John Wilkes Booth and Louise Wooster in Mobile


Before the 1820s, Mobile was an almost forgotten outpost of European monarchies. But after Alabama gained statehood, the port gained new attention for its strategic location on national and international trade routes. With new economic prosperity came cultural development as well and by the 1850s, Mobile was a prominent destination for performing artists, attracting the most illustrious stage names of the Antebellum Era. Among these was no other than John Wilkes Booth. Although his stage performances never achieved the critical acclaim to match his father, Junius Brutus Booth, or older brother Edwin, John traveled the national acting circuit for many years and appeared on the Mobile stage more than once in the years leading up to the Civil War.


One of Mobile's early performers, John Wilkes' father Junius, was known for his eccentricities, portrayed locally as a gifted but unpredictable alcoholic. His brother Edwin gained the most professional success, his star dimmed only by the circumstances of family.


As a young man in the 1840s, John Wilkes Booth dedicated himself to acting though never a match for his brother's popularity. At the same time, a young Louise Wooster, living in Mobile, also briefly pursued an acting career. Yet when both of her parents died suddenly, their four daughters were left destitute. The two youngest were placed in the city's Protestant Orphan's Asylum (now "Cotton Hall") but Louise was old enough to set out on her own. She lived for a time in New Orleans, returning to Mobile in the late 1850's, and later opened a brothel in Montgomery. Louise's voice may have been silenced by history had she not gained a new level of status as a high-class Madame in Birmingham society. There, aided by the protection of the police, she operated a series of brothels in the center of the city. The advantages she received were returned to the community with generous benevolence, turning her brothels into medical clinics for example when cholera plagued the city.


It was not until much later however, when Louise neared the end of her life, that a story emerged of an affair between herself and John Wilkes Booth, which was said to have occurred while both were in the city of Mobile just before the Civil War. In an 1890 interview she described their relationship and her belief that Booth was not fatally wounded following the Lincoln assassination as the records indicate. Instead, she said he lived in hiding for many more years, a theory which has lingered in the public’s imagination ever since.


However dubious Louise's story of Booth’s escape, her more personal descriptions of Booth, his personality and political opinions, are consistent with those closest to him, such as descriptions written by his sister, Asia Booth Clarke. The intimate details leave open a window of possibility that she may have had a brief but close relationship with Booth during at least one of his winters in Mobile. Though he struggled throughout this short life with romantic attachments, Louise Wooster may have been a confidante with whom he shared his burgeoning political anxieties, in some private Mobile hideaway, in the last years leading up to his assassination of President Lincoln on April 15, 1865.



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