Posts Tagged With: Bates

The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (October 18 – October 24)

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 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, 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.


Dave Taylor

Categories: News | Tags: , , , | 67 Comments

John Wilkes Booth’s “Mysterious Beauty”

“Some Photographs of Females”

After John Wilkes Booth was shot and pulled from the Garretts’ burning tobacco barn, his body was subjected to a search. While the assassin of President Lincoln lay paralyzed and dying on the front porch of the Garrett farmhouse, the detectives rifled through his pockets, removing pieces of evidence. The items the detectives discovered worked to confirm his identity (which was never really in question), and give them the evidence they needed to prove back in Washington that Booth had, indeed, been taken. With reward money on their minds, such proof was of the utmost importance. Detective Everton Conger was so anxious to spread the news that Booth had been captured that he departed with some of Booth’s possessions before Booth had even died. One of the objects Conger brought back to Washington with him was Booth’s diary which contained the photographs of five ladies.

Historians Richard Sloan and Art Loux view the five photographs found on John Wilkes Booth's body when he was killed. The man in the middle is former Ford's Theatre curator Michael Harmon.

Historians Richard Sloan and Art Loux view the five photographs found on John Wilkes Booth’s body when he was killed. The man in the middle is former Ford’s Theatre curator Michael Harmon.

These images, like the diary itself, were turned over to the War Department where they languished for quite some time. Booth’s collection of ladies were deemed unimportant to the official investigation and were not used at the trial of the conspirators or at the 1867 trial of John Surratt. They eventually were boxed up along with some other evidence used at the trial and Booth’s other possessions. They were stored with the War Department files in the Judge Advocate General’s Office.

It was quite some time before the existence of these photographs became known to the general public. When the text of John Wilkes Booth’s diary was published for the first time in 1867, the affidavit attached to it from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton stated that only the quoted entries and “some photographs of females” comprised the contents of the diary. There appears to have been no follow up or inquiry about who these females were or why Booth had their photographs in his diary. It wasn’t until several years later, when the occasional newspaper reporter convinced the Judge Advocate General’s Office to let them take a peak at the relics of the assassination, that any discussion of the photographs began.

An inquisitive reporter with the Cleveland Herald visited the relics in the JAG office in 1884. Entranced with the more vivid relics such as Booth’s derringer and pieces of Lincoln’s skull, the reporter only made a passing mention of the ladies in Booth’s diary. He stated, “among the articles found in the ‘pocket’ of the book are five photographs of young women, presumably actresses.” It appears that the identities of the ladies in Booth’s pocket had not been researched much prior to this, seeing as this reporter was given no information about who they were.

Visitors to see the relics were relatively scarce and those who were able to view the artifacts could only do so with advance permission from either the Secretary of War or Judge Advocate General. The artifacts were viewed by “about three or four people a year,” considerably slowing down the process of identifying the ladies. It was essentially left to the few clerks who acted as custodians over the relics to attempt to identify them, which they did with varying degrees of success.

Effie Germon and Lucy Hale

It appears that the identity of two of the ladies contained in Booth’s diary were identified a bit earlier than the rest. A reporter who was given access to view the relics in 1891 was correctly told that two of the images in the set were of actress Effie Germon and of “a daughter of one distinguished Senator from a New England state.”

On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, Effie Germon was performing the lead of Aladdin at Grover’s Theatre in D.C. In the audience was young Tad Lincoln, who heard the news of his father’s assassination when the play at Grover’s was halted to announce the tragedy. The 1891 reporter was kind in describing the image Booth possessed of this easily recognizable star of the stage, “Miss Effie Germon, once leading lady at Wallack’s, is one. It is a fair young face, strikingly beautiful.” However the reporter is not so kind when he relates Ms. Germon’s current state, “Miss Germon, if living, is now an old woman, and they say she is fat.”

Lucy Hale was the daughter of U.S. Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire. She was also John Wilkes Booth’s secret fiancée. The main evidence for believing that Booth and Lucy were actually in love is not only the collections of the Booth family who supported the idea of an engagement but also from Booth’s own words. Some of Booth’s final thoughts were of Lucy and this is demonstrated in his diary.

It is largely forgotten or ignored that the very first words written in Booth’s diary are “Ti Amo.” “Ti Amo” is Italian but seems to be an understandable misspelling of the Spanish “Te Amo.” Regardless, both translate into English as “I love you”. This announcement of love, coded a bit, seems out of place in Booth’s diary. Before starting his manifesto about why he shot the President, John Wilkes Booth was compelled to write a brief note of love to someone. It seems likely that this message was meant for Lucy Hale.

Ti Amo

Prior to the assassination, Lucy’s father, Senator Hale, had been appointed as a minister to Spain.  All of the Hales were in earnest to learn some Spanish before heading abroad with their father. Lucy vowed to John Wilkes that she would return in a year, with or without her father’s permission, in order to marry him. Lucy lived in the same Washington hotel as Booth, and he would have almost assuredly witnessed his fiancée practicing Spanish.

It may be a romantic idea, but it’s possible that the Ti Amo in Booth’s diary was his final message to the woman he loved. It was a message Lucy would know was meant for her and for no one else. It was a way for him to announce his love for her, for the last time, without endangering her further.

What would have become of Booth and Lucy’s relationship had he not assassinated the President is unknown. Perhaps it was always doomed to fail due to Booth’s womanizing as evidenced by his diary’s collection of other beautiful women. Still, the presence of Lucy’s image and the coded “I love you” message in Booth’s diary could easily demonstrate that, in his final days on the run, John Wilkes Booth thought of, and loved, Lucy.

Mistakes and Misidentifications

Though it was correctly concluded that Effie Germon and Lucy Hale were among those represented in Booth’s photographs, this did not mean that they were always identified correctly. In 1891, a reporter was shown the relics by a clerk of the Judge Advocate General’s office named Mr. Saxton. You can read the reporter’s article about the visit by clicking this line. Unfortunately, Mr. Saxton appears to have been all mixed up when it came to which image was of which woman.  In addition, he provided incorrect identifications for the rest of the images and only seemed to show the reporter four out of the five images.

Mr. Saxton’s mistakes and misidentifications, which demonstrate the JAG office’s lingering uncertainty about who these women were, are as follows:

Actress Alice Grey was mistaken for fellow actress Effie Germon:

Lucy Hale was misidentified as a singer named Caroline Richings:

Actress Helen Western was mistaken for actress Olive Logan by the reporter before Mr. Saxton misidentified her as Lucy Hale:

And actress Effie Germon was mistaken for another actress named Rose Eytinge:

While we may laugh today about the numerous mistakes in Mr. Saxton’s 1891 identifications, it does demonstrate that there was somewhat of an attempt by someone in the JAG office to learn the identities of these women. This leads us to the last image in the set photographs and the case of John Wilkes Booth’s “Mysterious Beauty”.

“The Mysterious Beauty”

Fannie Brown CDV

We know that, eventually, the first four vignetted photographs were correctly identified as Alice Grey, Effie Germon, Helen Western and Lucy Hale. It is likely that the clerks of the JAG office consulted a few more visitors who possessed far better knowledge about the theatrical leading ladies of the 1860’s and that they helped fix the mistakes. However, even after four out of the five women were identified, the identity of the woman in the last image was still uncertain. This woman, her image different from the rest in that it showed her full body rather than just a vignette of her face, was still unknown. A more active search was undertaken to learn who she was.

As has been demonstrated by other images of artifacts in possession of the Judge Advocate General’s office (this one for example), the items relating to Lincoln’s assassination were not always treated with the same degree of preservation or care as they receive today. Some of the smaller pieces found on Booth’s body mysteriously disappeared over the years, such as a small horseshoe charm, a diamond stick pin, and a Catholic medallion. In addition to these losses, the clerks at the JAG office even burned some of the clothing collected as evidence when moths began to eat away at it. Modern museum curators would cringe at the way in which these artifacts were locked up in a box with no thought of temperature or humidity.

It is therefore unsurprising that the images of Booth’s ladies would also be subjected to neglect or ignorant mistreatment. Such was the case when one of the custodians of the artifacts decided he really wanted to know the identity of the woman in the standing photo. Until she was recognized, some unnamed clerk nicknamed her “The Mysterious Beauty” and went so far as to write that moniker on the bottom of the original image itself.

The Mysterious Beauty Cabinet card

One must remember that the entire collection of assassination related artifacts stored by the Judge Advocate General’s office was still considered to be official evidence and property of the U.S. government. In the years after the assassination, several organizations had tried, and failed, to gain ownership of the artifacts. There were even efforts by various Judge Advocate Generals to rid themselves of the pesky items that garnered such macabre interest. The items were almost transferred to the Smithsonian before the Judge Advocate General’s office declared that even if they were transferred to the Smithsonian, the government would still own them and the Smithsonian essentially couldn’t do anything with them other than store them. After that, the Smithsonian was no longer interested.

With this in mind, it is amazing to picture a clerk of the Judge Advocate General’s office causally taking this CDV, a piece of government owned evidence that even the Smithsonian couldn’t be trusted with, out of the JAG office and into the Washington streets. The clerk walked to the nearby photography studio of J.J. Faber and had the photographer duplicate the image with “The Mysterious Beauty” inscription onto larger format images known as cabinet cards. A photocopy of one of the cabinet cards is pictured above. How many copies were made of this image is unknown, but it is likely that the unnamed clerk made enough copies to pass around. The original, defaced, image was subsequently returned to its governmental prison.

How long it took to correctly identify this beauty after her image was duplicated and passed around, or who eventually made the correct identification, is not known, but eventually the unnamed clerk’s effort paid off. On the back of the photocopied cabinet card pictured above (which was sent to author Francis Wilson in the 1910’s – 1920’s as he was working on his book about John Wilkes Booth), the following statement was recorded:

“The original of this picture was found, after his death, in the diary of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln. It was not known for a long time who the subject of the picture was and the custodian of the ‘Booth diary’ and other articles connected with the great tragedy, stored in the archives of the War Department, had some copies made of it for the purpose of identification. It was finally recognized as being the picture of Fanny Brow, an actress who died many years ago. Since that time the words “The Mysterious Beauty” have been effaced from the original in the War Department.

War Department
Office of the Judge Advocate General

John P. Simonton

Indeed, this final image was determined to be that of actress Fanny Brown.

Revealed at last, John Wilkes Booth's "Mysterious Beauty" was Fanny Brown.

Revealed at last, John Wilkes Booth’s “Mysterious Beauty” was Fanny Brown.

Fanny Brown had known John Wilkes Booth since at least 1863 when they performed together throughout cities in New England. Gossip of the day even hinted at a romantic relationship between the pair, which would not be surprising given Booth’s established success in wooing women:

JWB and Fanny Brown Gossip

As clerk John Simonton* states, after Fanny Brown’s identity was established, the words “The Mysterious Beauty” were erased from the original image. However, as any museum curator will tell you, alterations to an artifact can never truly be erased. A close inspection of the bottom of Fanny Brown’s CDV shows the faint outline of the words that were once carelessly scribbled onto her gift to John Wilkes Booth:


A Fitting Repose

Eventually Alice Grey, Effie Germon, Helen Western, Lucy Hale, and Fanny Brown escaped their prison in the Judge Advocate General’s office. On February 5, 1940, the artifact evidence held by the JAG was officially transferred to the Lincoln Museum, also known as Ford’s Theatre. In the years since then, the ladies have spent some on display but still spent more time in a couple of National Park Service storage facilities. Today, however, all five of these beauties are on display in the assassination section of the Ford’s Theatre Museum.

Booth's Ladies

After so many years of being confined to a box, ignored, misidentified, and forgotten, it’s great to see these ladies on display so prominently at Ford’s Theatre. Their innocent beauty is a much needed contrast to the dark tools of the assassination that surround them. These images of Lucy Hale, Alice Grey, Effie Germon, Fanny Brown, and Helen Western perfectly represent the beautiful life that John Wilkes Booth mysteriously threw away when he committed his violent act of hate on April 14, 1865.

Denver Rocky Mountain News, January 13, 1884 (republishes the article from the Cleveland Herald)
“Relics of a Tragedy”, The World, April, 26, 1891
The Richard and Kellie Gutman Collection
The Art Loux Archive
Ford’s Theatre Museum
Library of Congress
New York Public Library

*John Paul Simonton, the clerk who wrote the note on the back of the cabinet card explaining the story of “The Mysterious Beauty” is occasionally referenced by those who believe John Wilkes Booth was not killed on April 26, 1865. Simonton worked as a law clerk in the JAG office from 1877 – 1920. After his retirement, he wrote an affidavit in 1925 stating, in part, “I studied the evidence in this case and examined all the exhibits as an expert and found no definite proof that John Wilkes Booth was ever captured. The fact that John Wilkes Booth was captured could not be established before any court in the United States on the evidence submitted at the time of the trial and now on file at the War Department.” Conspiracy theorists use this as “proof” that Booth escaped. Interestingly, they largely ignore an 1898 letter from Simonton to Finis Bates (of the Booth mummy story) in which Simonton stated, “While I have not what may be styled direct or positive evidence that the man killed was Booth, I have such circumstantial evidence as would seem to prove the fact beyond doubt.” In addition, Simonton clearly states on the back of this cabinet card that “this picture was found, after his death, in the diary of John Wilkes Booth,” solidifying that it was his firm opinion that it was John Wilkes Booth who was killed. When it comes to his 1925 statement, Simonton is very clearly pointing out the fact of Booth’s death was not definitely proven at the trial of the conspirators and in this he would be correct. The object of the trial of the conspirators was not to conclusively prove that Booth was dead, it was was to try the conspirators for their involvement in Lincoln’s death. The files and evidence of the conspiracy trial do not definitely or directly prove Booth’s death as this was not the objective of the trial. However, evidence from sources outside the conspiracy trial (i.e. autopsy reports, the numerous identification of Booth’s body by his friends and family, official statements from David Herold, the Garrett family, the troopers that captured him, etc.) along with the circumstantial evidence presented at the conspiracy trial (i.e. Booth’s possessions taken from him after he was shot) do conclusively prove that Booth was killed.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Enid News

There have been a few articles and opinion pieces published of late by the Enid, Oklahoma newspaper, Enid News & Eagle dealing with the subject of David E. George and the “Booth” mummy.  The initial article was entitled, “A deathbed claim” and was published on January 12.  It came on the anniversary of David E. George’s suicide by poison and did a good job of relating the tale.

David George's Grand Avenue Hotel Room

The hotel room in which David E. George committed suicide. Now part of the Garfield Furniture store.
Enid News & Eagle

In the end, the article relates escape theorist Nate Orlowek’s failed attempt to exhume John Wilkes Booth’s body from Green Mount Cemetery in the 1990’s to perform a DNA test, and his current quest to desecrate the grave of Edwin Booth to do the same.  While I do enjoy the Booth mummy story and find the mummy itself to be interesting, it is nothing more than an oddity.  It is on the same level as the Trigger Finger I posted about before, only the mummy has a much better back story.

I was very surprised by one quote from the article:

One of the most compelling facts, Orlowek said, is that George, as St. Helen, related to Bates details of a botched plan to kidnap Lincoln that would have been known by Booth, but which weren’t released from government records until 1935, after Bates’ death.

The kidnapping plot was far from a secret from the general public until 1935.  At the trial of the conspirators in 1865, the kidnapping plot was discussed in testimony relating to Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen in particular.  Anyone who read the daily newspaper accounts of the trial would have known about the “botched plan”.  Many books, penny dreadfuls, and newspapers of the time featured accounts of the conspirators’ attempt to abduct Lincoln and take him South.  To say that no one knew about it until 1935 is just untrue.

What’s more interesting to me is the fact that whenever articles like these come up, they never mention a big part of Bates’ book: that Andrew Johnson was behind the assassination plot.  John St. Helen told Bates that it was Johnson’s idea and command for Booth to kill Lincoln.  Escape theorists always seem to shy away from this point when discussing “Booth’s” escape and suicide.  Is it because they realize that, while the average person might entertain the idea the Booth could have escaped, they would never believe it if they knew the details of this purported theory?  It’s easier to find followers to a theory when its absurdity doesn’t seem to harm anyone.  To believe that Booth escaped based on Bates’ book is to also believe that Andrew Johnson was behind Lincoln’s death.  You cannot support the one without supporting the other.

Anyway, the initial article was followed up by a few opinion letters sent to the Enid News.  The first was a letter from a woman recounting her grandfather’s time in Enid when David E. George died.  The next one was an opinion piece, seemingly from the newspaper itself, supporting the idea of exhuming Edwin to test his DNA. The most recent one, is the first to denounce Bates’ book and the idea that Booth escaped his death at Garrett’s farm.  Here’s a funny excerpt from that one:

This entire mirage is based on a book written by Finis Bates. I have repeatedly proclaimed it is one of the worst pieces of literary rambling I have ever read. It provides no research and no documentation whatsoever. The main source of this meaningless book is the so-called words of a guy allegedly named John St. Helen. According to Bates, this exchange of information took place while he and St. Helen were sitting on a pile of rocks down in Texas.

I taught the Lincoln assassination for years, and I find that no honorable historian has recognized David George as John Wilkes Booth. According to Sunday’s article, Nate Orlowek said he is 85 percent sure the man shot in the Garrett Farm barn was not John Wilkes Booth. Wow! I am 100 percent certain that John Wilkes Booth died on the front porch of the Garrett Farm. I see no reason to glorify this wayward coward. Frankly, sports fans, it just ain’t so.

For those of you interesting in learning more about the facts and stories surrounding the John St. Helen/David E. George story, the absolutely best resource is the compendium of articles published by the Surratt Society entitled, The Body in the Barn: The Controversy Over the Death of John Wilkes Booth.

Body in the Barn

This publication contains articles by escape theorists and assassination researchers debating the death of John Wilkes Booth.  It is available for purchase from the Surratt House Museum Giftshop for $10.  To order a copy, call (301) 868-1121 or complete a mail order and send in a check.

In conclusion, the story of David E. George’s death in Enid, OK is an interesting, but fringe, aspect to the assassination story.  It will undoubtedly continue to be brought up and discussed, especially in the environs of Enid.  On its face it is an entertaining and harmless enough theory.  However, when it is used as a catalyst to desecrate the grave of Edwin Booth – a man whose whole life was marred by the actions of his misguided brother – or damage one of the few relics that remain above ground of the assassin, it is a very dangerous thing.

Orlowek states that, “No historian should fear the truth.” I wholeheartedly agree.  Historical truths are constantly being examined and re-evaluated.  Booth’s death at Garrett’s farm has been studied for almost 150 years by amatuer and experts alike.  While minor aspects may be up for debate and interpretation, the facts have been validated countless times.  John Wilkes Booth died on April 26, 1865 on the Garrett farm in Caroline County, VA.

“Body of Wilkes Booth Revival of Report that Assassin Effected Escape Desire For Investigation Transfer of Remains to the Family of Deceased Star Reporter Was Present Identification Was Complete – Opening of the Ordnance Chest That Contained the Corpse

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, January 5, 1907 [pt. 3, p. 1]

Since the assassination of President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater the night of April 14, 1865, there have been questions raised as to the identity of the assassin and of the body which, after interment for four years in the grounds of the Washington arsenal, in 1869 found a permanent resting place with his kindred in Greenmount cemetery Baltimore. And now, after nearly forty years, the story that Booth in some manner made his escape and under another name lived for many years is again revived. This time it appears in the form of a letter to Speaker Cannon asking a congressional investigation of the subject to determine whether the body of John D. Heley, who committed suicide at Enid, Okla., in 1903 is not the body of the assassin. The suggestion is made that if such is the case the body be placed on exhibition in a museum as an object lesson.

That this story has perhaps, no other foundation than that the party in question may have borne a striking resemblance to Booth and had woven an air of mystery around him by his reticence as to his antecedents is evident. From time to time such stories have been put forth, one from South America, another from Texas and still another from Georgia. Were they true, Booth resided in several far distant localities at the same time. It is said that in the Georgia case the people who associated with the party suspected as the assassin were so well satisfied that he (a school master) was the real Booth that to this day they repeat the assertion.

That Booth escaped from the theater after firing the shot and rode across the Navy Yard bridge, through Prince George and into Charles county, MD and later crossed the Potomac; that he was pursued and wounded during this attempt to capture him near Bowling Green, Va., are facts which cannot be controverted.

Identity of Assassin Mr. Lincoln was removed from the box in the theater a very short time after the shot had been fired to the Petersen house opposite, then 516 10th street, now known as the Lincoln Memorial Museum – and died there at an early hour in the morning, which fact was announced by the tolling of bells. The fact as to who the assassin was and the manner of his escape from the building and mounting a horse held waiting for him in the alley was soon learned and pursuit was given. It must be confessed that had it not been for the lack of horses by our police force until early in the morning his capture might have been effected within a few hours. Police headquarters was then in the square south of the theater and in less than an hour Maj. Richards and his men had secured information as to the direction taken by Booth. A request was made of the government for horses, but, as stated, several hours elapsed before they were furnished and other parties had obtained a start. That every exertion to capture the parties and hold them secure for trial was apparent in the movements and orders of the government officials and that prompt measures were taken for the confinement of such is seen in the order which reached Commodore Montgomery at the navy yard by 10 o’clock:
“If the authorities arrest the murderer of the President take him to the navy yard and place him on a monitor.”

The ironclads were the Montauk and the Saugus, then lying in the stream on which some of the workmen were employed, and they from April 18 to the 29th were used as prison ships.

Escaped Into Virginia It having been ascertained that Booth escaped into Virginia, Lieut. Col. Conger, with some of Baker’s force and a detachment of the 16th U. S. Cavalry, under the command of Lieut. E. P. Doherty, went in pursuit. He was tracked to Garrett’s farm near Port Royal, beyond the Rappahannock river. He then took refuge in a barn which was fired, and of the soldiers, Boston Corbett, taking aim at Booth, the ball pierced the latter’s neck. The party, with Booth in a wagon, started at once for Acquia creek to board a boat. Before reaching that point Booth died. Corbett’s shot passed through the spinal cord in his neck and the lower part of his body was paralyzed, but in the few hours he lived after receiving the wound he appeared conscious at times and was heard to say as he gazed on his hands – “Useless, useless.”

There were two or three others brought along by the party, and, with the body of Booth, came on the steamer from Acquia creek. It was shortly before 2 o’clock on the morning of April 27 that the members reached the navy yard, and the members of the party were transferred to the monitors. The prisoners were placed in confinement on a monitor and in the yard, and the body of Booth, wrapped in an army blanket, was placed on the Saugus.

That the news of the arrival of the body caused excitement is evident, and in the yard it was difficult for the many workmen to perform their tasks, and there were hundreds who endeavored from the wharf to secure a look at the body, while every one believed to possess information was held up.

Commodore Montgomery gave orders for the making of a box for the remains, and when it became known that such was the case there were men who expressed a wish to drive a nail in it.

Communication with the monitors was restricted to those bearing a pass signed by both Secretaries Stanton and Welles. Lieut Frank Munroe, with a guard of marines enforced the orders.

Surgeons Examine Body While Booth’s body reposed on the monitor men of Baker’s force, as well as cavalry, were about, and there were a few visitors. A girl who had known Booth well was taken aboard by one of Baker’s men, and on identifying him attempted to cut a lock of his hair, but was prevented. During the day Surg. Gen. Barnes, with one or two assistants, and Dr. J. F. May went aboard the monitor. The latter, having removed from the back of Booth’s neck during life a tumor, identified the body from the cut, as well as from his general knowledge. In the afternoon Gen. Barnes and others were seen around the body, and it was afterward learned that from the neck was taken a section or two of the vertebras with some of the spinal cord. This showed the course of Boston Corbett’s bullet, by which death was caused, and these now are among the anatomical specimens at the Army Medical Museum.

The government being satisfied with the identification of the body, its disposition claimed attention. It was left sewed up in the army blanket on the bench, and as Gen. Barnes and party departed some mysterious movements were observed. A report was prevalent in the yard and elsewhere that a vessel of war and the U. S. S. Wachusetts, then lying in the river, would take the body to sea and consign it to oblivion. There is no doubt that the story emanated from Gen. L. C. Baker’s force, as in his published history of his life such a disposition of the corpse is related and pictured. And although there were some movements calculated to bear out the story, The Star announced within a few days that the body had been buried at the arsenal.

It was about 2:30 o’clock when one of the small steamers of the quartermaster’s department moved up the Eastern branch and made fast to one of the monitors. Then a boat was rowed out from the yard and about the monitors and finally to the steamer. From the shore spectators were straining their eyes to decipher what was going on, and soon saw what had the appearance of a body carried to the steamer, and a few minutes later a similar looking object followed. The steamer immediately cast off and soon rounded Glesboro Point and steamed southward.

Proceeded to Arsenal The small boat in which were a naval officer, four sailors and two of Baker’s men pulled away about the same time and in anything but a direct course reached the arsenal front. There the party was landed on a wharf and a sentry was stationed to prevent intrusion. Some of Baker’s men and a War Department official were in consultation with Maj. J. G. Benton, the commandant, during the afternoon, some of the former remaining till after nightfall.

The old penitentiary building extending across 4½ street was then used by the ordnance department and it was determined that a grave be dug in one of the cells for the reception of the body. Two stalwart laborers with pick and shovel made the attempt, but in an hour or two reported the difficulty of the work and a new site was selected. It was in the old store room of the building, which, being paved only with brick, facilitated the digging of a grave. After nightfall the body was removed from the wharf, after being placed in an ordnance or musket box or case, and carried into the penitentiary inclosure to the place prepared and buried without ceremony. There were present a representative of the War Department, who took the key of the room when the door had been closed; Col. Benton, the commandant, some of Baker’s men and three or four of the arsenal workmen.

When in 1867 the central portion of the penitentiary was about to be razed the remains were exhumed and placed in the north end of No. 1 storehouse of the arsenal.

In February, 1869, as the administration of President Johnson was drawing to a close, Edwin Booth secured from him an order for the body that it might be interred in the family lot at Greenmount cemetery, Baltimore. That day a Star reporter was approached by Mr. R. F. Harvey of Harvey and Marr, undertakers, who remarked:
“Don’t ask any questions, but be at our place at 6 o’clock this evening, as one of my assistants, and you will get a good item.”

Promised to Be There “I’ll be there,” was the response, and as the hour struck the reporter passed through the office to the workroom on the alley and there joined the workmen.

Mr. W. R. Speare, then a boy, had just entered the service of the firm to learn the business. An hour or so before Mr. Edwin Booth and Mr. J. H. Weaver, a Baltimore undertaker, were there consulting with Mr. Harvey, and the latter told Mr. Speare to go to the avenue and hire a furniture wagon to go to the arsenal to get something and to meet them at the arsenal gate. Mr. Speare did so. Messrs. Weaver and Harvey going down in a carriage. They proceeded to the store house and workmen brought out the box. Then it dawned upon Mr. Speare’s mind that the fact that the undertaker’s wagon was not taken was to ward off suspicion. A receipt was given to an officer and in a little time the wagon with the corpse was in the alley from which Booth had rode four years before. The little company in the shop were in waiting and the rumble of wheels was hailed with the remark, “There they are,” simultaneously with Rich Harvey’s call: “Come, here, now!” as the wagon was backed to a stable.

The box was removed by the assistants, including the volunteer, and placed on trestles, as was also an ordinary coffin brought from the shop. The arms chest was quite light. When a lantern had been produced the scene was a weird, uncanny one. The box was somewhat decayed about the joints, but when with little difficulty the lid was removed the blanket with which the corpse had been covered showed but little evidence of decay.

Blanket Thrown Aside The blanket on being thrown aside revealed what remained of the body and clothing. The latter was in shreds from decay, and the body was almost denuded of flesh and skin, some of the bones being bare.

Mr. Weaver seemed anxious that the remains be identified and picked up the head, examining it carefully. Some blotches of flesh and skin adhered to the cheek and jawbones, and the fine suit of hair for which Booth was noted was still on the head. Except for the mildew and clamminess it was in fine order, and the remark was made by some who had known Booth that it was an instance of hair growing after death, for it was an inch or more longer than it had been his custom to wear. The head was resting on decayed shavings, and one of the party plucked what he thought to be a loose lock of hair, which afterward was found to be a shaving. The head was taken up by Mr. Weaver, who examined it with interest, and a dentist from Baltimore being called from the front office in which Edwin Booth was awaiting developments next examined it. After looking intently at the teeth, he said: “This is Wilkes Booth, for this is some of my work.”

Head Passed Around The head was passed from hand to hand by the others, and Messrs. Weaver and Harvey examined other portions of the body, or, rather, what remained of it. The boots were found, one with one leg missing and a slit converting it to a shoe; and it was recalled that some of the witnesses before the military commission had testified that Booth had had one of his boots so cut to relieve the pressure on the leg in which he had a broken bone.

Edwin Booth having secured the report of the dentist, as well as that of Messrs. Weaver and Harvey as to the identification, left with the dentist. The sides of the blanket in which were the remains were lifted gently to the coffin, a temporary affair, and in a few hours they were in Baltimore, where they were interred at Greenmount. Of the company who were present when the transfer was made from box to coffin only Mr. Speare and the writer survive.

This statement should be sufficient to dispel all remaining doubts. Booth was recognized at the time he fired the shot, traced to the place of his capture, was known personally by some of the captors, his body identified by several as it laid at the navy yard. And, though a mystery surrounded the disposition of the body – and the current rumor was that it was buried at sea – The Star, the Monday following, announced the place of burial; and when the body, thirty-seven years ago, was disinterred and delivered to the family, the identification was complete.”

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New Galleries – Rich Hill and the “Booth” Mummy

Today, I’ve added two new galleries to the Picture Galleries section of the site.

Rich HillThe first is Rich Hill, the home of Samuel Cox in Charles County, MD. Cox was a well-known Confederate sympathizer who held the honorary title of Captain (later Colonel) for commanding a volunteer militia at the start of the Civil War in case Maryland decided to secede from the Union. Booth and Herold made their way to Cox’s plantation after leaving Dr. Mudd’s. Cox gave them food and a chance to rest before having his overseer, Franklin Robey, hide them in a nearby pine thicket. He then sent his adopted son, Samuel Cox, Jr., to retrieve Confederate mail agent Thomas Jones. Jones and Cox were foster brothers and Cox knew he could trust Jones to care for and help the conspirators. Rich Hill still stands today but is in dire need of repair and restoration.

Mummy iconThe second gallery is devoted to the “Booth” mummy.  The mummy is that of Enid, Oklahoma drifter, David E. George who took his own life in 1903.  Before his death, George told residents of Enid that he was actually John Wilkes Booth.  When the news spread, Memphis attorney Finis L. Bates came to identify the body.  Years before in Texas, a man by the name of John St. Helen confided on his assumed deathbed to Bates that he was actually John Wilkes Booth.  St. Helen survived his illness, told his whole tale to Bates, and skipped town shortly thereafter.  Bates came to Enid and identified David E. George as John St. Helen.  The local undertaker embalmed the body and it was a local attraction in Enid for many years.  Bates bought the mummy and had it carted around carnival sideshows to expound his theory (and book) about Booth’s escape.  While not John Wilkes Booth, the George/St. Helen mummy is an interesting piece of pseudo-history all its own.

Click here, or the link at the top of the site, to visit the Picture Galleries see more images of Rich Hill and the “Booth” Mummy.

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Some Real Booth Mummies

Finis Bates spent many misguided years trying to convince the world that John Wilkes Booth escaped death at Garrett’s farm. He displayed the mummified remains of David E. George and tricked people into believing the body’s convoluted identity trail from David George, to John St. Helen, to John Wilkes Booth. Bates created convincing pseudo-history with a dead body as an effective centerpiece. However, long before the real John Wilkes Booth was even born, the Booth family had a legitimate connection with mummies.  I quote from Asia Booth Clarke’s book, Booth Memorials: Passages, Incidents, and Anecdotes of Junius Brutus Booth (The Elder):

“About this time [1833] my father [Junius Brutus Booth] purchased two Egyptian mummies, with a view of presenting them to General Jackson. They were to be sent to the Hermitage; but, finding that they were such rare specimens, it was suggested that they should be reserved for the Museum in Washington, for which Mr. Varden was then collecting curiosities. The mummies were priests of the god “Apis; ” and, on examination, the papyrus manuscripts, although in excellent and legible order, proved to be of such antiquity that it was impossible for the literati of that day to translate their meaning.

Languages, like nations and religions, take their turns and seem to prove the mutability of nature. Mr. Varden’s design being ineffectual, the mummies were subsequently deposited in the Patent Office, Washington, and removed thence to the Smithsonian Institute.”

The eccentric Junius, was one of contradictory tendencies at times.  He cherished life in all forms, forbidding the killing of animals in his home and following the practically unheard of practice of vegetarianism.  At the same time though, he was friends with people like Sam Houston and Andrew Jackson.  Original Boothie John C. Brennan once said how odd a gift he thought the mummies to be for Jackson as Jackson wasquite good at, “shooting people and producing his own cadavers”.  The actor who wept during his organized funeral for dozens of killed pigeons, did not have the same reverence, it seems, for the remains of the long dead Egyptians.

According to Michael Kauffman in his book American Brutus, no donation record can be found for Junius’ mummies at the Smithsonian.  Nevertheless, as I visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and explored the Ancient Egypt exhibit today, I couldn’t help but wonder if one of the mummies on display once belonged to Junius Brutus Booth.  At least then there would be a real “Booth Mummy”.

John Wilkes Booth looking for his father’s donated pair of mummies in the Smithsonian.

Booth Memorials: Passages, Incidents, and Anecdotes of Junius Brutus Booth (The Elder) by Asia Booth Clarke
American Brutus by Michael Kauffman
The photo of JWB in the Smithsonian was taken using the Augmented Reality function of Michael Kauffman’s new publication, In the Footsteps of an Assassin.  After purchasing the book, smartphone users are able to download an app which provides tour commentary on the go.  It also includes four augmented reality photo ops in which an overlay of Lincoln, Mary Todd, JWB or Lewis Powell, can be added before taking any picture.  Now, I can take snap a photo of Booth anywhere, without any photo editing required.

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John St. Helen

Today, I visited the Lauinger Library at Georgetown University.  The bulk of my research was in the David Rankin Barbee papers contained in the library’s Special Collections.  As an aside, I also looked at the Earl H. Swaim collection located in the library’s holdings.  The Swaim collection contains many of the papers and correspondences of Finis Bates, W. P. Campbell, and Dr. Clarence Wilson regarding Booth’s postmortem wanderings.  While a plethora of evidence disproves their claims of Booth’s escape, the theories nevertheless continue to survive.

The most interesting item located in the Swaim collection, is one of the cornerstones of the “Booth escaped” doctrine.  According to Finis Bates’ book, The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth, a man known to him as John St. Helen called upon him in Granbury, TX when the latter believed he was on his deathbed.  He informed the attorney that his real name was not St. Helen, but that he was, in fact, John Wilkes Booth.  A few days later, St. Helen survived his illness and freely told Bates his whole story.  He also presented Bates with a damaged tintype of himself so that someday, if he should choose to, he could substantiate his story as the truth.  Then St. Helen left town.  This tintype given to Bates by St. Helen was taken in Glenrose Mills, Texas in June of 1877.  Bates would have several paintings done of the conspirators in preparation for his book and his traveling showcase of St. Helen’s body.  In addition, he had the tintype painted as a complete portrait.

The original, damaged tintype, however, is in the Swaim collection:

In my opinion, John St. Helen does not even look like John Wilkes Booth.

John St. Helen

John Wilkes Booth

Similar to so many eBay auctions claiming to be unseen images of Booth, St. Helen is merely a mustachioed man with wavy hair.  He lacks Booth’s distinctive Roman nose and has different eyebrows and face shape than the real McCoy.

While this picture has been the reason for so many years of historical malpractice, it was still an interesting experience to view and handle it firsthand.

Epilogue: Right before posting this I saw (via the Lincoln-Assassination forum) that a new indie movie will be coming out with the John St. Helen story as plot line.  I found the timing eerily appropriate.

The Legend of John Wilkes Booth: Myth, Memory, and a Mummy by C. Wyatt Evans

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