The First Presidential Assassin
When he was a boy he found himself in front of a fortune-teller that read his palm. The Gypsy proclaimed that the boy would have a short but grand life. Doomed to die young while meeting a bad end. The boy wrote down the proclamation and would spend many, many years dwelling on it. Trying to suss out the meaning from the cryptic words. (OK, so it was pretty much straight forward, but perhaps denial added mystery?)
In 1857 he made his stage debut in a production of Richard III in Baltimore. He asked to be billed as J.B. Wilkes in order to not draw comparisons to his father and brother. Both already well-known actors. In 1858 he suffered such stage fright that he stumbled over his lines causing the audience to respond in gales of laughter. He shook it off and his acting career took off. Audiences loved his energy and fearlessness on the stage. He soon became famous in his own right. Called by some “the most handsome man America.” He threw himself into role after role. One in particular always drew him in. Brutus the tyrant slayer who ended the life of Julius Caesar.
On April 12th 1861 on the eve of war this son of Virginia found himself on the stage in Albany New York singing the virtues of the valiant and heroic south. The audience drove him from the stage but he was not to be daunted. He crisscrossed the war-torn country playing to audiences North and South.
As the war progressed he felt more and more like he was missing out. As the 1864 election drew nearer he found a focus for his anger. President Abraham Lincoln. His first act of treason came with planning to kidnap the president. Booth and his “gang” nearly carried off the plot. If not for a sudden change of plans by Lincoln history could be very different.
On April 12th, 1865 the war all but ended as Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army. Now lost in a well of anger and feeling betrayed Booth set out to end the president’s life. Hoping perhaps to stir the South into continuing the fight.
The night of April 14th, at Fords Theater in Washington DC, the most famous actor in the country became the first presidential assassin. He thought he would become a hero but instead became the most wanted man in the country. On April 26th Federal forces caught up with him and after a brief struggle killed him at the very young age of 26. I wonder if in his final moments John Wilkes Booth thought back to the Gypsy prophecy and smiled as it certainly came true.