News

John Wilkes Booth: The Making of an Assassin

On this Saturday, April 23, 2022, I will be giving a speech for the Surratt Society’s Annual Conference. Like last year, the conference will be virtual and done online over Zoom. There is no fee and everyone is invited to watch even if you’re not a member of the Surratt Society (which you really should be if you read my blog). The conference will start at 2:00 pm EDT with a business meeting by the executive board of the Surratt Society. My speech will follow immediately thereafter.

My speech is entitled John Wilkes Booth: The Making of An Assassin. It will cover the early years of Booth’s life, from his birth on the family farm of Tudor Hall until right up to his crime at Ford’s Theatre. We will specifically look at some of the pivotal moments in Booth’s life that impacted his worldview and radicalized him into becoming America’s first presidential assassin. After the speech there will be a question and answer session.

In order to join the virtual conference on April 23rd, you do have to RSVP ahead of time on the Surratt Society’s website. They will then email you the Zoom link so you can tune in. You can register for the event here: https://www.surrattmuseum.org/annual-surratt-society-conference

I hope to see some of you on Saturday!

Dave

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The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (March 7 – March 13)

Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

Continue reading

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The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (January 1 – January 31)

On the first of 2022, I started back up with my daily On This Day (OTD) tweets over on my Twitter account, @LinConspirators. While I know it’s not the same as more regular postings here on the blog of in-depth research, with my busy work, life, and family responsibilities it’s been hard to find time to really research. Hopefully these collective tidbits from the last month will be enough to appease you all.


Taking inspiration from one of my favorite books, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux, I’m documenting a different Lincoln assassination or Booth family event each day on my Twitter account. In addition to my daily #OTD (On This Day) tweets, each Sunday I’ll be posting them here for the past week. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to its individual tweet page on Twitter where you can click to make the images larger and easier to see. Since Twitter limits the number of characters you can type in a tweet, I often include text boxes as pictures to provide more information. I hope you enjoy reading about the different events that happened over the last week.

NOTE: After weeks of creating posts with multiple embedded tweets, this site’s homepage now tends to crash from trying to load all the different posts with all the different tweets at once. So, to help fix this, I’ve made it so that those viewing this post on the main page have to click the “Continue Reading” button below to load the full post with tweets. Even after you open the post in a separate page, it may still take awhile for the tweets to load completely. Using the Chrome browser seems to be the best way to view the tweets, but may still take a second to switch from just text to the whole tweet with pictures.

Continue reading

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A New Chapter

In 2012, I moved from my home state of Illinois (The Land of Lincoln) to Maryland. I had been teaching in Illinois for two years and enjoyed it, but managed to get a job at an elementary school in St. Mary’s County Public Schools in Southern Maryland. The appeal of being able to live in the same area as the history that so fascinates me was almost all the encouragement a 24 year-old Dave needed to move across the country. And I have never once regretted the decision of leaving my family behind to embrace my passion. For the past nine years, I have been able to do so many things and explore the Lincoln assassination story in ways I could never have imagined. I’ve camped out in the woods that John Wilkes Booth passed through during his escape, given tours at the room where the trial of the conspirators happened, been interviewed on live TV and radio talking about the Lincoln assassination story, spent a night at the Booth family home, and, my favorite activity of all, I’ve taken 20 busloads of people down the John Wilkes Booth escape route tour for the Surratt Society. Being in Maryland has helped shape me as a historian and an educator.

With that being said, our priorities in life can change quickly sometimes. At the beginning of 2021, I was a recent divorcee who was asked to be interviewed on Vanished –  a podcast that was investigating the “Booth escaped and got turned into a mummy” conspiracy theory. The cohost assigned to me was Jen Taylor (no relation) and we had a great time essentially shredding the conspiracy theorists’ so-called evidence that a different man was killed in Booth’s place on April 26, 1865. After the podcast wrapped up, Jen and I continued to find excuses to talk to one another. One day, Jen had to take a long drive and decided to call me so that I could keep her company on her trip. We talked on the phone during her entire car ride, and after she got back home, and further into the night. Before long, I heard birds chirping and saw the sun was rising. We had talked for over 9 hours straight! Since then, I’ve talked and videochatted with Jen everyday. When my spring break from school came in March, I cancelled my planned trip to Fort Jefferson, to fly out to Austin, Texas to see her and her two amazing boys in person.

We both quickly realized that we had found our person and that we loved each other. It came fast and without warning but we knew that everything we’d experienced had been designed to lead us to each other. We had both been in bad marriages before and that’s how we knew we had finally found the selfless and committed partners we both deserved. Since March, I’ve flown out to Austin every other weekend. Eventually, Jen was able to make a trip to Maryland to see my neck of the woods. While taking Jen on part of the John Wilkes Booth escape route in May, I proposed to her on the banks of the Potomac at the spot where John Wilkes Booth and David Herold tried to cross.

We are in the midst of planning a wedding for next year in Granbury, Texas – the same town where the John Wilkes Booth imposter, John St. Helen, lived and allegedly confessed his identity to Finis Bates. In essence, Granbury is the birthplace of the “Booth escaped” theory and, if it wasn’t for that town and its notorious inhabitants spinning some yarns, Jen and I would never have met. I used to avoid the Booth escaped theory like the plague because it was so nonsensical, and now it’s a key part of my marriage origin story.

I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I can’t wait to start my life with Jen and her boys. I have a family waiting for me in Texas. Today was my last day at St. Mary’s County Public Schools and in two weeks (on the anniversary of the conspirators’ execution as a matter of fact) I will be leaving Maryland for good. I have truly loved living in such close proximity to the Lincoln assassination sites (and cemeteries) for the past nine years, but what I will miss most of all are the many wonderful friends I’ve made here in Maryland. I will sincerely miss you all, but my future is with my wife and stepsons in Austin.

Now before you worry too much, this does not mean I’m going to stop researching, writing and speaking about the Lincoln assassination. Quite the opposite. In fact, I’m hoping to increase my output here in LincolnConspirators.com once I finish my Master’s degree in American history at the end of the year. I already have ideas for my thesis and am hoping it can turn into either an interesting feature here on the site or maybe, possibly, a book. In addition, Jen and I are planning to make a podcast series focused on the trial of the Lincoln conspirators.

In terms of talks and speeches, I’m planning on coming back to Maryland for the annual Surratt Society Conference, my talks at Tudor Hall, and other special events. My favorite thing in the world is narrating the Surratt Society’s John Wilkes Booth escape route bus tours and you better believe that I will fly back as often as they want me to get my fix. In addition, COVID has introduced us all to the virtual meeting and Civil War Roundtables. I am always available to do online and Zoom lectures to different groups.

In many ways, things will stay the same here on LincolnConspirators.com, I just won’t be living in Maryland anymore when I write about these things. At times I may have to reach out to the locals to go and snap a picture of a grave or something, but when I started this site I was living in Illinois so I know I can still do good research from afar. In the interim between posts, I still highly recommend you follow me on Twitter as I am always tweeting and retweeting Lincoln assassination material over there.

I’d like to thank you all for your continued support as I travel to a new state to start this new chapter in my life with Jen and her boys. You can take the Lincoln assassination researcher out of Southern Maryland, but you can’t take the Southern Maryland out of the Lincoln assassination researcher. To my local friends and students, take care of this state (and its graves) for me. Don’t worry, I won’t be a stranger.

Love,

Dave Taylor

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Upcoming Online Classes on the Lincoln Assassination!

Going through a bit of history withdrawal as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? I know I certainly am. Other than a nice outdoor tour of Dr. Mudd’s cemetery that I ran back in October 2020, I haven’t done any history stuff “in the field” in over a year! With Booth escape route tours, in person conferences, and talks at museums like Tudor Hall and the Mudd House scuttled until larger portions of the population are able to get their vaccinations, we must continue to rely on technology in order to come together to talk history. That’s why I’m excited to highlight two different online classes that are coming up that anyone can take part in virtually.


The Lincoln Assassination: Southern Maryland and the Plots Against Abraham Lincoln by Bob Bowser for the College of Southern Maryland

The first class is coming up next week and is being run through the College of Southern Maryland, a local community college in the region. The name of the class is The Lincoln Assassination: Southern Maryland and the Plots Against Abraham Lincoln. It is being taught by a good friend of mine and a very knowledgeable historian, Bob Bowser. A fellow teacher, Bob earns his living teaching AP history classes to high school students in Charles County, Maryland. In addition, Bob is the President of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Society. The Mudd House museum has made tremendous growth over the last few years as a result of the passionate work being done by Bob and the rest of the board. Bob has a true passion for the Lincoln assassination story and I’ve always leapt at the chance to take his walking tours of the Mudd house property and listen to his special talks. I know that Bob will do a phenomenal job presenting the story of Southern Maryland in the plot against Abraham Lincoln.

Bob Bowser conducting a walking tour of the Mudd House property in 2019.

Bob’s class takes place over the course of three days. The first one is on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 from 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm EDT. The second session is Thursday, April 7, 2021 from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm EDT. The final class will take place on Saturday, April 10 from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm EDT. All of the classes take place online over Zoom. All you need to participate is a computer that is compatible with Zoom to see Bob’s presentations and take part in his discussions. I find Zoom very easy to use and when you sign up for the class you will receive instructions on the few things you need to do to get your computer ready. Many of us have already been using Zoom for work and other things during this pandemic so there is practically no set up at all.

In order to sign up for Bob’s The Lincoln Assassination: Southern Maryland and the Plots Against Abraham Lincoln class please visit the Personal Enrichment portion of the College of Southern Maryland’s website and select the History and Current Events category. From here you select the Lincoln Assassination course, add it to your cart, and then complete the registration process. The cost of the class (which goes to CSM for providing it) is $65.

At the time of this posting there are only 9 spots left for Bob’s class. So, if you are interested in joining it, I would recommend reserving your spot soon. If you do, I will be one of your classmates as I’m pretty sure I was the first person to stake a claim when Bob told me about it! I’m very excited to see what Bob is going to put together and know that it will be fascinating.

Dave Taylor and Bob Bowser with some very “on brand” face masks.


With the world starting to open up again and more people choosing to take advantage of in-person Road Scholar programs, the following online program has been cancelled.

The Life and Legacy of Abraham Lincoln by Dr. Samuel Wheeler for Road Scholar

In addition to Bob’s class next week, I also wanted to advertise a class that I will be helping with that will be coming up this summer. This class is called The Life and Legacy of Abraham Lincoln and is a five day course organized by the Road Scholar organization.

The class is being taught by Dr. Samuel Wheeler, a noted Lincoln expert and the former State Historian of Illinois and Director of Research and Collections at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The five day course offers virtual field trips to many sites associated with the life of Abraham Lincoln with Dr. Wheeler as your guide. For each “field trip”, Dr. Wheeler has recruited a different Lincoln scholar to join the class and share their knowledge about the 16th President. Among the expert guests that Dr. Wheeler has scheduled for this class are:

Dr. Catherine Clinton

Dr. Matthew Pinsker

Harold Holzer

and me!

While I definitely out of my league amongst these titans of Lincoln studies, I am honored that Dr. Wheeler thought of me to present the story of Lincoln’s assassination to his students. I first met Dr. Wheeler in 2016 when I presented at the ALPLM about John Wilkes Booth and he has been very supportive of my work ever since. The Road Scholar class is scheduled to run June 21 – 25, 2021 and each day begins at 11:00 am EDT. It is completely virtual and a detailed itinerary for each day can be found HERE.

The cost for this Road Scholar class is $499, which, admittedly, is pretty pricey. I know not everyone will be able to swing that and I wouldn’t want you to sign up for it only to listen to me blabber on. That being said, for you big Lincoln buffs, I know you will love this class and find it worthwhile to learn from and ask questions of Lincoln luminaries like Dr. Wheeler, Dr. Clinton, Harold Holzer, and Dr. Pinsker. I’m also hopeful I can make my day on the assassination an interesting and entertaining one. If you’re looking for something educational to do with your latest round of stimulus money or your tax return why not consider spending a week with Dr. Wheeler learning about Lincoln from the comfort of your own home?


I hope to see some of you during one of these two classes. As an educator I always stress to my students the importance of being a lifelong learner. We each have expertise and knowledge to share with others. As Chaucer wrote “And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.” I look forward to learning with and teaching some of you in the months to come.

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Vanished: John Wilkes Booth

Last year I was contacted by a couple of podcasters named Jen Taylor and Chris Williamson who asked me if I would like to appear on their show, Vanished. The podcast originated as a deep dive into the mystery behind Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in 1937 and the many different theories about what happened to her and Fred Noonan. The entire season on Earhart was widely praised and the pair were specifically complemented on their unique format. Not only do Jen and Chris present the evidence on the different theories proposed by their guests, but they then take it to court, with each host advocating for a specific side. Jen is an actual defense attorney and this allows the pair to put these theories to the test and try them in a court of their own making. While looking for different cases to pursue for their second season, Chris stumbled across the John Wilkes Booth escape theory which posits that another man was killed at the Garrett farm on April 26, 1865. The pair then went about looking for guests who would like to talk in favor of and against this theory in order to put it to the test.

At first, I was reluctant to agree to be on a podcast about the “Booth” mummy. Those of you who keep up with the different TV documentaries that have aired in recent years about the Lincoln assassination know that the escape theory has been played to death. Practically every show covers this topic, with many being based solely around it. As a person who studies this history, this is very frustrating for me because pretty much all of those TV shows portray the escape theory as credible when all the evidence I know says the complete opposite.

I mean…seriously…don’t get me started

Despite my hesitation to take part in this podcast however, in the end I found myself swayed by the format Jen and Chris use. Unlike a 45 minute docudrama on the “History” channel, Jen and Chris really wanted to get into the nitty gritty and explore the reliability of the evidence. I found this very refreshing and really the best way to present a theory such as this one. So, I signed on to discuss the true history (as close as we can ascertain it) with Jen, the talented lawyer, on my side.

I have to say that I had so much fun being on Vanished. I recorded multiple hours with Jen as we first explored the story of Booth’s escape and death and then addressed the problems with the escape theorists’ evidence. Vanished is a long form podcast and several of the Booth episodes are multiple hours long. I would definitely encourage you to start at the beginning and hear the evidence from all of the guests, but I also understand that it is a time commitment, especially if you are new to podcasts. However, if you are interested and willing to sit through at least one 4-hour episode (and remember you can absolutely start and stop it to digest it in parts), I wanted to really highlight the “trial episode” of the series which just dropped. In it you will hear Chris interview Nate Orlowek, who has been championing the Finis Bates / John St. Helen / David E. George theory for almost 50 years. Then you will hear Jen cross examine Nate and his evidence. Then I make my second appearance on the show where I discuss the problems with the escape theorists’ evidence. This episode also includes an interview with Mark Zaid, the attorney who represented Nate Orlowek during the Booth exhumation hearing that occurred in the 1990s. It’s a jam packed episode and includes both Chris and Jen’s closing arguments. In my mind, if you can only listen to one episode, this is the one to tune in for:

Click this image to listen to Vanished: John Wilkes Booth episode 4 “Trial by Jury”

That being said, the prior episodes are also very good with one of them featuring my original appearance where I discuss the escape of Booth and his death at the Garrett farm. Kate Clifford Larson, author of The Assassin’s Accomplice is featured on another of the episodes and, in my opinion, really steals the show with her knowledge on Mary Surratt. I really recommend you give the whole series a listen. I think, taken together, it really demonstrates the different ways people think about and conduct historical research. Even when I listened to the folks I vehemently disagreed with, it helped me understand why they believe what they believe.

If you like this series of Vanished, definitely check out the other cases they have done and subscribe so you can follow along with the next one. They are planning episodes in the near future on hijacker D. B. Cooper and dreaded pirate Henry Every. You can access the show online or through any normal podcast provider like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, etc.

Also if you want to hear more from Jen doing her defense attorney thing, I highly recommend her standalone podcast, In Defense of Liberty. Jen takes historic court cases and explains how they contributed to criminal law in America. She is really good at taking complex legal ideas and presenting them to everyday folks in a compelling way. I’ve learned a lot from Jen through our discussions and have been fascinated by each episode of In Defense of Liberty I have listened to. Definitely give her a follow.

I’d like to thank Jen and Chris for having me on their show. While I’ve done other podcasts before, I really appreciated how deep they were willing to go in this case. It really wasn’t something I’d ever seen done before.

So, now it’s your turn to go tune in and listen to the evidence being presented. Did John Wilkes Booth really escape justice in 1865 and live out his life in Texas and Oklahoma before ending it all and being turned into a mummy? What is the evidence that the escape theorists have for their beliefs? And how do people like myself evaluate and assess what they bring to the table? Check out Vanished it get the fullest accounting that has ever been told about one of the strangest tales in the Lincoln assassination story.

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The Assassin’s Doctor is Free Today!

I am a big fan of the work of author Robert Summers. Bob is a great-grandchild of Dr. Samuel Mudd and has done an extraordinary amount of research on his ancestor. He takes an honest approach relating Dr. Mudd’s connections to John Wilkes Booth’s plot to kidnap Lincoln and his subsequent assistance to the assassin on the run. Bob has released several books on specific aspects of Dr. Mudd’s life, but his magnum opus is his book, The Assassin’s Doctor: The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd. The book is not only a biography of Dr. Mudd, but also a valuable collection of primary sources about Dr. Mudd. I have a paperback copy of The Assassin’s Doctor and it weighs in at over 700 pages! It’s a priceless part of my library and I am constantly referring to it when I research and write about Dr. Mudd.

While I, of course, encourage you all to purchase Bob Summers’ wonderful physical book, for today only (12/5) you can get the ebook version of this book for FREE! Amazon is selling its Kindle ebook version of The Assassin’s Doctor for a whopping $0. It’s the same content of Bob’s 700+ page book, sent directly to your phone, tablet, or computer…for free! Please take advantage of this amazing offer by clicking here or on the picture below.

Even if you don’t have an Amazon Kindle (I don’t), you can still get this book. All you will have to do is install the free Kindle app on your smartphone or tablet. After that you can download the free ebook version of The Assassin’s Doctor from Amazon and read it right in the app. The ebook version has the added benefit of being completely searchable. It’s better than a traditional index!

As stated, this deal is only good for today, Saturday, December 5, 2020. If you are reading this after 12/5, I encourage you to still pick up Robert Summers book. It’s a great resource and worth far more than the regular list price.

Happy reading!

Dave

Categories: History, News | Tags: | 10 Comments

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

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