Laura in April: Pietà, Ford's Theatre, 1865 by Derek Kannemeyer Laura Keene's company was staging Our American Cousin as her acquaintance John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box, shot Abraham Lincoln, and fled. It was Keene, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, who cradled the President's head in her lap as he lay dying. The bloodstained sleeve cuff of her costume is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. ~ adapted from Keene's Wikipedia entry; other sources, though, question the authenticity of both the garment and the death scene legend, which they suggest began life as a publicity stunt Her birth name was Mary Moss. "Laura Keene" was an invention. What choice had she but the stage? The girls' father in penal Australia; his disgrace branding them with its lash. What chance but in a new name, and remarriage to the theater? A short bio. Two decades on the stage: in London, NYC, San Francisco, Baltimore—founding her own theaters, starring and managing—the great Laura Keene. And the audiences came, and came: New York, The Elves, a record 50 shows; London, The Colleen Bawn, 200. And in DC, transferred from the house that bore her name, the Laura Keene, to the Ford's: Our American Cousin. To which a President came: to see the famed Laura Keene. When Wilkes Booth's gunshot stopped the show, and the blood-soaked theater of an epoch called her into its wings, she flew offstage after the followspot, through a milling and hollering crowd, to take her mark. A scene so tender, in so theatrical a frame, the scale of it still tips. She kneels; she acts, haloed or human, to cradle a martyred man; she weeps, in Laura's or in Mary's name.
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Derek Kannnemeyer was born in Cape Town, South Africa, fled apartheid with his family to grow up in London, UK, and has spent most of his working life in Richmond, Virginia, mostly as a high school French and English teacher. His writing has appeared in several dozen print and digital journals, and he has published a few books. They include two poetry collections, or three counting the light verse one; a novel; a four act play; and a hybrid non-fiction/photography tome that made the Kirkus Review list of 100 Best Indie Books of 2022. His website is www.petalridge.com.