J. KEMPER CAMPBELL
“In the Houses of Their Dead: The Lincolns, The Booths, and The Spirits” by Terry Alford, Liveright Publishing Company, 298 pages, $27.95.
Readers might assume that the lives of Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth have been fully explored over the past century and a half. Authors from Carl Sandburg to Bill O’Reilly have described the pair, and actors from Henry Fonda to Daniel Day Lewis have attempted to capture Lincoln’s character.
Yet, Terry Alford, a retired Virginia professor who has written a previous book on Booth, has managed to uncover fresh linkages between the two intertwined families which inexorably led to that fateful night in Ford’s Theater.
In his new book, “In the Houses of Their the Dead.” Alford avers that the Lincolns and the Booths both dabbled in spiritualism, a belief that the spirits of the dead could communicate with the living through a medium, and that supernatural sources could predict future fates.
People are also reading…
This reviewer has had an abiding interest in Lincoln’s assassination since viewing the grisly relics collected and displayed at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, DC
Spiritualism was a common belief in the mid-19th century and persisted through the first world war and 1918 influenza pandemic when nearly every family was touched by the death of a loved one.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of his foremost proponents, and the subject has been reviewed in this space Oct. 16, 2017, with the book, “Through a Glass Darkly”. Both Lincoln and Booth were superstitious, believing in the power of omens, charms, and fortune-tellers.
The Booths were a family of noted actors, especially Junius, the father, and his sons, Edwin and John. However, Junius, an alcoholic, was also intermittently deranged, even exhuming the corpse of a daughter who died of cholera with the goal of removing her “impure blood” from her to revive her.
Edwin and John were idolized for their handsome appearances and thespian skills and the only childhood hint of future catastrophe was John’s ailurophobia, causing him to torture and kill cats.
Lincoln, on the other hand, suffered from bouts of melancholia and premonitions of his own early death. His wife, Mary, was driven to the madhouse by the premature loss of three sons, Eddie, Willie and Tad, and her husband. She frequently invited mediums to the White House to commune with their ghosts. Remarkably, both Lincoln and Booth shared the same charlatan medium, Charles Colchester, who tried to warn Lincoln of his imminent danger from him.
Another unlikely and omnipresent figure who flitted between the families like Forrest Gump was Adam Badeau, who had an unrequited love affair with Edwin Booth and attended Booth’s first wedding while also managing to be a trusted aid to Ulysses Grant and be present for the surrender at Appomattox .
To summarize, this fascinating book contains a myriad of previously unknown connections between Lincoln and Booth which occurred both before and after the nefarious deed.
J. Kemper Campbell, MD, is a retired Lincoln ophthalmologist. His required final lecture on him as a chief resident concerned the muscle imbalance of Abraham Lincoln’s left eye which was intermittently higher than his right on him. This condition caused him to experience ghostly double vision of his own image of him while looking into a mirror. He felt this predicted he would die during his second term.