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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
On March 4 Booth attended President Lincoln’s second inauguration with a ticket of admission given to him by Lucy, who had it through her father. On April 14, the day of the assassination, Robert Lincoln came back from Appomattox, where as a member of Grant’s staff he had been present at Lee’s surrender; it is believed that he and Lucy and another of her admirers, John Hay, studied Spanish together that afternoon. ( Hay, John , 1838-1905. American diplomat and author; President Lincoln’s assistant private secretary; ambassador to Great Britain, 1897-98; Secretary of State, 1898-1905.) The President had recently appointed Lucy’s father ambassador to Spain, and she was getting ready to go along. Whether this affected Booth’s mad determination to kill Lincoln is not known, but it may have been an added spur.
The dreadful event at Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14 put an explosive end to Lucy’s romance with John Wilkes Booth. She found it nearly impossible to credit that her lover had been the assassin, and her feelings were not assuaged by her father’s desperate efforts- including published notices in the press—to deny that there had ever been an intimate connection between them. “I have had a heart-broken letter,” Edwin Booth wrote his sister, “from the poor little girl to whom he had promised so much happiness.” Meanwhile Booth was captured and shot in Virginia—he was carrying photos of five women, including Lucy—and his co-conspirators were tried and found guilty in a highly irregular trial. One of the irregularities was that Miss Lucy Hale was never called to the witness stand. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who was running the show, had no desire to upgrade the conspirators by revealing Booth’s relationship with her.
Five years abroad enabled Lucy to suppress her unhappiness amidst repeated rounds of legation parties, trips to Italy and Switzerland and France, and rejection of love-struck noblemen who courted her elaborately and were turned down without much ceremony. In Paris she saw the sights and went to the theatre with several of her old beaux: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Frederick Anderson, John Hay.
But when she returned to America in 1870, Lucy was no longer the fresh young girl who had so moved the hearts of most of the young men she met: she was twentyeight years old and apparently determined to devote herself almost exclusively to the care of her ailing father, back in Dover, New Hampshire. He died in 1873—and then, suddenly, Lucy began to respond to a bombardment of passionate love letters from William E. Chandler, her very earliest admirer, who was now a widower and a highly successful corporation lawyer. They were married late in 1874, and the former belle, now a handsome young matron, plunged spiritedly into politics at her husband’s side. (The only child of the marriage, a son, was not born until 1885.) They were to enjoy several years in Washington among old acquaintances during Chandler’s service as Secretary of the Navy and as a senator, and many years after that in the quieter atmosphere of Concord, New Hampshire. Chandler died in 1917; Lucy had preceded him in 1915.
Among all of Lucy’s notable swains John Hay seems to have most sensitively expressed her peculiar charisma during her time of youth and beauty. From Madrid he wrote her in 1869: I came back from the station [the day you left] wondering if there were anyone else in the world just like you; one of equal charm, equal power of gaining hearts, and equal disdain of the hearts you gain. The last glance of those mysterious blue-gray eyes fell upon a dozen or so of us and everybody but me thought the last glance was for him. I have known you too long. Since you were a school-girl—yet even in those early days you were as puzzling in your apparent frankness and real reserve as you are today. . . . You know how I love and admire you. I do not understand you, nor hope to, nor even wish to. You would lose to me something of your indefinable fascination if I knew exactly what you meant. . . .