Located off of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Road in Waldorf, Maryland is, appropriately, the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. Situated on 197 acres of farmland, the museum tells the story of Dr. Mudd and his involvement with the tragedy of 1865.
There are so many fascinating objects to see at the Mudd House. In fact, one could return time and time again and still find new items of captivating interest. The following are just a few of the countless treasures to be found at the Dr. Mudd House Museum.
A Doctor’s Life (Prior to 1865)
Dr. Mudd’s Medical Book
This volume of Beck’s Materia Medica (the text of which can be read online here) was owned by Dr. Mudd and was conceivably used by him while he was studying for his degree in medicine. Perhaps he also consulted this book from time to time during his practice. In addition to his name being written on the cover of the book, there is also an interior inscription of “Saml. A Mudd MD, Bryantown Char. Co., M.D.” While Dr. Mudd’s handwriting changed over time, the interior inscription does appear to match the handwriting on Dr. Mudd’s doctoral thesis, making it likely that he wrote the inscription himself. This book is sometimes seen laying out on the secretary in the doctor’s office or is otherwise shelved with some other medical books.
Dr. Mudd’s Mortar and Pestle
In his occupation as a physician, Dr. Mudd owned and used this mortar and pestle to create medicines for his patients. It is on display in the doctor’s office.
Clay Jars made by Dr. Mudd’s slaves
The practice of medicine was largely secondary to Dr. Mudd, who was first and foremost a plantation owner with a large farm. Dr. Mudd own several slaves who worked in his fields tending to his crops and in his home doing domestic chores. These clay jars, on display in the kitchen of the Mudd house, were made by some of the Mudd family slaves. Dr. Mudd could be a very harsh master at times and at the trial of the conspirators several of his former slaves testified against him. One of his former slaves, Elzee Eglen, recounted how Dr. Mudd had shot him for being “obstreperous” and then threatened to send him south to Richmond to build defenses for the Confederacy. Elzee escaped from slavery by running away from Dr. Mudd’s farm in 1863. On the other hand, a few of Dr. Mudd’s slaves testified in his favor and stated that he was a kind master. After Emancipation, three of Dr. Mudd’s slaves stayed with the family and continued to work for him for several years. We do know that Dr. Mudd participated in “slave catching posses” to recapture escaped slaves. At the very least, Dr. Mudd’s strong ties to slavery and the cause of the Confederacy dispels the concept that he was “a Union man,” as he tried to paint himself after being arrested. To learn more about those held in slavery by Dr. Mudd, I recommend the book, The Doctor’s Slaves by Robert K. Summers.
The Booth Sofa
The centerpiece of the Mudd House parlor is an antique settee. This small sofa is undoubtedly the most iconic item on display in the Dr. Mudd House and the most photographed piece in the museum. After the assassin of Abraham Lincoln and his accomplice arrived at the Mudd farm during the early morning hours of April 15, 1865, the injured assassin was brought inside and laid upon this couch. It was while here that Dr. Mudd first examined the leg of John Wilkes Booth. To subsequent generations of the Mudd family, this couch perfectly personified the desired mythology for Dr. Mudd. This settee was an innocent bystander, a piece that unknowingly gave comfort to an assassin. One can not place blame a sofa for being laid upon just as one cannot blame a doctor for fulfilling his Hippocratic Oath. However, while the sofa is free from any wrong doing, history has proven that Dr. Mudd had known Booth long before the assassination and likely provided assistance in Booth’s plot to abduct Abraham Lincoln.
Mrs. Mudd’s Painting
On the wall of the bedroom where John Wilkes Booth slept during most of the daytime hours of April 15, 1865, hangs a beautiful painting called, “The Sleeping Beauty.” This painting was painted by Sarah Frances Dyer, Dr. Mudd’s wife. She painted this portrait when she was in school and it demonstrates Mrs. Mudd’s creative talents.
Wood Working to Pass the Hard Time (1865 – 1869)
Many of the unique treasures contained in the Mudd house consist of objects Dr. Mudd created while carrying out his prison sentence at Fort Jefferson. During his imprisonment, Dr. Mudd (and the other prisoners) tried their hands at various crafts and trades to help pass the time. The imprisoned conspirators often sent boxes of crafts and carpentry projects back home to their loved ones. Here is a newspaper article which mentions the Lincoln conspirators’ handiwork:
The following artifacts, on display at the Mudd house, are all items created by Dr. Mudd while he was in prison.
Shark Cartilage Cane
Fort Jefferson is located approximately 67 miles west of Key West, Florida. This island prison was so isolated and the threat of survivable escape from it was so low that prisoners were allowed almost complete access to the entire island. As such, there were many chances for Dr. Mudd and the others to collect specimens from the tropical waters. Dr. Mudd made several canes and walking sticks while at Fort Jefferson but this one has the unique feature of being decorated with shark cartilage likely scavenged from the remains of a shark that had washed up on the Dry Tortugas. This cane is displayed on the bed in Dr. Mudd’s bedroom.
Book of Pressed Flowers
Though a limited amount of flora grew on Fort Jefferson due to the lack of fresh water, Dr. Mudd still took the time to collect samples of flowers and leaves from the island’s vegetation. He put his specimens into this album, which appears to have been originally created to hold CDVs, common photographs of the day. This book is on display in a case in the second floor hallway.
Dr. Mudd created this plain yet practical letter opener while at Fort Jefferson. It is displayed in the second floor case.
Frame of Shells
Though fresh water was scarce, what was not lacking on the shores of Fort Jefferson’s beaches were shells. As such, Dr. Mudd took to collecting shells and affixing them to many different objects. This frame decorated by shells is in the second floor display case.
The Dr. Mudd House displays two jewelry boxes built by Dr. Mudd which he ornately encrusted with a plethora of seashells. Another jewelry box created by Dr. Mudd appeared on Antiques Roadshow several years back.
Jewelry boxes and cribbage boards appear to have been the most popular items to construct when spending time at Fort Jefferson. In 1867, Dr. Mudd’s fellow conspirator Edman Spangler sent a package of gifts to his former employer John T. Ford. The package contained several items to be distributed among the friends and families of Spangler, Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen. The items were four decorated boxes and six cribbage boards. So it appears that the conspirators had a veritable cribbage board factory at Fort Jefferson and honed their skills making them. This board, said to have been created by Dr. Mudd, is in the second floor display case.
This checkerboard tabletop, created by Dr. Mudd, is affixed to a small table just inside the front door of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. It demonstrates Dr. Mudd’s increasing skill at inlay and marquetry. It is worth noting that lumber was fairly scarce on the islands of the Dry Tortugas. These pieces would have been made with either driftwood that washed up on the shore, or with surplus wood from the Fort’s carpentry shop where Dr. Mudd was sent to work alongside Edman Spangler.
Circular Game Table
As Dr. Mudd’s time on Fort Jefferson increased, it appears he became more and more adept at woodworking and general carpentry. This game table shows great skill and is likely due to the teachings of his fellow inmate, Edman Spangler, who had been a carpenter by trade. Spangler helped construct the Booth family home of Tudor Hall many years before he was employed by John T. Ford to work as a carpenter and scene shifter in his theaters. It is likely that Spangler gave lessons in carpentry to his fellow prisoners and assisted Dr. Mudd in the creation of this table. It is on display next to the Booth sofa in the front parlor of the Mudd house.
A Familiar Guest (1873 – 1875)
As we know, Dr. Mudd eventually secured a pardon from President Andrew Johnson due to his conduct during a Yellow Fever epidemic that swept Fort Jefferson in 1867. That epidemic took the life of Michael O’Laughlen, one of the other Lincoln conspirators. President Johnson pardoned Dr. Mudd shortly before the end of his term. He also pardoned the two remaining conspirators, Samuel Arnold and Edman Spangler. The men had bonded quite a bit due to their shared ordeal and circumstances. Though they parted ways, there was a reunion of sorts between Dr. Mudd and his teacher of carpentry, Edman Spangler.
Spangler originally went back to work for John T. Ford in his theaters. John T. Ford always believed in his employee’s innocence and worked hard to get Spangler released. However, when Ford’s Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore burned down in 1873, Spangler found himself out of a job. Spangler made his way to Dr. Mudd’s farm where he was welcomed in with open arms. Spangler lived with the Mudds for about 18 months doing carpentry, gardening, and other farm chores. Some of the artifacts on display at the Mudd house were owned or built by Edman Spangler.
These doll chairs, on display in the second floor case, were made by Edman Spangler for Dr. Mudd’s young children. Nettie Mudd, the doctor’s youngest child, recalled that Spangler’s, “greatest pleasure seemed to be found in extending kindnesses to others, and particularly children, of whom he was very fond.”
Spangler’s Wood Plane
This wood plane, used in carpentry work to flatten and smooth a piece of wood, belonged to Edman Spangler and he likely used it while doing carpentry projects around the Mudd farm. It is usually regulated to a shelf in the doctor’s office but if you ask about it, and your docent is willing, he or she may take it out so that you can see the stamped ends that bear Spangler’s name.
This dresser was made by Edman Spangler while he lived at the Mudd farm. Today, this piece furnishes the children’s bedroom, a fitting place due to Spangler’s affinity for children.
Spangler’s New Testament
In the second floor display case of the Mudd house is a 1861 copy of the New Testament which belonged to Edman Spangler. It was inscribed to him by Mrs. Ewing. At the trial of the conspirators, Edman Spangler was one of the last to find legal representation and it was essentially appointed to him by the court. His lawyer was General Thomas Ewing, Jr. Ewing had already been hired to defend Dr. Mudd and Samuel Arnold and was then asked to defend Spangler as well when the latter could not find any other representation. When Mrs. Ewing, the wife of Spangler’s lawyer, gave him this New Testament is unknown. However, whether he received it in the midst of the trial or at its conclusions when his fate was known, Spangler likely read thorough it for guidance and hope during the dark days at Fort Jefferson. It was found among his things when he died in the Mudd house on February 7, 1875. Edman Spangler died at the age of 49 while being cared for by his good friend, Dr. Mudd.
Endings and Beginnings (1883 – Present)
Dr. Mudd’s Original Gravestone
Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd died on January 10, 1883 at the age of 49. He was interred at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Cemetery where his parents were buried. Dr. Mudd’s wife, Sarah Frances, outlived her husband by 28 years before passing away in 1911. She was buried alongside her husband but for many years had no stone of her own. Around 1940, some of Dr. and Mrs. Mudd’s descendants decided to replace Dr. Mudd’s old headstone with a new one that would include both of their names. This was also deemed advantageous to do because there was a mistake on Dr. Mudd’s original tombstone that needed to be corrected. When the gravestone was replaced, Dr. Mudd’s old headstone was brought back to the farm. It was eventually placed in an old chicken coop located right behind the Mudd house. Look closely at the image below and see if you can find the mistake on Dr. Mudd’s original headstone.
The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House
One cannot discuss the wonderful treasures in the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum without acknowledging the treasure that is the restored house museum itself. Dr. Mudd’s home continued to be owned and lived in by his descendants all the way up to the present day. As a family home, it underwent its share of upgrades and changes. In the 1970’s, the house looked quite a bit different than it did in Dr. Mudd’s day:
It is very fortunate that generations of the Mudd family came together in the 1970’s and embraced the house’s historical importance. They choose to restore the house to its 1865 appearance and open it as a museum. The earliest known photographs of the Mudd house, like this one from 1895, were consulted during the restoration in order to duplicate the exterior of the home as accurately as possible.
Today, the restored Mudd house sits on almost the same amount of land it did in 1865, preserving the historic landscape that John Wilkes Booth and David Herold saw when they departed the home after receiving aid.
Even ignoring the massive repository of items and artifacts relating to Dr. Mudd’s life and saga, the Mudd house is definitely a treasure all its own.
Plan Your Visit (The Future)
Despite the numerous artifacts highlighted in this post, there is still so much to see at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. There’s Mrs. Mudd’s original cruet set, the Mudds’ original sideboard table, a large format photograph taken of Dr. Mudd at Fort Jefferson, a secretary built by Dr. Mudd while in prison, keys said to be from Dr. Mudd’s prison cell, a chair from Ford’s Theatre, and so much more. Just to see these artifacts in person is worth the $7 admission price. The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum closes down for the winter season so you have plenty of time to plan your future visit to this very worthwhile museum. Please visit DrMudd.org for more information.
The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum
The Doctor’s Slaves by Robert K. Summers
The Assassin’s Doctor by Robert K. Summers
American Brutus by Michael Kauffman
Dave: absolutely marvelous article on the Dr. Mudd House Museum. Well done, and thank you.
– Bob Summers