Henrietta Irving was a leading lady upon the American stage in the years 1850-1870. In the spring of 1861, she and her co-star, John Wilkes Booth, were touring the country in a production of Evadne. They had opened to good reviews on April 26 of that year and had retired to Booth’s hotel room, where they began drinking. Drinking too much. She wanted to discuss their “relationship.” Did he return the love that she had for him? He laughed at her. Not for the first time, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” She seized a dagger and attempted to plunge it into his heart. She was quick, but he was quicker. He deflected the blade upward, sparing his heart but slicing his face. She screamed at the sight of blood gushing from the Face the Broke a Thousand Hearts, rushed to her own room and stabbed herself in the bosom. Meanwhile, their loud confrontation had alerted the innkeeper, who called the police. Neither wound proved serious. She told the police that Booth “had tampered with my affections,” but neither wished to press charges. They did work together after that night. History is full of “What Ifs” and this a classic one. If Henrietta had struck Booth’s heart, would Lincoln have completed his term of office? Would reconciliation of North and South have been different? But Booth was not killed that night and did, indeed, kill Lincoln four years later, so the event remains one of those little gems of forgotten history.
-By Thomas P. Lowry