IT was in April 1863 that John Booth played his first engagement in the Washington City with whose name his own was to be so darkly united. In Philadelphia, as in Boston and New York, a devoted following waited eagerly to hail his return. Audiences were keener, heartier, more demonstrative then than now; and probably no other young actor had ever left behind him more good will among American playgoers. At his benefits they stood in the aisles (for there were no ordinances about such matters, and house rules were lax). After the play they would argue with one another as to whether John or Edwin were the greater; and they were likely to determine that whereas Edwin might be Hamlet, John equally was Gloster.

So the playbills of Grover's Theatre for Saturday, April 11th, 1863, broke into a great flourish of display type to herald the advent of "The Pride of the American People, The Youngest Tragedian In The 'World! Who Is Entitled To Be Denominated A Star of the First Magnitude!" The play was "Richard III," with Susan Denin as Queen Elizabeth and J. M. Ward as Richmond. Historians of the National Theatre (Grover's) state not only that a "very large and fashionable audience" was present but that President Lincoln was there, with Governor Oliver P. Morton of Indiana as his guest.1 As announced, the engagement was for seven nights only, the répertoire for the ensuing week comprising "The Marble Heart," "Hamlet," "The Lady of Lyons," "Money," "The Merchant of Venice" (with "The Taming of the Shrew" as an afterpiece).

Hunter and Polkinhorn, "A Record of Fifty Years"; p. 47.


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The Great American Myth


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