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Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination
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.