News

The Trial Today: Epilogue

If you have followed along during these last two months as the Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators project was published day by day, I would like to congratulate you! You have essentially reenacted and relived the same experience of those who lived through May and June of 1865. During those two months, the whole country was transfixed by the daily newspaper updates regarding the trial of the Lincoln conspirators. By coming to this site and reading the testimonies and arguments from each day, you have shared in that experience.

But this project was much more than just a reading of the trial transcript. It contextualized and clarified the different testimonies explaining how they related to each conspirator. This project brought in the diaries, articles, memoirs, and recollections of those who had actually been present in the room where it happened. Taken altogether, you now have a better understanding of the trial of the Lincoln conspirators than practically anyone from 1865, save for those select few who took part in the proceedings.

I hope you all have enjoyed this chronological exploration into the trial of the Lincoln conspirators and feel that the investment of time has been worthwhile. As I noted when I introduced this project, my goal was to make the trial of the conspirators more accessible and understandable to everyone (including myself). It’s a key part of understanding the complexity of Lincoln’s death, but is too often overlooked because of its own intimidating complexity.

The old proverb asks the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” with the answer being, “One bite at a time.” According to a trial statistics sheet found in the collection of commission member Lew Wallace, the testimony in the trial constituted 4,300 handwritten pages, “making a solid file of [manuscript] somewhat over 26 inches high”. In addition to the testimony, the pages of arguments in the case numbered 700, putting the whole trial at around 5,000 handwritten pages. William Edwards’ ebook version of the trial transcript which I utilized and summarized for this project clocks in at over 1,400 pages. Finally, the text alone for the project on this site is equivalent to over 300 pages. If you’ve read through all of the pages in this trial project you have, metaphorically, eaten an over 300 page elephant, one bite at a time.

While the daily updates regarding the conspiracy trial will now cease, I still have a few more posts scheduled for the future in order to make the project even more user friendly and accessible. I have gone through and created an index for each conspirator. These indexes provide descriptions and links to all of the testimony relating to that specific conspirator. In this way, those who are interested in looking only at the testimony concerning Dr. Mudd, for instance, can go to the standalone Dr. Mudd Testimony page which will give them links to all the applicable testimony concerning him. Specific conspirator index pages will be released sequentially in the coming weeks so stay tuned for that.

As I stated in the beginning, I have been working on this project for over two years – reading, researching, collecting, summarizing, writing and assembling. I have been told numerous times in the comments and elsewhere that I should publish this as a book. However, I feel that this project, as envisioned, would not work as a book. What makes this project valuable as an online feature is how so much of the testimony can be hyperlinked in order to provide readers access to the original transcripts and documents with ease. The project also links to previous testimony and outside resources and references. In my mind, a traditional book would fail to provide the interactivity that makes this project unique. Not to mention that if this project was turned into a book, at over 300 pages long, it would likely appear just as daunting and inaccessible to the general public as the original trial transcripts. I designed this project to be a helpful guide for students of the Lincoln assassination and would rather it be widely accessible to all on the internet rather than in the hands of only the select few who would want to purchase it in book form.

With that being said, I am still very proud of this project which was, in my eyes, the equivalent of writing a book. I appreciate all of the kind words that you have left for me in the comments and in emails over the past two months. If you really enjoyed this project and want to help support me in future research on this site, I would like to ever so shamelessly direct you to the new Donation button I have put up here on LincolnConspirators.com. The button can be found at the end of this paragraph as well as on the side menu (bottom menu for mobile users). As is obvious from my real world job as an elementary school teacher, I don’t do any of this for the money. Still, I know the content that I create for this site is informative and valuable. If you have the desire and the financial means to help me continue to research, learn, and share, I would be truly grateful. I can’t promise another big, book-sized research project anytime soon as I still have another year to go in my Master’s program, but I’m constantly looking for new information which I share here and on my Twitter account. Even small donations add up and help me in the purchasing of books, articles, and the annual renewals of expensive research subscription sites like Ancestry, Fold3, GenealogyBank, Newspapers.com, and others. Your donations will also help to pay for the upkeep of this site to ensure that LincolnConspirators.com will continue for years to come.

I truly hope you have enjoyed learning about the trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. Remember that the entire project will always be accessible by clicking on “The Trial” on the top menu or by visiting www.LincolnConspirators.com/the-trial. Thank you again for all of your support.

Sincerely,

Dave Taylor

Categories: History, News | Tags: | 23 Comments

BoothieBarn is now LincolnConspirators.com!

I’m very happy to share this big announcement with all of you. From now on, this website has a brand new name and web address! Welcome to LincolnConspirators.com!

LincolnConspirators.com is the perfect name for the content you’ve come to expect from this website. Under LincolnConspirators.com you will continue to learn about John Wilkes Booth, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Mary Surratt, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, Edman Spangler, John Surratt, and the countless other people who were involved, in some way, in the story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. All the materials that this site provides – from its image galleries, maps, videos, projects, posts, and pages – are still here and easily accessible under the LincolnConspirators.com domain. Links, shortcuts, and favorites you might have under the old name will continue to work for the foreseeable future and will automatically redirect you.


I’m sure many of you are curious as to why I’ve decided to change the name of the site. To be honest, I’ve been unhappy with the name BoothieBarn for a while. When I started this blog in 2012, it was just a place for me to put up little tidbits of knowledge that I had learned while researching and interacting with experts in the field of Lincoln’s assassination. Back then, there were only a couple of online sites where people who focused on studying Lincoln’s death could share information. As a subject, Lincoln’s assassination has not always been accepted as a true form of Lincoln research. In fact, the term “Boothie” originated with more traditional Lincoln scholars as a disparaging moniker towards those who wasted their time studying John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators. Many Lincoln scholars found it unfathomable, or even sacrilegious, that anyone would spend more than the bare minimum amount of time learning about the man who killed our country’s greatest president. An understandable division arose between the Lincoln scholars and those they deemed “Boothies”. As a result of this division, most of our modern understanding of John Wilkes Booth and his plots against Lincoln has actually come from the work of amateur history buffs and researchers, rather than academic Lincoln scholars. When, as a college student, I started doing my first real research into the Lincoln assassination, I was surprised to find the Lincoln assassination field was populated by a welcoming group of everyday people who were willing to share information without hesitation. There was no pretense or snobbery, only generosity. When the time came to decide on the name to give my fledging blog, I made sure to include “Boothie” as a symbol of appreciation to the group of people who taught me, supported me, and the only ones I thought would ever want to read it. The latter half of the site’s name was much less thought out. I figured John Wilkes Booth was killed in a barn and, well, I like alliteration. Hence, BoothieBarn was born.

While I still appreciate and love the community of “Boothies” who continue to support me and share so much, the truth is, we’re no longer the isolated or disparaged group we once were. In the last few years, I’ve seen interest in Lincoln’s assassination grow and grow. The support of this site and the hundreds of hits I get everyday shows me that people are coming to understand that the study of John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators are legitimate parts of Lincoln’s legacy. Among the greatest honors of my life has been to speak at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library about Booth and his conspirators. Lincoln scholars, and the general public, are increasingly understanding that learning about Booth is not at all the same as agreeing with him. John Wilkes Booth was, and will always be, one of the greatest villains in our history. He was a racist, white supremacist coward who shot an unarmed man in the back of the head. Booth is not a man to admire, look up to, or to venerate in anyway. Yet, he is still a crucial part of Lincoln’s story. The study of Lincoln’s assassination is the study of one of the darker moments in our history. But sometimes the darker parts of history can shed the most light on the past. While I seek to understand Booth and those he interacted with, I will never support or advocate for the beliefs that he, or the Confederacy that he supported, stood for.

By changing this website’s name, I’m hoping to encourage more study into this important, yet tragic part of Lincoln’s legacy. This website has grown so much more beyond a haven for me and my colleagues. I want to continue to develop this website to add more educational resources like the recent Trial of the Conspirators project. As an educator myself, I want teachers to be able to send their students here to learn more about the events and people surrounding April 14, 1865. The name BoothieBarn requires too much explanation and lacks professionalism. While I will miss the alliteration of the old name, LincolnConspirators.com perfectly defines the content this site provides.

I’ve changed a lot from from the recent college graduate who decided to start up his own niche history blog. I’ve done a lot of growing to become a more understanding, compassionate, and empathetic person. Many things have come and gone in my life and changed me in immeasurable ways. Yet even through these periods of personal growth and reflection, my interest in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln has remained constant. It’s long overdue that my website change to reflect who I am and what I want to present to the world. I am in the process of getting my Master’s in American History. Even though I know I have done a lot of good work as BoothieBarn, I want to be able to say that I am a “real” historian, a professional. I’m proud of every piece I research and write on this website, and so I want it to have a name that I can be equally proud of.

I will continue to own the old BoothieBarn domain for the foreseeable future, so all of your old links will work for the time being. If you find an old link on social media or elsewhere, it will still work and just redirect you to the same page under the LincolnConspirators.com domain. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, I have changed my Twitter handle to @LinConspirators. However, if you are currently on Twitter and following me, you will still be following me after the change.

I’ve also updated the email address connected to this site to reflect the new name. Feel free to contact me at admin@lincolnconspirators.com with any questions, comments, or concerns you may have.

I’ve been honored by the over one million of you who have read, commented, and supported my efforts. This site has grown beyond what I ever imagined. I will continue to provide the same content that you have to come to expect, now under the better and more professional name, LincolnConspirators.com.

Thank you for continuing to join me on this journey!

Sincerely,

Dave Taylor

Categories: News | Tags: , , | 26 Comments

Looking at General Grant

Tonight marks the end of the History Channel’s three part miniseries about the life of Civil War lieutenant major general turned President, Ulysses S. Grant. Being without cable, I have yet to see to the miniseries myself, but I am looking forward to viewing it in the near future. However, thanks to the power of promos and Twitter, I have already been made aware of one part of the miniseries that airs tonight and deals with Grant’s connection to Lincoln’s assassination. The miniseries describes how General and Mrs. Grant declined the Lincolns’ invitation to join them at Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865. Instead, the Grants decided to travel by train to New Jersey in order to visit with their children. The miniseries shows the following scene of the Grants riding in a carriage on their way to the train depot when a mysterious stranger stops them.

After this promo was posted on Twitter, one of my followers there, Ilka, asked me if this story of an unfriednly glance between John Wilkes Booth and Gen. Grant on April 14th was true. While I had heard of it before, I always took it to be an apocryphal account with no evidence to support it other than Mrs. Grant’s lively imagination. However, as I researched it this morning, I found that the story has more evidence going for it than I thought. What follows is a Twitter thread I wrote this morning highlighting my research into this story.

Here’s the text from Col. Porter’s reminiscences as included in the above tweet:

Here is Julia Grant’s memory of the event as included in the above tweet:

In response to my thread, fellow tweeter Darin Weeks shared his skepticism regarding the story which I fully understand.

I’m not ready to 100% declare that it happened either, but I responded to Darin that at least this story (unlike a lot of others) has evidence to back it up.

After responding to Darin, I realized that, if the story was true, it might help to explain why Booth wasn’t better armed when he assassinated the President at Ford’s later that night.

In the end, we’ll never truly be sure that John Wilkes Booth was the man who gave Gen. and Mrs. Grant such an unfriendly glance on the afternoon of April 14th, but evidence shows that it could have been!

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Prelude to a Project

Over two years ago, I came up with an idea for a project. I wanted to expand my knowledge of the trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. While I was very familiar with the outcome of the trial and the big revelations that the different testimonies brought to light, my knowledge of the trial, as an event, had been lacking. The trial was such a large and inaccessible part of the assassination story to a person without any legal background. Even with my knowledge of the history of Lincoln’s assassination, attempting to read the trial transcript, and make sense of it all, was an intimidating prospect.

The original incarnation of this project still shied away from the transcript itself with my interest being drawn to learning more about the experiences of the individual conspirators while the trial was going on. While we have practically nothing from the 8 conspirators regarding their day to day thoughts on the proceedings, the daily newspapers of the time often contained descriptions of the conspirators’ appearances and little mentions of their actions on the prisoners’ dock. The first draft of this project was little more than a list of the witnesses who testified on each date, followed by these descriptions from the newspapers.

However, as I went on, I found that I needed to provide at least some summation, if only for myself, regarding what each witness was testifying about. Some of the witnesses, especially the important ones, were easy as I was already familiar with the relevance of their words. However the trial consisted of 347 unique witnesses and most of them gave testimony that is only comprehensible if you know the testimonies that preceded it.

With this in mind, the project expanded. I started reading the trial transcript, word for word. I am greatly indebted to the work of author William Edwards, who published the most detailed and accurate version of the trial transcript that exists. At over 1400 pages in length, I knew the task ahead of me was going to be long but I wanted to create a more interactive and, most importantly, accessible version of the trial. I took on the role of Benn Pitman, the court’s chief recorder who later published a one volume transcript of the trial using summarized testimonies. I wanted to do the same as Pitman but update it using the technology available to us. Over time, what started as a cheat sheet for myself, became an interactive resource for understanding and referencing the trial of the conspirators.

The end project, as you will soon see, consists of a day by day chronology of the trial of the Lincoln conspirators. For each day of the trial, I have documented the proceedings, summarized the testimony of each witness, and included the descriptions and recollections of the individuals who took part in or visited the trial on each day. I have painstakingly researched the 347 witnesses, rectifying misspelled names from the transcript and doing my best to find visuals that represent them and their lives. I have been assisted in this by many of my friends and colleagues whose names appear in the acknowledgement section at the bottom of the trial home page.

Each day of the trial exists as its own page here on LincolnConspirators.com and they will be released on their corresponding anniversary here in 2020. In this way you will be able to experience the trial, day by day, in the same way those in 1865 did. This post was published on May 1, 2020 and so the page for May 1, 1865 is now available to read. It contains the announcement that, 155 years ago today, President Andrew Johnson released the orders to create a military commission to try the Lincoln assassination conspirators. The decision to try the conspirators in a military court rather than a civilian trial was, and continues to be, a controversial decision with many arguments to be made about its constitutionality. However, my purpose in this project is not to debate the legality of the trial. I am more concerned about the testimony that was given at the trial and the ramifications it had on the conspirators.

Using my own limited computer abilities, I have worked to make this project as interactive as possible. Starting with May 9th, the day in which the proceedings of the trial actually began, each individual page contains a Table of Contents at the top. Using this you can click to jump down to a specific witness or conspirator. Clicking entries on the Table of Contents will also provide you with direct links to those places in the page, making it helpful if you want bookmark or share a specific testimony rather than the whole page. When reading my summarized version of a witness’s testimony, the full name of the witness is always hyperlinked. Clicking on their name will take you to their full testimony in the historical transcripts so that you can read them for yourself. In addition, when witnesses are recalled or make direct reference to the prior testimony of others, I have included hyperlinks to the corresponding testimony in question. In this way you can quickly review and/or cross reference the sometimes contrary statements being made.

A sample Table of Contents for a day of the trial.

At the beginning of the trial, the court was held in closed session. Public and private uproar over the secrecy of the court caused the doors to be opened up to outside press and visitors starting on May 13th. Starting on this date, the Table of Contents grows to include the newspaper descriptions of the conspirators and known visitors to the court room. As the trial goes on and interest in the individual conspirators’ appearances wanes, there are less descriptions available. Near the latter part of the trial an attempt has been made to supplement these areas with general descriptions of the conspirators from undated sources.

For each day of the trial, I will be publishing a corresponding post here on LincolnConspirators.com containing a teaser of what occurred on this date 155 years ago. The posts will also contain a link to newly released trial page. I apologize in advance for blowing up your inbox with nearly daily posts for the next two months. The home page for the trial project, which contains links to the individual days, will always be accessible and available, though the links will not work until that specific day has arrived. By the end of June 2020 every day of the trial project will be accessible and will remain so.

I’m very much looking forward to sharing with you this project that has occupied too much of my time over the past two years. My hope is that this project will be a helpful resource for all who seek to learn more about the trial of the conspirators.

So, while we are still about a week away before the trial of the Lincoln conspirators officially began, I invite you to visit the Home Page of the project and take a look at the Witness List for the days to come. If you’re so inclined you can even take a look at the project’s Bibliography and read through the Introduction (which is pretty much just this post again).

In the end, I hope you will come back as regularly as you can during May and June to see how the conspiracy trial plays out, day by day.

Sincerely,

Dave Taylor

Categories: History, News | Tags: | 70 Comments

2020 Surratt Conference Cancelled

Following the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control to limit group gatherings, the Surratt House Museum has decide to cancel this year’s Surratt Society Lincoln Assassination Conference. The conference was originally scheduled for April 3 – 5, 2020, but is now cancelled in order to lessen the spread and impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

I was scheduled to speak at this year’s conference on the imprisonment of Dr. Mudd and the other conspirators at Fort Jefferson. As disappointing as the cancellation is, I wholeheartedly agree with the Surratt Society’s decision to put the welfare of its attendees first.

Those who have already registered and paid for the conference will receive a refund of their registration fees, as well as the fees for the Friday and Sunday bus tours if applicable. The Surratt House Museum will be sending out more information in the following weeks about the refund process. You can also contact them directly with any questions. Their phone number is (301) 868-1121.

The decision to cancel the conference was not an easy one, but was done in solidarity with the hundreds of other historical institutions and organizations who are canceling events in order to decrease the spread of this virus. As an annual conference, the Surratt Society looks forward to 2021 when we may all, once again, come together to share in our love of history.

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An Update Regarding John Wilkes Booth’s Knife

Back in December, I put up a post here on BoothieBarn which contained my research on the knife John Wilkes Booth used to stab Major Rathbone following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. By consulting the period evidence that came out during the trial of the conspirators, it is my firm belief that Ford’s Theatre has been displaying the incorrect knife for years and that the correct knife is locked away at the NPS storage facility in Landover, MD.

If you haven’t read the piece, please take a few minutes to read the article and look at the evidence for yourself: https://boothiebarn.com/2018/12/31/cloak-and-daggers-cutting-through-the-confusion-of-the-assassination-knives/

The post itself was actually just a reprint of my original article on the subject which had been published in the Surratt Courier in March of 2012. Since that time, I have been trying to get Ford’s Theatre to acknowledge their unintentional error. In 2012 I sent the article to the National Park Service rangers at Ford’s and to representatives of the Ford’s Theatre Society. While I had a few individuals tell me that they found the evidence compelling, none felt they had the authority to make any changes. And so, for the past seven years, each time I take a group or a bus tour to Ford’s Theatre I am compelled to point out to the group that they should disregard the knife on display. When asked why Ford’s Theatre doesn’t make an effort to correct their mistake, I can only shrug my shoulders in reply.

Recently, however, there has actually been some progress regarding John Wilkes Booth’s knife. The Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service felt motivated to do their own investigating and last month they published an article on their blog regarding their exploration into the knives. I highly recommend you read their post before continuing with this one: https://www.fords.org/blog/post/which-knife-did-john-wilkes-booth-use-disentangling-the-lincoln-assassination-knives/

By looking at their accession and cataloging records the Ford’s Theatre team discovered what those of us who study some of these artifacts already knew – their records are incomplete and, at times, incorrect. Remember that after the trials of the conspirators, John Surratt, and the impeachment proceedings against President Johnson, the pieces of evidence (like the knives) were locked away in the Judge Advocate General’s office. They stayed in the possession of the JAG for over 70 years but there was a distinct lack of orderly care and documentation of those artifacts. The items were regularly removed from their boxes in the JAG and shown off to visitors and reporters. When moths were discovered infesting some of the trial exhibits, the JAG carted the clothing of the assassins into a courtyard and burned it. Some pieces, such as Booth’s diamond stick pin, just mysteriously disappeared from the collection. The JAG was simply not a good steward of the trial exhibits. When the artifacts were finally turned over to The Lincoln Museum (Ford’s) in 1940, the people in the JAG didn’t really know what they had anymore. They wrote up a list which was filled with inaccuracies and that is what Ford’s has had to rely on for many years. Ford’s inherited messy records and a faulty catalog through no fault of their own.

My research, however, doesn’t rely on those faulty records. I drew my conclusions based on the period evidence of 1865 and 1867 which describes the knife Booth used on Major Rathbone. Those descriptions clearly show that the Liberty knife on display at Ford’s Theatre is not correct. Even the two authors of Ford’s article, David McKenzie and Janet Folkerts, seem to accept that my research on this is sound:

“In his post, Taylor presents additional evidence that the knife currently on display at the Ford’s Theatre Museum, FOTH 3235 (the Liberty knife), is not the actual knife. He cites testimony of witnesses in the assassination investigation, the 1865 military tribunal and the 1867 trial of John Surratt to argue that FOTH 3218 (the Rio Grande knife) is the knife that Booth used to stab Rathbone, and not FOTH 3235 (the Liberty knife), the knife that is currently on display at the Ford’s Theatre Museum.

Between that evidence and what is in the curatorial files described above, we’re inclined to say, at the very least, that a good amount of evidence points to that conclusion.”

The Ford’s Theatre blog post addresses their messy records (which, again, is not their fault as they were originally given erroneous records regarding these artifacts) and acknowledges that the period evidence regarding the knives points to the conclusion that they have the incorrect knife on display.

And yet, the very next sentence in the post is, “But because the evidence is so messy, as Taylor notes, we aren’t prepared to make a definitive declaration.” I have a couple of problems with this sentence. First of all, as I have already stated, the evidence that is “messy” is not historical but curatorial. The accession records regarding the artifacts are inherently messy due to the manner in which they were stored for over 70 years. That is why it is so crucial to take the time to return to the historical evidence for these artifacts. While my article addresses the messy curatorial records, all of my conclusions are based on the historical records which are clear. John Wilkes Booth stabbed Major Rathbone with a Rio Grande Camp Knife that bore a small spot of rust that looked like blood on the blade.

The Liberty knife (shown below) currently on display at Ford’s Theatre does not fit that description. The Rio Grande Camp knife, known as FOTH 3218, currently in storage in the Museum Resource Center in Landover, does fit this description. While there is a bit of uncertainty regarding where the Liberty knife came from and its place in the trial exhibits, it is clear that it was not the knife Booth used to stab Rathbone.

Secondly, the claim that they, “aren’t prepared to make a definitive declaration” is, in itself, a declaration. It’s a declaration that when faced with choosing between incomplete accession and cataloging records or compelling historical evidence Ford’s Theatre will choose the former if it keeps the status quo. In the course of their post, Ford’s Theatre does not provide any historical evidence to support the Liberty knife as being the one that Booth used. Other than some newspaper accounts from the 1900s from journalists who went to see the artifacts in storage and were told inaccurate information from the clerks in the JAG office, I have never come across any historical evidence that attributes the Liberty knife to Booth. Without true historical evidence, how can Ford’s Theatre only commit that at some unspecified “future” the “on-site and online labels at Ford’s Theatre will reflect the ambiguity of the knives”? Even their claim that “Perhaps a future display could, like Taylor’s post and ours suggest, showcase both knives and lay out evidence to show our visitors how ambiguous historical evidence often is,” creates a false equivalency between Ford’s messy curatorial records and actual historical evidence from the period.

The historical evidence in support of FOTH 3218 as being the knife John Wilkes Booth used on the night of Lincoln’s assassination and as the one that was recovered from his body at the Garrett farm is not ambiguous. Messy accession and cataloging records should not supersede historical evidence at an institution committed to educating the public on the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. While John Wilkes Booth’s knife may not rise to the same level of other artifacts like Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, the weapons and possessions of the assassins tell a crucial story of Lincoln’s effect on his fellow man.

I know that the employees of the Ford’s Theatre NPS and the Ford’s Theatre Society are good people. I have worked with them on projects and on Booth tours. I follow many of them on Twitter and know that they are professionals who value education and public history. I appreciate greatly that Ford’s Theatre has chosen to address this part of their collection in such a public way. As David and Janet state in their closing line, “transparency about artifacts like these knives can lead to discussions about what makes visitor experiences in museums ‘real’ and how the history of objects and places affect us in the present day.” Ford’s is to be commended for their professionalism and their ongoing work in acknowledging the complications in their own collection. But acknowledgement without subsequent action is meaningless. It’s the “thoughts and prayers” of the museum world.

To my friends at Ford’s Theatre NPS and the Ford’s Theatre Society: The wrong artifact is on display and has been for many years. With the historical evidence solely in favor of FOTH 3218 and your cataloging records expectantly inconclusive, the correct remedy is to remove the Liberty knife from display and replace it with FOTH 3218. By doing so you will show your visitors that Ford’s Theatre is an institution that actively improves its exhibits based on sound research, is open about the history of its collection and the uncertainties that exist, and demonstrates a commitment to using historical evidence to guide your public outreach.

In September, I will be taking my next busload of guests to Ford’s Theatre for the John Wilkes Booth escape route tour. My sincerest hope is that I will finally be able to point to FOTH 3218 in the case and rave about the wonderful professionals at Ford’s Theatre who acknowledged an error in their collection and used historical evidence to rectify it. The research has been done and the error has been acknowledged. All that’s left to do now is to fix it.


For those who are interested, what follows is the fairly long series of tweets I wrote shortly after I read the Ford’s Theatre blog post in May. I have expressed much of the same sentiments in what I wrote above, but I thought I’d include my original thoughts as well.





























Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

A New Photograph of Dr. Mudd?

I’ve always been a big proponent of digitization efforts on the part of institutions. Scanning and putting materials online allows researchers to connect with items that they would not know existed otherwise. It was through a digital collection that I noticed that there was a third mug shot photograph of conspirator Michael O’Laughlen when most texts and historians were only aware of two. At the time, I had believed that discovery of a new photograph of a Lincoln conspirator had been a once in a lifetime find. Yet last night while doing some minor research regarding Fort Jefferson, the island prison of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, I believe I stumbled across another historic find and, once again, digitization efforts have made it possible.

In April of this year, Kate and I fulfilled our dream of visiting and camping at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. The trip was our honeymoon and one year anniversary all rolled into one and was a magical experience. We took almost 2500 pictures while on the island and yesterday I went through some of them. Some of the pictures we took were attempts to recreate older photos of the Fort that we had seen in books. The goal was to match the old photo as close as we could and use them for side by side shots demonstrating the “Then and Now” of Fort Jefferson. Last night I was looking for high resolution copies of some of the older photographs in order to provide the best visuals I could. While searching for better quality images of National Park Service photographs, I came across a digitization site called the Open Parks Network.

Operating in partnership with the NPS and Clemson University, Open Parks Network is digitizing some of the National Park Service’s holdings of images and documents. In this manner they have digitized some of the collection of Dry Tortugas National Park. I was grateful to find that the Open Parks Network had several of the older images I needed and that they were available to download for free and were in the public domain.

Then, as I was scrolling through the items from the Dry Tortugas collection, I found this curious entry.

Though titled, “Doctor Mudd at fort entrance, Fort Jefferson” it had the date of 1870 attached to it. Given that Dr. Mudd was pardoned and left Fort Jefferson in 1869, I was suspicious. I just assumed that some archivist or digitizer made a mistake somewhere, but I clicked on the entry anyway. This is the image I was presented with.

I, of course, immediately zoomed in on the figure sitting on the railing near the moat.

Now I receive a lot of pictures from people claiming to have a previously unknown photograph of John Wilkes Booth. At times I have been sent a prospective Lewis Powell or George Atzerodt to consider. I’ve also been given a couple of Dr. Mudds to peruse. Yet, despite the many folks who believe their mustachioed gentleman is John Wilkes Booth, I have never been presented with a new image of the conspirators (aside from the O’Laughlen one) that I felt was the real McCoy. Some have trouble accepting my opinion on their images and try to convince me that I’m mistaken. They provide “evidence” which “proves” their image is who they say it is. Some have even taken their images to so-called photography experts who have used scientific means to prove their image is genuine. But such claims have never changed my mind. All of the commissioned “proof” in the world can’t make my eyes see something that it doesn’t. I can speak about details in Booth’s face but, in the end, it just comes down to the basic question, “Does it look right”? Thus far, they never have. So I think it’s safe to say that I have a pretty discriminating eye when it comes to images of Booth and his conspirators.

It is for this reason that I am amazed to find myself saying that this image of Dr. Mudd looks right to me. I fully admit that the quality of the image is not great. The main subject is sitting farther back from the camera than would be optimal. His face is only partially turned toward the camera which impedes identification. And the notation of 1870 needs rectifying. Yet despite all of that, when I look at the gentleman in the picture I see Dr. Mudd. I see his mustache and his goatee (though trimmed a bit closer than in his other pictures). I see his slender build, made even more slender from the conditions of his imprisonment. And even though they are little more than pixels in this low quality image, I can still make out the light and aloof eyes that identify Dr. Mudd to me. In addition the pants and shoes the man is wearing closely, if not exactly, match the attire Dr. Mudd was photographed in while he was working in the carpentry shop at Fort Jefferson.

Let’s address the other aspects of the photo. After the uncanny resemblance to Dr. Mudd, there were a few things I noticed right off the bat. First, this is clearly a photo of a photo. At some point the original photo appears to have been tacked up on a wall or board somewhere and someone took a camera and photographed it. You can still see the tacks that held up the image in the corners.

Second, the original image looks like half of a stereoview photograph.  Stereoview or stereoscopic images are taken with a camera that has two lenses spaced beside each other. The camera captures two slightly different angles of the same subject. When viewed with a stereoviewer a three dimension image can be seen. This type of photography was popular in the Civil War era and beyond and can still be seen in the children’s toy, Viewmaster.  The closely cut right hand side of the image and the rounded top seem to imply that this image was taken with one side of a stereoscopic camera.

A stereoview card of Ford’s Theatre

Third, this photograph is old. When it comes to pictures of Fort Jefferson there are only a few that come from the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. A large percent of the archived image of Fort Jefferson are from the 1930s onward. There are a few that were taken in the late 1890s and early 1900s when the Spanish American War made Fort Jefferson an important and useful fort again. Photography had also advanced quite a bit at that time which made photography easier, cheaper and more popular among amateurs. The presence of Union soldiers behind the Dr. Mudd figure and the good condition of the Fort itself show that this image most certainly could have been taken during Dr. Mudd’s imprisonment.

After going through all of the images in the Dry Tortugas collection that the Open Parks Network has digitized, I discovered that this was not the only image that shares the unique features mentioned above. I found eight other images of scenes around the Fort that are photographs of photographs and similarly appear to be parts of stereoview cards. You can view them here (1), here (2), here (3), here (4), here (5), here (6), here (7) and here (8). All the images show the Fort in the state of construction that it was in during the conspirators’ time there. One of the images is of the memorial for Dr. Joseph Sim Smith, the post doctor who died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1867 that Dr. Mudd took over for.

If this image was taken at the same time as the Dr. Mudd one, which would seem likely, this can help us date that picture to after 1867.

The back notation of 1870 is a discrepancy in all of this. As far as we know, Dr. Mudd never returned to Fort Jefferson after his pardon in 1869 and, even if he did, it would seem extremely unlikely he would return so soon after his release. Some of the images that look similar to the Dr. Mudd one also bear the notation 1870, but others from the same series do not. It is my opinion that those notations of 1870 cannot be taken as accurate. As stated before, the images are clearly pictures of pictures so we do not know what writing, if any, was on the originals. The fact that none of the 9 images in the series have any other notation on the back shows that not a lot of detail was given to recording precise information about what they show and when. Perhaps 1870 was an approximate (or circa) guess by a well-meaning Park Service employee who discovered the image years later.

To me, despite its problems, this photograph checks all the boxes. The original image was taken using period appropriate photography equipment. The condition of the Fort matches the period of time when the Lincoln conspirators were imprisoned there. The Dr. Mudd figure has the same facial hair and body type as the doctor and his clothes closely match an outfit Mudd was known to have had with him on the fort. Lastly, the specific location of this photograph at the fort makes sense for Dr. Mudd. For a large part of his imprisonment at Fort Jefferson, Mudd was housed in the cell right above the Sally Port entrance. The three vertical windows on the second floor of this image are the windows of Dr. Mudd’s cell. So this image captures not only a figure who looks like Dr. Mudd, but the location of his imprisonment, which seems purposefully planned.

The cell that Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen and Edman Spangler shared was located above the sally port entrance to Fort Jefferson and is marked by the three vertical windows.

Still, all of this evidence only proves that it is possible for this image to be of Dr. Mudd. In the end, we must all draw our own conclusions.

Personally, I believe that this is an unpublished and previously unknown image of Lincoln assassination conspirator Dr. Samuel A. Mudd. I’m very excited that digitization has allowed me to find this image and share it with all of you. I hope that it can be used to further our understanding of the life of Dr. Mudd and his time at Fort Jefferson.


EDIT: A couple of comments have been made expressing doubt that the figure is Dr. Mudd due to the fine nature of the subject’s clothing. On the face of it, it is hard to believe that a man who was imprisoned on a isolated island for 3 years and 9 months could look so immaculately dressed. The following is the comment I made in reply to that conclusion which shows why I think it actually makes perfect sense for Dr. Mudd to look so well presented:

“Please thank Rick Smith for his analysis of the clothing. He is a real expert on both civilian and soldier attire so I’m glad to see that this image matches the time period.

It appears that the only reason Rick is suspicious that the image is not Dr. Mudd is due to the cleanliness and fine quality of his outfit. You also seemed surprised by the niceness of his attire. However, we must remember that Dr. Mudd was furnished with clothes by Mrs. Mudd while he was in prison. He used one of his fine suit of clothes when he attempted to make his escape in 1865. Here’s a quote from the report about Mudd’s escape attempt which mentions Dr. Mudd’s clothing:

“Since he has been in confinement here, he has been employed in the Prison Hospital, as Nurse and Acting Steward. When he came here, it was noticed that he immediately adopted the same clothing as worn by other prisoners. Although he had good clothes of his own. On the day he attempted to escape he put on one of the suits he brought with him and in some way got outside the Fort to the Wharf…”

Shortly after his escape attempt, Dr. Mudd wrote home asking his wife to provide him (and his cell mates) with additional clothing. On October 5, 1865, Mudd wrote, “The only article of clothing I need is shirts. The Government furnishes flannel shirts, which I find very pleasant in damp weather, but very disagreeable and warm in dry sunshine. If the friends of Arnold and O’Laughlin should send a box of clothing to them, you may put in a couple of brown linen, or check linen, shirts and a couple pairs cotton drawers. You may not bother yourself to this extent if you anticipate an early release. My clothing is sufficient to come home in.”

At least one shipment of clothes arrived by December as he wrote then to his brother-in-law Jeremiah Dyer that he had received a shipment, “containing a quantity of fine clothes”. A similar letter written to Mrs. Mudd at the time also commented on the clothing shipment stating, “The clothing is finer than I need, besides I am not situated to wear them.

These accounts establish that while Dr. Mudd did possess some fine pieces of clothing while at Fort Jefferson, during his day to day prison life he generally wore the normal garb provided by the government. However, I would imagine that getting your photograph taken would be the one event that would lead you to put on your finest clothing. And, if we speculate that this image might have been taken shortly before Dr. Mudd left Fort Jefferson forever, it would make sense he would change into his finest suit for the journey home.”


EDIT #2: I neglected to mention that this picture of Dr. Mudd wasn’t the only treasure in the Dry Tortugas collection. Also included in the digitized images is this picture of the door to the dungeon that held Dr. Mudd and the other conspirators after Dr. Mudd’s escape attempt. In his later memoirs Samuel Arnold mentioned that the door was headed with the inscription “Whoso entereth here leaveth all hope behind.” From this image of the original door we can see that inscription was a bit more succinct than Arnold recalled but just as foreboding:

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , | 37 Comments

One Million!

On August 13, 2018 at around 10:15 pm, BoothieBarn officially reached over one million views!

I announced similar milestone moments when this blog made it to 10,000 and 100,000 views. I was happy then and I’m ecstatic now that this blog continues to grow at such an amazing pace.

While the vast majority of the visitors to this site come from the United States, this blog has been able to make a splash internationally as well. Here’s a map showing all the places that have visited BoothieBarn.com since its founding in 2012.

Granted, the map isn’t completely filled up. Clearly I have to do more outreach in places like Chad, Greenland, Lesotho, Tajikistan, Svalbard, the Solomon Islands, Djibouti, and others. Still, I’m very pleased this site has found such a global audience especially since it deals with a uniquely American story.

Here are some more numbers to mark this milestone:

453 = total number of posts on this blog (so far)

629 = average words per post in 2012

756 = total number of blog followers

2,354 = age of the blog in days

3,119 = average words per post in 2018

6,072 = highest number of views in a single day. It occurred on April 14, 2015, the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination

15,633 = average views per month in 2017

401,904 = total number of words contained in all the blog posts here on BoothieBarn

I’d just like to thank you, the readers, for all of your support and community over these past six years. I’m especially grateful to those of you who have graciously donated to this site through Patreon. I have been blown away by the level of generosity and am so very appreciative of it. With this level of continued support, I’m hoping to bring even more exciting things to BoothieBarn in the future. With one million views there’s no stopping us.

Thank you all for reading, commenting, and giving to BoothieBarn.

Sincerely,

Dave (and Kate) Taylor

Categories: News | Tags: , , | 13 Comments

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