Skip to main content


ISSUE:  Spring 2007

John Wilkes Booth, 24, actor
Catherine Winslow, 26, actress

in his rooms at the National Hotel, Washington DC, after the opening of his production of Richard III, which was attended by President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, April 11, 1863

John Wilkes

you dare to watch even this, I look over my shoulder and there you are, sitting across the room, spindle-leg crossed over spindle-leg, cheeks sunk deep, sucked dry, as you are, of the last dewdrop trace of humanity, and you watch me in this bed even as you watched me tonight from your box: be gone, tyrant, be gone, don’t you understand when I, as the villainous Richard, crawled on my belly like a snake on Bosworth Field, it was you I portrayed, it was you in my mind and in my body, and I regret this for Richard’s sake, regret that I sensed you there watching and, in doing so, envenomed my Richard into a creature far more vile than he was—what were his sins compared to yours? your hobnailed boot pressed on the throat of a nascent nation, and even in my own Maryland, unconfederated still, you jail us without warrant, intercept our mail, persecute us for speaking our minds—and I grind now at Kate, my sweet Kate, my long-limbed Kate, she is Juliet above, on a balcony, combing her hair she speaks yet she says nothing, what of that? her eye discourses, I will answer it and I do, thrust by thrust, thrust by deep thrust, as deep as I would plunge a knife into a chest or fire a bullet into a brain, even as you clear your throat across the room


I saw what you thought no one saw, in your delicacy, the poor fool of a local actor in Chattanooga taken on at the last moment to play Montague and not merely forgetting his lines with you but swirling them up in some perverse new order which only made you look bad to a full house, and in the wings you put your arm around the man and I drew near, behind you, to hear you say, quite softly don’t worry, my friend, you’ll do better tomorrow and the man wept on your shoulder, grateful, I’m sure, that you had not murdered him, which actors of only half your fame would be inclined to do, my sweet Wilkes, and oh how your Romeo tossed me around in passion, more Walt Whitman than William Shakespeare, my wild Wilkes, and always the grand grabbing and lifting and swooping would end with some grace note of your gentleness, a finger tip trailing across my wrist, the softest touch of your lips, a low word or two below your breath, that secret tender heart of yours: my sweet Kate I see you clearly and you do, and though you drive deep into me now such as to make my teeth rattle, I see your gentle eyes flash as I have not seen them before, flash with a dark loving fire for me


Abraham Lincoln, 54, President of the United States
Mary Todd Lincoln, 44, First Lady of the United States

in their bedroom on the second floor of the White House, Washington DC, after attending the opening night of Richard III, starring John Wilkes Booth, April 11, 1863


she rail-split my log long ago, the products of which were dispatched to erect a fence in some far land and leaving nothing erectable behind, but tonight my Mary wants this again after such a long while and what she needs is far above my poor power to add or detract, so I try to see her once more across the dance floor at the General Assembly ball, and her cousin Major Stuart has her by the elbow and is guiding her my way and her eyes are certainly blue, even from a distance, and her chestnut ringlets of hair quake above a great expanse of an exposed bosom that has been much admired all around already, I am fully aware, and she has not yet shreiked at me, indeed, in that moment as she draws near, has not yet spoken a single word to her future husband, though now, in this bed, she will soon speak at my slowness to respond, shriek, in fact, so let us strive on to finish the work we are in, and I do, I turn to look in another direction, my leg crossed, my hands on the arms of my chair, I look to the bright glow of the stage below me, just a few hours ago, and his face turns up and his eyes are as black as a cougar’s come upon on a moonless night, and like the cougar’s they burn, and if a cougar can purr, which being a cat, surely it can, this is its sound, the voice of this man before me: grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front, and now, instead of mounting barbed steeds to fright the souls of fearful adversaries, he capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber to the lascivious pleasing of a lute: and his lascivious pleasing sighs its sibilance through my loins, even now, and I stir


when Richard III began to crawl on his belly like a snake crying for a horse in vain, I knew the President would die, and soon, but I am a brave woman and so I did not throw myself head first from the box, I went on instead with my hands folded in my lap, with my eyes holding steady on this actor, who was ludicrously beautiful as the ugly king, and I waited for this house and this bed before I would myself cry out, from my fear, but now the cries do not come and all I want is this man once more inside me, a last time inside me, and would that tonight’s beautiful actor could play this ugly king, but Abe will do, Abe will have to do, Abe I suppose, is necessary in this surprising desire, except Abe will not do, he is slack and slow and so there is nothing to be done about the knife or the bullet or the bomb, there is nothing to do about this man’s distaste for me, and words begin to boil up in my bosom and I try to see him standing beside me in the parlor of my sister’s house and Reverend Dresser is before us in canonical white and his brow is furrowed with God’s serious purpose and Abe is absolutely still, not a twitch, the ring, I know, in his hand, engraved Love is Eternal, and I am in white muslin and it’s raining outside, raining hard, and I let the back of my hand touch his, and now there is a touch, now and now, and he is my husband and he is the President and we both shall soon die


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading