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Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination: The Untold Story of the Actors and Stagehands at Ford’s Theatre Reviewed By Dr. Wesley Britton of Bookpleasures.com
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Dr. Wesley Britton

Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE

 
By Dr. Wesley Britton
Published on December 19, 2013
 

Author: Thomas Bogar

Publisher: Regnery History (November 4, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1621570835

ISBN-13: 978-1621570837


Author: Thomas Bogar

Publisher: Regnery History (November 4, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1621570835

ISBN-13: 978-1621570837

There's certainly no shortage of book-length histories describing the events leading up to and following April 14, 1865, the night President Abraham Lincoln was shot. Perhaps the best remains Michael W. Kauffman's exhaustive 2004 American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. One of the thinnest, if very readable, was the padded and error-riddled Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever (2011) by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard.

Now, one of the most surprising offerings must be Thomas Bogar's new Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination. That's because Bogar doesn't focus on either Lincoln or John Wilkes Booth and the actual conspirators of the plot. Instead, after describing the tableau of the actors presenting Our American Cousin and what the stagehands were doing behind the scenes at Ford's Theatre that April night, Bogar does what no one has done before. Based on years of exhaustive research, and with an obvious background in theatre, he explores the lives of the 46 largely forgotten people who were working at Ford's Theatre that historic night. In the main, most were mere witnesses to history whose careers changed markedly after the murder. On the other hand, as actor John Wilkes Booth was a frequent visitor to the theatre, he had friends and peers in the company whose connections to the tragedy might have been less innocent.

Admittedly, much of what Bogar offers will primarily appeal to readers interested in the history of 19th century theatre as a whole. In the case of theatre owner John Ford, for example, we learn about his background, the various theatres he owned and operated, and how such theatres made their money. We learn how companies of actors were organized, what kinds of productions were popular, and what was expected of actors and stage hands during the period.

It's the aftermath of April 14 that will interest Lincoln buffs as the authorities tended to ask the wrong people the wrong questions which lead to the persecution of innocent parties, such as the scapegoating of John Ford and the theatre business as a whole. Even more tragic was the prison sentence of Ned Spangler, repeatedly described as a "drudge" who helped Booth with his horse, but clearly was no member of any conspiracy. But were there members of the acting community who escaped justice?

Bogar avoids making any conclusive speculations but rather assembles a portrait of a profession in that time and place and explains why John Wilkes Booth was able to pull off his plot with minimal complications. It's not the first book to read if you want to get into Booth's inner circle, but it is well worth a read if you'd like to actually learn new details about an event many think they already know. No old mysteries are solved, but the stage lights now illuminate participants in history that have been long overlooked.

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