1865: John Wilkes Booth Shot Me!


In a letter published in the April 1910 issue of The Journal of Psychical Research, a woman named Ella Hughes recalled a childhood connection to John Wilkes Booth and a strange dream of her mother’s at the time of Lincoln’s assassination:

In the autumn of 1860 my father went to California, leaving my mother and the rest of the family in a large house in Longwood, a beautiful suburb of Boston. In the spring of 1861 a noble looking, sad-faced gentleman came to our house to ask if my mother could take into her family, for a few months, his mother, sister, and two brothers. The gentleman was Edwin Booth, saddened by the recent death of his wife. His mother, Miss Anna Booth, John Wilkes, and Joseph Booth boarded with us that summer.

John Wilkes Booth was then about the age of my eldest brother, perhaps twenty-four years old. To my childish eyes he was very handsome, with dark hair curling over a high forehead, brown eyes, and dark mustache. He was, I believe, an attractive man, with a winning manner And a pleasant smile.

My mother with her gracious dignity, and ready sympathy, always drew young people to her, and John Booth responded to her motherly interest, with the respectful affection that a young man sometimes gives to a lady much his senior.

It must be remembered that, in those days, he seemed so worthy of friendship, as anyone now held in high esteem. That he could ever be guilty of crime, was then unthinkable. As little anticipated was the feeling of abhorrence with which every photograph, letter, and every reminder of him whatsoever was afterwards destroyed by us.

Those were the first months of the Civil War, and fathers, brothers, husbands, and lovers were leaving home and dear ones, for the battlefield. In speaking of this conviction that he ought to go to war John Booth told my mother that he felt that he ought to be a Christian first. In none of his conversations with my mother did he lead her to infer that his sympathies were with the South. Our family were strong Republicans, and had voted for Abraham Lincoln. Their sympathies were wholly for the Union and the North. My mother thought naturally that he intended to enter the northern army.

At the end of the summer the family left us, and we afterwards saw them only occasionally. The following winter John Wilkes Booth acted in Boston. Now and then he came to see us. Child-fashion, I usually appropriated the lion’s share of his visits to myself.

In October, 1863, my mother and the rest of us followed my father to California. Soon after we ceased to hear from the Booths.

One night my mother awoke my father suddenly, saying, “O Charles! I have had such a terrible dream ! I dreamed that John Wilkes Booth shot me! It seemed that he sent me seats for a private box in a theatre, and I took some young ladies with me. Between the acts he came to me and asked how I liked the play. I exclaimed, ‘Why John Booth! I am surprised that you could put such a questionable play upon the stage. I am mortified to think that I have brought young ladies to see it.’ At that he raised a pistol, and shot me in the back of the neck. It seems as if I feel a pain there now.” After awhile my mother fell asleep and dreamed the same thing a second time.

The next morning came the terrible news which plunged our nation into grief and mourning.

Almost at the hour of my mother’s dream—President Lincoln was assassinated: shot, in the back of the neck, in a private box in a theatre, by John Wilkes Booth.

(Mrs.) Ella Howard Hughes
Nov. 2, 1909

Image: Photo of Booth by Alexander Gardner [detail] (source)

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