John Wilkes Booth’s Cane at Drake Well Museum

Sharing the Common Wealth showcases objects, artifacts, documents, structures and buildings from the collections of PHMC.

Precisely 150 years ago this summer, actor-cum-assassin John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865) – who had joined the stock company of Philadelphia’s Arch Street Theatre in 1857 where he acted for the season – spent more than a month in northwestern Pennsylvania’s oil region looking after his investments during petroleum’s boom years. While appearing at the theatre, later managed by Louisa Lane Drew, matriarch of the famous Barrymore theatrical dynasty, he requested he be billed as J.B. Wilkes to avoid comparison with his famous family (see “The Lady in Charge” by Debra Ann Pawlak beginning on page 24 in this edition). Buoyed by the incredible fortune he amassed in 1863 – the sum of $20,000, comparable to $330,000 today – he first visited Franklin, Venango County, in January 1864 to invest in petroleum production. Six months later he returned and boarded in Franklin. He gave a cane to a young man he befriended, A.W. Smiley, whose son R.M. Smiley, of Knox, Clarion County, donated it to Drake Well Museum, Titusville, Venango County, in 1942. Smiley also gave the museum three photographic portraits, two of which include what appears to be the cane, now on exhibit. Less than one year after he left the region, nearly bankrupt from poor business decisions and outrageous spending, the Confederate sympathizer murdered President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865.