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It’s a shame that Edwin Booth, arguably the 19th century’s greatest actor, ended up living in the shadow of his little brother John Wilkes, the 19th century’s most notorious assassin. But his legacy endures in a very real way at the Players Club, the storied New York theater social center he founded in 1844. The Stanford White–designed building across from Gramercy Park oozes history from its every mahogany pore, its walls lined with old handbills and portraits of its most prominent members. But the most jaw-dropping space there, for theater and history buffs alike, is the bedroom Booth lived in above the club, which has remained almost untouched since the actor died there of heart failure in 1893.
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Everything is as it was, from the Cervantes inscription painted in gold over the entrance to the night chamber (“Now blessings light on him that first invented this same sleep”) to the dictionary Booth kept on a pedestal by the window. Other artifacts on display include the actual human skull that both Booth and his father, Junius Brutus, used onstage when playing Hamlet (in life, it was attached to the body of a theater-loving horse thief); Booth’s collection of pipes (he was a heavy smoker) and his makeup kit; and, even though Edwin was a Unionist and renounced John Wilkes after the latter shot President Lincoln, a photograph of his infamous brother along with his other loved ones. Though viewings of the room are available only upon request, Players executive director John Martello hopes to start offering public tours later this year.
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