Was Lincoln Assassin John Wilkes Booth A Common Drunk?

In a letter up for auction, Booth describes a whisky flask as his "best friend."


Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was such a booze hound that he called his whiskey flask his "best friend" a year before he poured back a whiskey and water and climbed to the presidential suite in Ford's Theater to kill the president in April 1865.

A highly-prized hand-written letter by Booth up for auction Saturday at Alexander Autographs Inc., raises anew questions about whether Booth, the son of an alcoholic, was a drunk himself. The auction house, in describing the letter that's expected to sell for $40,000-$50,000, says in its catalog, "The letter raises some interesting questions relative to Booth's use of alcohol. His father, Junius, was a notorious alcoholic, and John's brother, Edwin struggled with drink in the 1850s and 60s—so much that it began to impact his [theatrical] performances. John too was known for his fondness for drink and impulsive behavior."

In his letter to a Boston theater owner, Booth, an actor, describes searching for his lost flask on a snow covered road. "I had to pay five dollars for a bare-backed horse to hunt for it. I returned within sight of the Fort, and judge of my dismay upon arriving to see a waggon just crushing my best friend, but I kissed him in his last moments by pressing the snow to my lips, over which he had spilled his noble blood," wrote Booth.

The in-person and Internet auction of American and historical artifacts at Alexander Autographs also includes a very rare letter from the Army sergeant who shot and killed Booth, expected to fetch $20,000-$25,000.

Among the other notable items available at the Saturday-Sunday sale:

-- Extremely rare White House cards signed by both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton. "The first authentic examples we have encountered," said the auction house.

-- A rare print of the 1851 floor plan and desk map of the U.S. Senate.

-- Spectacular drawings by Wyatt Earp of his gunfight at the O.K. Corral and his killings of outlaws Johnny Ringo, Frank Stilwell, and William "Curly Bill" Brocius. The four documents could fetch a total of over $200,000.

  • Read more about gun control and gun rights.
  • See a slide show of the alcohol industry's favorite lawmakers.
  • See who in Congress gets the most from gun control groups.