Tuesday, September 1, 2015

On the Eccentricities of John Wilkes Booth

On the Eccentricities of John Wilkes Booth: As far as his theatrical career went, J. W. Booth was the Brad Pitt or George Clooney of his day. By the end of the 1850s, he was earning around $20,000 per year (which would be over 500K per year in today's dollars). Growing up in Bel Air, Maryland, Booth was very competitive with his brothers and classmates. He always had to be the best or first at completing a task, whether it was reciting Cicero or riding horses. Having been baptized Episcopalian, which was the Booth family's traditional church, his childhood religious experience did not follow one particular path. Booth's father, according to Asia Booth Clarke's memoirs, was more of a "free spirit" than actual practitioner of the faith. And yet there were rumors that J. W. Booth himself had converted to Roman Catholicism. Although evidence of such a conversion was sparse, it nevertheless fueled conspiracy theories regarding a Catholic plot to overthrow the U.S. government (similar to Guy Fawkes in England). After the Civil War erupted in April 1861, Booth became an outspoken supporter of the Confederacy. At some performances in the North, he even feuded with audience members who wished to have him arrested for treason. But when Abe Lincoln won reelection to a second term in late 1864, Booth believed it was time for Lincoln's "tyranny" and "aggression" toward the South to end.

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