The State Box

By | Apr 14, 2009

At about 10:15 on the night of April 14, 1865 John Wilkes Booth entered the State Box at Ford’s Theatre. Viewing the play Our American Cousin was the President of the United State, Abraham Lincoln. With a derringer pistol Booth shot the President in the back of his head ending the President’s life. Lincoln would die the next morning at 7:22 AM.

Sitting with Lincoln was his wife and Major Henry R. Rathbone, a twenty-eight year-old officer and Rathbone’s fiancee, Clara Harris.

On that night Lincoln was carrying in his pockets two pairs of spectacles and a lens polisher, a pocketknife, a watch fob, a linen handkerchief, and a brown leather wallet containing a five-dollar Confederate note and nine newspaper clippings. These were given to his son Robert Todd. In 1937 these items were donated to the Library of Congress by Lincoln’s granddaughter, Mary Lincoln Isham.

The State Box at Ford’s theatre on that fateful night was decorated with five flags, an engraving of George Washington. Lincoln sat in a red upholstered rocker placed at the far right so that he would be hidden from most members of the audience.

Our American Cousin is a three Act farcical comedy by Tom Taylor. Harry Hawk was playing the lead role of Asa Trenchard. He had just given one of the play’s funniest line at halfway through Act III, Scene 2 and it was during this period of laughter that Booth shot the President.

After shooting Lincoln and a short fight with Major Rathbone in which Rathbone was injured by a dagger, Booth jumped to the stage. Upon landing he broke his leg. As he limped from the stage he shouted to the audience. Some heard Booth shout sic semper tyrannus , which is Latin for “thus always to tyrants”. It is Virgina’s State Motto. Others in the audience thought he shouted “The South is avenged!”.


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