The Booth family generally proved easier to move when it came to metaphysical. Their patriarch, Junius Brutus Booth, one of the most famous playwrights of his time, was also famous and idiosyncratic, a man who held funerals for pigeons and once dug up his daughter’s grave and tried to revive her by extracting her ‘impure’ blood. to suck. Several sons followed him in his career path and his idiosyncrasies: Edwin had a lasting fear of ivy vines and peacock feathers; Joe, the youngest, once fled to Australia without warning and then spent years there on some sort of vision quest.
As for Lincoln’s ultimate assassin? “His mind was a haunted house,” said a contemporary journalist quoted here. But even Alford, whose 2015 book “Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth” was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, has never really discovered the root of the mania created by a celebrated performer with no political will. or creed (though he seemed to really hate house cats) to a foaming radical who was willing not only to die for the Confederate cause, but to overthrow democracy. Booth’s fanatical belief that Lincoln had royal plans for a dictatorship — and that only he could stop it — somehow managed to continue, it seems, as an added quirk of an artistic temperament.
Whimsy is one thing for an actor; it’s quite different for a sitting president. And the cool logic of a trained lawyer (“not impulsive, fanciful, or imaginative, but cold, calm, precise, and exact,” according to his longtime law partner) seemed to coexist incongruously with an almost primal set of superstitions; unfortunate numbers, for example, worried Lincoln so much that he once reportedly refused to sit at a table as 13th. The news of such idiosyncrasies was manna for his enemies, who envisioned a foolish government led by a rapping table: “No constitution is needed when it taps, bangs and bangs on orders from Hannibal and Attila the Hun that the new law of the land.” Not exactly Nancy Reagan betraying her astrologer’s foreign policy, perhaps, but not far off.
Aside from the prospect of being entertained at dinner or indulging in his increasingly fickle wife, however, Lincoln had at least one good reason to believe: the loss of his favorite child, Willie, a “noble, beautiful boy” whose death at the hands of typhoid fever at the tender age of 11 left both Lincolns deprived. Is it any wonder that he sought solace in the supernatural, or at least its clever execution, set against the wider landscape of a civil war whose mass casualties already cut deep wounds in a poisonously divided nation?