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The Elusive Trail of Lucy Hale

Assassination day

According to most accounts, Booth met with Lucy (also called "Bessie") at their hotel on the very morning of the assassination, perhaps around the same time that her father was meeting with President Lincoln at the White House. Senator Hale had been appointed Ambassador to Spain and was preparing to take his wife and Lucy with him.

jwb01.jpgWhether Senator Hale knew about his daughter’s engagement to a lowly actor and a Confederate-sympathizer is unknown. It is extremely unlikely that Lucy was aware of Booth’s murderous plan for the evening of April 14. For months, Booth had been planning to kidnap Lincoln, not kill him. But a failed attempt and the ending of the Civil War just days earlier pushed Booth to take desperate action.

On Good Friday, the day of the murder, after meeting briefly with Lucy in the morning, Booth learned that Lincoln would attend a performance at Ford’s that night. He revised his plan, plotted with his team of conspirators, then calmly sat down for dinner at the National Hotel at 6:30 pm. According to at least one bystander, Booth dined with Lucy and her mother that very evening. Then just before 8 pm he looked at his watch and stood to leave. Booth then took Lucy’s hand and recited a line from Shakespeare: "Nymph, in thy orisons [prayers] be all my sins remembered." Two hours later, he became the greatest villain in American history.

Fiancée or pawn?

How intimate Lucy Hale had been with John Wilkes Booth is best left to tabloids and novels. They reportedly exchanged rings and poems. Historians have suggested that Lucy shared a room with Booth not long before the assassination. The evidence is thin since they used a false name in the hotel register. That unlikely scenario has even been dramatized in a made-for-TV movie.

More likely, Lucy was innocently swept away by Booth’s effusive charm and enormous celebrity. Lucy had played at love before. According to Richmond Morcom, a history buff and collector, Lucy also attracted the attention of other famous admirers. Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son enjoyed her company. Years earlier while at school, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., a future Supreme Court Justice, wrote to Lucy. Holmes asked Lucy whether she had scented her letter with a perfume called "Kiss Me Quick," and if so, did she intend he should do so?

Morcom, who published excerpts from a few of Lucy’s love letters in American Heritage Magazine in 1970, reportedly found the letters in an antique shop and, at age 86, still owns them today. He also owns a letter addressed to Lucy on Valentine’s Day in 1862. It begins, in part, "You resemble in a most remarkable degree a lady, very dear to me, now dead…" It is signed simply "A Stranger." Morcom, who now lives in New Hampshire, remains convinced the anonymous note Is from John Wilkes Booth.

Booth may have been in love with Lucy as he told many of his friends and family members. But it is easier to imagine that Booth, an accomplished actor, was simply "playing" Lucy Hale, just as he manipulated his team of conspirators. He was rich, famous, charming, duplicitous and cunning, with a "magnetic" influence over almost everyone he met. While preparing to kidnap Lincoln, Booth left a number of clues intended to confuse authorities and implicate others. Throwing suspicion on a northern senator and his daughter was well within the range of Booth’s wild plan.

It is less easy to explain why Booth admitted his marriage plans to his mother, who wrote a jealous note back to her favorite son. "You are looking and saying soft things to one that don’t love you half as well as your old mother does," Mrs. Booth responded. Perhaps the actor was being ironic when he told his brother Junius that Lucy was worth more to him than all the money he could make on the stage.


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