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Lincoln attends play starring John Wilkes Booth


150 years ago tomorrow, November 9, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln attended a play titled “The Marble Heart” starring none other than John Wilkes Booth.

The Lincolns attended the play at Ford’s Theatre and were accompanied by several people, among them Mary B. Clay, daughter of Cassius Clay, U.S. minister to Russia.

In Mary’s own words as she recalled the evening:

“In the theater President and Mrs. Lincoln, Miss Sallie Clay and I, Mr. Nicolay and Mr. Hay, occupied the same box which the year after saw Mr. Lincoln slain by Booth. I do not recall the play, but Wilkes Booth played the part of villain. The box was right on the stage, with a railing around it. Mr. Lincoln sat next to the rail, I next to Mrs. Lincoln, Miss Sallie Clay and the other gentlemen farther around. Twice Booth in uttering disagreeable threats in the play came very near and put his finger close to Mr. Lincoln’s face; when he came a third time I was impressed by it, and said, ‘Mr. Lincoln, he looks as if he meant that for you.’

“‘Well,’ he said, ‘he does look pretty sharp at me, doesn’t he?’

“At the same theater, the next April, Wilkes Booth shot our dear President. Mr. Lincoln looked to me the personification of honesty, and when animated was much better looking than his pictures represent him.”

When Mary reported that the president was shot “the next April”, she was off by one year.

SOURCE: p. 243 of Mary, Wife of Lincoln by her niece Katherine Helm (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1928).



  1. This is sort of chilling to think he got that close to the President and that they rather thought he was being serious. Never happen these days.

  2. It really is, Paisley! And you’re right about that.

  3. So sad. I always wonder what would have happened if Lincoln, the Kennedy’s and King had been killed. tweeted.

  4. Hi, Ella! Thanks for tweeting!

  5. I wasn’t aware the two men had seen each other prior to the assassination. Amazing that Mr. Lincoln was so calm – or, perhaps he had a precognition –

  6. Interesting post. I didn’t realize President Lincoln had seen Boothe perform on stage.

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