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They All Loved Lucy
Among the blades beneath her sway Were Holmes and Lincoln, Booth and Hay
October 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 6
Among the collegians who hovered about Lucy in the social carrousel of Boston and Cambridge was Robert Lincoln, the oldest son of the man who was soon to become President. ( Lincoln, Robert Todd , 1843-1926. Secretary of War, 1881-85; United States minister to Great Britain, 1889-93.) Too retiring and perhaps too shrewd to actively join the crowd of Lucy’s pursuers, young Lincoln nevertheless admired her and was to remain her good friend for many years. A pleasant insight is offered by a paragraph Lincoln added to a letter that his Harvard roommate, Frederick Anderson, was in the process of writing to her one day in April, 1864. (Lucy by then had joined her parents in Washington, D.C.) Anderson left the room for a few minutes “to quell a disturbance” across the hall; when he got back he found that Lincoln had picked up the pen and written:
Mr. Anderson informs me that he has invited you to our Class-day. If you will promise to be good and not allow any freshman to be presented to you, I have not the slightest objection in the world to your accepting his invitation. . . .
In wartime Washington Lucy lived at the National Hotel with Senator and Mrs. Hale and her sister, Lizzie. Soon she was engrossed in work with the Sanitation Committee, the Red Cross of the day, but there was still lots of time for pleasure. Washington was gay and bright in the evenings; Lucy was seen at many parties and dances. During lulls in the fighting she even visited the front lines with her mother, once riding into Virginia in a horse-drawn ambulance accompanied by Captain O. Wendell Holmes, who was stationed nearby.
Meanwhile, Lucy’s strangest love affair was in progress. On Valentine’s Day, 1862, she had received a curious epistle:
My Dear Miss Hale
Were it not for the License which a time-honored observance of this day allows, I had not written you this poor note. . . .
You resemble in a most remarkable degree a lady, very dear to me, now dead and your close resemblance to her surprised me the first time I saw you.
This must be my apology for any apparent rudeness noticable.—To see you has indeed afforded me a melancholly pleasure, if you can conceive of such, and should we never meet nor I see you again—believe me, I shall always associate you in my memory, with her, who was very beautiful, and whose face, like your own I trust, was a faithful index of gentleness and amiability.
With a Thousand kind wishes for your future happiness I am, to you—
It is easy to imagine the effect this romantic communication—romantic even for its era, which was itself romantic—must have had on twenty-year-old Lucy, especially when she discovered who the author was. (It hardly needs saying that he followed up the note by making certain that she did discover who he was.) It was none other than John Wilkes Booth. ( Booth, John Wilkes , 1838-65. Actor; assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.) Already at twenty-four acclaimed one of the finest actors of the day, Booth had an allure for women, on and off stage, that was really formidable. His performance as Romeo had caused ecstatic flutters from Chicago to Boston and Washington; in Indiana a jealous actress had assaulted him with a dagger and then tried to kill herself with the same weapon. He was outrageously handsome, and his manners made the most of the courtesy and flourish typical of the antebellum South, which he devoutly admired.
Booth suffered from no lack of feminine company, but his approach to Lucy was undoubtedly quite different from his usual gambit. He was determined to marry her, and it is only fair to assume that as their acquaintance grew he fell genuinely in love with her—although, of course, marriage to a prominent senator’s beautiful daughter would have been, for an actor, a social step decidedly upward. The evidence seems to indicate that Lucy succumbed slowly but surely. By March of 1865 they were often seen together in public and were in fact engaged, although secretly. On March 17 “Johnnie’s” mother, Mary Ann Booth, wrote him: The secret you have told me, is not exactly a secret, as Edwin [John’s brother] was told by someone, you were paying great attention to a young lady in Washington . . . and if the lady in question is all you desire—I see no cause why you should not try to secure her. . . . Her father . . . would he give his consent?
By this time Booth was heavily involved in his plot to kidnap Lincoln—a plot that miscarried and thus gave rise to the assassination plan. There is no suspicion that Lucy knew anything of this, but there is some indication that the lovers were quarrelling in the spring of 1865, perhaps as a result of Booth’s distracted behavior and his fits of jealousy. (Asia, his sister, reported later that Johnnie had become enraged at the sight of Lucy dancing with Robert Lincoln one night at the National Hotel.)