Emma Josephine Brazier Collection: The Significance of a Scrapbook

image2   image5In making a scrapbook it seems that one rarely considers the historical significance of what he or she is creating. All evidence says that Emma Josephine Brazier was nothing more than a normal girl and, because of that, it is interesting to consider the historical significance that her scrapbooks harbor. By collecting images of contemporary actors, playbills and newspaper clippings, it is safe to assume that Emma had no intention of documenting an event in American history from the unusual perspective that she did.

Among these many clippings that showed Emma’s own interests are some interesting connections between the theater world of the 19th century and John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. In the first book of the Emma Josephine Brazier theater and opera scrapbooks are several theaters and actors that closely relate to John Wilkes Booth and the assassination itself.

While flipping through the first scrapbook, it is evident that Emma had an affinity for particular actors, such as Laura Keene, Emma Taylor, John Drew, John Sleeper Clark, William Wheatley and Edwin Booth. While each of these actors has a connection to Booth, Laura Keene and John “Sleeper” Clarke have truly interesting tales tying them to the actual Lincoln assassination.

Laura Keene, an actress who also owned and managed Laura Keene’s Theater, was the lead actress in the showing of Our American Cousin in Ford Theater on April 14, 1865, the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. After hearing the fatal gunshot, Keene rushed to the presidential box to attempt to help Lincoln. Her costume was stained with his blood as she was cradling his head and today the stained cuff of her dress can be found in the National Museum of American History.

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While Keene’s connection to the assassination is remembered as a heroic one, John “Sleeper” Clarke did not have such a fortunate legacy. An actor by profession, Clarke was also a schoolmate of both Edwin and John Wilkes Booth. He went on to marry their sister, Asia Booth. Following the assassination, Clarke came into possession of several letters from John Wilkes Booth and sent them to the Philadelphia Inquirer to be printed. As a result, he was forced to spend time in the Capitol Prison in Washington D.C. After his release, he asked his wife for a divorce in attempts to separate himself from the “Booth” name and family. After she refused, he moved himself and his family to London in order to continue his acting career in peace.

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These connections are striking as it becomes clear that documentation of any type has the potential to mean much more than its original intention. A young woman making a memory book of the plays and operas that interested her now has the ability to show scholars a very unique and unexpected side of one of the most notable events in American history, the Lincoln assassination.

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