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Brother of Assassin

Take Edwin Thomas, for instance. Edwin Thomas Booth, that is. At age fifteen he debuted on the stage playing Tressel to his father’s Richard III. Within a few short years he was playing the lead in Shakespearean tragedies throughout the United States and Europe. He was the Olivier of his time. He brought a spirit of tragedy that put him in a class by himself.

Edwin had a younger brother, John, who was also an actor. Although he could not compare with his older brother, he did give a memorable interpretation of Brutus in the 1863 production of Julius Caesar, by the New York Winter Garden Theater. Two years later, he performed his last role in a theater when he jumped from the box of a bloodied President Lincoln to the stage of Ford’s Theater. John Wilkes Booth met the end he deserved. But his murderous life placed a stigma over the life of his brother Edwin.

An invisible asterisk now stood beside his name in the minds of the people. He was no longer Edwin Booth the consummate tragedian, but Edwin Booth the brother of the assassin. He retired from the stage to ponder the question why?

Edwin Booth’s life was a tragic accident simply because of his last name. The sensationalists wouldn’t let him separate himself from the crime.

It is interesting to note that he carried a letter with him that could have vindicated him from the sibling attachment to John Wilkes Booth. It was a letter from General Adams Budeau, Chief Secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant, thanking him for a singular act of bravery. It seems that while he was waiting for a train on the platform at Jersey City, a coach he was about to board bolted forward. He turned in time to see that a young boy had slipped from the edge of the pressing crowd into the path of the oncoming train. Without thinking, Edwin raced to the edge of the platform and, linking his leg around a railing, grabbed the boy by the collar. The grateful boy recognized him, but he didn’t recognize the boy. It wasn’t until he received the letter of thanks that he learned it was Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of his brother’s future victim.

Little House on the Freeway, Tim Kimmel, pp. 105-106