged and enacted. It makes alterations to the printed script’s directions and adds supplemental material on how he wanted scenes to go. Promptbooks were common for stars to send out to different theaters ahead of their engagements. The stock actors in the theater’s company would then read the book in order to know how a particular star wanted “their” version of the play to go.

Usually, other than traveling back in time ourselves, reading through John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook would be the best way to get an idea of what Booth’s acting looked like. However, tonight, John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook will be used as the source material for a production of Richard III. The event will be streamed live over the internet on the Harry Ranscom Center website. The live stream is scheduled to start at 7:00 pm CST and can be accessed by clicking this link:

During the event, Harry Ransom curator Eric Colleary will be live tweeting the event and answering your questions about the production and source material. You can follow along with the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #BoothR3.

I hope you are able to watch this unique production tonight. It is the closest we are able to get to actually watching John Wilkes Booth himself on the stage. For more information, please check out this program from the Harry Ransom Center.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

John Wilkes Booth’s “Mysterious Beauty”

“Some Photographs of Females”

After John Wilkes Booth was shot and pulled from the Garretts’ burning tobacco barn, his body was subjected to a search. While the assassin of President Lincoln lay paralyzed and dying on the front porch of the Garrett farmhouse, the detectives rifled through his pockets, removing pieces of evidence. The items the detectives discovered worked to confirm his identity (which was never really in question), and give them the evidence they needed to prove back in Washington that Booth had, indeed, been taken. With reward money on their minds, such proof was of the utmost importance. Detective Everton Conger was so anxious to spread the news that Booth had been captured that he departed with some of Booth’s possessions before Booth had even died. One of the objects Conger brought back to Washington with him was Booth’s diary which contained the photographs of five ladies.

Historians Richard Sloan and Art Loux view the five photographs found on John Wilkes Booth's body when he was killed. The man in the middle is former Ford's Theatre curator Michael Harmon.

Historians Richard Sloan and Art Loux view the five photographs found on John Wilkes Booth’s body when he was killed. The man in the middle is former Ford’s Theatre curator Michael Harmon.

These images, like the diary itself, were turned over to the War Department where they languished for quite some time. Booth’s collection of ladies were deemed unimportant to the official investigation and were not used at the trial of the conspirators or at the 1867 trial of John Surratt. They eventually were boxed up along with some other evidence used at the trial and Booth’s other possessions. They were stored with the War Department files in the Judge Advocate General’s Office.

It was quite some time before the existence of these photographs became known to the general public. When the text of John Wilkes Booth’s diary was published for the first time in 1867, the affidavit attached to it from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton stated that only the quoted entries and “some photographs of females” comprised the contents of the diary. There appears to have been no follow up or inquiry about who these females were or why Booth had their photographs in his diary. It wasn’t until several years later, when the occasional newspaper reporter convinced the Judge Advocate General’s Office to let them take a peak at the relics of the assassination, that any discussion of the photographs began.

An inquisitive reporter with the Cleveland Herald visited the relics in the JAG office in 1884. Entranced with the more vivid relics such as Booth’s derringer and pieces of Lincoln’s skull, the reporter only made a passing mention of the ladies in Booth’s diary. He stated, “among the articles found in the ‘pocket’ of the book are five photographs of young women, presumably actresses.” It appears that the identities of the ladies in Booth’s pocket had not been researched much prior to this, seeing as this reporter was given no information about who they were.

Visitors to see the relics were relatively scarce and those who were able to view the artifacts could only do so with advance permission from either the Secretary of War or Judge Advocate General. The artifacts were viewed by “about three or four people a year,” considerably slowing down the process of identifying the ladies. It was essentially left to the few clerks who acted as custodians over the relics to attempt to identify them, which they did with varying degrees of success.

Effie Germon and Lucy Hale

It appears that the identity of two of the ladies contained in Booth’s diary were identified a bit earlier than the rest. A reporter who was given access to view the relics in 1891 was correctly told that two of the images in the set were of actress Effie Germon and of “a daughter of one distinguished Senator from a New England state.”

On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, Effie Germon was performing the lead of Aladdin at Grover’s Theatre in D.C. In the audience was young Tad Lincoln, who heard the news of his father’s assassination when the play at Grover’s was halted to announce the tragedy. The 1891 reporter was kind in describing the image Booth possessed of this easily recognizable star of the stage, “Miss Effie Germon, once leading lady at Wallack’s, is one. It is a fair young face, strikingly beautiful.” However the reporter is not so kind when he relates Ms. Germon’s current state, “Miss Germon, if living, is now an old woman, and they say she is fat.”

Lucy Hale was the daughter of U.S. Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire. She was also John Wilkes Booth’s secret fiancée. The main evidence for believing that Booth and Lucy were actually in love is not only the collections of the Booth family who supported the idea of an engagement but also from Booth’s own words. Some of Booth’s final thoughts were of Lucy and this is demonstrated in his diary.

It is largely forgotten or ignored that the very first words written in Booth’s diary are “Ti Amo.” “Ti Amo” is Italian but seems to be an understandable misspelling of the Spanish “Te Amo.” Regardless, both translate into English as “I love you”. This announcement of love, coded a bit, seems out of place in Booth’s diary. Before starting his manifesto about why he shot the President, John Wilkes Booth was compelled to write a brief note of love to someone. It seems likely that this message was meant for Lucy Hale.

Ti Amo

Prior to the assassination, Lucy’s father, Senator Hale, had been appointed as a minister to Spain.  All of the Hales were in earnest to learn some Spanish before heading abroad with their father. Lucy vowed to John Wilkes that she would return in a year, with or without her father’s permission, in order to marry him. Lucy lived in the same Washington hotel as Booth, and he would have almost assuredly witnessed his fiancée practicing Spanish.

It may be a romantic idea, but it’s possible that the Ti Amo in Booth’s diary was his final message to the woman he loved. It was a message Lucy would know was meant for her and for no one else. It was a way for him to announce his love for her, for the last time, without endangering her further.

What would have become of Booth and Lucy’s relationship had he not assassinated the President is unknown. Perhaps it was always doomed to fail due to Booth’s womanizing as evidenced by his diary’s collection of other beautiful women. Still, the presence of Lucy’s image and the coded “I love you” message in Booth’s diary could easily demonstrate that, in his final days on the run, John Wilkes Booth thought of, and loved, Lucy.

Mistakes and Misidentifications

Though it was correctly concluded that Effie Germon and Lucy Hale were among those represented in Booth’s photographs, this did not mean that they were always identified correctly. In 1891, a reporter was shown the relics by a clerk of the Judge Advocate General’s office named Mr. Saxton. You can read the reporter’s article about the visit by clicking this line. Unfortunately, Mr. Saxton appears to have been all mixed up when it came to which image was of which woman.  In addition, he provided incorrect identifications for the rest of the images and only seemed to show the reporter four out of the five images.

Mr. Saxton’s mistakes and misidentifications, which demonstrate the JAG office’s lingering uncertainty about who these women were, are as follows:

Actress Alice Grey was mistaken for fellow actress Effie Germon:

Lucy Hale was misidentified as a singer named Caroline Richings:

Actress Helen Western was mistaken for actress Olive Logan by the reporter before Mr. Saxton misidentified her as Lucy Hale:

And actress Effie Germon was mistaken for another actress named Rose Eytinge:

While we may laugh today about the numerous mistakes in Mr. Saxton’s 1891 identifications, it does demonstrate that there was somewhat of an attempt by someone in the JAG office to learn the identities of these women. This leads us to the last image in the set photographs and the case of John Wilkes Booth’s “Mysterious Beauty”.

“The Mysterious Beauty”

Fannie Brown CDV

We know that, eventually, the first four vignetted photographs were correctly identified as Alice Grey, Effie Germon, Helen Western and Lucy Hale. It is likely that the clerks of the JAG office consulted a few more visitors who possessed far better knowledge about the theatrical leading ladies of the 1860’s and that they helped fix the mistakes. However, even after four out of the five women were identified, the identity of the woman in the last image was still uncertain. This woman, her image different from the rest in that it showed her full body rather than just a vignette of her face, was still unknown. A more active search was undertaken to learn who she was.

As has been demonstrated by other images of artifacts in possession of the Judge Advocate General’s office (this one for example), the items relating to Lincoln’s assassination were not always treated with the same degree of preservation or care as they receive today. Some of the smaller pieces found on Booth’s body mysteriously disappeared over the years, such as a small horseshoe charm, a diamond stick pin, and a Catholic medallion. In addition to these losses, the clerks at the JAG office even burned some of the clothing collected as evidence when moths began to eat away at it. Modern museum curators would cringe at the way in which these artifacts were locked up in a box with no thought of temperature or humidity.

It is therefore unsurprising that the images of Booth’s ladies would also be subjected to neglect or ignorant mistreatment. Such was the case when one of the custodians of the artifacts decided he really wanted to know the identity of the woman in the standing photo. Until she was recognized, some unnamed clerk nicknamed her “The Mysterious Beauty” and went so far as to write that moniker on the bottom of the original image itself.

The Mysterious Beauty Cabinet card

One must remember that the entire collection of assassination related artifacts stored by the Judge Advocate General’s office was still considered to be official evidence and property of the U.S. government. In the years after the assassination, several organizations had tried, and failed, to gain ownership of the artifacts. There were even efforts by various Judge Advocate Generals to rid themselves of the pesky items that garnered such macabre interest. The items were almost transferred to the Smithsonian before the Judge Advocate General’s office declared that even if they were transferred to the Smithsonian, the government would still own them and the Smithsonian essentially couldn’t do anything with them other than store them. After that, the Smithsonian was no longer interested.

With this in mind, it is amazing to picture a clerk of the Judge Advocate General’s office causally taking this CDV, a piece of government owned evidence that even the Smithsonian couldn’t be trusted with, out of the JAG office and into the Washington streets. The clerk walked to the nearby photography studio of J.J. Faber and had the photographer duplicate the image with “The Mysterious Beauty” inscription onto larger format images known as cabinet cards. A photocopy of one of the cabinet cards is pictured above. How many copies were made of this image is unknown, but it is likely that the unnamed clerk made enough copies to pass around. The original, defaced, image was subsequently returned to its governmental prison.

How long it took to correctly identify this beauty after her image was duplicated and passed around, or who eventually made the correct identification, is not known, but eventually the unnamed clerk’s effort paid off. On the back of the photocopied cabinet card pictured above (which was sent to author Francis Wilson in the 1910’s – 1920’s as he was working on his book about John Wilkes Booth), the following statement was recorded:

“The original of this picture was found, after his death, in the diary of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln. It was not known for a long time who the subject of the picture was and the custodian of the ‘Booth diary’ and other articles connected with the great tragedy, stored in the archives of the War Department, had some copies made of it for the purpose of identification. It was finally recognized as being the picture of Fanny Brow, an actress who died many years ago. Since that time the words “The Mysterious Beauty” have been effaced from the original in the War Department.

War Department
Office of the Judge Advocate General

John P. Simonton

Indeed, this final image was determined to be that of actress Fanny Brown.

Revealed at last, John Wilkes Booth's "Mysterious Beauty" was Fanny Brown.

Revealed at last, John Wilkes Booth’s “Mysterious Beauty” was Fanny Brown.

Fanny Brown had known John Wilkes Booth since at least 1863 when they performed together throughout cities in New England. Gossip of the day even hinted at a romantic relationship between the pair, which would not be surprising given Booth’s established success in wooing women:

JWB and Fanny Brown Gossip

As clerk John Simonton* states, after Fanny Brown’s identity was established, the words “The Mysterious Beauty” were erased from the original image. However, as any museum curator will tell you, alterations to an artifact can never truly be erased. A close inspection of the bottom of Fanny Brown’s CDV shows the faint outline of the words that were once carelessly scribbled onto her gift to John Wilkes Booth:


A Fitting Repose

Eventually Alice Grey, Effie Germon, Helen Western, Lucy Hale, and Fanny Brown escaped their prison in the Judge Advocate General’s office. On February 5, 1940, the artifact evidence held by the JAG was officially transferred to the Lincoln Museum, also known as Ford’s Theatre. In the years since then, the ladies have spent some on display but still spent more time in a couple of National Park Service storage facilities. Today, however, all five of these beauties are on display in the assassination section of the Ford’s Theatre Museum.

Booth's Ladies

After so many years of being confined to a box, ignored, misidentified, and forgotten, it’s great to see these ladies on display so prominently at Ford’s Theatre. Their innocent beauty is a much needed contrast to the dark tools of the assassination that surround them. These images of Lucy Hale, Alice Grey, Effie Germon, Fanny Brown, and Helen Western perfectly represent the beautiful life that John Wilkes Booth mysteriously threw away when he committed his violent act of hate on April 14, 1865.

Denver Rocky Mountain News, January 13, 1884 (republishes the article from the Cleveland Herald)
“Relics of a Tragedy”, The World, April, 26, 1891
The Richard and Kellie Gutman Collection
The Art Loux Archive
Ford’s Theatre Museum
Library of Congress
New York Public Library

*John Paul Simonton, the clerk who wrote the note on the back of the cabinet card explaining the story of “The Mysterious Beauty” is occasionally referenced by those who believe John Wilkes Booth was not killed on April 26, 1865. Simonton worked as a law clerk in the JAG office from 1877 – 1920. After his retirement, he wrote an affidavit in 1925 stating, in part, “I studied the evidence in this case and examined all the exhibits as an expert and found no definite proof that John Wilkes Booth was ever captured. The fact that John Wilkes Booth was captured could not be established before any court in the United States on the evidence submitted at the time of the trial and now on file at the War Department.” Conspiracy theorists use this as “proof” that Booth escaped. Interestingly, they largely ignore an 1898 letter from Simonton to Finis Bates (of the Booth mummy story) in which Simonton stated, “While I have not what may be styled direct or positive evidence that the man killed was Booth, I have such circumstantial evidence as would seem to prove the fact beyond doubt.” In addition, Simonton clearly states on the back of this cabinet card that “this picture was found, after his death, in the diary of John Wilkes Booth,” solidifying that it was his firm opinion that it was John Wilkes Booth who was killed. When it comes to his 1925 statement, Simonton is very clearly pointing out the fact of Booth’s death was not definitely proven at the trial of the conspirators and in this he would be correct. The object of the trial of the conspirators was not to conclusively prove that Booth was dead, it was was to try the conspirators for their involvement in Lincoln’s death. The files and evidence of the conspiracy trial do not definitely or directly prove Booth’s death as this was not the objective of the trial. However, evidence from sources outside the conspiracy trial (i.e. autopsy reports, the numerous identification of Booth’s body by his friends and family, official statements from David Herold, the Garrett family, the troopers that captured him, etc.) along with the circumstantial evidence presented at the conspiracy trial (i.e. Booth’s possessions taken from him after he was shot) do conclusively prove that Booth was killed.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

An Assassination Vacation in the Midwest

Kate and I are visiting my family here in Illinois and decided to use the opportunity to make use of the newly updated Lincoln assassination maps here on BoothieBarn.  We planned and executed a two day excursion to visit some of the sites on the Lincoln Assassination in the Midwest map.  The following is an overview of our trip composed using the tweets I sent out en route along with a couple of short videos I made.

While the trip mainly consisted of two long days of driving, Kate and I enjoyed ourselves and it was a lot of fun to see so many Lincoln assassination places, graves, and artifacts all at once.  Thank you to the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County, Mr. Blair Tarr, curator of the Kansas State Historical Society Museum, Nikaela Zimmerman, Barry Cauchon, and Steve Miller for all your help in making this trip possible.  Also, thank you to my parents for letting me use (and put a considerable number of miles on) their car.

Boston Corbett's Dugout 7-8-2015

Now you all get out there, take your own assassination vacation, and tell me about it in the comments below!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

John Wilkes Booth: Snowbound

Today, as the New England region of the United States recovers from what is being called the “Blizzard of 2015”, I am reminded of another historic winter storm. To many in the Midwest, the winter of 1863/64 became frozen in their minds as one of the worst winters ever experienced. Between December and January temperatures rarely went above freezing. On December 18th, 1863, for example, Fort Kearny, Kansas reported a temperature of 25 degrees below zero with snow four to five feet deep in places. New Year’s Day, 1864, brought along a massive blizzard for the Midwest with places like Minneapolis, Minnesota seeing a high of 25 degrees below zero that day.

It was around this time that John Wilkes Booth, a now successful and celebrated actor, was performing in Leavenworth, Kansas. He had been delayed in arriving to Leavenworth from his former engagement in Cleveland, Ohio due, appropriately, to snow. However, this minor delay of a day, would amount to nothing compared to what was in store for the actor.

John Wilkes Booth Gutman 24

Booth finished his engagement in Leavenworth on December 31st. During his time there, critics spoke of his talents:

“Mr. Booth has not only genius, but careful culture and trained power of intellect. There is no actor now on the stage who displays so much of dramatic force and insight as Mr. J. Wilkes Booth, except, perhaps, for his brother Edwin. There is no imitation on the part of the junior, either to his renowned father or his now famous brother. He has a grace and charm all his own, though resembling them in genius, skill and painstaking care, with which his characters are presented on the stage.”

John Wilkes Booth set off from Leavenworth on January 1, 1864. In the morning, he made a brief visit to Fort Leavenworth, a few miles north of the city, to see some friends. This trip occurred on one of the coldest days on record and at a time when newspapers were describing the terrible winds thusly: “Ah, this is a blessed cold snap! Patient old Job may have seen colder weather, but he never undertook to walk up Sixth street facing such a wind as we felt yesterday. Not he. His reputation for patience would have been blasted. God help the shivering poor.” Booth later wrote of having, “an ear frost bitten,” by the time he arrived at the Fort.

Accompanying Booth during this western trip was a young, black man, possibly named Leav, about which practically nothing is known other than he served as Booth’s valet and servant. Upon leaving Fort Leavenworth for the journey back to town in order to catch the ferry, Booth gave Leav some items to carry including his pocket flask. Booth wrote the sorrowing effects of this decision in a letter to the man with whom he had been boarding with in Leavenworth:

Portion of a John Wilkes Booth letter in which he recounts the loss of his flask in the snow.

Portion of a John Wilkes Booth letter in which he recounts the loss of his flask in the snow.

“After giving my boy my flask to keep for me, I started for a run and made the river (four miles) on foot. I run without a stop all the way. I then found my boy had lost that treasured flask. I had to pay five dollars for a bare-backed horse to hunt for it. I returned within sight of the Fort and judge my dismay upon arriving to see a waggon just crushing my best friend. But I kissed him in his last moments by pressing the snow to my lips over which he had spilled his noble blood.”

Some have tried to use this visual of the actor, mourning the destruction of his flask and sucking the last bit of its spilled contents from the snow, as evidence that Booth was an alcoholic. While possible, I view the scene as entirely appropriate given Booth’s dramatic flair in a moment when the outside conditions so desperately warranted the “warming” effects of alcohol. Saddened as he was, things were still only going to get worse for the actor.

When Booth returned back to the boat landing, he found that ice had prevented the ship from reaching the shore. Booth, along with others, helped to cut the ice in order to allow the boat to dock. The boat then took him across the Missouri River and he slept that night across the river from Leavenworth in the town of Weston, Missouri. His end goal was St. Louis, where he was booked at Ben DeBar’s theater starting on January 5th. On the morning of January 2nd, he boarded a train at Weston and took it north about 35 miles to St. Joseph. From there he was hoping to catch a train with the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad which would take him eastbound towards St. Louis. The weather, however, had other plans.

The blizzard of 1863/1864, known as “The Big Snow” by those who lived through it, occurred over an area of 3,000 miles hitting a large portion of Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. As one Missouri citizen later recalled, “a terrible snow storm set in and continued with unabated fury for forty-eight hours.” Near St. Joseph, the ground was covered with snow to a depth of about 27 inches, but areas east of St. Joseph had been hit even worse. Huge snow drifts occurred completely covering the railroad tracks. Not one, not two, but eight trains along the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad were trapped in the snow, some buried up to thirty feet in it. The closest trapped train was only about 19 miles east of St. Joseph. All were unlikely to be freed anytime soon.

The cover of the January 23, 1864 edition of Harper's Weekly shows the condition of railroads across the Midwest.

The cover of the January 23, 1864 edition of Harper’s Weekly shows the condition of railroads across the Midwest.

By the time Booth had arrived at St. Joseph, no train had traversed the Hannibal and St. Joseph rails for the past week. Booth, like everyone else who came to St. Joseph hoping to go east, was completely snowbound. Local newspapers printed a report, later to be proven entirely too optimistic, that the train line might be up and running again in four days. With no other options available to him, Booth found a room at the now wholly overcrowded Pacific House hotel in St. Joseph.

Booth spent his first full day in St. Joseph on Sunday, January 3rd. Even after only a day, Booth likely empathized with the local newspaper which wrote, “We are ‘in the wilderness,’ and can’t see any way to get out.”

On Monday, January 4th, Booth’s reputation had caught up to him. After becoming aware that the famous tragedian was effectively stuck in their city, citizens of St. Joseph wrote a letter to Booth asking him to perform for them in some capacity. They wrote:

“J. Wilkes Booth, Esq., Pacific House:
The Undersigned, citizens and travelers detained here, having learned that you were making a short visit to this city and entertaining a high appreciation of your ability as a tragedian, would most respectfully but earnestly request that you would favor us with a public reading from any of your favorite authors, at any time and place most convenient for you. When and where we pledge you an appreciative audience”

The request was then signed by 70 citizens and guests of St. Joseph including the mayor. Booth, later wrote to a friend that he was down to his last cent in St. Joseph, and so he heartily agreed to the public’s demand of him. He wrote the following response to the invitation:

Your flattering request has just been recieved and I endeavor to show my appreciation of it, by the promptness of my compliance. I have gained some little reputation as an actor, but a dramatic reading I have never attempted. I know there is a wide distinction as in the latter case, it is impossible to identify ones-self with any single character. But as I live to please my ones, I will do all in my power to please the kind friends I have met in St. Joseph.
I will therefore designate Tuesday evening, Jan. 5th, at Corby’s Hall. I am
Very Respectfully,
J. Wilkes Booth”

Despite his assertions to the contrary, Booth had, in fact, performed public recitations before.  When he ran off with the Richmond Grays to attend the execution of John Brown, he had entertained his fellow soldiers with readings.  That was, however, over four years ago when he was still but a novice actor.

The next day’s newspaper advertised the performance as their lead article, with the newspaper’s ironic political sentiments being the only thing preceding it in the issue.

John Wilkes Booth will perfom with Lincoln ad 1-5-1864 St Joseph Morning Herald

In addition to reciting pieces contained in the article above, John Wilkes also took this chance to recite one of his favorite, and entirely appropriate, poems, “Beautiful Snow“.  The newspapers hailed the performance the next day stating:

“The dramatic reading of this celebrated actor last evening was well attended and gave universal satisfaction.  The Hall was well filled, but it was so very cold that everybody found it almost impossible to be comfortable. The selections of the reader were all rendered in a captial style, but we were particularly pleased with ‘Once I was Pure [Beautiful Snow]‘ and the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade.’ Our citizens would greet Mr. Booth with a crowded house could he be persuaded to repeat the entertainment.”

Booth did not perform again in St. Joseph despite the the newspaper’s suggestion.  It might have had something to do with the condition of the audience, which the newspaper scolded for their behavior during his recitations:

“It is inexplicable why full grown men will go about in a hall on such an occasion as that of last night, stamping like elephants, and moving chairs as though they were anvils.  A trifle of good breeding is a capital thing to be used in keeping a hall quiet.  Stupid dolts who go thundering about the world, to the disgust of every sensible person, should be debarred from the privileges of Corby’s Hall during dramatic readings.”

Booth received $150 from the performance, which was greatly needed. Days were still passing with little sign that the trains would start running again. On Thursday, January 7th, the temperature in St. Joseph at 9:00 am was twenty one degrees below zero. Some days were better than others, however, with the newspaper celebrating the reappearance of the sun despite the “crisp, cold day”.

By Friday, January 8th, however, it was clear that everyone was suffering from the prolonged freeze. The newspaper lamented, “Well, this is a big storm. In the memory of man, no such cold weather and no such fall of snow has been known as we are now suffering in. Hundreds of travelers are here, weatherbound.” An earlier report stated, “Our people are in a terrible fix. The snow has effectually shut us out from ‘all the world and the rest of mankind,’ and there is no prospect of relief.” John Wilkes Booth was now three days overdue for his engagement in St. Louis, 300 miles away. A man arrived in St. Joseph and related that he had taken the train west from Macon, the transfer point to St. Louis. The train made it west until Breckenridge, where the stopped trains and snow prevented it from going further. Booth, realizing that if he could make it to Breckenridge, 60 miles to the east, he could catch the working trains to Macon and then St. Louis, decided to put an end to his snowy vacation in St. Joseph. With $100 of the money he had received from his public reading, Booth hired a four horse sleigh to take him the 60 miles to Breckenridge. He departed on January 8th, after spending about five and half days in St. Joseph, Missouri.

The exact details of Booth’s journey by sleigh are not known for sure. He later wrote to his friend John Ellsler of the journey:

“[The performance at St. Joseph] gave me $150. with which I hired a sleigh and came 100 miles over the plains. Four days and nights in the largest snow drifts I ever saw Its a long story which I want to tell you when I see you, but I will say this that I never knew what hardship was till then.”

There are two individuals who, many years later, gave accounts regarding Booth’s time in the snow. One of them was was William D. Bassett, then a 16 year-old railroad telegraph operator stationed in Cameron, Missouri. Around the turn of the century, various newspaper articles were published featuring Bassett’s recollections of The Big Snow. Bassett stated that he shared his comfortable room at the Cameron depot with Booth after Booth arrived, along with this theatrical troupe, in Cameron by train. The way Bassett portrays it, Booth was never trapped at St. Joseph, but, instead, with him at Cameron. All of this is suspect and is contrary to the facts of this article. However, it is possible that Bassett has a bit of truth in his accounts. Perhaps, Booth, while on his four day sleigh journey to Breckenridge, stopped in Cameron to rest for a day or two and found hospitality with young Bassett in the depot. Cameron was just about halfway between St. Joseph and Breckenridge, making it an extremely appropriate spot to rest before moving on. In Bassett’s recollections of their time together, he states that Booth was fond of literature and that the pair spent some time reading Victor Hugo’s, Les Miserables together. Booth was also apparently quite entertained when, upon visiting the local bar one morning, he found a captive audience of customers waiting patiently as the bartender attempting to thaw out bottles of whiskey that had frozen solid.

Probably the most entertaining of Bassett’s recollections, involves Booth’s interactions with the children of Cameron. From other accounts, we know that John Wilkes Booth was very fond of children and was fairly gifted at conversing with them. According to Bassett:

“Several little children played around the depot everyday while Booth was there, and with these innocent creatures he soon became a prime favorite. He would teach them games and engage in snowball battles with them. Sometimes they would all join against him and give him much the worst of it, but he took it all in perfect good nature, and was as rollicking and boisterous as the best of them. For many weeks after his departure the little girls and boys would ask me when ‘Mr. Boots’ was coming back.”

A newspaper article containing Bassett’s memories, published in 1901, contains this wonderful drawing of the event.

Snowbound John Wilkes Booth The Republic 8-4-1901

Even if Bassett’s accounts are untrue, I have no problem believing that, at some point in his life whether it be during the many days he spent at St. Joseph or a previous snowy winter, John Wilkes Booth engaged some local children in a snow ball fight. His affinity for children makes this a very likely scenario in my mind.

One of the other individuals who later spoke of Booth’s time in the snow was an actress named Mrs. McKee Rankin. According to an article by her published in 1909, she heard Booth recount some of the struggles he faced during his sleigh ride to Breckenridge. It is very difficult to put any reliability in her account, however. Not only was it published 45 years after the event, but Mrs. Rankin also admits that she is remembering the story told by Booth to a friend while she was listening through a transom in a different room. The account is filled with factual errors regarding the events and, in truth, is barely worth the paper it is written on. However, it is still an extremely entertaining read. Surprisingly, the one thing Mrs. Rankin does get right is the inclusion of Booth’s otherwise forgotten servant. She recalls an exciting tale in which Booth and Leav hire a horse named “The Girl” to lead their sleigh. At one point it is so dark that the men went right over a snow drift sending them flying from the sleigh. As Mrs. Rankin writes it, after the accident poor Leav was like a cartoon character with his head and body buried while his legs and feet stuck out of the snow. Booth pulled him out and together they righted the sleigh. Leav was freezing cold and buried himself under robes and blankets on the sleigh. While Booth recovered himself, he bent down to get a drink of whiskey from a jug they had brought along only to find that it had broken. After lighting a half broken cigar, Booth heard footsteps approaching. He tried to rouse Leav, but at that point Leav was unconscious, wrapped in the sleigh. As the footsteps got closer Booth drew long on his cigar hoping to see something in the darkness. Then he felt the panting of an aninmal before him and saw two balls of fire reflecting in the eyes of an animal before him. It was a wolf! In that instant, our heroic Booth grabbed the broken piece of whiskey jug and brought it down right onto the head of the beast. Before getting a chance to see how many wolves were out there, “The Girl” let out a yelp and with a bound was pulling the sleigh away at top speed. According to Mrs. Rankin the horse, at a dead run, didn’t stop until they reached their destination.

While it’s safe to say that probably none of Mrs. Rankin’s account is true, it is at least possible Booth said some of these falsehoods to make a good story. In fact, another actor by the name of Edwin Adams, recalled another likely case of Booth adding flourish to a story:

“I heard [Booth] boasting over a long and tedious journey from Leavenworth across the prairies in a sleigh to St. Louis and after of having threatened a conductor’s life, who had stopped his train on account of the great depth of snow, and that by placing a pistol to his head, made him continue his journey.”

The truth of Booth’s journey, however is far less flashy. On Monday, January 11th, John Wilkes Booth, his servant and his sleigh team had made the cold trek of sixty miles from St. Joseph to Breckenridge. The tracks on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad were clear from that point eastward. Booth caught the first train he could eastward. At Macon, he transferred off of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad to the Northern Missouri Line. This line took him southeast, all the way to his destination of St. Louis.

He opened at the St. Louis Theatre on Tuesday, January 12th exhausted but not wanting to lose any more days from his engagement. The Big Snow had caused him to lose seven days of performances – and pay. The toils of his journey had taken much out of him. One of the stock actors in the company later wrote, “[Booth] told me of his hardships in coming down from [St. Joseph] to fill his date in St. Louis, and that he had made the greater part of the journey in sleds…He looked worn out, dejected and as melancholy as the dull, gray sky above us…After ordering beer, he sat gloomily and silent for a time, and upon my asking him the cause, he smilingly answered that no doubt it was the rough experience he had passed through lately.” Booth would only perform five times in St. Louis, before he had to move on to his next engagement in Louisville, Kentucky.

Just as the residents of Boston will long remember the Blizzard of 2015, so did John Wilkes Booth retain a memory of his run in with The Big Snow of 1863/64. He spent just under a week snowbound in St. Joseph, Missouri and, when he could take it no longer, he braved the harsh weather by sleigh for four days. In less than a year and a half, John Wilkes Booth would again be braving the elements for a chance at freedom as he ran for twelve days, attempting to flee one of the largest manhunts in American history.

John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux
“Right or Wrong, God Judge Me”: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper
January 1, 1864 – January 9, 1864 editions of the St. Joseph Morning Herald
Snowbound with John Wilkes Booth at Cameron, MO by William F. Bassett in The St. Louis Republic Magazine, August 4, 1901
The News of Lincoln’s Death by Mrs. McKee Rankin
The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence edited by William Edwards
Recollections of an Old Actor by Charles A. Krone
Harper’s Weekly
The Art Loux Archive

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

John Wilkes Booth’s Movements at Ford’s Theatre

It is well known that John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln in his theater box, jumped to the stage, and escaped out of the back door of Ford’s Theatre.  These hurried moments at Ford’s instigated a massive manhunt that lasted twelve days and ended with the death of the assassin.

The moments that preceded John Wilkes Booth’s firing of his derringer are not as well known.  John Wilkes Booth was intimately familiar with the layout, and people, of Ford’s Theatre.  It was like a second home to him insomuch that he even had his mail delivered to Ford’s when he was in Washington.  This familiarity allowed Booth to move about Ford’s Theatre without arousing suspicion.  What follows is an account of Booth’s movements at Ford’s Theatre in the time before he shot the president.

Ground Floor of Ford's Theatre and Baptist Alley plan

John Wilkes Booth had a busy day on April 14th.  His preparations to assassinate the President took him to the Herndon House hotel to alert his conspirators, the Kirkwood House hotel to leave a suspicious note for Vice President Johnson, and near Willard’s hotel to give a note to John Mathews which would justify his later actions.  Booth also visited Mary Surratt’s boarding house on H street three times that day.  It was after his third visit, where Mrs. Surratt confirmed she had given John Lloyd the message that parties would be calling for the hidden weapons tonight, that John Wilkes Booth walked to Ford’s Theatre.  He first went into the Star Saloon owned by Peter Taltavul. It was located right next door to Ford’s Theatre.  He briefly drank there with some of the stagehands from Ford’s, including Edman Spangler, since the play for that night, “Our American Cousin“, was at an intermission.  He found himself drinking alone when the men we called to curtain.

From the Star Saloon, Booth made his way to Baptist Alley behind Ford’s Theatre and got his horse, a bay mare, out of her stable. Spangler built the stable for Booth and took care of it for him.  Booth walked his horse to the back door of Ford’s Theatre. At the back door, Booth called for Spangler, who he hoped would hold his horse until he would need it.   Booth was told by another stagehand that Spangler was needed for an upcoming scene change and so Booth waited with his horse.  After the change, Spangler came out and agreed to hold Booth’s horse.  Booth entered the back door of Ford’s.  The current scene of the play left Booth with no room to sneak across.

The back wall of Ford's Theatre from backstage.  When Booth tried to go across here, there was not enough room.

The back wall of Ford’s Theatre from backstage. When Booth tried to go across here, there was not enough room.

Instead, he lifted a trap door and descended a staircase that led under the stage.  This was a T shaped passageway that was used by stagehands to cross the stage underground and for the musicians to reach the orchestra pit.  Booth emerged by ascending another flight of stairs and opening a trap door on the opposite side.

From there, Booth exited a stage door and into a covered alleyway between Ford’s Theatre and the Star Saloon.  He exited the passageway right out onto Tenth St.  Various witnesses put Booth in the theater lobby and at the Star Saloon at different times which makes knowing his precise course impossible.  However, a likely scenario would have Booth entering the lobby of Ford’s Theatre after exiting the alleyway.  He walked past the ticket taker, John Buckingham, who instinctively held out his hand for a ticket until he realized it was Booth.  Buckingham said that Booth entered the theater and stood behind the seats watching the production (and the President’s box) for some time.

As this was going on, Spangler had grown tired of caring for Booth’s horse.  He called for Peanut John, a young man who acted as an errand boy for the theater, to come out and take his place.  With Peanut holding the reigns, Spangler returned to work.


An animated clip showing, approximately, Booth’s movements at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.

Booth exited the theater and walked next door to the Star Saloon.  Here he had a glass of whiskey and some water to chase it down.  He also acquired a cigar and began puffing away.  Cigar in mouth, Booth returned to the lobby of Ford’s.   Booth entered the main floor of the theater again and watched the production some more.  Upon exiting, he conversed with Harry Ford who was in the ticket office counting receipts.  Booth placed his half smoked cigar down on the window’s ledge and joked with Ford that no man should disturb his cigar.

As stated before, Booth’s movements are not an exact science.  It is likely that Booth, anxiously passing the time while waiting to strike, repeatedly traveled between Ford’s Theatre and the Star Saloon, attempting to gain courage with every drink.  Eventually, however, Booth realized that it was time to strike.  From the lobby of Ford’s Theatre, Booth ascended the staircase which led him to the balcony level.

Booth crept across the back of the dress circle level.  As he approached closer to the president’s box he stopped and noticed a guard sitting in front of the entryway to the boxes.  He removed his hat, and took out something, probably a calling card, from his pocket.  He then approached the man and presented the card to him.  He was allowed to pass and entered the vestibule with led to the boxes.  Booth closed the door and, using a bar he had hidden there earlier, he wedged the door shut.  The door to Box 8, which was at the end of the passageway, was open.  With his single shot derringer in hand and a large Rio Grande Camp knife at the ready, Booth entered the President’s box through door 8, turned left, and shot Abraham Lincoln in the head at close range.

The Shot 14 National Police Gazette 4-22-1865

Booth cried out “Sic Semper Tyrannis” and dropped the gun.  He raised the knife in his hand as Major Rathbone, one of the President’s guests that night, rushed at him.  Booth tried to stab Rathbone in the chest but Rathbone parried the strike and took it in his left arm instead.  Booth then ran to the front of the box, put his hands on the railing, and leaped over.  He fell almost twelve feet to the stage below.  He landed awkwardly, either due to a last minute grab by Rathbone or his spur catching one of the decorative flags adorning the box.  In a moment he raised himself up and with quick speed made his way across the stage, perhaps pausing briefly at center stage to raise his knife and shout “The South shall be Free!”  Booth ran into the wings and towards the back door he originally entered through.  William Withers, the orchestra director, unknowingly got in his way and Booth pushed him away, cutting his vest in the process.  Booth reached the back door, rushed through it, and shut the door close behind him.

In the alley, Booth shouted at Peanut John to, “Give me the horse!”  Booth knocked Peanut away using the butt of his knife and a firm kick.  He swiftly mounted the horse and put spurs to her.  She dashed down Baptist Alley.  Booth turned her northward and exited out onto F Street.  He would soon escape D.C. via the Navy Yard bridge and America’s largest manhunt would begin.

Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination by Thomas A. Bogar
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre by George Olszewski
American Brutus by Michael W. Kauffman
The Art Loux Archive

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Debate Over Gutman #1

Yesterday morning, friend and frequent commenter on the site, Carolyn Mitchell, posted a new picture to the Spirits of Tudor Hall Facebook page. The image came from the book John Wilkes Booth Himself by Richard and Kellie Gutman. In this 1979 publication limited to just 1,000 books, the Gutmans compiled all the images of John Wilkes Booth that were known at the time. Their first one, labeled Gutman #1, is as follows:

Gutman #1

Gutman #1

This image is captioned in John Wilkes Booth Himself with the following: “The earliest known photograph of John Wilkes Booth is a head and shoulders vignette, depicting him at age 18. One copy exists as a carte de visite done by Mansfield’s City Gallery, St. Louis, Missouri. In all likelihood, this is not the original photographer or photograph. John Wilkes Booth turned 18 on May 10, 1856-and that year is a bit early for a carte de visite in the United States. This may have been copied from another form of photograph (daguerreotype, ambrotype or tintype) or a larger paper print. In any event, copies of this picture are very rare. It has been published only one time, in Album of the Lincoln Murder (Harrisburg, PA.: Stackpole Books, 1965).”

Armed with this information, Carolyn posted the photograph like so many other rare and unique views of the Booth family she has come across.

Very quickly though, people started to express their doubts that this was a picture of Booth.  Some said it could be of one of the other Booth brothers like Edwin or Joseph.  I long ago questioned the identity of the young man in this particular photo, too. At the time of writing this, there were 15 responses to this photo on the Facebook page. After receiving an email from a colleague trying to remember a previous discussion regarding this photo, I decided to post here about it.

As far as I know, part of the description from the Gutmans is correct in that there is only one copy of this carte-de-visite known to exist. It is in the National Archives in their Lincoln Assassination Suspects file. Here is the microfilmed quality version of this CDV:

Gutman 1 NARA

The CDV itself was found among Booth’s papers and files in the National Hotel after the assassination. It was deemed not relevant to the investigation but still retained in the government’s files. This probably explains the Gutman’s desire to include this picture in their collection of Booth photos. It was found with his things, does not bear any writing precluding it from being Booth, and has some similarities to the young tragedian turned assassin. Stating it is of a young Booth makes it easier to ignore some of the discrepancies in appearance.

Not everyone, however took the identification by the Gutmans at face value on this one. In the book, The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence by William Edwards and Edward Steers, Jr., and in Steers’ The Lincoln Assassination Encyclopedia, this photograph is identifed as being Benedict “Ben” DeBar. Ben Debar was a theatre owner and actor. Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., JWB’s brother, married Ben’s sister, Clementine DeBar and they had a daughter together Blanche. June abandoned Clementine and Blanche, running off to California with a prostitue named Harriet Mace. Ben filed for a divorce on behalf of his sister and adopted Blanche as his own. John Wilkes assumedly still cared for his niece, as in his papers at the National, there is a letter from Ben DeBar extolling young Blanche’s early success as an actress. Attaching newspaper clippings and a playbill bearing the name “Blanche DeBar”, Ben brags to JWB, “I have sent June a bill to prove to him I have no wish that the girl should have any other than my name.”

The reason Steers and Edwards claim that this image, Gutman #1, is of Ben DeBar is because this image is microfilmed right alongside of the materials from Ben DeBar. Sandwiched right next to a newspaper clipping of Blanche’s success and a playbill announcing her performance in the comedy “Love Chase”, is this image. While the letter from Ben does not mention a photograph, its placement with the other materials seems to point that is from him.

The problem is, however, that Ben DeBar was quite a bit older than the young lad in the picture. DeBar was born in 1821 and at the time of his writing in March of 1865 would have made him about 44 years old. Here’s a picture of Ben Debar taken around 1870 for comparison:

Ben DeBar

Ben DeBar

So while Steers and Edwards’ theory that Gutman #1 is Ben DeBar makes sense in the context of the image’s placement in the microfilmed files, the difference in ages and appearances makes it as unlikely as the photograph being of Booth.

Thus far, the most logical and probable explanation of who this individual is comes from the authors John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper who edited the book, “Right or Wrong, God Judge Me”: The Writing of John Wilkes Booth. They put forward that the man on this CDV was a young clerk working for General Grant’s office named Richard Marshall Johnson.

From Booth’s papers at the National we find that he did have a letter from Richard M. Johnson. Dated February 18th, 1865, Johnson writes in part, “I may be vain in presuming that our brief Memphis acquaintance has made us friends, but on my part it has…” Johnson recounts their initial meeting during which Johnson was drinking away his sorrows over the death of a friend. Booth befriended the young Union officer and evidently made quite the impression on him. Johnson asks Booth about his oil ventures and gives him the “riot act” for not acting this season. “You have too fine a reputation in this part of the country to let a winter pass away without giving us a call,” Johnson explains. The remaining part of the letter is of a request Johnson has of Booth:

“By the way, send me another of your photographs with your autograph on it. The one you sent me from New Orleans was disposed of rather strangely. A young lady of rare accomplishments and talent asked me for it. I refused the gift. She insisted and I proposed to get her a fine picture of you, but she wanted the one with your autograph. She has seen you frequently and was deteremined to have it. After much persuasion, I concluded to let her have it intending to write you for another. I gave it to her with the promise that when you visited this city I would take you to call on her. Today she sleeps in Bellefontaine Cemetery having died shortly after I gave her the picture. When I visit her family and see her album I see the name of J. Wilkes Booth written at the bottom of your photograph and think of the unfulfilled promise that she should know you. Your picture will always remain in the album as the touch she gave it in placing it there is now considered sacred. She was a woman of rare and beautiful excellence.”

While, as you can see, there is much talk in this letter of Booth’s photograph, Johnson never mentions sending one of himself to Booth. The evidence for that lies in a letter from Booth to Johnson that is housed at the Huntington Library. In the portion of letter above, Johnson mentions the photograph Booth sent him, “from New Orleans”. The letter from Booth to Edward Johnson is dated almost a year before the above letter on March 28th, of 1864 and states the following:

“Dear Johnson

Yours of the 12th; recd:. I am glad to find that you have not forgotten me, and hope I may ever live in your generous remembrance. I enclose in this a picture of myself, better (I think) than the one I gave you.

This of you I will ever keep among my very few and chosen friends. Excuse the shortness of this, am in haste. I am your’s

J. Wilkes Booth”

It is in this letter that Booth attached a photograph of himself – the same one that Richard Johnson later gave to the lady mentioned before.

The most interesting thing about this letter from the Huntington Library however, is the second paragraph which starts, “This of you”. Booth is speaking of his receipt of a picture from Richard Johnson. This, according to Rhodehamel and Taper, is the photograph found in Booth’s papers at the National Hotel.

According to his newspaper obituary, upon his in 1922 Richard Marshall Johnson was, “about 80” years old. This would put his year of birth about 1842, making him around 22 years old when he was corresponding with Booth in 1864 and 1865. This age range better matches the age of the young man in the photograph more than a 44 year old Ben DeBar does.

The paper evidence is strong for this picture to be of Richard M. Johnson. We know the following facts: Booth corresponded with Johnson and sent him photographs of himself. In turn, Booth received a photograph from Johnson in 1864. Booth had a more recent letter from Johnson in his papers when he assassinated Lincoln in 1865. Richard Johnson’s age during the time of his interactions with Booth match the apparent age of the man in the photograph. Based on this documentary evidence alone, I’m confident this picture is of Richard M. Johnson. But I’m not through yet.

Richard Johnson had an interesting life as this short bio will demonstrate:

“RICHARD M. JOHNSON was born in Illinois in the city of Belleville. He received his early education in McKendree College. Coming to St. Louis in 1858, he read law in the office of his brother, Governor [Charles P.] Johnson. In 1861 he was appointed a clerk in the Postoffice Department, and in 1862 was tendered a position as chief corresponding clerk in General Grant’s headquarters, under Quartermaster Colonel Chas. A. Reynolds. In 1865 he was appointed Superintendent of the State Tobacco Warehouse by Governor Fletcher. He was married to Miss Annie Blow, daughter of Taylor Blow of St. Louis, in 1866. Appointed by General Grant in 1867 as Post Trader at Fort Dodge, Kan., and in 1869 he accepted an appointment tendered him by General Grant as Consul to Han Kow, China, which office he held with credit for eight years. Two of Colonel Johnson’s children were born in China. He returned to the United States and resumed the practice of law in 1877. He was elected Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in 1894, and was again elected in 1898, and while he has always been active in politics as a Republican, he numbers among his friends, regardless of political affiliations, as many Democrats as Republicans.”

In 1904, Johnson provided a chapter for the book, “Reminiscences by Personal Friends of Gen. U. S. Grant” recounting his friendship and experiences with General Grant. His stories of Grant are very interesting ones and can be read in full here. In addition to the biography from above, the book also features a picture of Richard M. Johnson:

Richard M. Johnson

Richard M. Johnson

We all know photographs are subjective to the viewer. The Gutmans wanted this picture of a young man to be Booth and so they saw Booth in it. It could just be that I want this photo to be of Johnson because there is so much paper evidence supporting it, but I say these images show the same man, 40 years apart.
Gutman 1 and Johnson

As far as Gutman #1 is concerned, I support Rhodehamel and Taper and say it is Richard Marshall Johnson.

The Evidence by Edwards and Steers
John Wilkes Booth Himself by Richard and Kellie Gutman
“Right or Wrong, God Judge Me” by Rhodehamel and Taper
Reminiscences by Personal Friends of Gen. U. S. Grant
Note: There may be more images of Richard Johnson for compariosn contained in the Missouri History Museum. They have a collection of diaries and scrapbooks attributed to R. M. Johnson.
Note: R. M. Johnson is buried in the same cemetery as the lady who wanted Booth’s photograph, Bellafontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.

Thanks for the great topic starter, Carolyn!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 27 Comments

Blog at