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The Elusive Trail of Lucy Hale

Averting a scandal

Everyone who had even the slightest connection to John Wilkes Booth was interrogated in the weeks following the assassination. Scores of people were arrested and detained, including John’s brother Junius who spent two months in prison. But there is no record that Lucy Hale or her mother were ever interviewed, even though they may have been with Booth just prior to the murder that threw the nation into mourning. John Parker Hale must have used every ounce of his influence to keep investigators at bay, and posted notices in the media denying any relationship between Booth and Lucy.

Only scraps of paper and bits of conversation remain to document the brief star-crossed romance, one-sided as it may have been. Lucy did contact Edwin Booth, the renown Shakespearean actor and elder brother of John Wilkes.

"I have had a heartbroken letter," Edwin wrote to his sister Asia, "from the poor little girl to whom he [John Wilkes] had promised so much happiness."

We get another hint of Lucy’s reaction from an article in the New York Herald. Without mentioning Lucy by name, the reporter said that Booth’s fiancée, like the rest of the country, was "plunged in profound grief." Lucy, however, was pining for the assassin, not the president. "But with womanly fidelity she is slow to believe him guilty of this appalling crime," the Herald said. Ella Turner, another of Booth’s lovers, attempted unsuccessfully, to commit suicide using a bottle of chloroform.

The corpse bride

Before the assassination, Lucy reportedly told a friend that she would return from Spain to marry Booth in a year "with or without her father". After Lincoln’s death, and again this is hearsay, she reportedly vowed to be loyal even to the gallows. But John Wilkes Booth, unlike four other conspirators, never made it to the gallows. Shot in a burning barn in Virginia after a 12-day manhunt, his body was sewn into a horse blanket and taken by tugboat in the dead of night to the ironclad ship Montauk at Washington. Not even the sailors on duty knew that Booth’s corpse had been smuggled aboard.

According to historian Gene Smith, three people arrived by tug at the Montauk the next morning. Two were naval officers. One was a woman in a veil. An account in an unpublished manuscript reports that, when the blanket was unwrapped, Lucy Hale threw herself across the body of John Wilkes Booth sobbing. Government officials, unwilling to reveal the location of Booth’s corpse to Confederate sympathizers, offered a variety of explanations, according to Smith, for the mysterious woman on the ship.

Perhaps, in an attempt to put an end to Lucy’s hysterical hopes, Ambassador Hale pulled the strings to prove to his daughter that her infamous actor was truly dead. Hale had been a powerful force in the US Navy. If anyone could get aboard an ironclad prison ship, it was Hale. Or perhaps it never happened.


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