“To Fanny, In the following initials you will
F ind a soul made up of truth,
A and yet in mortal form.
N ot clouded by the vanities of youth
N or shaded by pride’s fitful storm
Y es, she’s the one to serve, as, instar omnium.”
Yours with all respect. J. Wilkes Booth Detroit. Nov 20th/61
The above words from John Wilkes Booth are found in the book John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Arthur F. Loux. For those interested in Booth’s life and travels-it’s a wonderful addition to the literature on the subject. I especially enjoy the book because it gives the dates and locations of Booth’s theatrical performances around the country. And did you notice? The little acrostic written by Booth (above) to a female friend was written from Detroit! When people think of John Wilkes Booth- they typically associate him with the south. However, he did have engagements in various northern cities! Art Loux has placed John Wilkes Booth in Detroit, Michigan during November of 1861. His performances were at H.A. Perry’s Metropolitan Theater. Booth played in: The Wife, Macbeth, Orthello, Richard III, Too Much for Good Nature, and Hamlet. Quite a variety of performances! The plays ran during the period from November 11 -19, 1861. Apparently, Booth stayed at the Russell House. The hotel bill included charges for cigars, “bar,” and “washing.” His total bill amounted to $14.58.
What was Detroit like for Mr. Booth? It was early November. Was it cold? Was there a lot of snow? The Detroit Free Press noted that on November 14th there had been an “unfavorable portent of the weather.” It sounds like maybe bad weather had been predicted/expected but did not occur? Despite the weather-whatever it turned out to be-the Detroit Free Press indicted that Booth was a great success in Detroit. Even so, I don’t think Booth ever returned.
“The Metropolitan Theater”…”Russell House”…names from days gone by. There are no traces of either one of these places in Detroit today. Russell Street itself still exists in Detroit. I’m guessing that Russell House must have stood on Russell Street. I am incorrect! According to History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan by Silas Farmer, The Russell House stood on the corner of Michigan Grand and Woodward Avenues. This means that the hotel was in the downtown area of Detroit. At the time of Booth’s stay there, Mr. W.H. Russell was the proprietor. The building was made of brick and stood tall- six floors. Mr. Farmer notes that several notables had been guests at the Russell, including: “His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, Lady Jane Franklin, and Miss Elizabeth Dix.” There is a drawing of the building in the book. The structure looks like it was magnificent. There is an American flag on a pole at it’s very top. I don’t know what stands today in the spot. I will have to search that one out. So is Russell Street named after W.H. Russell? Not sure. Russell Street still contain sections of Detroit that are very old. Some of the houses there date back to the late 1800’s. There is also a lot of blight. I imagine that in Booth’s day Russell Street had fine establishments and housing. The Metropolitan Theater; where was it located? I would love to know. I also would love to know who attended the performances. Maybe, this information will surface at some point. We do know that Booth had a female on his mind- Fanny. It doesn’t sound like she was in Michigan. Did Booth post it in the mail? Where is that letter today?
At any rate, John Wilkes Booth became a part of Detroit’s history. Of course, virtually no one is aware of that-except a few “nerds” like myself. When I travel to downtown Detroit, as I often do, I imagine those who were once there. Now Booth joins that cast of folks in my imagination. What Mr. Booth would eventually do in less than fours years from the time he visited Detroit-would overshadow any remembrance or significance to his being in Michigan. But on one particular day in November of 1861, he was simply “John Wilkes Booth the actor”-sending a “postcard” from Detroit to Fanny. If he could have remained no more than that…
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