When John Wilkes Booth entered Ford’s Theater in 1865 and assassinated Abraham Lincoln, he tragically made history.
He also has an interesting connection to a storied Chicago theater – one that, coincidentally, was frequented by Abraham Lincoln in his younger days.
Before John Wilkes Booth was a famous assassin, he was well known as an actor. He first performed at McVicker’s Theater in Chicago three years before he killed Lincoln.
Booth was part of a family of well-regarded actors. And while no evidence shows that Abraham Lincoln ever saw John Wilkes Booth perform, Lincoln may well have seen John Wilkes Booth’s father, the famous tragedian Junius Brutus Booth, or his brother, acclaimed Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, on stage at McVicker’s Theater when he was a young traveling lawyer visiting Chicago.
The McVicker’s Theater is also notable for having hosted the American stage debut of actress Sarah Bernhardt in 1881. The legendary French actress appeared in Camille in January of that year.
Five different buildings served in the role of the McVicker’s Theater, on the same site on Madison Street (between State Street and Dearborn Street), over a span of 128 years (1857-1985).
One building was burned in the Great Fire of 1871; another had a lavish interior by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler; and the final McVicker’s Theater building (they dropped the apostrophe for this last incarnation) was owned by the famed Balaban & Katz theater chain.