In the fabled Wild, Wild East, it was a time when men were men and women were women. The men were dashing characters to whom honor was more than just a word. The women wore hoop skirts under which they smuggled coded messages across enemy lines.
(Notice we are talking about the wild, wild EAST here.)
Izola Forrester (image above, circa 1898) describes those pioneer days well, in her book, This One Mad Act (Boston: Hale, Cushman & Flint, 1937). She was the daughter of Ogarita Booth, an off-off Broadway touring actress who had as her father the acclaimed, John Wilkes Booth.
Ogarita Booth (image above, and notice the cameo of John Wilkes Booth she wears around her neck) traveled under names such as Ogarita Mills and Ogarita D’Arcy. Her photograph is included in her daughter’s book, and this blogger has fallen in love with Ogarita Booth.
Ogarita Booth was brave; in the above photo, circa 1885, she wears a brooch containing a photo of John Wilkes Booth, her father. (The climate of public opinion was not favorable to her father at the time.)
Unfortunately, Ogarita died of pneumonia not long after her mother, Izola Martha, died of a broken heart. Izola Martha pined for her disappeared (but not dead) husband, John Wilkes Booth. She faded away in a lonely mansion, in wind-swept Connecticut.
But in 1859, Izola Martha was a teen beauty, swept off her feet by the cavalier, 20-year-old swashbuckler, John Wilkes Booth. They eloped and were married by a preacher, awakened in the wee hours to perform the ceremony. The couple then dashed off in their carriage to honeymoon romance, in Edwin Booth’s deserted seaside dwelling.
Her passionate, wildly talented husband belonged to a secret society, the Knights of the Golden Circle. John Wilkes Booth lived his life in a big way: famous actor and Confederate spy, he was larger than life and devil-may-care, onstage and off. And Izola Martha herself was a wild Spanish beauty, full of passion, rhetoric, and daring. Under her husband’s tutorship, Izola Martha learned the spy trade.
Her husband, the wandering actor, had promised his own mother he’d never serve as a Confederate soldier. But his membership in the secret society drew him, nonetheless, like a moth to the flame. As the Civil War dragged on, John Wilkes Booth became more involved, through the Confederate Secret Service, in the drama of those long-ago days.
It’s all there, in his grand-daughter’s book — the best, most understanding description of those times that this blogger has yet to come across. What a shame that This One Mad Act is no longer in print!
Yet in 1937, when the book first appeared, one writer was moved to call This One Mad Act “One of the best of these books.” (By “these books” he meant, “It is a poor year that does not see the publication of at least one book, purporting to set forth the ‘real story’ of the assassination of President [Abraham] Lincoln, or offering some new theory about the tragedy.” — “Quick Looks at New Books”, Independent (Helena, Montana), Dec. 26, 1937)
Another reviewer of Izola Forrester’s book wrote, in 1938, “You feel in reading this book as though you had come suddenly upon an intimacy that was not meant for your eyes – as though you were an intruding outsider, into a family circle’s strictest privacy… The story of this family, seen through the eyes of Wilkes Booth’s granddaughter, becomes one of the real tragedies of the Civil War.” (“Have You Read?” New Castle News (New Castle, PA), Aug. 31, 1938)
Booth’s grand-daughter, Izola Forrester, was determined to track down the real story; she spent a lifetime in scholarly pursuit of the romantic couple, John Wilkes and Izola Martha – and of the post-1865 John Wilkes Booth – and was unflinching in her quest. And she succeeded. In her book, This One Mad Act, Izola Forrester bypasses, overwhelms, and trounces the fake historians of our time, who hem, haw and equivocate about what really happened.