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Lot #8027
Lincoln Assassination: Jeannie Gourlay

An Our American Cousin actress recalls Lincoln's assassination: "Booth came rushing up from the first entrance with knife in his hand"

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An Our American Cousin actress recalls Lincoln's assassination: "Booth came rushing up from the first entrance with knife in his hand"

ALS signed “Jeannie Gourlay Struthers,” four pages on two sheets, 8 x 10 and 8 x 8.75, May 1, 1910. Letter to Mr. Mudd, in part (spelling and grammar retained): "I have no objection to lending you the Pictures of my father, sister and myself to copy and then return, if you wish to do so. There were five members of our family in the Theatre…Two brothers and a Mr. Williamson…in the Orchestra seats—Mr. Williamson’s father was Tutor to Tad Lincoln, and was in Grover’s Theatre that night with the boy. My brothers knew Booth recognized him and climbed to the stage with others. I knew Booth very well and have always said he took a particular scene of mine to work his way to the President box. It was a scene between Asa and Mary Meredith. Trenchard was a mistake made in the Washington Bill…Our American Cousin was not the same in those days. Then it was scenes now it is act talks and in order to do this the parts were run in any way to make Sothern the part. I think the scene I have referenced to was called the Dairy Scene in its Asa burns a Will…giving money to Mary left by his grandfather to him. The audience knew this but Mary does not. During this part you could hear a pin drop over the theatre. The beginning of this scene I saw Booth standing at the back of the Parqutt and remarked to myself how strange he looked before my scene was over I looked again and he was gone at the conclusion of it. I went up to the back and the scene was closed in on me. Ned Spangler was one of the scene shifters, he had just come from holding Booth horse in the Alley & spoke to him and passed to the entrance not a great distance from the door leading to the Alley. I was talking with one of the company when I heard a pistol shot and a great noise I had no idea what had happened. A few minutes after Booth came rushing up from the first entrance with knife in his hand, push me over against the scene and made his exit threw the door to the Alley. I then went to the first entrance and found the President had been shot. A call from the box was made for water. Laura Keene went to the box to take it and have what help she could. She took the President’s head in her arms and it was then that they discovered that the wound was in head by the blood running down her dress. They thought she was shot in the body and were stripping him to find the wound. The last I saw was when they were carrying him from the Box to leave the Theatre. The sadest sight I have ever seen. In the life of Laura Keene, by John Creahan, you will find mention made of this instance. I have not meet Mr. Emerson since that night, but understand he called…after I had left town. The papers heard I was in Washington. I did not meet them, or speak for publication. I came quietly with my daughter to Washington to see it again. I enjoyed my trip very much, and only regret I did not meet my old friends who called to see me. I was very much interested in the Article you sent me and…shall I return them to you.” In very good condition, with splitting along the somewhat fragile intersecting folds. Accompanied by an unsigned cabinet portrait of Gourlay.

Scottish-born actress Jeannie Gourlay was a company player in John T. Ford’s Washington theatre on the evening of President Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865. Although the night’s playbill erroneously listed her character as Mary Trenchard, Jeannie played the role of Mary Meredith, with her father, Thomas C. Gourlay, and her sister, Maggie Gourlay, respectively performing as Sir Edward Trenchard and the maid Skillet in the production of Tom Taylor’s Our American Cousin; her two brothers, Thomas Gourlay and Robert Gourlay, both present in the audience and employed by the War Department, were among the first to inform authorities of the assassination. After marrying actor Robert Struthers and moving to Pennsylvania, Jeannie remained in relative quietude; no public statements about the assassination were made by Jeannie or by any member of the Gourlay family until a 1910 article in the Philadelphia Enquirer reported Jeannie’s returned to Washington to visit the former site of Ford’s Theatre. Another article from the Enquirer, dated February 12, 1916, shed light on Jeannie’s relationship with the assassin: ‘I knew Booth personally. And while I do not seek to palliate his crime or absolve him of its responsibilities, it always seemed to me that Booth’s grief over the [fall of the Confederacy] had given rise in a frenzied desire for revenge and this became an obsession.’ A harrowing, first person account of Lincoln’s murder as witnessed from the Ford Theatre stage.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Letter Collection
  • Dates: #553 - Ended June 28, 2018

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