A Brother’s Lamentation

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By Ken Zurski

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On April 15 1865, the day after President Lincoln was struck down by an assassin’s bullet, Edwin Booth, a popular stage actor in New York, was told his younger brother John had pulled the trigger.

Edwin was appearing in a “successful” show at the time and immediately asked that it shut down. “The news of this morning has made me wretched,” he wrote, “not only because of my brother’s crime, but because a most justly honored and patriotic ruler has fallen.”

Edwin and his brother were estranged. Politics and ideology had separated them, as it did the rest of the country. “When I told John I voted for Lincoln,” Edwin recalled, “he expressed deep regret.”

Edwin feared for his own life after news that another brother, Junius, also an actor, had been threatened by an angry mob in Cincinnati. “Whatever calamity may befall me and mine, my country, one and indivisible, has my warmest devotion,” Edwin explained before going into hiding.

In January the following year, friends urged him to return to the stage. He reluctantly agreed. As his favorite character, Hamlet, Edwin stepped in front of a packed theater.

He was greeted by a tremendous applause.

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