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on November 8, 2013
Old-timers who read this may remember a television show from the 1950s entitled You Are There. Under the guidance of Walter Cronkite, viewers experienced time travel to relive historic events. It hasn't made it to television yet - and You Are There has given way to reality shows - but this new book, Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination by Thomas Bogar, PhD, is the next best thing.
I have been addicted to the story of the Lincoln assassination for over fifty years, and I truly thought that I knew 99% of what I needed to know (and too many theories and "what ifs" that I didn't need to know). Dr. Bogar's book has proven me wrong. His focus on the effects of Lincoln's assassination on the actors, actresses, and theater staff at Ford's Theatre after the horrendous event of April 14, 1865, has filled a huge void that few in that field of research have even attempted to address.
First, let me say that his theater background has enhanced his work tremendously; it is not just "history," it is a historical production. We learn the history of the theatrical world in mid-19th century America, the role that it played in social history as well as the hits it took from the culture of that time. One of the most famous plays in history is Our American Cousin, made famous strictly because it was being performed at Ford's Theatre on the night of Lincoln's death. Dr. Bogar, however, has given it life in the book by describing it in detail in a type of written dress rehearsal. This reader felt as if she were the only member of the audience as she watched the textual presentation unfold on the pages before her.
Shining the spotlight on the actors, actresses, and theater personnel is the highlight of Bogar's work, however. He has meticulously researched them, citing numerous primary sources, and dwelling on the emotional distress of interrogations, arrests, and imprisonments. Equally interesting is the information on what happened to these people in later years.
Dr. Bogar writes in a free-flowing style that draws the reader in and holds one's interest. His attention to detail and his use of primary source material speaks to the experts -- while his knowledge of the theater and his empathy for those who were collateral damage from the deed of John Wilkes Booth keep the average reader absorbed. This is definitely a must-read for anyone with even a slight interest in the Lincoln assassination. Kudos to Tom Bogar.
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on December 2, 2013
This book is perhaps the most unique account of the Lincoln assassination that I've ever read. It traces the lives of all the actors, managers and stagehands who worked at Ford's Theatre the fateful night of April 14 and views the tragedy through their eyes. For the most part, these were quite ordinary people (their profession as thespians aside) caught up in the maelstrom of an extraordinary historical event. Almost all are forgotten today, with the possible exceptions of Laura Keene (perhaps the best known actress of her day), Harry Hawk (the actor on stage when Booth fired his fatal shot) and Edman Spangler (stagehand sent to prison as one of Booth's accomplices), but the author tracks down each one of them, skillfully weaving their personal stories into the great drama of the assassination.

On many levels this book is a revelation. Many of those who entertained Lincoln that evening actually had secessionist sympathies, and the author rightfully questions whether there were those in the cast and crew who may have known that something momentous was going to happen that evening, albeit a kidnapping attempt rather than murder. He also gives us an overview of the theatrical stock company system of the Civil War era and a synopsis of the plot of Our American Cousin. For obvious reasons, he focuses a great deal of his attention on the case against Spangler and the reader is left sympathizing with this poor illiterate man who may have known about Booth's kidnapping scheme but was probably just as shocked by the murder as anyone else. Also touching are the efforts made on Spangler's behalf by his boss, John T. Ford, who paid for his defense attorney, and then worked to get him pardoned by President Johnson. Anyone who wants a fresh look at this forever fascinating topic should purchase this book.
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on December 4, 2013
BRAVO - Tom Bogar deserves an encore. His Backstage at the Lincoln Assassinations entails a most interesting concept: the involvement of and effect upon the forty-six cast and stagehands engaged at Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865, and the chaotic aftermath. This book is really two histories in one. First, the stage production procedures of that era, the description of the cast and crew, and the effect that the assassination had upon those persons. Accustomed as we are to our modern theatrical entertainment, it is hard to imagine how and what was done for a 1865 production.
The second intertwined story describes the "vigilante mentality" that propelled the legal process of the many arrests and finally the conspirators' military trial. Emphasis is placed upon the Ford brothers, a few actor friends of Booth, and the only member of the theatrical company convicted of aiding and abetting Booth's escape - that being the simple-minded scene-shiffter and carpenter, Edmund "Ned" Spangler. Quite amazing to me was the description of the near medieval treatment imposed upon the trial defendants. The legal procedures of this military trial may surprise you.
Accounts of John Wilkes Booth's enticing charm, constant drinking, and psychological reaction to General Lee's surrender and black union soldiers set the stage (no pun intended) for his cowardly act. I would like to tell you more, but you would be well served by reading it for yourself.
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on December 30, 2013
Dr. Thomas Bogart is a theatre historian who has produced an original and well researched account of the lives of the forty-six stagehands, actors and owners of the Ford Theatre in Washington Dc. The infamous theatre was the sight of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865. The assassination tale has been told in countless books but never before has the story of the employees of Ford's Theatre been explored in such depth.
Bogart's preface to the book begins by asking the reader to imagine that a POTUS has just been murdered in your work place by a charismatic employee. The event of the murder will plague the lives of all the workers for the rest of their lives. John Wilkes Booth was the nineteenth century version of Brad Pitt who was beloved by the public. At 10:14 PM on the night of the `14th he shot Lincoln and leaped over eleventh feet to the stage prior to his escape through southern Maryland and Virginia where he was killed by soldiers who trapped him in Garret's barn.
The unexplored story told by Dr. Bogart is to examine in detail the previously unreported lives of the Ford troupe. We learn of the three Ford brothers who ran the theatre. All were arrested and later released. The theatre was closed for over one hundred years. Edwin Stanton the Secretary of War arrested all who worked at the theatre and closed the establishment down. Laura Keene the star of "Our American Cousin" comforted the dying Lincoln by holding his head in her arms as she daubed water on his forehead. Harry Hawk was the only man on stage at time of Booth's wild flight from the theatre. The poignant tale of Edwin Spangler the stage hand sent to the Dry Tortugas for his supposed participation in the plot provides intriguing reading.
The book contains rare photos of the participants in the events of that tragic night. Bogart has provided us with an intriguing tale which will keep the attention of the reader riveted to the page.
I recently viewed Dr. Bogart's fascinating lecture on his book at the National Archives in Washington DC at the National Archives. The man is not only a fine scholar but a good lecturer. This is the kind of book which could well whet the nascent interest in history by a young person. An excellent piece of original scholarship. Well recommended.
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on December 11, 2013
This well-researched and very readable book should be of interest to anyone interested in the Lincoln assassination, 19th century theater, or simply a captivating account of the 46 actor/stagehands at Ford's theater on April 14, 1865. Dr. Bogar masterfully interweaves the behind-the-scenes elements of the performance of Our American Cousins with the more sinister performance of Booth and his band of conspirators on this fateful night. He provides a lens into the lives of the key players describing their whereabouts during the assassination and its effect on their future psyches and careers. A number of the 46 players were Southern symphatizers and could have been complicit. It's interesting how some Booth confidantes like Edman Spangler quickly became the focus of investigatory attention, while others, like actors John Mathews and McCullough, attracted minimal notice. The questions discussed are good ones and the book marshals the key evidence in a forthright and objective manner. Highly recommended!
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on January 15, 2014
As both a Civil War history buff and a theater fan, I found much to enjoy in Thomas Bogar's book, Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination. As a history buff, I enjoyed seeing a very familiar event (I've been to Ford's Theater numerous times, both when it was a museum and as a live theater) in a way that I had not seen it before. The theater-lover in me enjoyed learning about how a professional theater operated 150 years ago, including the way a stock company assigned roles to its actors through the "Lines of Business" system. And the drama of the event is compelling.

Bogar shows a director's sense as he brings each cast member on stage, introducing each character who was at Fords Theater "that night." Most surprising was the number of Secessionist sympathizers working in the theater. Bogar then walks you through the day of the assassination and blocks each of the players into his or her spot at the crucial moment when the shots are fired. The narrative follows each of the players from that moment, as their lives dramatically changed, some facing criminal charges as members of the conspiracy.

The extensive footnotes and reference list attests to the scholarly nature of this work and the meticulous research effort involved. The richness of the character descriptions adds depth to the account of the events. At times, the level of detail was overwhelming, but good history books often can be like that: a pointillist painting where all of the minute detail adds up to a complete picture. I highly recommend this book.
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on November 26, 2013
As someone who loves American history, I am one of the subset of those who loves to get as much detail as possible on subjects of interest. In this book I found nirvana! The author takes the reader on a journey in time and introduces us to people involved in all levels of this tragic event, most who's stories have never been told before. No matter how much you think you know about the players involved in the assassination, you will learn things here that you never knew before.
The research involved in writing this book is almost miraculous. But don't think that the detail renders this book hard to read...far from it. The narrative is as enthralling as it is insightful. The author closes the loop by detailing what happened to all the characters involved in their later years. Very, Very highly recommended
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on March 30, 2015
Of all the reading I've done on Lincoln or his assassination, none of the books covered the people in the theater that awful night. When I saw this title, it intrigued me. I wondered, then, what about those people? How did this event affect them, their lives and futures. Bogar delivers that story in a well paced and easy to read way. The book presents the story from the perspective of the theater company, from preparing for their performance to the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination. It made me also think about situations in our times, when shooters walk into a place and wreak havoc, how do the survivors move forward and what happens to their lives? A very interesting and fresh perspective on this episode in history, and very glad I picked this one up.
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on December 15, 2013
I love history, but history is not only describing what happened making it history, but what happened leading up to and during the event. This is an excellent behind the scenes of the tragic event that was probably one of the most read about chapters of our history.
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on December 27, 2013
Dr Bogar brings this tragic event to life with an in depth study of the people, time, culture, and political environmment surrounding the Lincoln Assassination at Ford's theatre. I knew what is generally known about the assassination of Lincoln but Dr Bogar takes us much deeper to the individual experiences of the workers and members of the play being performed. He skillfully introduces us to each player. He takes us through the days and weeks prior to the event. He describes the details of each actors place on stage at the time of the assassination, the police work and criminal proceedings affecting them to their final days on earth. This book takes you there with a unique and interesting perspective. Great read! Well done.
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