Although John Wilkes Booth is now known as the infamous assassin who brutally murdered Abraham Lincoln in 1865, during his lifetime Booth was known as a famous and handsome stage actor that even Lincoln himself enjoyed watching perform at Ford’s Theater.
Lincoln watched Booth perform in numerous plays, including one called the Marble Heart at Ford’s Theater on November 9, 1863. The Washington Chronicle called it a “beautiful emotional play” and Booth earned rave reviews for his role in the production.
According to the book “Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln And The Soldiers’ Home,” Lincoln enjoyed Booth’s performance so much he sent a note backstage inviting him to the White House so they could meet. Booth, a rebel sympathizer and Confederate spy, evaded the president’s invitation. Booth didn’t give Lincoln a specific reason why he couldn’t visit but he later told his friends “I would rather have the applause of a Negro to that of the president!”
According to the book “Inside Lincoln’s White House,” the actor Frank Mordaunt later corroborated this story:
“Lincoln was an admirer of the man who assassinated him. I know that, for he said to me one day that there was a young actor over in Ford’s Theater whom he desired to meet, but that the actor had on one pretext or another avoided any invitations to visit the White House. That actor was John Wilkes Booth.”
Booth successfully avoided visiting the White House and never actually encountered Lincoln until he shot him at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. Since Lincoln was shot from behind and lost consciousness almost immediately, it is unlikely he ever knew that his killer was the same actor he had admired so much.
Shapell Manuscript Foundation: Lincoln’s Family Physician Describes the President’s Final Hours: http://www.shapell.org/manuscript.aspx?285238#.T_4xFpHhfpw
“Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay”; Michael Burlingame, John R. Turner Ettlinger; 1997
“Protecting President Lincoln: The Security Effort, the Thwarted Plots and the Disaster at Ford’s Theater”; Frederick Hatch; 2011
“Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln And The Soldiers’ Home”; Matthew Pinsker; 2003