Monday, August 18, 2014

All In The Family

There seems to be something about history, how it loves to twirl itself around a story like a kudzu vine, or even a creeping phlox.  

And if your phlox ever crept up on you, you know that awful feeling.

There are twists and turns to almost every story, and this is why we say that "truth is stranger than fiction."  Other things thought to be stranger than fiction include deep-fried Snickers Bars, the listing of side effects from every prescription medication (you take Lexapro for depression and then you get to deal with "Nausea, dry mouth, trouble sleeping, constipation, tiredness, drowsiness, dizziness, or increased sweating," many of which sound like symptoms of the very thing you are trying to get rid of) and the continued popularity of "reality" shows that show American culture at its loathsome perigee (we know that families such as the BooBoos of McIntyre, Georgia, live among us, but is that reason enough to glorify their dreadful existence?) 

Right up Harford Road from where we live is Harford County, Maryland, home to many fine citizens and businesses.  We like to drive up there to shop, buy cars, dine, and spend time in the rolling hills of Bel Air, Abingdon, Forest Hill, and Havre de Grace, among other towns there.  We know a lot of people who have moved up there and found happiness and joy.  

In 1822, an actor named Junius Brutus Booth, who had only the year before sailed to America from his native England, moved to Bel Air and founded a family. (The fact that he left a wife and child back home to come here with his pregnant girlfriend Mary Ann Holmes only amplifies the point that libertine behavior didn't just start last week.) Booth and Mary Ann got busy right away and raised eight of his ten children in a log cabin.

Hmmm. Are there any other famous Americans noted for having been born in a log cabin?  

Two of the Booth kids became famous actors in America, and they were named Randolph Mantooth and Benedict Cumberbatch.  No. They were Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth.

John Wilkes Booth, villain
On John Wilkes Booth's 13th birthday, his father celebrated by marrying Mary Ann, having been granted a divorce from his English wife, Adelaide.  John Wilkes Booth thereafter became a well-known actor on the legitimate stage, and also a rabid secessionist during the Civil War.  He hated Abraham Lincoln, so, gun laws being what they were before we knew better, he got a handgun and shot the 16th president dead during a performance at Ford's Theater in DC. Ever the performer, he leapt from the loge in which Lincoln had been sitting onto the stage, but caught his spur on the red-white-and-blue bunting surrounding the presidential box seat, so he landed awkwardly and broke his leg, impeding his getaway.  He was caught in Virginia, trapped in a barn hideaway.  Union forces set fire to the barn, but still he refused to surrender, and was shot to death for his trouble.

Edwin Booth, hero
Edwin was the more famous of the brothers, having starred in Shakespearean productions, and also having played Al Bundy in the theatre production of  "Married: With Children."  (No, that was Ed O'Neill.) A Union loyalist, he supported Lincoln, and, the year before his brother committed his heinous assassination, he saved the life of one of Lincoln's children!

Robert Lincoln
The story is that Robert Todd Lincoln, a student, was waiting along with Booth and a crowd of others at a train station to buy tickets for sleeping cars when the train began to move. Young Lincoln slipped off the platform, onto the tracks, and Edwin Booth grabbed him by the collar and pulled him back to his feet. This was the 1864 equivalent of having Channing Tatum yank you back from the path of an oncoming jet airliner. Recognizing the actor, Robert Lincoln thanked him for his efforts, and wrote of the incident many times.  At the time, Booth did not know it was the son of the man his brother was to kill the next year whom he had saved. 

I thought that, Paul Harvey being gone, I should share the rest of the story.

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