The storming of Capitol Hill last week is an event that has already entered the dramatic annals of American history. When troubling incidents occur in the public sphere, it is often enlightening to trace their effects on private people. How did Jackie Kennedy cope after that fateful drive in Dallas? How did Watergate change the common comprehension of governance in the United States? Most major events generate thousands of intriguing tales that are worth retelling. No episode in the ongoing saga of American life has germinated as many consequential stories as the assassination of President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. “The crime of the century” as it was called, caused the largest manhunt ever on American soil and inflicted a deep trauma on the citizenry of a divided nation. There is a plethora of strange and profound narratives that sprang from the crime committed that night at the Ford Theatre, but of all of them, none is more coincidental and heart-warming as the brief encounter between Edwin Booth (John Wilkes Booth’s older brother) and Robert Todd Lincoln (President Lincoln’s eldest son).
Everyone who has heard of Lincoln’s assassination knows that John Wilkes Booth was a famous actor in his day. Few now know that he belonged to an acting dynasty, comparable to the Redgrave’s; he was the son and brother of two of the most celebrated theatrical talents at the time. Booth’s father, Junius Brutus Booth, was born in London and rose to fame through various renditions of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles. He conducted tours of Europe and the United States, eventually settling with his family in Washington DC. In later life, Junius became friends with President Andrew Jackson and once jokingly threatened to assassinate the occupant of the White House, a frivolous and insincere idea that his younger son would one day reconcile with reality.