-by Jon Cotton
Abraham Lincoln hopped off the train in Park Square in 1848 to stump for presidential candidate Zachary Taylor. He spoke at Tremont Temple Church, formerly Tremont Theater. The theater was once managed by Junius Brutus Booth, a famous Shakespeare actor from England, and father of John Wilkes and Edwin Booth. Junius Brutus was named after the Brutus of “et tu Brute” fame, the assassin of Julius Caesar. According to legend, when Julius was stabbed Brutus uttered the condemnation “Sic semper tyrannis!” – “thus always to tyrants!” When John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln this was the phrase he screamed into the audience, angling for the acclaim he never received.
John Wilkes Booth performed frequently at the Boston Museum on Tremont Street. He stayed at nearby Omni Parker House on April 5 and 6, 1865, shooting the president nine days later, April 14, 1865 (the president died next morning, April 15, 1865, 7:22 am). John had been seen to practice his gun technique at a shooting range off nearby School Street.
Lincoln was enamored of Booth. He saw him at Ford’s Theater and asked to meet, but Booth declined due to political differences. Booth’s intimacy with every crevice of the playhouse made it perfect ground to stage his act. Booth shot Lincoln, brandished a sword, then jumped like a dramatic hero from balcony to stage, and shouted the Latin phrase. It was perhaps his greatest performance, in the strictly histrionic sense. But the action was real. 12 days later Booth was shot unpretentiously by a man named “Boston” Corbett.
Lincoln was enamored of Booth. But Booth loved Lucy. Another contender for Lucy Hale was Robert Lincoln, eldest son of Abraham and Mary. Lucy’s father preferred Robert, but Lucy preferred John, and the two were engaged. When Booth was killed, Lucy’s picture was in his pocket.
John and Edwin admired Boston for its beauty and culture. John earned 20,000 dollars a year in the 1860s. But Edwin was the more prominent actor. Edwin lived on Beacon Hill (26 Chestnut Street). John bought a lot at 115 Commonwealth where a mansion was built in 1863 that recently sold for 10.6 million. Even without John’s action, Edwin would still be famous as one of the best Hamlets.
Shortly before the assassination, Edwin saved the life of Robert Lincoln. On a crowded platform, Robert was pressed into a moving train, and Edwin snatched him back. Robert thanked him by named, but Edwin found out only later that he saved a Lincoln.
Robert Lincoln was at Harvard during Lincoln’s presidency. In an early scene of the 2012 movie Lincoln, Mary Todd quotes Shakespeare, saying “We’ll fatten you up before you return to Boston.” The original line, from Hamlet to Horatio, is “We’ll teach you to drink deep ere you return to Wittenberg.” Just as Hamlet’s friend has returned to Denmark from Wittenberg University for the coronation of the King, so Robert has come to the White House from Harvard for the (second) inauguration of his father.