On this day in 1865, as he sat in the Presidential Booth at the Ford Theatre in Washington DC, Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America, was shot in the back of the head by famous assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Booth had been angered by a recent speech of Lincoln’s, in which the President had suggested that it might be a pretty good idea to let the black folks have a vote too, what with them being all free and suchlike. This was a sentiment with which Booth strongly disagreed, and as is the norm in polite society, he decided blowing the President’s head off his shoulders would show the lanky doofus that giving blacks the vote was unacceptable.
The problem presented to Booth was that, as is the norm for important folks, Lincoln had muscle backing him up in the form of a personal bodyguard.
Fortunately for Booth, the President’s bodyguard was a certain John Parker, and history tells us that Parker saw the job of protecting the President’s life as something he did when he wasn’t drinking. Unfortunately for Lincoln, it just so happened that on the night of his assassination John Parker was next door in the pub, knocking back the beers rather than keeping a keen lookout for potential killers of the guy he was being paid to keep alive.
Seizing this window of opportunity, Booth sidled casually up behind Lincoln, past the absent guards, and planted a bullet right in the back of Abe’s head as the soon to be former President sat watching Our American Cousin.
Booth then sauntered back out of the theatre and off into the night, presumably past the bar John Parker was boozing in.
If Booth’s plan for shooting Lincoln in the head had been one of changing the President’s mind about granting voting rights to the freed slaves then, not surprisingly, this plan failed. Lincoln died the next day.
While Booth had admittedly executed his plan flawlessly, it seems he should have put more thought into the actual repercussions of the plan. While it’s all very well killing someone with whom you strongly disagree, the chances of them later coming round to your way of thinking are practically zero.
Tracked down to a farm in northern Virginia, Booth was cornered by Union soldiers, shot in the neck, set on fire, paralysed, and finally died from the extent of his injuries.
In a final twist, it would later be clamed that Booth had actually escaped capture, and that a lookalike had in fact been killed in his place. Booth, meanwhile, had retired to Texas under the assumed name of ‘John St Helen’, There, in the early 1900’s, he would make a deathbed confession regarding his true identity.
In 1907 the writer Finis L. Bates would acquire Booth/St Helen’s mummified body, stick it in a box, and ride around the country exhibiting the corpse for all to see, like some kind of grotesque P.T. Barnum freakshow.
Despite being a lanky 6′ 4″, Lincoln felt Presidents should be much taller, and took to wearing a giant hat.