Abe Lincoln Killed by a “Greek”

The fascinating quality of history is that its true stories are often more compelling than ones that are pure fiction. Such is the case regarding the “Greek” who shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln.
Before we delve into Lincoln’s assassination, consider this: suppose that Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the most popular actors in America today and the star of numerous hit films, turned to the live stage – reprising his role as Amsterdam Vallon in Gangs of New York, at the historic National Theatre in Washington, DC. Suppose that DiCaprio was one of Barack Obama’s favorite actors, and that the president would often attend DiCaprio’s live performances at the National Theatre. Suppose, further, that in one appearance, DiCaprio, in character as Vallon, uttered highly-threatening language, using Obama as a prop, standing only inches away from him. Soon enough, one of Obama’s invited guests seated next to him says: “Mr. President, it would seem as if those threats are really meant for you.” With a chuckle, Obama responds: “yeah, it looks that way, doesn’t it.”
Finally, suppose that five months later, DiCaprio shoots Obama from behind, killing him, while Obama is sitting in that same theater watching a different play.
Imagine that scenario: a national manhunt to track down and capture Leonardo DiCaprio, for assassinating President Obama. As outrageous as that story might seem, a strikingly similar version really happened about 150 years ago.
From the time we were in grade school we learned that Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. That much is correct. Also correct is that Booth was not Greek. He was born in Maryland to parents who were immigrants from England. But on November 9, 1964, President Lincoln was sitting with his entourage in Ford’s Theatre in DC, watching the play “Marble Heart,” starring John Wilkes Booth. Besides being an avid fan of theater in general, Lincoln was specifically a fan of Booth, and requested to meet him on numerous occasions, both at Ford’s Theatre and at the White House. Booth always seemed to have an excuse to avoid the meeting. A staunch racist, Booth intensely despised Lincoln because the president had abolished slavery. In response to the invitations, Booth privately told friends “I would rather meet a Negro.”
“Marble Heart” is a play adapted into English in 1854 by Charles Selby, from the original French version “Les Filles de Marbre,” written a year earlier by Theodore Barriere. Booth starred as the Ancient Greek sculptor Phidias, who traveled in time and reemerged with the alias Raphael Duchatlet, a 19th century sculptor. On more than one occasion while uttering contentious language, Booth in the mode of a villainous Phidias got very close to Lincoln, pointing his finger just inches from the president’s face. Reportedly, one of Lincoln’s guests seated with him said: “Mr. Lincoln, he looks as if he meant that for you,” to which the president replied: “well, he does look pretty sharp at me, doesn’t he?”
Five months later, on April 14, 1865, Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head at that same theater, while the president was enjoying another play there, “My American Cousin.”
We know the rest – Booth escaped, but was killed while the authorities tried to apprehend him. Lincoln, of course, died a day after the shooting. The next day was Easter Sunday, and the devastated nation, mired in mourning, called it Black Easter.
As if Lincoln’s assassination wasn’t tragic enough, three other presidents would be fatally felled by assassins’ bullets in the ensuing years: besides the best-known among those, the killing of John F. Kennedy in 1963, there were the assassinations of James A. Garfield and William McKinley in 1881 and 1901, respectively. The main difference is that none of those three other presidents even knew his assassin, let alone was ever in his presence and ever sought to be introduced to him.
As for the play “Marble Heart” itself, it was performed in English, and there is no conclusive evidence that Booth, as Phidias, uttered his threats to Lincoln in Greek. Nonetheless, as part of preparation for his distinguished acting career, Booth had studied and learned the Greek language.