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The New Dying Words of John Wilkes Booth

John Wilkes Booth
NH's LINCOLN CONNECTION
April 1865

Behind the curtain of the Lincoln assassination is a strange New Hampshire love story. Lucy Hale, daughter of an abolitionist senator, was reportedly engaged to the man who killed President Lincoln. Whether it wasa real love or a manipulative game, no one knows. It was real, at least, from Lucy's view. But what it is was real from the other side too?

 

 

 

SEE: Tour of Lincoln's Assassination Site
ALSO READ: Lincoln the Vamprie Slayer
SEE MORE: Lucy Lambert Hale

Abraham Lincoln was murdered at Ford's Theater 140 years ago. If this was 1865, you and I would be in shock. We would find ourselves suddenly sobbing, unable to talk about the news. A minute later, remembering that the long bloody Civil War was over, there might be a jolt of elation, then the crashing realization that the man who carried us through tens of thousands of deaths, was himself freshly slaughtered.

Abraham Lincoln / Library of CongressAt this point in the story, with a $100,000 bounty being offered, John Wilkes Booth is still at large, hiding in the swamps of Virginia, writing in his journal, waiting for the Confederacy to raise him to glory for shooting President Lincoln in the back of the head. Hundreds of witnesses to the murder in Washington are being interviewed. Scores of people who knew the famous actor are being detained or jailed. Booth is at large. After jumping from the theater box to the stage he escaped on horseback out the back stage door. No one knows how many conspirators were part of this plot. Everyone is a suspect.

It took over a week for soldiers to track Booth to a barn at Garrett Farm. We've heard the story so many times since that it reads like a fairy tale. They set the barn on fire hoping to smoke out the assassin. Finally, Booth appeared through the flames, his leg broken from his leap to the stage at Ford’s Theater. A soldier shot him in the spine. He lay paralyzed, mumbling and crying for the soldiers to kill him. He asked the soldiers to tell his mother that, what he did, he did for his country. But there was no country. The South had lost the war.

Then John Wilkes Booth made a strange request. He asked that his hands be lifted up so he could see them. This was done. He stared at his hands for a moment and mumbled, "Useless, useless." Then he died. Perhaps that is exactly what Booth said. Perhaps he said something else. Open your mind and stick with me for a moment. Maybe we can change history.

John Wilkes Booth had a fiancée. As he lay dying on the porch of Garrett’s farm he was engaged to Miss Lucy Hale of Dover, New Hampshire.

Lucy’s father, NH Senator John P. Hale forcefully denied the engagement story. But witnesses reported seeing Lucy and John Wilkes Booth spooning in the public rooms of the National Hotel in Washington, DC. Perhaps the actor was simply playing Lucy for a fool. Using her father’s connections, Lucy had gotten a ticket to Lincoln’s second inauguration ceremony for her boyfriend. You can see Booth standing within striking distance of the President in a famous photograph. It is a chilling picture.

When Booth died outside that burning barn, he was carrying a portrait of Lucy in his pocket. The small photo of Lucy and a number of other women are on display in the museum beneath Ford’s Theater. Lucy’s home too is a museum in Seacoast, New Hampshire. Guides at the Hale House mention the Booth connection, but the historic emphasis is always on father JP Hale’s record as the nation’s first Abolitionist senator.

Until now, history has played Lucy, better known as "Bessie" Hale, like an innocent footnote to the death of Lincoln. Booth was a ladies' man and Lucy was just one of the ladies he played to off stage, historians say. She was the toast of Washington society and the daughter of an influential Senator. She had attracted the attention of Oliver Wendell Homes Jr.. Her father hated Booth's lowly actor status and, some say, had hoped to marry Lucy to the President's son Robert Todd.

"The Day Lincoln Died", a made-for-TV-movie, offers an imagined scene between the lovers. Booth sweeps Lucy onto the dance floor at the hotel where both were staying. "Have you gone mad?" Lucy says breathlessly as they spin around the ballroom.

"Mad for you," Booth cajoles. "Have I caused you some trouble?"

"Seeing as my father's jaw is resting in his soup, I'd say so," she replies.

CONTINUE ESSAY 

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