News of President Lincoln’s Assassination Reaches the Queen City: The City’s Ironic Booth Connection
Posted On: 04/17/2017 - 4:18pm, Posted By: Scott Gampfer, Associate Vice President for Collections & Preservation
At 10:15 pm, Friday, April 14, 1865, Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth slipped unnoticed into President Abraham Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater and fired a single shot from his .44-caliber derringer directly into the back of the president‘s head. Booth then leapt heavily onto the stage and made his escape.
Carried unconscious and barely breathing to the Petersen House across the street from the theater, the president clung to life until 7:22 am the following morning. When he passed, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton famously remarked “Now he belongs to the ages.”
By mid-day on the 15th of April, news of the President’s assassination had reached virtually every part of the nation, thanks to the telegraph. News of the shooting reached Cincinnati in time to appear in the morning papers.
The first reports of Lincoln’s assassination in the Cincinnati Daily Commercial.
The morning edition of the Daily Commercial ran the story of the assassination as it had been relayed in a series of dispatches received in the early morning hours of the 15th. Each dispatch carried a little more detail than the previous one. The paper reported that at 12:15 am it was not known if the president’s wound was fatal and that claims that the shooter had been identified as the actor John Wilkes Booth were not yet confirmed. In the same column, the paper related the details of a 2:30 am dispatch indicating that the president was not expected to live and that the Surgeon General of the Army and other surgeons had been sent for to attend to Mr. Lincoln. The last dispatches to be reported in the morning edition came in at 4:00 am by which time it was stated that the president’s recovery was impossible and he would soon cease to breathe. They also carried the news that “the evidence is very positive” that Booth was the murderer.
Ironically, appearing on the same page of the Commercial, directly next to the column carrying the news of the tragedy playing out in Washington, was an advertisement for a “Grand Matinee” performance of The Three Guardsmen at Pike’s Opera House on Fourth Street in Cincinnati, scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.
Daily Commercial, Saturday, April 15, 1865.
The ad touted eminent tragedian Junius Brutus Booth, Jr.’s role as D’Artagnan in the production. Junius Brutus, Jr. was the older brother of John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln’s assassin. Booth was in the closing days of a two week engagement at Pike’s and was staying at the Burnet House. When news of the assassination reached the Queen City, the play was quietly ended and newspapers reported on April 17th that Junius Brutus had left the city. Although he did not share his younger brother’s pro-Confederate sentiments, organizers and friends nevertheless urged him to leave the city for fear he would be attacked while emotions were running high. Friends hid him until he could be safely spirited out of the city.
Pike’s Opera House, Fourth Street, Cincinnati.
Suspected by government authorities of having knowledge of his brother’s intent to shoot the president, he was arrested in Philadelphia on April 26th and imprisoned briefly in Washington, D.C. where he was interrogated and then released.
As there was no Sunday edition of the Daily Commercial, the full details of President Lincoln’s death, the attack on Seward, and the hunt for John Wilkes Booth did not appear in print until Monday, April 17, 1865. A small ad appeared in the paper stating that “In consequence of the Calamity that has befallen the Nation, the Opera House will be closed this evening.” Pike’s Opera House soon resumed normal programming.