February 09, 1865
Portentous John Wilkes Booth Letter, Written Just Eight Weeks Before Abraham Lincoln’s Assassination, Mentions Ford's Theatre
Whether, when Booth wrote this long and intriguing letter, he was planning to abduct President Lincoln or to kill him, it is impossible to determine, though most evidence suggests capture rather than murder was then his aim; but that he was actively plotting is indisputable. Writing to a long-time friend, Boston theater manager Orlando Tompkins, he makes an urgent request:
Would you be kind enough to ask Case to send me without a moments delay one dozen of my card photghs. The ones I want are those seated, with Cane & Black Cravat. He knows the ones I liked the best. Tell him to send them at once to New York No 28 East 19th St. as I hope to be there day after tomorrow, only, to stay a day or two. This is very important as there are several parties whom I would like to give one. So please attend to it upon the receipt of this…
It is thought that Booth wanted the photos for identification purposes connected to the Lincoln conspiracy – and ironically, some two months later, his favorite, “seated, with Cane & Black Cravat," would adorn the Wanted Poster for the assassination of the president.
In a portentous postscript, Booth has added: I return to this city in about a week, stop at National Hotel, an will get any letter sent to Fords Theatre.
It was while retrieving his mail at the theater on April 14, 1865, of course, that Booth first heard that Lincoln would be attending Our American Cousin that evening…
To Tompkins, with whom Booth visited in Boston in the week before he murdered Lincoln, Booth gave an inscribed ring: “JWB to OT, April 6, 1865.” When Tompkins asked what the occasion was, Booth replied it was because “I’ll never see you again.”
Autograph Letter Signed (twice: “J. Wilkes Booth” and “John”), 3 pages, recto and verso, octavo, Washington, February 9, no year . To Orlando Tompkins of Boston.
Very rare in and of itself, it is also estimated that there are only seventeen Booth letters in private hands.