Posts Tagged With: Edwin Booth

“Could I But Hear Thy Voice”: Edwin Booth’s Poems to Mary Devlin

From the death of his father due to his missing guardianship, the murder of the President at the hand of his younger brother, and the financial loss of his opulent theater in New York City, Edwin Booth lived a life of unimaginable tragedy. Though incredibly successful and praised for his histrionic talents on the stage, the unlucky circumstances of Edwin’s life plagued him with constant melancholy and sorrow. Aside from his darling daughter, Edwina, it appears that the only source of true comfort and happiness that Edwin Booth ever felt was his treasured wife, Mary Devlin.

Mary Devlin and Edwin Booth first met on the stage in 1856. While it seems that both became interested in each other, young Mary was hesitant to engage with an actor of Edwin’s reputation. He was six years her senior and recently returned from several years on the rowdy west coast. When Edwin traveled on from their shared engagement as Romeo and Juliet in 1856, nothing developed further. When they reunited for a couple of engagements in 1858, however, it appears that a relationship began to form. In the end, Edwin proposed to Mary in 1859 and the two were married on July 7, 1860.

Mary Devlin Booth, possibly in her wedding gown

At some point during their 1858-1859 courtship, Edwin Booth composed two poems for Mary Devlin. He recorded them in an autograph album that Mary owned. The album is currently in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library as part of the noted Taper collection. The state of Illinois has done a wonderful job digitizing many of the documents, letters, and images associated with the Taper collection, the album being among them.

In the available images of the autograph album, we can see that there are a total of four poems, two of which are written by others. Of the two Edwin poems, only one of them bears Edwin’s name at the end. While the second one is anonymous, it is clearly written in Edwin’s handwriting (whose chicken scratch is incredibly difficult to transcribe at times). As far as I can tell, these poems have never been in print before and I’m not sure if they have even been transcribed before now.

Here is Edwin’s first poem to Mary Devlin:

Amid the many gloomy scenes
The tragic Muse doth revel in
To cheer my path, she found the means
To place a merry (Mary) Dev’lin

The name’s too harsh for her dear self,
Where dwells us thought of evil in –
A merry, laughing, loving elf
I found but good this Dev’lin.

And she will prove in after age
A star – at least of spotless truth,
T’illume the darkness of our stage,
Or I’m a dutchman, Edwin Booth

This poem strikes a silly tone, playing off of Mary’s last name. And yet it also compliments Mary’s talents on the stage which Edwin is also known to have done in letters to his peers. He truly felt that Mary Devlin was a talented actress. Unfortunately however, since the reputations of actresses were so low in Booth’s day, the noted actor could not even bring himself to marry one. Edwin essentially made Mary Devlin retire from acting before he agreed to marry her. She spent much of 1859 into 1860, in semi-seclusion studying and learning how to be a high society woman.

Edwin’s second poem is a far more romantic composition. In it, Booth demonstrates his growing affection for Mary.

Could I my life begin anew
And o’er my fate might have the choice,
I’d be some object dear to you
Content – could I but hear thy voice.

I would not be a throne’d king
If from thy blessed sight removed,
But rather the most abject thing
With but the sense to know you loved.*

Free from glory’s empty strife
Your little caged bird I’d be,
A happy pris’ner all my life
If loved and petted, sweet, by thee.

This touching poem demonstrates the true feelings Edwin Booth had for his beloved. In the cruelest of fates, however, Edwin would suffer his greatest loss of all less than three years into their marriage. On February 21, 1863, Mary Devlin Booth died at the age of 22. She had been ill with abdominal pains for some time since the birth of their daughter Edwina a year before. To help with her recuperation, Edwin had rented a house in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Under the impression that Mary was recovering from her more recent bout, Edwin was performing in New York when she took a bad turn. He made it back to their home several hours too late and locked himself in the room with Mary’s body for hours. From these poems in particular, one can easily imagine the deep and heavy grief he bore with her unexpected passing at so young an age. While Edwin Booth would later remarry, he never got over the loss of “Mollie” – his one true love.


*Now, if you’re like me, the middle stanza bothers you. While the words “removed” and “loved” have the same endings, the words themselves do not rhyme. Since Edwin Booth was a very eloquent man, I kept second guessing myself as to this transcription. I even wanted to change the word “loved” to “true” so at least the line would partially rhyme with “removed”. However, after doing a little research I discovered that, in Shakespeare’s time, the words “removed” and “loved” DID rhyme. Our pronunciation of words like “remove” has changed over time into the oo sound (as in food) rather than the original short u sound as it makes in love. In Shakespeare’s day words like “remove” and “prove” both rhymed with “love” even though they do not match our modern pronunciations. It’s likely that Edwin wrote his poem using a bit of Original Pronunciation. Here’s a short video demonstrating the original pronunciation of Shakespeare ‘s Sonnet 116 which ends with a now nonexistent “love” rhyme.

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Lincoln Assassination Ephemera

When you first start researching and “doing history”, there are several new vocabulary words that you have to learn. In the same way that doctors have a long list of subject-specific jargon, so too, do historians. When dealing with artifacts, it’s key to know the items provenance, or personal history. How do we know this thing is what it claims to be? What evidence do we have of its journey from there to here? Historiography is the study of how history has been written. How has the study of a specific event or period changed over subsequent years or decades? How have the ideals and beliefs of historians during different time periods influenced their presentation and understanding of history? What does it mean to study history? One must be careful not to include anachronisms in their writing of history. These are items, places, phrases or customs that would not exist in the time period being discussed. One would not speak of President Lincoln in the Oval Office since the Oval Office did not exist in Lincoln’s day. The list goes on and on.

One of my favorite history jargon words is ephemera. It relates to items that were made to exist for a short period of time and not expected to be preserved or retained. An advertisement for a sale at a grocery store is an example of ephemera. Within a matter of days, the advertisement is no longer accurate and thus disposed. Ephemeral things are meant to be temporary and fleeting. This idea has evolved into digital platforms as well with apps like SnapChat being based around the idea that the pictures and videos sent over the app only exist for a short time before they cease to exist. Today marks the beginning of a brand new year and many of us may be eagerly disposing of our old 2020 calendars, they having served their purposes. While the vast majority of ephemeral things are disposed or destroyed in this way, examples of ephemera that have survived through the years can give us a unique look into the past.

Here are some examples of ephemera related to the Lincoln assassination story.


Newspaper classifieds for the Surratt boardinghouse

In 1853, John H. Surratt Sr. acquired a ten-room house located at 541 H Street in Washington, D.C. The elder Surratt never lived in this house and the family spent the next 11 years renting it out. By 1864, Mary Surratt struggled to keep up the family’s tavern in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The widowed Mary made the decision to move her family to this D.C. home and operate it as a boardinghouse. In addition to her often absent son John Jr. and her daughter Anna, several other boarders came to take up residence in the H street boardinghouse. On October 6, an 18 year old named Honora Fitzpatrick moved in and shared a room with Anna. On November 1, Louis J. Weichmann, a friend of John Jr.’s, moved in. Weichmann would come to be one of the key witnesses against Mary Surratt at the trial of the Lincoln conspirators. Anxious for more boarders to help pay off some of her deceased husband’s many debts, Mary Surratt decided to advertise in the Evening Star newspaper. The excerpts above show some of the advertisements she ran in November and December of 1864 looking for additional gentlemen tenants. While John Wilkes Booth was never a lodger at the Surratt boardinghouse, his introduction to John Surratt in December of 1864 through the assistance of Dr. Mudd, made Booth a regularly visitor to the house on H street. For a short period, Mary did house conspirator Lewis Powell, though he was not living there at the time of the assassination. Like the many countless classifieds that appear and then disappear from newspapers each day, these ads would have been completely forgotten if not for their connection to the story of Lincoln’s assassination.


John Wilkes Booth’s check to himself

Talk about ephemeral! With online banking and online money transfer services, writing checks are a thing of the past. But even those of us who still write checks every once and awhile, have to admit that they are not things we generally hold on to once we cash or deposit it. But perhaps if you were a bank and had a check signed by a Presidential assassin just a few months before he committed his deed, you might hold onto it. John Wilkes Booth opened his account with Jay Cooke & Company on November 16, 1864 with an initial deposit of $1,500. This deposit occurred just a few days after Booth had returned from visiting Southern Maryland (and Dr. Mudd) for the first time. Over the next few months, he made different withdrawals on the account withdrawing the final balance of $25 on March 16, 1865, just a day after his meeting at Gautier’s Restaurant in which he laid out his abduction plot to all of his conspirators. The check above was a withdrawal of $150 made out to Booth himself on January 7, 1865. Two days later, Booth would make another deposit of $750. Part of this larger sum would be used to pay for part of the boat that was intended to be used to ferry the kidnapped Lincoln across the Potomac. In short, John Wilkes Booth’s account with Jay Cooke & Co. was where he kept the money he was using to finance his plot against Lincoln. This ephemeral check that Booth wrote to himself likely paid out some very real blood money. This check come from the collection of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


Telegram from the Ford brothers

There are many telegrams that are a part of the story of Lincoln’s death. As the main method of rapid communication across distances in the 1860s, John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators often communicated with each other via telegram. However, the telegram above does not come from Booth or any of his conspirators. Rather it was a note sent by two of the Ford brothers from Ford’s Theatre. Harry Clay Ford had been present at his theatre when Booth shot Lincoln. His brother, James Reed “Dick” Ford, had been present earlier in the day and evening, but was away at the moment of the assassination. At some point on April 15, Harry and Dick sent off this telegram stating that, “The President of the U.S. was assassinated by John Wilks [sic] Booth at our theatre last evening – see daily papers for full particulars.” Interestingly, the recipient of this telegram was Joseph Simonds, a friend of John Wilkes Booth’s who acted as his agent in the Pennsylvania oil region. Booth had recruited Simonds, a former banker from Boston, to help him in the oil business in 1864 and even though most of Booth’s investments had ended Simonds had stayed in the oil business. Simonds often sent mail to Booth care of Ford’s Theatre and so the Ford brothers may have felt compelled to alert Simonds of what had occurred as soon as possible. At the trial of the Lincoln conspirators all three men, Dick Ford, Harry Ford, and Joseph Simonds, would be called to testify about their relationship with Booth. This telegram is in the collection of the Library of Congress.


Pressed flowers from Dr. Mudd’s island prison

Ephemeral objects go far beyond humanmade creations. Nature is the largest producer of ephemera as everything living must inevitably die. We treasure the sweet blossoms that appear in springtime because we know that their existence is short lived. So much of the beauty behind a flower is because it is fragile and temporary. As the saying goes, “To every thing there is a season.” Dr. Mudd spent some time during his many seasons at Fort Jefferson attempting to preserve some of the naturally fleeting floral specimens in his tropical island prison. He collected several examples of mosses, ferns, and flowers from around the Dry Tortugas and pressed them into an album that generally housed photographs. The album can be found at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum alongside some of Dr. Mudd’s other creations from his imprisonment.


Broadside advertising John Surratt’s lecture

Rather than today’s practice of putting on the same play or musical for a prolonged engagement lasting several weeks, in the Victorian era theater specific shows generally changed each night. The main draw of the stage was the celebrated touring actor or actress who was gracing the boards at that time. The audience came out to see a certain performer who chose which shows they wanted to perform in as the lead role. Each theater’s playbills were. therefore, extremely ephemeral items, meant to capture a single performance only. Instead of using a copy of one of the most sought after playbills in the world, an authentic copy of Ford’s Theatre’s Our American Cousin playbill from April 14, 1865, I decided to show off another rarity. This playbill of sorts advertises a lecture by John Surratt, the sole Lincoln conspirator to avoid conviction for his role in the President’s death. At the time of Lincoln’s assassination, John Surratt was in Elmira, New York. When he heard the news of what Booth had done and that he was wanted in connection with the crime, Surratt flew to Canada. He hid out in Montreal for most of the trial of his mother and other conspirators and was eventually safely transported to Europe. He was eventually discovered hiding out in the Vatican as a Papal Guard. He fled the Papal States but was eventually cornered and arrested in Alexandria, Egypt and extradited to the U.S. in 1867. John Surratt was put on trial but was given a civilian trial rater than a military commission like the one that adjudicated his mother and co-conspirators. The civilian jury of majority Southerners could not come to a decision and resulted in a hung jury. Surratt was then released from custody and returned to civilian life. In 1870, hoping to parlay his notable story into a lucrative speaking career, Surratt embarked on the lecture circuit. He told the story of how he had conspired with John Wilkes Booth to abduct President Lincoln, but denied having any knowledge of Booth’s plan to kill the President. He gave his compelling lecture in Rockville and Baltimore, Maryland, and even at the Cooper Union in New York City where Lincoln had given his 1860 speech that had propelled him to national prominence. The above broadside was for speech John Surratt planned to give on December 30, 1870 in Washington, D.C. This specific lecture never happened, however. A group of locals were outraged that Surratt would be allowed to give a speech detailing his involvement in the plot against Lincoln in the same town were the President was martyred. It is believed that someone in authority contacted Surratt before the speech could start and warned him that though he had been released by the government, he had not been formally acquitted. If he continued to make waves, the government would be happy to use his words against him and re-charge him for complicity in Lincoln’s death. As a result, John Surratt never made another lecture. This broadside for the lecture that never happened is from the collection of the University of Iowa.


Paperwork of Edwin Booth’s 1886 – 1887 tour

Not every financial record need be as doom and gloom as an assassin’s check. For example, here is a look at the inner workings of a far more celebrated touring star. This is the statement showing all of Edwin Booth’s expenses and income during the week of April 25, 1887. During this period of time, Booth was taking part in what is known as the Booth-Barrett Tours. From 1886 – 1890, Edwin and fellow actor Lawrence Barrett traveled around the country. The pair traveled over 14,000 miles and gave 233 performances. It’s fun to see the details of what the accounting for tours like this looked like. For this week of the tour, we can see what shows were produced and where, the total box office gross, and the amount Booth and Barrett received from their efforts. On the other side we see their expenses which included railroad tickets, the printing of playbills and advertisements, the purchase of calcium lights, telegrams, the expenses of their prop and wardrobe keepers, and even miscellaneous expenses like the repairing of a picture frame for $2. These bookkeeping records rarely survived long past their authors but demonstrate the importance of proper records in order to be successful as a traveling actor. This financial record comes from the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.


Advertisement for the “Booth” mummy

The post-mortem career of drifter David E. George has been the subject of many programs on the so called History Channel and others, but is hardly a new piece of pseudo history. As obliquely referred to on this broadside from the 1930s, it has been claimed that John Wilkes Booth escaped justice in 1865 only to take his own life 38 years later in Enid, Oklahoma. This ad portrays itself as a traveling exhibit of immense educational value that hopes to “correct American history” by showing that Booth had lived. With a name like the American Historical Research Society, I’m sure several people were convinced that they had been presented with the actual mummified remains of the assassin of President Lincoln. However, this advertisement is little more than an ad for snake oil. Despite its claim that one should not, “confuse this Exhibit with similar attractions that have been in carnivals and circuses,” that is exactly was this was. The “Booth” mummy had been traveling with carnivals since the the early 1920s and while it was now a solo attraction that visited towns and cities off the main thoroughfares, it was still little more than a sideshow hustle. The American Historical Research Society was nothing but an imaginary name incorporated by two hucksters of the mummy. They hoped the title would provide some legitimacy to their little sideshow attraction. But a pig is a pig, no matter how much lipstick you put on it! This advertisement for the “Booth” mummy exhibit comes from the collection of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


Shipping Invoice for Lewis Powell’s head

Most of us can’t wait to toss the shipping invoices that accompany our delivered online purchases. Like all receipts, shipping invoices are largely ephemeral, designed to survive the trip to their destinations. But in some cases, especially when it comes to historical artifacts, receipts can be used as a form of provenance to help prove where a specific item came from. In these cases, shipping invoices may become part of a formal record of an item. It’s perhaps not so surprising then that this shipping invoice from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. was retained when it accompanied a very unique relic in 1994. As stated on the paperwork, this invoice accompanied the transfer of the, “Human Cranium and Mandible of Lewis Powell/Payne” from the Smithsonian to a descendant of the Powell family living in Geneva, Florida. Noted as a matter of “repatriation”, this document represents the final trip that Secretary of State William Seward’s would-be assassin, Lewis Powell, took after his skull had been rediscovered among the Smithsonian’s anthropology collection in the 1990s. Through the help of historians Michael Kauffman and Betty Ownsbey, descendants of the Powell family took ownership of their ancestor’s remains and laid his skull to rest next to his mother in Geneva Cemetery. For more about Lewis Powell’s post-mortem travels click here. For a video I shot at Geneva Cemetery in 2020, check out this post. This shipping invoice comes from the collection of the Geneva History Museum in Geneva, Florida.

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Edwin Booth and the “Big Hole in the Ground”

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

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

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

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

mammoth-cave-nps

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

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

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

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

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

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

giants-coffin-engraving-mammoth-cave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: History | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Grave Thursday: Mark Gray Lyons

Each week we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


Mark Gray Lyons

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Burial Location: Oakland Cemetery, Keokuk, Iowa

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Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

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

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

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

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

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Alice Gray: Successful Partnerships

This is the second installment in a series about actress, Alice Gray. Gray’s photograph was one of the five discovered upon the body of John Wilkes Booth when he was cornered and killed on April 26, 1865. Gray’s theatrical career has largely been forgotten with very little biographical material readily available about her. The following post was developed by consulting a variety of sources including digitized newspapers such as the Buffalo Courier, Baltimore Sun, New York Clipper and D.C.’s National Intelligencer. In all, it took several days’ worth of work to find and organize the material. This post is the second in a series about Alice Grey’s life, career, and connection to the Booth family. To read Part One entitled, Alice Gray: An Actress is Born, please click HERE.

Alice Gray

Part Two: Successful Partnerships

Research completed thus far has yet to solve the mystery of how Alice Gray became acquainted with theater owner John T. Ford. Alice had met many prominent actors and actresses during her run at the Metropolitan, Charleston, and Mobile Theatres. During that time she had acted side by side to both Edwin Booth and H. B. Phillips, two men who were very close to John T. Ford. Perhaps one of them told Ford about Gray’s acting abilities and encouraged him to seek her out. Or perhaps Gray reached out to Ford on her own and inquired about working for him. Regardless of how it happened, when the 1860-1861 theatrical season began, Alice Gray found herself employed by John T. Ford to be the leading stock actress at his Holliday Street Theatre.

In the year prior, John T. Ford had lavishly renovated the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore. The Holliday Street Theatre was the only theater Ford owned outright at this time, but he had prior experience leasing and managing other theaters. This was Gray’s first time in Baltimore but the public there quickly took a liking to her. The August 29th, the Baltimore Sun newspaper reported that, “Miss Gray sustained the part of Mrs. Haller last night with quite unexpected grace, talent and effect and received in this case no unmeaning tribute of a call before the curtain to receive the congratulations of the audience. She is a brilliant accession.”

While in Baltimore in the fall of 1860, Alice Gray became acquainted with another member of the Booth family, John Sleeper Clarke. Clarke had known the Booth family from childhood when he played with young Edwin and John Wilkes in Baltimore. Clarke had been a member of Edwin’s kiddie acting troupe that put on plays for the neighbor kids. Clarke followed the Booths into the acting profession but became a comedian rather than a tragedian. In 1859, John Sleeper Clarke married Asia Booth, the youngest Booth daughter. Clarke was a popular comedian for John T. Ford and would make frequent appearances in his theaters. These first performances with Clarke in September of 1860 would be the first of many for Gray.

The respect and approval Gray received from Baltimore audiences was no doubt gratifying to Gray, but once again she was called back to New York City’s stages by her friend, Edward Eddy. Eddy was performing an engagement at the New Bowery Theatre and must have requested Alice Gray by name to be his leading lady. Ford gave Gray permission to leave the Holliday Street Theatre to join Eddy for his engagement in New York.

Engraving of Edward Eddy in the role of Posthumus (click to see the full image)

Engraving of Edward Eddy in the role of Posthumus (click to see the full image)

1860 With Eddy in NY Alice Gray

Alice Gray eventually ended her engagement with Eddy early. Whether this was contracted by Ford when he allowed her to leave or whether she returned back to the Holliday Street Theatre before the end of Eddy’s New York engagement on her own is unknown. Regardless, the decision to depart New York early to return to Baltimore was well founded. That eminent star of the stage, Edwin Booth, was starting an engagement at the Holliday Street Theatre. It had been almost three years since Booth and Gray had performed together back in Buffalo and the young actor’s fame had only increased since then. Booth in Baltimore was more of a draw than Eddy in New York and so Gray took her place alongside him.

Edwin Booth circa 1860

1860 Performing with Edwin Alice Gray

Gray played Juliet to Edwin’s Romeo, Katherina to Edwin’s Petruchio and Desdemona to Edwin’s Othello. Ford no doubt witnessed these performances and felt contented that he had chosen his leading stock actress wisely. By the end of October of 1860, Edwin departed for his next engagement in Philadelphia. Gray continued to act at the Holliday Street Theatre for the remainder of the 1860-1861 season, regularly receiving advertised benefits.

It was while Gray was in Baltimore that the Civil War began. The conflict commenced on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces laid siege upon Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. The simmering cauldron of the secession crisis had finally boiled over due to the election of Abraham Lincoln. Working and residing in Baltimore, Alice Gray would have been acutely aware of the anti-Lincoln and anti-war feeling that permeated the city. On April 19, 1861, a deadly riot occurred in Baltimore, causing the first hostile deaths in the Civil War. The Sixth Massachusetts Militia was passing through Baltimore on their way to Washington, D.C. when they found themselves surrounded by anti-war and pro-Confederacy sympathizers who called themselves the National Volunteers. After some tense moments, members of the National Volunteers attacked some of the members of the Militia with rocks, bricks, and pistols. In response, the Militia fired at the mob. A melee broke out and ended only after the Sixth Massachusetts Militia left behind most of their supplies and made it to Camden Station. In the end, four soldiers with the Militia and 12 civilians with the mob were killed.

Baltimore Riot 1861 Harper's

The pro-Southern residents of Baltimore used this event as propaganda, comparing it to the 1770 Boston Massacre that helped spur the American Revolutionary War. However, the pro-Northern public decried the violence and bloodshed caused by the rebels in Baltimore and demanded swift action against them. The federal government responded quickly and showed Baltimore and the rest of Maryland in no uncertain terms that it would not be allowed to foment insurrection like this again. In May of 1861, General Benjamin Butler entered Baltimore with about 1,000 soldiers, occupied the city and declared martial law.

All of these events were likely troubling to Alice Gray. Gray had lived most of her life in western New York, which was a largely anti-slavery region. Her home of Buffalo, New York was filled with safe houses for the Underground Railroad and was a common meeting place for abolitionist societies. It is unlikely that Gray shared the same pro-slavery sympathies as many of those she was surrounded by in Baltimore. John T. Ford was largely anti-Lincoln, though he would become more pragmatic as the war continued. In March of 1861 however, Ford seized upon the fact that Lincoln had to slip through Baltimore incognito on his way to his own inauguration for fear of physical harm. He included the scene in a patriotic piece called “Uncle Sam’s Magic Lantern” in which the audience was presented with several scenes of America’s gloried past, present, and future. “The Flight of Abraham” was included as a scene along with “Our National Troubles,” demonstrating Ford’s pro-Confederate sympathies. Alice Gray no doubt played her assigned role in these “patriotic scenes.”

It is perhaps for these reasons that, when the 1861-1862 season commenced, Alice Gray did not stay at the Holliday Street Theatre with John Ford. Instead she made her way to Philadelphia where she was employed at the Walnut Street Theatre. The 1861-1862 theatrical season was a lean one for the entertainment industry. Many of the big British stars decided against visiting the United States with the Civil War raging. Even some American actors, like Edwin Booth, left the country for European tours of their own during this year. Audiences were smaller as the news from the war occupied everyone’s thoughts. At the Walnut Street Theatre, Alice Gray once again performed with John Sleeper Clarke when the comedian was engaged there for three weeks straight. She received little press during her time at the Walnut Street Theatre. One quick mention described her as a “handsome young actress, who evidently has not very much stage experience.” Such a review must have hurt the 26 year old actress who had been acting on the stage for almost 10 years at that point. When Gray’s season with the Walnut Street Theatre ended she decided to try her luck somewhere else.

It was during Gray’s time in Philadelphia that John Ford had decided to invest in a new theater. Ford may have disliked Lincoln and the war but he was an astute business man. Washington, D.C. was a growing city during the war with thousands of soldiers and private citizens coming to the nation’s capital. Ford believed he could succeed in establishing a new theater in this growing metropolis. In December of 1861, Ford signed a five year lease on the First Baptist Church of Washington. The parishioners of the First Baptist Church had merged their congregation with another church and were no longer using the edifice on Tenth Street. The church already had a raised platform on which the pulpit and choir would be situated and so Ford realized that the building could be remodeled fairly inexpensively to serve as a theater. At first Ford rented the church to a minstrel group, but then, in February of 1862, he began a $10,000 renovation on the building. The building reopened on March 19, 1862 under the name “Ford’s Atheneum.” Ford’s renovations had been done quickly so as to preempt the reopening of another of Washington’s theater’s, Leonard Grover’s New National Theater, which completed its renovations on April 21st.

Ford's Atheneum 1862

Ford’s Atheneum proved a considerable success from the start. With his connections, Ford was able to attract first rate stars despite the war. The stationed soldiers and citizens of Washington proved devout theater goers. Even President and Mrs. Lincoln attended an operatic performance at Ford’s on May 28, 1862.

When the 1862-1863 theatrical season opened, Ford renamed the building “Ford’s New Theatre” and looked forward to another prosperous year. The theater opened with an engagement by John Sleeper Clarke and it’s possible that Ford missed his former leading actress. When Gray had departed for Philadelphia, Ford had replaced her at the Holliday Street Theatre with actress Annie Graham. Graham was brought down to Ford’s New Theatre for a few performances with John Sleeper Clarke, but it doesn’t seem like they had the same chemistry (or marketability) as Clarke and Gray once had. It appears that Ford reached out to Gray with an offer to be his leading stock actress again. Perhaps this time he promised she would act in his new D.C. theater and therefore not have to relive the unpleasant scenes in Baltimore.

Gray had spent the summer and fall months of 1862 up in Montreal, Canada. The Theatre Royal was famous for “importing” American talent during the summer months. This was also a wise way for American performers to keep a steady paycheck between seasons. Alice Gray played to good crowds but as fall gave way to winter, an engagement down in D.C. likely looked more hospitable to her.

Whether John T. Ford originally intended for Gray to perform at his new D.C. theater or whether he wanted her back at his Baltimore establishment we may never know for sure because on the evening of December 30, 1862, cruel fate made the decision for him. Under the stage of Ford’s New Theatre in D.C. a fire was started by a faulty gas meter. While there was no loss of life from the severe blaze that followed, the fire completely consumed the inside of the theater. Ford lost over $20,000 in the inferno but the outside walls of the theater survived. While other theater owners might have given up and left the capital, Ford decided to rebuild his theater and make it bigger and more grand than had ever been seen in D.C. before. Ford would spend the next eight months raising money for and constructed his new theater. In the mean time, at the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore, the show must go on.

Alice Gray made her return to the Holliday Street Theatre in January of 1863 with great fanfare in the press:
1863 Return to Baltimore 1 Alice Gray 1863 Return to Baltimore 2 Alice Gray 1863 Return to Baltimore 3 Alice Gray

Gray acted alongside John Sleeper Clarke again, with Ford highly advertising their partnership. In this way, Gray replaced her own replacement, Annie Graham, who was assigned smaller female roles when Gray came back. Gray and Clarke performed together at the Holliday Street Theatre throughout Clarke’s engagement which ended on February 14th. Clarke himself must have realized that he and Gray had good chemistry together. They had performed several long engagements with each other since 1860 and the results had been paying off in the box office. When Clarke went off to his next engagement in nearby D.C., he brought Alice Gray with him.

Clarke was scheduled to make his debut at the Washington Theatre on February 23, 1863. The Washington Theatre was a slightly rundown edifice that only had intermittent productions when there was a lessee. The building lacked a full time manager/owner and was instead leased out to different individuals who staged their own shows at their own expense. It was essentially a rental theater, and hardly a five star establishment. However, John T. Ford had proven with his Atheneum that theaters were a sound business in war-time Washington. With that establishment burnt, the only other theaters of note were Grover’s New National Theater, the Washington Theatre, and Grover’s Canterbury Hall – a far seedier establishment which only catered to men. Until Ford completed his construction on his new theater, the only real places to act in Washington were the New National Theater or the Washington Theatre.

On the Saturday before Clarke’s engagement began, the managers of the Washington Theatre gave Alice Gray a headlining performance of her own.

1863 Solo in Washington Alice Gray

This was Alice’s first appearance in D.C. and the papers did a nice job of advertising it:
1863 First time in Washington

Aside from her summer engagements in Cleveland and Montreal, this was Alice Gray’s first time being the “sole attraction” for a performance. For once she was not playing second fiddle to a visiting star or receiving the assistance of other stars for her benefit. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s Richard III, “She was herself alone.” Gray likely reveled this chance, even if it was only for one night. She had a good reputation in nearby Baltimore and a good solo performance here would help her establish herself as a star quality actor to the Washington public. The next day, Gray’s performance was described as a “decided sensation” but was sadly overshadowed by her anticipated debut with Clarke, who took much of the press. Clarke was scheduled to make his debut alongside Gray in Our American Cousin on February 23rd. However, when the curtain rose, Clarke was markedly absent. An advertisement in the next day’s newspaper announced that Gray would appear alongside a different comedian, C. B. Bishop, with the following note from the management:

“The Managers regret exceedingly the disappointment to their patrons last evening in not being able to present the popular Comedian, Mr. J. S. CLARKE, in his celebrated characters, and beg to assure them that the severe domestic affliction which compelled his absence will only defer his first appearance for a night or two.”

In all, Clarke would be absent from the stage until Thursday, February 26th. The “severe domestic affliction” that prevented Clarke from performing during that time was a death in the family. Mary Devlin Booth, the wife of Edwin Booth, died on the morning of February 21st. Clarke and his wife Asia (who, coincidentally, had never cared for Mary Devlin) rushed to Edwin’s side at his time of need. They were also joined by John Wilkes Booth, who had left his upcoming engagement in Philadelphia to be with his brother. Clarke and the rest of the Booth’s attended Mary’s funeral and burial at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Mary Devlin Booth, Edwin Booth's first wife

Mary Devlin Booth, wife of Edwin Booth

Alice Gray had continued to perform at the Washington Theatre without Clarke: “During Mr. Clarke’s temporary absence they have introduced a young and beautiful actress, Miss Alice Gray, who has made a decided sensation in every character she has appeared in.” When Clarke returned to town, he and Gray once again began their successful partnership. Clarke’s absence for a few days increased his appeal and so Clarke and Gray performed to full houses for the rest of his engagement. However, when Clarke left for his next engagement in Philadelphia in mid March, Gray did not join him. Instead, she returned to Ford’s Holliday Street Theatre to act alongside a new member of the Booth family. This young, handsome actor would make an indelible mark on Alice Gray and, in a couple years, would alter the course of American history.


This concludes part two of the series about Alice Gray’s life, career and connection to the Booth family. The third installment, “Alice Gray and John Wilkes Booth,” will be posted soon.

References:
Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination by Thomas Bogar
Additional research graciously provided by Thomas Bogar
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre by George J. Olszewski
American Tragedian: The Life of Edwin Booth by Dr. Daniel Watermeier
Edwin Booth: A Biography and Performance History by Arthur Bloom
John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Arthur Loux
Images of America: Ford’s Theatre by Brian Anderson for the Ford’s Theatre Society
Ford’s Theatre Society
Ancestry.com
Library of Congress
Newspaper extracts from: University of Illinois (free), FultonHistory.com (free), GenealogyBank.com (subscription)

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.

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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 Ancestry.com 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.

References:
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
Ancestry.com
Library of Congress
Newspaper extracts from: University of Illinois (free), FultonHistory.com (free), GenealogyBank.com (subscription)

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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