I have taken several looks at Lincoln's assassination (THE TALL TARGET, PRINCE OF PLAYERS, THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND, an episode of BRANDED, an episode of ONE STEP BEYOND). Until J.F.K.'s death in 1963 no other political murder had been so shown or centered in movie and television as Lincoln's. The second most was probably Huey Long's death (ALL THE KING'S MEN and A LION IS IN THE STREET - and both were fictionalized versions). I believe we did not want to think about political murder - even though it appeared frequently enough in our history. Lincoln was the great exception: Our national hero and greatest President, his death at the moment of victory is just too incredible to forget. His murder as part of a vast, still murky conspiracy makes it more compelling. And that his killer is an actor (who chooses a theater for his "great and final entrance") - an actor from a family that produced two of 19th Century America's finest Shakespearean actors - raises it head and shoulders above the killings of Garfield, McKinley, William Goebel, Carter Harrison Sr., ex-Senator Edward Carmack, ex-Governor Frank Steunenberg, and other American political victims of murder before 1933.
The events in this episode of YOU ARE THERE concentrate on the conclusion of the chase for Booth. There is some material relating to Mary Surratt (Ellen Corby) and Lewis Paine (Claude Atkins) but neither were in at the death of Booth in real history.
This material was also looked at in the MGM HISTORICAL MYSTERIES short THE MAN IN THE BARN, which I reviewed some months ago. That was dealing with the legend of Booth's actual escape and death decades after 04/26/1865. This stuck to the official story.
Booth broke his leg in jumping off the balcony at Ford Theatre. He yelled "Sic Semper Tyrannis" ("Thus with all tyrants") from the stage to the horrified audience. He managed to hobble off and through the wings to the alley, where his horse was being held by one "Peanuts", who Booth kicked once he got on the horse. "Peanuts" started yelling, and one of the hands at the theater, Edward Spangler, told him to shut up. Bad mistake for Spangler. "Peanuts" eventually testified against him at the conspiracy trial, and Spangler got a sentence to prison at Dry Tortugas.
Booth managed to get out of Washington, and met up with David Herold. They went to Bryanstown, Maryland where Booth knew a Dr. Samuel Mudd (Ernest Sarrancino). Mudd fixed Booth's leg...and would also get into trouble with the Federal Government for this act. Booth and Herold continued south, planning to get to Virginia - and hoping to eventually get to either Joe Johnston's army in the Carolinas or Kirby-Smith/Richard Taylor's armies in Texas. For the next ten days or so they lived out of doors mostly, and got food from some of the Southern homeowners, but found several of them less than charitable. In fact, Booth was surprised to find how many people did not think highly of his actions. At one point he writes in his diary that he felt like returning to Washington to explain his act.
On April 24, 1865 Booth came across three former soldiers of General Lee, led by Captain Willie Jett (Sam Edwards here). Jett guided them across the river into Bowling Green, Virginia where they stayed at the farm of Richard Garrett (John Garrett here - Austin O'Toole). Garrett did not like the looks of the two be-ragged travelers (he thought they might be horse thieves). He gave them food, and told them to sleep in the barn. Then he locked the barn!
In the meantime, Union forces under Lt. Col. Everton Conger (De Forrest Kelly here) had come across Jett and his two companions. He had them questioned and Jett admitted that Booth was in Garrett's farm. Finally, after weeks of hunting the northern forces knew where to converge. Conger led a cavalry force assisted by Lt. Edward Doherty (Don Kennedy) and Lt. Luther Baker (Paul Hahn). Baker was a cousin of the head of the U.S. Secret Service, General Lafayette Baker - a powerful but sinister figure. The men got to the farm, and after rousing the Garretts learned their quarry was locked in the barn.
Booth was told to surrender himself or face the consequences (there was a $100,000.00 dead or alive reward on him - and while the authorities supposedly wanted to try him, his dead body would be just as good). Booth refused to surrender but Herold decided to do just that (much to Booth's disgust). Herold left the barn and was grabbed by Union troops (he tried...unsuccessfully...to ingratiate himself with them by saying he liked Mr.Lincoln's jokes!). Booth said he would fight ever man individually. The barn was set on fire. Shortly afterward a shot rang out, and Booth collapsed. He'd been shot in the spine, and was paralyzed. The shooter was presumably Sgt. Boston Corbett (Bing Russell), a religious zealot who once castrated himself because of lewd thoughts about prostitutes. If you are into conspiracy theories, Lt. Baker (in cahoots with his relative) may have been behind silencing Booth.
Booth took the night to die (ironically similar to how long it took Lincoln). His death gave the nation a sense of relief that the President was avenged. Interestingly enough, the death of Booth crowded out two other stories of that same date. In North Carolina General Joseph Johnston surrendered to General William T. Sherman. And below Memphis on the Mississippi River overcrowded steamboat Sultana blew up in either sabotage or a boiler explosion. The deaths of about 1,700 returning Northern Soldiers (in one of the worst American ship disasters) was barely noticed in the glare from Garrett's burning tobacco barn.
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