By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death, at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.
Booth may be one of history’s great villains, but his brother Edwin was one of Philadelphia’s great theatrical figures of the time. And Edwin Booth was a huge fan of Lincoln as well.
Edwin Booth was renowned for his Hamlet, a role he performed on the stage that he owned here: the Walnut Street Theatre, which still exists, at 9th and Walnut in center city.
“The theater obviously has changed considerably since Booth was here,” notes Walnut Street Theatre president Bernard Havard.
Havard says Edwin Booth bought the theatre in 1863 with his sister Asia’s husband, John Clark. Although Edwin was estranged from his brother John, a Southern sympathizer, he suffered from the name association after his brother killed the president of the United States.
“The whole acting profession, in fact, took a hit,” says Havard. Edwin went into seclusion for about two years.
But Clark, Edwin’s brother-in-law, had it worse. He was arrested, suspected of being part of the conspiracy (though he wasn’t), and, when released, he and Asia went into exile in London.
Edwin, though, came back.
“He was highly regarded, highly respected, so he was able to overcome the dastardly deed,” Havard tells KYW Newsradio.
Perhaps another reason that Edwin Booth was never suspected of colluding with his brother is that he had proved his loyalty to Lincoln in one of the oddest coincidences in US history:
About a year before the assassination, Robert Todd Lincoln was waiting on a train platform in Jersey City, NJ, when he was jostled and fell between the train and the platform. He was saved when a man pulled him back up to the platform by his coat collar — a man he immediately recognized as the famous actor Edwin Booth.