Mary Surratt’s Photograph

Add this to the list of “Things I wish I knew the location of today”:

Mary Surratt photo in case

I bought this circa 1961 image from the archives of the Baltimore Sun. It shows what appears to be an original daguerreotype or ambrotype of Mary Surratt.  I’m guessing the photographer did not bring his equipment for this photo shoot since the image is being held up on a stand made out of a roll of tape and tacks.  Unfortunately, there is no notation on the back to explain exactly when, where, and by whom the image was taken.  Nevertheless, here is a close up of the seemingly original photograph of Mary Surratt:

Mary Surratt original

There are only two known images of Mary Surratt (aside from her pictures on the gallows). The above picture represents the earlier of the two known images. This image was taken of Mary when she was probably in her late twenties or early thirties.

The other known image of Mary is described as Mary’s “fair, fat and forty” photo. The description was a quote from the New York Times in which the author covering the trial of the conspirators compared Mary to the Shakespeare character of Falstaff.  In Shakespeare’s play, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” the fat character of Falstaff is forced to disguise himself as a woman to avoid a confrontation with the husband of a woman he is trying to court.  The ladies and servants pretend that Falstaff is the obese aunt of one of the maidens.  The comparison made by the New York Times regarding Mary, therefore, is not a kind one.  Nevertheless this picture was probably taken when Mary was around 40 years old.

Mary Surratt's CDV 1

I’d truly love to know where the original, earlier photograph is today. While we have modern images based on that one, over the years Mary has been “airbrushed” somewhat.  The finer details of her face have been lost due to repeated duplication.

Mary Surratt 1

Granted these “airbrushed” photos make her appear prettier, but it doesn’t give a completely accurate view of her features.

For more images of Mary Surratt, visit the Mary Surratt Picture Gallery.

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16 thoughts on “Mary Surratt’s Photograph

  1. John C. Fazio


    Thanks for this. I confess to having a prejudice against Mary Surratt, convinced as I am of her guilt, but let me say anyway that I see nothing in these photos to suggest innocence. A person’s inner self is most often reflected in their outer selves – their mien – which is why we can generally size up a personality, and are attracted or repelled accordingly, based on the same. In my judgment, everything about her mien suggests hardness, determination and deviousness, which fits the evidence. We do not get so much as a Mona Lisa smile.


  2. Craig Hipkins

    It is really hard to read into a persons demeanor when it comes to analyzing 19th century photographs. Subjects were told to keep a straight face and not to move.
    To me the untouched image of Mary seems to support this as she shows little or no emotion and appears to be looking beyond the camera into some void known only to her. The air brushed image however, is different. It almost appears as though she is attempting to crack a smile as if to say “I am young, and pretty and I have my whole life in front of me.”
    The “fat and forty” photo on the other hand shows a completely different character. By this time in her life Mary is world weary, and no longer thinking of the lies that youth had once ingrained in her soul. She was no longer young and her course in life had been set. There is cynicism and distrust in her expression. Her eyes show confidence and perhaps a hint of condescension as if she were telling the world “I know what I am doing, I know that I am right, let the future generations judge me as they will.”
    Interesting post Dave!

  3. Laurie Verge

    From what I was told by the late James O. Hall, the original of this photo was in the possession of the Surratt family in the 1960s. They gave him permission to have it duplicated at the prestigious D.C. studio of Harris & Ewing. One of the copies was given to Surratt House, and we actually have the rights for publication.

    The big concern that Mr. Hall had (as do we) is that Harris & Ewing went out of business in the 70s or 80s. We have no idea what happened to their files. We have also lost contact with the Surratt descendants with whom Mr. Hall worked.

    • Thank you for the history of this image, Laurie. It looks like this photograph would be high on your list of “Things I wish I knew the location of today” too.

  4. Laurie Verge

    The original of this photo is just the tip of the iceberg. Over twenty-five years ago, I had the honor to meet an elderly great-granddaughter of Mary Surratt, who had quite a number of personal items such as brooches, school books, religious medals, etc. from her ancestor and other family members. She lamented to me that she was the mother of thirteen children, many of whom were nuns and priests.(where the church would likely inherit). She had no idea how to distribute the family heirlooms.

    I graciously suggested that she give them to Surratt House Museum on a long-term loan agreement whereby the family would retain ownership and could have them back with sufficient notice at any given time. I did not get a response, and we have lost all contact with her family.

    A similar thing happened about five years ago when a gentleman produced what is very likely Mrs. Surratt’s rosary that she had with her while incarcerated. Its line of provenance was wonderful. He too was debating what to do with it. I offered the same suggestion, obviously to no avail.

    I just hope these treasures – and any related items with good history – find homes with people who appreciate what they have.

    • Laurie, I downloaded an article yesterday about the lady that you spoke of. I was trying to find any article about where the original Mary Surratt photo came from. I don’t think this great granddaughter had it, but she did have a few artifacts, like the rosary you spoke of. I forget her name now, but she died in 1993. I’ll put up the article when I get home.

    • Laurie,

      Here’s that article that I told you about. The lady you met with was named Mary Geraldine Tonry Walsh. It appears she had a few relics of Mary’s:

      Click to access surratt-descendant-relics.pdf

  5. Laurie Verge

    We have that article in the files at Surratt House. Also, it appears that there were several sets of rosary beads that belonged to Mrs. Surratt – which is no surprise since they were frequently given as birthday gifts, First Communion gifts, etc. The one shown in this article is not the one that I referred to. The one that she likely carried to the scaffold with her comes with a perfect line of provenance. I am not at liberty to say where it is.

    If Mr. Hall were alive, he would know immediately where the original photo came from. All I remember him saying was that he got it from descendants long enough to get it duplicated. For some reason, I keep thinking that the original was a painted miniature, but I may be wrong. Senility does that to one.

    I assume that you know where the “fair, fat, and forty” CDV was found?

  6. Laurie Verge

    Before Mike found it, there had been reference to it in an article about an interview with a quite elderly Pitman (maybe the reporter was GATH?). The old man tottered over to his desk and pulled out the CDV of Mrs. Surratt. From that point on, until Mike found it in the New York Public Library, we did not know what had happened to it.

    If I remember correctly, Mike told me at the time that it was the last item in the last box of file papers. It was one of those great moments of finding and sharing for us assassination nuts.

  7. rich smyth

    Are those the rather large rosary beads (like Nuns would carry and unlike the photo of the beads) that was handed down through the family of a particular Monsignor before becoming the possession of another gentleman?

  8. Gentleman/
    Is the Mary Surratt CDV for sale and for how is it.

  9. Dennis D. Urban

    In the early MS image she is displaying what is probably a Catholic prayer book. I have seen other such photos displaying Catholic prayer books. Since MS converted to Catholicism (I’d love to know that date), I suggest this may have been taken upon her conversion or when receiving a sacrament such as First Communion. That might help to date the image. I wonder if any new information has emerged since this last post.

  10. Laurie Verge

    Mary converted to Catholicism when she was in her early teens and attending a female academy in Alexandria, Virginia, that was run by the Sisters of Charity. We may have her conversion or First Communion date in our files, but I don’t remember seeing them.

    Mary left the school when she was fifteen and was married at the age of 17. The photo that you refer to was likely taken when she was at least 30. We have made that judgment call based on the style of dress that she is wearing – its neckline, dropped sleeve line, undersleeves (very nice ones!) etc. being more the fashion in the 1850s. Mary was born in 1823.

    I am more inclined to think that the photo was taken in D.C. while the family still had the money to afford such luxuries. I also feel that she chose to hold a religious book to show that her Catholic faith was very near and dear to her.

    • Dennis D. Urban

      Laurie, thanks for saving me the trouble of going to my library to research the facts before I wrote. I also believe her faith was near and dear to her heart and I have never understood her role in the assassination given a strong faith. Perhaps she did not know murder was in the offing that Friday. If she did in fact have such a strong faith, she would/should have realized the wrongfulness and sinfulness of the kidnapping as well.

  11. Laurie Verge

    Her strong faith is the one blockade that has caused me to question whether or not she knew that the plot had turned to assassination. Of course, most wars are fought in the name of someone’s god.

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