Biographies & Memoirs

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

FRIDAY, APRIL 14, 1865 

WASHINGTON, D.C. 

9:30 P.M.

Booth guides his mare into the alley behind Ford’s. The night is quiet, save for the peals of laughter coming from inside the theater. He dismounts and shouts for Ned Spangler to come hold his horse. The sceneshifter appears at the back door, visibly distressed about the possibility of missing an all-important stage cue. Booth doesn’t care. He demands that Spangler come outside and secure the animal. The last thing Booth needs is for his escape to be thwarted by a runaway mare.

Spangler, completely unaware of the assassination plot, insists that he can’t do the job. Booth, ever persuasive, insists. The unshaven, heavy-lidded stagehand weakens but does not capitulate. His employment is contingent on moving the right scenes at the right time. He is willing to do anything for a great actor such as Booth—anything but lose his job. Leaving Booth in the alley, Spangler dashes back into the theater and returns with Joseph Burroughs, a young boy who does odd jobs at Ford’s and goes by the nickname “Peanut John.” Booth hands Peanut John the reins and demands that he remain at the back door, holding the horse, until he returns. The boy must not leave that spot for any reason.

Peanut John, hoping that Booth will give him a little something for the effort, agrees. He sits on the stone step and shivers in the damp night air, his fist clutched tightly around those reins.

Booth slides into the theater. The sound of the onstage actors speaking their lines fills the darkened backstage area. He speaks in a hush as he removes his riding gloves, making a show of saying hello to the cast and crew, most of whom he knows well. His eyes scrutinize the layout, memorizing the location of every stagehand and prop, not wanting anything to get in the way of his exit.

There is a tunnel beneath the stage, crossing from one side to the other. Booth checks to make sure that nothing clutters the passage. Nobody guesses for an instant that he is checking out escape routes. When he reaches the far side, Booth exits Ford’s through yet another backstage door. This one leads to an alley, which funnels down onto Tenth Street.

There’s no one there.

In one short dash through Ford’s Theatre, Booth has learned that his escape route is not blocked, that nobody is loitering in the alley who could potentially tackle him or otherwise stop him from getting away, and that the cast and crew think it’s the most normal thing in the world for him to stroll into and out of the theater.

And, indeed, no one questions why he’s there nor finds it even remotely suspicious.

Feeling very pleased with himself, Booth pops in Taltavul’s for a whiskey. He orders a whole bottle, then sits down at the bar. Incredibly, Lincoln’s bodyguard is sipping a large tankard of ale just a few feet away.

Booth smiles as he pours water into his whiskey, then raises the glass in a toast to himself.

What am I about to do? Can I really go through with this?

He pushes the doubts from his head. We are at war. This is not murder. You will become immortal.

At ten P.M. Booth double-checks to make sure John Parker is still drinking at the other end of the bar. Then, leaving the nearly full whiskey bottle on the bar, he softly lowers his glass and walks back to Ford’s.

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