John Wilkes Booth’s Disturbing Artwork

206 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States was born. Also known as “The Great Emancipator”, Lincoln abolished slavery in the U.S. and is considered by far to be one of the nation’s greatest and most influential leaders. He took office in March of 1861 and served until his 1865 assassination by John Wilkes Booth. Booth was an actor and Confederate supporter who strongly opposed Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The President was attending a performance of “Our American Cousin” at the Ford Theatre on the evening of April 14th. It was there John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head with a .44 caliber single-shot derringer. The President died the following morning at 7:22 am.
Most of us have heard this same information regurgitated again and again every February since Kindergarten. As we grew older, the story grew longer each year, our teachers adding more and more gory details on the assassination of Lincoln, the hunt for Booth, and of course the bizarre connections between Lincoln’s assassination and John F. Kennedy’s (we all had that one history teacher who was obsessively fascinated by the similarities).
One macabre detail about Booth’s life, however, was most likely left out of these history lessons. The most little-known of fact about the assassin’s life is arguably the most interesting and disturbing. In his childhood, John Wilkes Booth’s was given a diamond ring by his father. He used this ring to carve his initials, ‘J.W.B.; into a window pane in the foyer of his family’s home. Booth kept this ring, and continued to wear it throughout his life. As a stage actor, he spent a lot of time on the road in his early adulthood traveling to many theatres in various locations throughout the United States. He made a habit of utilizing the ring as he had before, carving a small “J.W.B.” into the windows of his various dressing rooms throughout the country. Next to his initials, he would usually include a graphic depiction of a dead man hanging from a tree. Only a handful of these windows were ever discovered and most have been removed. Having been a very popular actor, there is a very good chance many more of his carvings existed but were never recognized as being his handiwork. Over time, some of these historic buildings may have been demolished while others underwent major renovations and passed through the hands of multiple owners. Obviously, a few people put the pieces together and recognized ‘J.W.B.’ as the initials of actor-turned infamous Presidential assassin but chances are, even more did not.

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