Booth's Supporting cast,In Retrospect: Economic Blunders, Horowitz's Work

By Wallace, Alan | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 2, 2013 | Go to article overview

Booth's Supporting cast,In Retrospect: Economic Blunders, Horowitz's Work


Wallace, Alan, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


The presidential assassin definitely did not act alone. And Thomas A. Bogar, contending that Americans still don't know the full story, is determined to tell readers about others who may have been what the publisher calls "accessories, if not accomplices" in the case.

But it's not the JFK assassination that Bogar's writing about. His topic and purpose is made plain by the title of his new book: "Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination: The Untold Story of the Actors and Stagehands at Ford's Theatre" (Regnery History, available Monday).

There's no doubt that John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor, killed Abraham Lincoln. Nor is there any doubt that Booth had helpers.

After all, there were many eyewitnesses when, on April 14, 1865, Booth entered the president's box at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., fatally shot Lincoln, jumped down to the stage, ran out a side door and fled on horseback. Twelve days later, hiding in a tobacco farmer's barn outside Port Royal, Va., he was killed by Union soldiers' gunfire. Numerous people suspected of involvement were rounded up; four of eight ultimately convicted were hanged.

But Bogar -- who has taught theatrical history and production and dramatic literature for four decades, directed more than 70 theatrical productions and written a book on presidents attending the theater and a biography of 19th-century actor/manager John E. Owens -- focuses on figures less well known: the 46 people employed as actors, stagehands and other workers when the tragedy occurred at Ford's Theatre, with which Booth was closely associated.

The cast and crew of the play Lincoln was attending when he was shot, "Our American Cousin," constituted "a hotbed of secessionist resentment," according to the publisher. These 46 "extras" in the assassination drama ranged from a 17-year-old errand boy who held Booth's horse to theater owner John Ford, 35, a states'-rights supporter who was in the Confederate stronghold of Richmond, Va., on the night of the assassination, and his 21-year-old brother Harry Clay Ford, the theater's day-to-day manager and a friend of Booth's.

Drawing on what the publisher calls "previously unpublished sources," Bogar shows that members of the theatrical company were involved with Booth in an earlier plot to kidnap Lincoln that was never carried out. He also casts a critical eye toward the authorities' investigation of the assassination, contending that they failed to question some of Booth's closest friends and wasted time and energy by wrongly pursuing innocent parties while Booth's flight from justice continued.

Bogar also follows the stories of his 46 "extras" beyond the assassination and investigation to show how many of them, particularly those who were actors or actresses, saw their careers long tarnished by their association with the incident and its site. …

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