Boucicault and Lincoln

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 4 (July/August 2011), Letters, Volume 19

Sir,—Eamon O’Flaherty’s review of Dion Boucicault’s Arrah-na-Pogue (HI 19.2, March/April 2011) notes that Boucicault made a huge impact on the theatre in mid-nineteenth-century New York and London. It should also be noted that Boucicault was in turn affected by a seminal event in American history, to which he thereby became an interesting footnote. The playbill for Ford’s Theater’s production of Our American cousin, starring Miss Laura Keene, for the evening of 14 April 1865 (Good Friday) included an announcement at the bottom for a one-night-only performance of The Octoroon on the next night, Saturday 15 April. It was billed as Boucicault’s ‘great sensational drama’. The announcement, however, turned out to be both premature and slightly inaccurate. First, no theatrical production occurred at Ford’s Theater on 15 April 1865, as the theatre and the city of Washington were in mourning over the murder of President Abraham Lincoln during Miss Keane’s performance the night before. Indeed, Ford’s Theater did not reopen until 1968. Second, the Ford’s Theater playbill curiously misspelled the playwright’s name as ‘Bourcicault’. Boucicault thus suffered the double indignity of having his sole performance at Ford’s Theater cancelled owing to John Wilkes Booth’s heinous crime and of having his name misspelled for posterity.—Yours etc.,
PETER C. KISSEL
Washington DC

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