On this date, August 17th, in 1903, The Enid Daily Wave newspaper published what I believe is the greatest piece of journalism related to the “Booth mummy” story. Seven months earlier, on January 13, 1903, a house painter and drifter named David E. George died by ingesting poison while staying in a room of the Grand Avenue Hotel in Enid, Oklahoma. Soon thereafter rumors began to circulate that George was actually John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln, having somehow escaped his death at the Garrett farm back in 1865. There is no credible evidence that David E. George was John Wilkes Booth but this piece of western folklore is just one of those fake stories that refuses to die.
Anyway, while waiting on someone to come and take possession of the deceased, David E. George was embalmed by Enid undertaker W. H. Ryan and set up in the shop of his employer, William Penniman. In this way it served as a tourist attraction and a free advertising of the undertaker’s embalming skills. It actually worked, with Ryan being poached by a rival undertaker a year later.
All the time while the George mummy was just hanging out at Penniman’s shop, the question of what the final disposition of the body would be was on the mind of local residents. There were repeated false rumors that government officials, members of the Booth family, or George’s actual relatives were going to show up “any day now” to take possession of the body, but these rumors never panned out.
And so it was that on August 17, 1903, The Enid Daily Wave made the bold announcement that a decision had finally been made on what to do with the body of “John Wilkes Booth”. According to the Wave, since the St. Louis World’s Fair (technically known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition) was planned for the next year, it had been decided to make the body of “John Wilkes Booth” part of the displays in the Oklahoma pavilion at the fair. But how, might you ask would “Booth” be made to transport to the Fair? Well, like any other preserves, “Booth” was to be jarred:
J. WILKES BOOTH.
Final Disposition Of The Body Decided Upon. It Goes To The World’s Fair,
HE WILL BE JARRED
And Exhibited, The Same As Other Oklahoma Fruit. He Will Wink At The Audiance.
The final disposition of the well preserved remains of J. Wilkes Booth still lying in state, in an Enid morgue has been decided upon. Dr, Eugene Watrous who is one of the designate World’s Fair chemists, has been audthorized to order a preserving jar large enough to hold a man sitting up right. Just as soon as the large clear plate glass jar arrives Booth will be placed in it, in full dress suit, sitting on a chair. The jar will be filled with the same embalming fluid, used in the preservation of fruit, surrounding the body.
A pair of fresh and beautiful jet black eyes will be provided for Booth from which an automatic wire will extend through the cork of the jar down the back way, under the floor, in the Oklahoma World’s fair building, to a point where a button will be placed.
About every fifteen minutes during the fair, or when a large crowd gathers to look at Booth; President Joe Meibergen of the World’s Fair commission will step out, with his right foot over the button. making the following remarks, which he has already committed to memory: – “Ladies and Gentlemen: – you are now gazing on the remains of J. Wilkes Booth, the lawless outlaw who unlawfuly assasinated Abraham Lincoln. A man who has died twice, once in Virgina’ in 1865 and once in Enid, Oklahoma the best town on earth, in January 1903. My fellow countrymen the death of Booth is still in doubt, while he sits upright before you in a large glass jar, apparently dead, yet he seems to be alive. Watch me – by a simple motion of my right arm Mr. Booth will wink and throw his eye to the right or left as I may throw my arm.
Joe touches the button to suit the direction he wishes to make the eyes turn and the astonished crowds leave the Oklahoma building still in doubt as to the death of J. Wilkes Booth.
It is a great scheme. The Wave had no business to give it away, but the people have a right to know what is going on.
Sadly, like so many of the other predictions made by The Enid Daily Wave, the body of David E. George was not jarred nor was he displayed at the St. Louis World’s Fair. In fairness, this whole article was likely intended by the Wave as a joke. Still, I find it amusing to imagine what some of the press reports would have been had the world actually witnessed a shifty eyed “John Wilkes Booth” eyeballing them menacingly from inside a giant Mason jar. Perhaps it would have looked something like this.
Nothing creepy about that at all.
“What a way to make a dollar.” Grandpa used to say, “I’ve seen it all before,” but I bet he never saw this!”
Its crazy that these rumors are still around.
Dave, such a coincidence? Last night on History Chanel they replayed Lawrence Fishbourne’s show about Booth. Great piece as usual. Keep up the great work!
Miriam & Randy