I really enjoyed this history of the Booth family. I’m not entirely convinced that sibling rivalry led to Lincoln’s murder–Titone suggests this from time to time but never really sets about proving it–but I found My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth That Led to an American Tragedy so entertaining and useful that I’m a fan regardless.
As a middle school teacher who teaches in Baltimore City this proved an invaluable resource. I needed to plan an Investigation into Baltimore during the Civil War, and I was teaching antebellum history and John Brown–this book is a treasure trove of Baltimore stories and history. Titone tells the compelling story of Junius Booth, patriarch of the clan, who came to America with his lover and founded a family in Mobtown. Junius was some kind of interesting: palling around with Sam Houston, arguing for a vegetarian lifestyle, drinking like a fiend and speaking multiple languages, well-versed in numerous religious traditions, beyond tolerant of racial and religious and cultural differences. A true Renaissance man! His story alone would have made for an interesting volume! But Titone follows Junius’s sons Edwin and John Wilkes in even more detail. One hangs with Northern Abolitionists and Republicans, the other tours the South and volunteers for a militia simply to witness John Brown hang. While Edwin achieves heights even his father never dreamed of, John Wilkes fumbles. But whose greatest theatrical achievement made him immortal?
I love the small details–Edwin Booth visiting the Howes in Boston just after John Brown. John Wilkes using firecrackers on telegraph wires to blow off gentleman’s hats, and getting arrested at age 9. John Wilkes and Edwin working to protect an African American nurse and a wounded Union soldier during the NY draft riots. All of these tales are well-told and well-researched; the result is a portrait not simply of the Booth clan but of the troubled nation they inhabited, and impacted in numerous ways. I strongly recommend it.