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Edwin Thomas Booth Passes Away

Today in Masonic History Edwin Thomas Booth passes away in 1893.

Edwin Thomas Booth was an American actor.

Booth was born November 13th, 1833 in Bel Air Maryland. He was born into an acting family. He along with two brothers were the illegitimate sons of Junius Brutus Booth, Sr. The fact the three men were illegitimate and all actors created an intense rivalry between them. By the age of 16 Booth was appearing on stage with his father. Edwin and his father appeared in Richard III in Boston, with his father playing Richard III. A year later when his father fell ill, Edwin stepped in and filled in for his ailing father.

In 1852, Booth's father passed away and he went on a worldwide tour. After visiting Australia and Hawaii, Booth found himself in Sacramento in 1856 and gained acclaim while performing there.

In 1863 Booth became the manager of the Winter Garden Theatre. The theatre mostly staged Shakespearean tragedies. He continued to manage the theatre until it burned in 1867.

In 1864, the Booth brothers all appeared in a charity play in New York City. The play raised money to erect a statue in Central Park of William Shakespeare. The statue still stands there today. Shortly after, Edwin starred in Hamlet also in New York City. His run as Hamlet became known as the "hundred nights Hamlet." This was a record not broken until 1922 when John Barrymore broke the record with 101 performances.

Also in 1864 Edwin met Robert Lincoln and saved his life. It occurred in Jersey City, New Jersey. The two men were waiting for a train and Robert slipped between the platform and the train. Edwin reached out and pulled Robert Lincoln to safety. Being a famous actor, Lincoln recognized Edwin, although Edwin had no idea who Robert Lincoln was until he received a letter from Colonel Adam Badeau who was on Ulysses S. Grant's staff along with Robert Lincoln. Knowing he saved Robert Lincoln's life comforted Edwin after John Wilkes assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, Robert's father.

In 1865, John Wilkes Edwin's younger brother assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Edwin and John Wilkes were already on opposite sides of the American Civil War, Edwin a Unionist and John Wilkes a Confederate. After John Wilkes assassinated the President, Edwin refused to allow his brothers name to spoken in his house.

In 1867, Edwin purchased a theatre in New York City. Like the Winter Garden Theatre the new theatre put on Shakespearean tragedies. The first play performed was Romeo and Juliet with Edwin playing Romeo. The theatre was never very successful and after the panic of 1873 it went into bankruptcy. He went on another world tour after the theatre closed and was able to make back most of his fortune.

In 1869, after pleading with President Andrew Johnson, Edwin was able to get the remains of John Wilkes released so he could bury him. Edwin buried John Wilkes in an unmarked grave in the family plot in Maryland.

In 1888, Edwin started the Players' Club in New York City. By this time Edwin was a widower two times over and had a room at the club where he stayed. In 1891, he suffered a stroke which caused his health to deteriorate. He had a second one in 1893 shortly before his passing. He passed away on June 7th, 1893. His room at the Players' Club has been left in the exact condition it was in when he passed away.

Edwin Booth was a member of New York Lodge No. 330 in New York City, New York joining in 1857. In his travels he attended various lodges around the world. While visiting a lodge in Omaha, Nebraska he was asked his favorite him which he replied was Jesus Lover of My Soul, which he recited. When asked his favorite prose, he asked the members of the lodge rise and recite the Lord's Prayer. His love of Freemasonry is attested to in the following statement:

". . . to be worshipful master and to throw my whole soul in that work, with the candidate for my audience, and the lodge for my stage, would be greater personal distinction than to receive the plaudits of the people in the theaters of the world."

This article provided by Brother Eric C. Steele.