President Andrew Johnson released John Wilkes Booth’s body to his family in 1869. He was buried in a family plot in Baltimore, Maryland, although no headstone marks the grave.
To counter the principles that Booth stood for, the authorities sought to prevent making his grave a shrine to those principles. In contrast, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. stands to immortalize the principles Lincoln lived for.
Today at Ford’s Theatre, a museum preserves the mementos collected after the assassination: including Booth’s keys, his photos of his girlfriends, his Deringer pistol and his compass. The museum serves as a memorial both to Lincoln and to Booth. But although Booth has gone down in history, the causes he gave his life for all failed. He failed to prolong the war or to preserve a system of slavery. Lincoln became the true hero of the story that Booth set in motion with his plot to assassinate the president. Across the street from Ford’s, there is another museum at the Petersen house. There, visitors can stand where Lincoln’s friends and family did as they watched him die and vowed to continue to fight for the causes he believed in.
By killing Lincoln, Booth created a role for himself in history that would far exceed the fame he earned as an actor. But his intention was to be the hero of the story and to change the course of history, and in this he failed. He overestimated his own ability to reshape history at one stroke, using personal charm and skills learned on the stage. Booth also underestimated the legacy that Lincoln had already built by the time of his death.