Posts Tagged With: Fort Jefferson

The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (September 20 – September 26)

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.


September 20


September 21


September 22


September 23


September 24


September 25


September 26


Bonus

Here are a few other tweets from this week that I thought might interest folks.


That brings us up to today. Next Sunday I’ll write another post covering the #OTD tweets from this coming week. If you don’t want to wait until then and want to know each anniversary on the day it happens, follow me on Twitter! My username is @LinConspirators (Twitter has a character limit not only for tweets, but for usernames as well so I had to condense it). Even if you don’t want to join Twitter, you can still see my tweets by just visiting my Twitter page on the web. You can also see my tweets by looking at the sidebar of this website if you’re using a desktop or laptop computer, or at the bottom if you are visiting on a mobile device.

Until next week!

Categories: History, OTD | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (September 13 – September 19)

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.


September 13


September 14


September 15


September 16


September 17


September 18


September 19


Bonus

Here are a few other tweets from this week that I thought might interest folks.


That brings us up to today. Next Sunday I’ll write another post covering the #OTD tweets from this coming week. If you don’t want to wait until then and want to know each anniversary on the day it happens, follow me on Twitter! My username is @LinConspirators (Twitter has a character limit not only for tweets, but for usernames as well so I had to condense it). Even if you don’t want to join Twitter, you can still see my tweets by just visiting my Twitter page on the web. You can also see my tweets by looking at the sidebar of this website if you’re using a desktop or laptop computer, or at the bottom if you are visiting on a mobile device.

Until next week!

Categories: History, OTD | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (August 30 – September 5)

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.


August 30


August 31


September 1


September 2


September 3


September 4


September 5


Bonus

Here are a few other tweets from this week that I thought might interest folks.

On the first Friday of the month, the National Archives hosts an #ArchivesHashtagParty on Twitter. They encourage other archives and museums to tweet out pieces in their collection based around a different theme. This month’s theme was #ArchivesOldSchool. Even though I’m not an archive, I sometimes take part in the fun showing off things in different collections.

On a personal note, for the last week and a half I have been cheering on Team USA at the Paralympic games in Tokyo. Many of my tweets have centered around the progress of the Men’s Wheelchair Basketball team, the defending gold medal winners from the 2016 games in Rio. My brother Robb Taylor is an assistant coach for the team in addition to his full time job as the head coach for Auburn University’s Wheelchair Basketball team. Last night, the men’s team beat Japan in the gold medal game! I can’t help but brag on my brother’s third Paralympic gold medal:


That brings us up to today. Next Sunday I’ll write another post covering the #OTD tweets from this coming week. If you don’t want to wait until then and want to know each anniversary on the day it happens, follow me on Twitter! My username is @LinConspirators (Twitter has a character limit not only for tweets, but for usernames as well so I had to condense it). Even if you don’t want to join Twitter, you can still see my tweets by just visiting my Twitter page on the web. You can also see my tweets by looking at the sidebar of this website if you’re using a desktop or laptop computer, or at the bottom if you are visiting on a mobile device.

Until next week!

Categories: History, OTD | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The President Visits Fort Jefferson

From 1865 – 1869, Fort Jefferson served as the island prison which held four of the eight convicted conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Micheal O’Laughlen and Edman Spangler were sent to this isolated ocean fort, 68 miles west of Key West, Florida, to serve their sentences for their involvement in Lincoln’s death. In 1869, three of the conspirators were pardoned by exiting President Andrew Johnson while one, Michael O’Laughlen, had previously perished at the Fort during a Yellow Fever outbreak in 1867.

Fort Jefferson was named after our 3rd president and is so deeply connected to the death of the 16th, but these are not the only connections that this former military base has to our former POTUSes. In this post we’ll explore the only three Presidents (that I know of) who have visited this sleeping giant.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt

FDR in Miami, Florida on December 5, 1937, the day after his trip to Fort Jefferson

We owe a lot to Franklin Roosevelt when it comes to Fort Jefferson. While the waters of the Dry Tortugas keys on which Fort Jefferson is built had previously been designated as protected, it was FDR who officially established Fort Jefferson as a National Monument in 1935. That put the old deteriorating fort in the middle of the ocean under the purview of the Department of the Interior and started the process of preservation. On November 28, 1937, President Roosevelt departed Washington intent on taking a cruise vacation to the National Monument he had helped save. On November 29, FDR boarded the U.S.S. Potomac out of Miami for a cruise to Fort Jefferson. The President was accompanied by his private secretary (and son) James Roosevelt, along with his attache of officials including the Secretary of the Interior. The Presidential group aboard the U.S.S. Potomac arrived at Fort Jefferson on November 30 and did not leave the waters around it until December 4. Over the course of his five days in the crystal blue waters of the Dry Tortugas, FDR kept busy with his work. He not only received coded messages aboard the Potomac through radio, but a mail plane was ordered by the Navy to run letters and official documents from Key West to the Potomac while it lay at anchor at Fort Jefferson. On the day that the group arrived, FDR wrote to his wife, Eleanor, who had not made the trip with him, “We are west of Key West, at the little harbor of old Fort Jefferson – a most interesting old brick fort standing out of the ocean in solitary grandeur…” The next day, FDR penned a short note to his aged mother headed with, “Dry Tortugas, December 1, 1937”. When not working, FDR joined in the many fishing expeditions that took place in the nearby waters. On one day he caught a total of five barracuda with the heaviest one weighing in at fourteen pounds. While others in the party had visited and toured the fort itself on the day of their arrival and during their subsequent time in the area, it wasn’t until the day of their departure, December 4, that FDR finally visited the Fort himself. The trip log describes his visit.

“At 10:40 the President accompanied by several members of his Party left the Potomac to inspect the ruins of Fort Jefferson. Mr. Willard Morris of the National Park Service escorted the party through the reservation and though he has been there but a few months was extremely enthusiastic and did everything possible to make the visit a pleasant one. The President evinced great interest in the structure and enjoyed the visit immensely. On departing from the Fort, Mr. Morris presented the President with a beautiful Queen conch shell which the President received with thanks and directed that it be sent to the White House. The President and all of his party signed the “guest book” in the Fort office. It was after noon when the President and his party arrived back on board the Potomac.”

During the tour FDR was informed by is guide that, “the first deck of the Fort served at one time as living quarters for soldiers, and later as cells for prisoners. Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, of Maryland, the physician who treated the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, assassinator of Abraham Lincoln, was incarcerated in one of these cells.” With this tour, FDR became the first sitting President to visit the site and learn a bit about the Lincoln conspirators’ incarceration. The looming conflict of WWII prevented Roosevelt from ever returning to the island fort he helped save, but his successor would make his own trips when peacetime came again.


Harry S. Truman

Harry Truman arrives in Key West on November 17, 1946

In November of 1946, President Harry S. Truman was worn out. After 19 months in office, Truman was suffering from poor health and his doctor wrote him a prescription for a nice warm vacation. The decision was made for Truman to travel to Key West, Florida and vacation in a home originally built by the Navy in 1890. This marked Truman’s first visit to Key West but resulted in the President falling in love with the town on the southernmost point of the continental United States. Over the course of his Presidency, Truman made a total of eleven visits to Key West staying a total of 175 days in the home he affectionately dubbed, the Little White House. In his post-Presidency life, Truman continued to visit Key West regularly, he considering it his second favorite place on earth after his hometown of Independence, Missouri. The Truman Little White House is a tourist attraction in Key West today and are regularly open for tours when not housing important guests or diplomats.

Having spent so much time in Key West over the course of his presidency, it should come to no surprise that Harry Truman visited the island prison of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, Fort Jefferson. Truman actually visited Fort Jefferson during his very first vacation to Key West, on November 22, 1946. He was transported to the island by the U.S.S. Stribling, a 2200 ton Navy destroyer, for a sight seeing trip. A second destroyer, the U.S.S. O’Hare carried members of the press and served as an escort vessel. When they reached the island, President Truman and his party were met by Russell Gibbs, the custodian of the fort who lived there with his wife and child. The large party had been joined by members of the press, including photographers who snapped some pictures of the visit that have been digitized by the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. In most of the pictures below President Truman is the one wearing the safari helmet.

The official log of the President’s visit in 1946 included a little summary of the tour Truman was given by Russell Gibbs. Truman was fully educated about how Fort Jefferson was used to imprison Dr. Samuel Mudd (the other conspirators didn’t make the cut again) and how Dr. Mudd’s bravery during the 1867 yellow fever epidemic helped earn him a pardon. The log then contains this nugget:

“The President and his party were shown one of the areas of Dr. Mudd’s confinement, where the President posed for a picture. On being informed by the guide that Dr. Mudd was confined with a ball and chain about his leg, the President jokingly asked the guide if there were any balls and chains available now so that he might leave a few members of his party here.”

Sadly, I have not been able to find the described photograph of President Truman posing in Dr. Mudd’s cell. After the tour was over, President Truman and his party thanked Russell Gibbs, signed the fort’s register, and departed.

The large party then split into two groups and boarded the smaller boats that had ferried them between the destroyers and the island. Preparations were made for the President and his party to enjoy some fishing about 4 miles away from the Fort. A bet was made between President Truman and Clark Clifford, his White House Counsel who occupied the other boat. Clifford bet the President five dollars that his group on his boat could catch a larger weight of fish than the President and his boat-mates. Truman accepted the challenge and the two boats, which positioned themselves about 200 yards away from one another, started casting. President Truman made the first catch of them all, landing a six pound grouper. In the following picture of the ecstatic president with his fish, Fort Jefferson can be seen on the horizon under his wrist.

The log of the trip contains a humorous anecdote of “collusion” on the part of the crew of the President’s fiishing boat. Unbeknownst to Clark Clifford and his boat, while the Presidential party was touring Fort Jefferson, the crew of the President’s boat had done some fishing of their own. The plan was to include these extra fish with the President’s when the two boats weighed up against each other later. While the President and his group had modest luck (save for Truman’s Chief of Staff Admiral William Leahy who caught nothing and “could only confess he was a bad fisherman on this trip”), Clark Clifford’s boat did exceptionally well. When the fishing came to an end and the two weighed up, it was found that Clifford’s group had bested the President’s. Even when the President’s group added the pre-caught fish from the crew of their ship, they still lost to Clifford.

“When it was learned that Mr. Clifford’s group caught the larger weight of fish, the President confessed to Mr. Clifford that even by weighing in the fish already on board the DOLPHIN when he started fishing, his group had failed to beat Mr. Clifford’s group. Had it not, however, the President jokingly remarked he might not have confessed the perfidy.”

It’s unknown if Truman paid Clifford his well-earned Lincoln.

This 1946, trip was not the only time Truman visited Fort Jefferson. About two years later, on November 13, 1948, Truman returned to the Dry Tortugas, this time accompanied by his wife Bess and daughter Margaret. The Trumans and their guests spent about an hour touring the Fort. Here are some of the pictures from this trip, once again courtesy of the Truman Library.

In the log for this 1948 visit, it was noted that President Truman had remembered what he had been taught about Dr. Mudd two years previously:

“The President, who had previously visited the island in November 1946, pointed out the dungeon where Dr. Samuel Mudd, the Maryland doctor who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, had been held prisoner.”

President Truman made one final visit to Fort Jefferson during his presidency. This last trip occurred on March 21, 1951. President Truman greeted the workers and visitors to Fort Jefferson and took the tour. It was a fairly standard visit except this time a picnic lunch was set up for the party on the parade grounds of the fort. The meal included ice cream, which was also given to the children who lived at the Fort with their parents. After lunch was over, Truman signed the guest book as usual and departed. Here are the pictures of the visit.

When President Truman departed Fort Jefferson on March 21, 1951, it marked the last time a President has set foot on the island. But it’s not exactly the last time a President has “visited”.


Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight Eisenhower chipping golf balls in Key West, January 7, 1956

On December 28, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower landed in Key West, Florida. Three months earlier, on September 24, Ike had suffered a severe heart attack. In order to help with the President’s recovery, it was suggested that he take a vacation to a warmer climate and get away from the harsh D.C. cold. Eisenhower took up residence in the Little White House in Key West that his predecessor Truman had enjoyed so much. Eisenhower had actually stayed at the Little White House during Truman’s presidency when Ike was still acting as a General in the army. Eisenhower spent eleven days in Key West, painting, chipping golf balls, and taking strolls. The press noted that:

“Shirt-wise, the President’s holiday was not so colorful as Mr. Truman’s used to be – he dressed in slacks and sweater. Moreover, the President was conscious that this was a holiday for health and not fun. It was not the place he would have chosen. He is a man who prefers to have the smell of balsam in his nostrils rather than the smell of tide water. (One morning he stood before a window overlooking the sea, painting a Rocky Mountain scene.)”

So it seems that the allure of Key West might not have rubbed off on Eisenhower as much as it did on Truman. However, Eisenhower at least found something alluring with Fort Jefferson. While he did not take a naval destroyer cruise out to the Dry Tortugas, he made sure to get a glimpse of the fort on his way back to Washington. After departing by plane from Key West on January 8, Eisenhower had his pilot divert off their path to Washington so that he could see Fort Jefferson from the air. Here is a New York Times article about it:

Though he never stepped foot inside Fort Jefferson, it could be debated that Eisenhower’s views surpassed those of FDR and Truman. Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas are truly beautiful from the air.

Five hours after his plane had taken off in Key West, President Eisenhower landed back in Washington, D.C.


It’s possible that more Presidents have seen Fort Jefferson for themselves aside from FDR, Truman, and Ike. Both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have stayed at the Truman White House in Key West following their presidencies, but I haven’t been able to find anything on whether those visits included trips to the Dry Tortugas. Other former presidents like U. S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, and JFK visited Key West, but it’s very doubtful their visits included the very isolated fortress across the ocean 68 miles to the west.

Regardless, Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park remains one of our treasured historical gems. If you ever have a chance to visit this massive masonry marvel, I highly recommend it. Whether you get there by ferry or seaplane, you’ll depart knowing that you have walked in the footsteps of both conspirators and Presidents.

Categories: History | Tags: , , | 3 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, I fulfilled my dream of visiting and camping at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas. I took almost 2500 pictures while on the island and yesterday I went through some of them. Some of the pictures I took were attempts to recreate older photos of the Fort that I had seen in books. The goal was to match the old photo as close as I 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

Grave Thursday: William Keeler

On select Thursdays we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


William Frederick Keeler

Burial Location: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

In 1865, William Keeler was a naval officer serving as assistant paymaster on board the USS Florida. Keeler’s military service had started in 1862 when he was assigned as acting paymaster of the Union’s first ironclad warship, the USS Monitor. Keeler was aboard the Monitor during its battle with CSS Virginia (the former USS Merrimack) which ended in a stalemate between the ironclads. In his correspondences with his wife, Keeler wrote about the battle and his own role of passing orders from the Captain to the men stationed at the gun turrets. Keeler was still stationed aboard the Monitor when the ship floundered and sank in December of 1862. The paymaster was one of the lucky few who were saved from drowning. After the loss of the Monitor, Keeler was transferred to the Florida, a sidewheel steamship. While aboard the Florida in 1864, he was injured in the back by a shell fragment near Wilmington, North Carolina. Keeler recovered from his wounding but it would cause him continued trouble in his later years. When the Civil War effectively came to an end in April of 1865, Keeler was happy to see that the days of combat were behind him.

On the evening of July 17, 1865, the Florida, stationed near Hampton, Virginia where the Chesapeake Bay empties into the Atlantic, was met by another steamship, the State of Maine. An exchange of passengers occurred between the two vessels with the Florida receiving four army officers, a guard of 28 soldiers, and “4 Rebel prisoners”. Those four rebel prisoners were the remaining Lincoln assassination conspirators, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, and Edman Spangler. Having been steamed out of Washington on the State of Maine, it was now the Florida‘s job to transport the convicted conspirators to their island prison of Fort Jefferson, located about seventy miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The Florida departed Virginia at 7:00 pm on July 17 with its state prisoners aboard.

Many years after the fact, conspirator Samuel Arnold described the journey to Fort Jefferson, Florida aboard the Florida:

“All intercourse with the crew was prohibited, guards being stationed around us, and we were not permitted to move without being accompanied by an armed marine. Subsistence of the grossest kind was issued, in the shape of fat salt pork and hard-tack. We remained on deck during the day, closely watching, as far as we were able, the steering of the vessel by the sun, and found we were steaming due South. The course was unchanged the next day and I began to suspect that fatal isle, the Dry Tortugas, was our destined home of the future.

From this time out we remained on deck, our beds being brought up at night and taken between decks in the morning…. After the second day on the ocean the irons were removed from our feet during the day, but replaced at night, and we were permitted from this day out the privilege of being on deck on account of the oppressive heat of the climate, where we could catch the cool sea breeze as it swept across the deck in the ship’s onward track over the bounding ocean.”

The trip to Fort Jefferson took a week. Despite Arnold’s assertion that the prisoners were not allowed to speak with those aboard the Florida, two of the officers who had been assigned escort duty from Washington, General Levi Dodd and Captain George Dutton, would report that Dr. Mudd gave an impromptu confession after learning the location of his life imprisonment. According to Captain Dutton, on July 22 Dr. Mudd admitted to him that he had, in fact, recognized John Wilkes Booth when Booth showed up at his house following Lincoln’s assassination. This ran contrary to what the doctor had reported in his statements prior to his arrest. In addition, Dr. Mudd also admitted to Dutton that he had traveled up to Washington at Christmastime of 1864 to meet Booth by appointment so that he could introduce Booth to John Surratt.

Dr. Mudd and the other Lincoln conspirators arrived at Fort Jefferson on July 24th. They departed the ship and the Florida, with assistant paymaster Keeler and the rest of its crew, steamed away from the island prison. While imprisoned Dr. Mudd learned that his confession to Captain Dutton had been made known to Judge Advocate Joseph Holt and that Holt, in turn, had moved to amend the official transcript of the conspiracy trial to include Dutton’s statement. When Dr. Mudd learned that his confession had been given wide press and had been added to the official trial transcript, he was livid. He immediately wrote a letter to his wife, meant for publication, in which he denied having made any such “confession.” But, by then, the damage had been done and nothing Dr. Mudd could do would change his fate. Fort Jefferson was to be his prison for the next three and a half years.

In 1866, William Keeler was honorably discharged from the Navy and the then 45 year-old returned to civilian life.  He moved back to his home in LaSalle, Illinois. On the morning of January 21, 1869, William Keeler was reading the prior day’s edition of the Chicago Tribune newspaper when he noticed an interesting an article. Keeler learned that an effort was underway to secure a pardon for Dr. Samuel Mudd. The effort was being led by the family and friends of Dr. Mudd and the cause had been buoyed by a recent petition signed by a group of soldiers who Dr. Mudd tended to during an 1867 epidemic of Yellow Fever at Fort Jefferson. The Tribune article implied that a pardon for Dr. Mudd would likely be in the future.

Reading this, William Keeler reflected on his period of military service and, specifically, his own memories of transporting the Lincoln conspirators to the Dry Tortugas. In the same way that Dr. Mudd was said to have unburdened himself in the presence of General Dodd and Captain Dutton aboard the Florida, William Keeler also remembered a similar conversation with the imprisoned doctor. Pen in hand, Keeler wrote a note to his congressman, Burton Cook.

LaSalle Ill
Jany 21st 1869

Hon B. C. Cook

Dear Sir
I learn by yesterdays Chicago Tribune that efforts are being made to procure the pardon of Dr. Mudd. The U.S. Steamer Florida to which I was attached conveyed him & his associates from Hampton Roads to the Tortugas. In conversation with myself, & I think with others on our passage down he admitted what ^I believe^ the prosecution failed to prove at his trial – viz – that he knew who Booth was when he set his leg & of what crime he was guilty. I have thought it might be nice to have these facts known if they are not
Very truly yours
W. F. Keeler

While Congressman Cook did pass along Keeler’s letter to the Attorney General, it does not appear that it had any influence. Dr. Mudd was awarded a pardon from President Johnson on February 8, 1869 and was released a month later.

William Keeler eventually moved his family from Illinois to Mayport, Florida where he lived out the rest of his days dying on Febraur 27, 1886. His body was transported back north and laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. Keeler’s grave is very close to the grave of Lt. Edward Doherty, the commander of the detachment of 16th NY Cavalry that cornered and killed John Wilkes Booth.

GPS coordinates for William Keeler’s grave: 38.880713, -77.077834

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

An Interview with Dr. Mudd

On March 20, 1869, Dr. Samuel A. Mudd walked in the front door of his Charles County, Maryland home. Such a return to one’s property would hardly be worth mentioning if not for the fact that it had been almost four years since the doctor had set foot on his farm. The last time Dr. Mudd was able to take in the land around him and the house which he called his home was on April 21, 1865, the day he was arrested for suspicion of complicity in Abraham Lincoln’s death. Since that time, Dr. Mudd had been imprisoned in nearby Bryantown, the Old Capitol Prison in D.C., and finally the Old Arsenal Penitentiary where he was put on trial by military commission. Found guilty, Dr. Mudd barely escaped with his life when he was sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to Fort Jefferson off of the coast of Florida. From July 24, 1865 through March 11, 1869, the desolate Dry Tortugas was the only home the prisoner, Dr. Mudd, had known. During his time on the island, he had tried (and failed) to escape, causing himself and the other Lincoln conspirators to suffer the consequences. In 1867, when a Yellow Fever epidemic swept the Fort causing his companion Michael O’Laughlen to die, Dr. Mudd volunteered his medical services and tended to the ill. With the  common belief of the day being that those infected with Yellow Fever were contagious, Mudd’s assistance to the sick was seen as a selfless and noble act. His actions worked in his favor to help him secure a pardon in the final days of Andrew Johnson’s presidency. Nine days after leaving Fort Jefferson, Dr. Samuel Mudd stepped through the threshold of his home to greet his waiting children.

Less than a week after his homecoming, Dr. Mudd heard an unexpected knock on his door. Though you might expect him to be incredibly wary of unannounced visitors, he opened the door and welcomed a small party of men inside. Among the group was a newspaper reporter from the New York Herald. The reporter and his party had come from Washington and had spent about eight hours making their way down to the isolated Mudd farm. They wanted to speak with Dr. Mudd about his experiences regarding John Wilkes Booth and the Dry Tortugas.

“…His face grew extremely serious and he answered that of all things he wished to avoid it was newspaper publicity, simply because nothing was ever printed in connection with his name that did not misrepresent him.”

Yet, despite his apprehension and claim he did not wish to speak about the events that cost the last four years of his life, in the end, Dr. Mudd and his wife did open up about their most famous visitors and their aftermath. The following is a transcription of part of the New York Herald article that was published on March 31, 1869, just a few days after speaking with Dr. Mudd. The entire article is quite long, with the first half dealing with the author’s slow trek to get to the Mudd farm from Washington. While filled with vivid and sometimes flowery details of the journey, for ease of reading only the parts relating to the interview with Dr. Mudd are featured below. If you are interested in reading the whole article, you can do so by clicking here or the headline below.

The interview (like all the statements and correspondences from Dr. Mudd) contains a variety of truths, half-truths, omissions, and outright falsehoods regarding Booth’s relationship with Mudd and his time at the Mudd farm. Still, this interview provides an interesting and personal view of one of the more debated conspirators in the Lincoln assassination story.

…We knocked for admission at the same door that Booth did after his six hours’ ride –it took us eight – and were promptly answered by a pale and serious looking gentleman, who, in answer to our inquiry if he were Dr. Mudd, replied, “That’s my name.” It was gratifying after so long a journey to find the man you sought directly on hand and apparently prepared to furnish you will the amplest stores of information regarding his connection with Booth, &c. Having stated the object of our visit – that the Herald led an interest in learning some particulars of his experience in the Dry Tortugas and his recollections of the assassination conspirators – his face grew extremely serious and he answered that of all things he wished to avoid it was newspaper publicity, simply because nothing was ever printed in connection with his name that did not misrepresent him.

“A burned child dreads the fire,” he exclaimed, “and I have reason to be suspicious of every one. It was in this way Booth came to my house, representing himself as being on a journey from Richmond to Washington, and that his horse fell on him. Six months or so from now, when my mind is more settled and when I understand that changes have taken place in public opinion regarding me, I shall be prepared to speak freely and fully on these matters you are anxious to know about. At present, for the reason stated, I would rather not say anything.”

Having, however, convinced the doctor that it was with no motive to misrepresent his statements that we paid him this visit and tat between Booth’s case and ours there was no analogy, he invited us to pass the evening at his house and postpone our return to Washington till the morning. Left alone for a while in the parlor, an ample, square apartment, with folding doors separating it from the dining room, we began to feel an irresistible inclination to imagine two strangers on horseback riding up to the door in the dim gray of an April morning, the younger of the two lifting the other from his saddle and bother like evil stars crossing the threshold of an innocent and happy household to blast its peace forever, Dr. Mudd’s return disturbed our reveries.

The Doctor says he is thirty-five years of age, married in 1860 [sic], built the house in which he now lives after his marriage, owned a well stocked farm of about thirty acres, and was in the enjoyment of a pretty extensive practice up to the time of his arrest in 1865. The word went well and smoothly with him previous to that unhappy event. His house was furnished with all the comfort of a country gentleman’s residence. He had his horses and hounds, and in the sporting season was foremost at every fox hunt and at every many outdoor sport. He had robust health and a vigorous, athletic frame in those days, but it is very different with him now. Above the middle height, with a reddish mustache and chin whisker, a high forehead and attenuated nose, his appearance indicates a man of calm and slow reflection, gentle in manner, and of a very domestic turn. He says he was born within a few miles of this house, and has lived all his life in the country. His whole desire now it to be allowed to spend the balance of his days quietly in the bosom of his family. In his sunken, lustreless eye, pallid lips and cold, ashy complexion one can read the words “Dry Tortugas” with a terrible significance. In the prime of his years, looking prematurely old and careworn, there are few indeed who could gaze on the wreck and ravage in the face of this man before them without feeling a sentiment of sympathy and commiseration. “I have come home,” said the Doctor sorrowfully, “to find nothing left me but my house and family. No money, no provisions, no crops in the ground and no clear way before me where to derive the means of support in my present [unintelligible] condition.” There was no deception here. In the scantly furniture of the house and in the pale, sad countenance of the speaker there was evidence enough of poor and altered fortune. It was not evening and growing rapidly dark. A big fire blazed on the ample hearth, and Mrs. Mudd, an intelligent and handsome lady, with one of her children, joined the Doctor and ourselves in the conversation over the events of that memorable April morning after the assassination.

“Did you see Booth, Mrs. Mudd?” we inquired with a feeling of intense interest to hear her reply.

“Yes,” she replied, “I saw himself and Harold after they entered this parlor. Booth stretched himself out on that sofa there and Harold stooped down to whisper something to him.”

“How did Booth look?”

“Very bad. He seemed as though he had been drinking very hard; his eyes were red and swollen and his hair in disorder.”

“Did he appear to suffer much?”

“Not after he laid down on the sofa. In fact, it seemed as if hardly anything was wrong with him then.”

“What kind of a fracture did Booth sustain?” we inquired, addressing the Doctor.

“Well,” said he, “after he was laid down on that sofa and having told me his leg was fractured by his horse falling on him during his journey up from Richmond, I took a knife and split the leg of his boot down to the instep, slipped it off and the sock with it; I then felt carefully with both hands down along his leg, but at first could discover nothing like crepitation till, after a second investigation, I found on the outside, near the ankle, something that felt like indurated flesh, and then for the first time I concluded it was a direct and clean fracture of the bone. I then improvised out of pasteboard a sort of boot that adhered close enough to the leg to keep it rigidly straight below the knee, without at all interfering with the flexure of the leg. A low cut show was substituted for the leather boot, and between five and six o’clock in the morning Booth and his companions started off for a point on the river below.”

“How did Booth’s horse look after his long ride?” we inquired.

“The boy, after putting him up in the stable,” the Doctor replied, “reported that his back underneath the forward part of the saddle was raw and bloody. This circumstance tallied with Booth’s account that he had been riding all day previous from Richmond, and no suspicion arose in my mind for one instant that the man whose leg I was attending to was anything more than what he represented himself.”

“You knew Booth before, Doctor?”

“Yes,” replied the Doctor. “I was first introduced to Booth in November, 1864, at the church yonder, spoke a few words to him and never saw him afterwards until a little while before Christmas, when I happened to be in Washington making a few purchases and waiting for some friends from Baltimore who promised to meet me at the Pennsylvania House and come out here to spend the holidays. I was walking past the National Hotel at the time, when a person tapped me on the shoulder and, on turning round, I discovered it was the gentleman I was introduced to at the church about six weeks previously. He asked me aside for a moment and said he desired an introduction to John H. Surratt, with whom he presumed I was acquainted. I said that I was. Surratt and I became almost necessarily acquainted from the fact of his living on the road I travelled so often on my way to Washington, and having the only tavern on the way that I cared to visit. Booth and I walked along the avenue three or four blocks, when we suddenly came across Surratt and Weichman [sic], and all four having become acquainted we adjourned to the National Hotel and had a round of drinks. The witnesses in my case swore that Booth and I moved to a corner of the room and were engaged for an hour or so in secret conversation. That was a barefaced lie. The whole four of us were in loud and open conversation all the time we were together, and when we separated we four never met again.”

“You told the soldiers, Doctor, the course the fugitives pursued after leaving your house?”

“I did. I told them the route that Booth told me he intended to take; but Booth, it seems, changed his mind after quitting here and went another way. This was natural enough; yet I was straightway accused of seeking to set the soldiers astray, and it was urged against me as proof positive of implication in the conspiracy.”

“You must have felt seriously agitated on being arrested in connection with this matter?”

“No, sir. I was just as self-possessed as I am now. They might have hanged me at the time and I should have faced death just as composedly as I smoke this pipe.”

“What did you think of the military commission?”

“Well, it would take me too long to tell you. Suffice it to say that not a man of them sat on my trial with an unbiased and unprejudiced mind. Before a word of evidence was heard my case was prejudged and I was already condemned on the strength of wild rumor and misrepresentation. The witnesses perjured themselves, and while I was sitting there in that dock, listening to their monstrous falsehoods, I felt ashamed of my species and lost faith forever in all mankind. That men could stand up in that court and take an oath before Heaven to tell the truth and the next moment set themselves to work to swear away by downright perjury the life of a fellow man was a thing that I in my innocence of the world never thought possible. After I was convicted and sent away to the Dry Tortugas a confession was got up by Secretary Stanton, purporting to have been made by me to Captain Dutton on board the steamer, and was afterwards appended to the official report of my trial. This was one of the most infamous dodges practiced against me, and was evidently intended as a justification for the illegality of my conviction. I never made such a confession and never could have made it, even if I tried.”

“How did their treat you down to the Dry Tortugas?”

“Well, I feel indisposed to say much on that head. If I made disclosures of matters with which I am acquainted certain officers in command there might find themselves curiously compromised.”

“You did good service caring the fever plague, Doctor?”

“Well, I can say this, that as long as I acted as post physician not a single life was lost. My whole time was devoted to fighting the spread of disease and investigating its specific nature. I found that the disease does not generate the poison which gives rise to the plague. The difference between contagion and infection which I have discovered is that one generates the poison from which the fever springs and the other does not. Contagion, such a smallpox, measles, &c., generates the poison which spreads the complaint of yellow fever, typhoid fever and other such infectious diseases. It requires contact with the poison and not with the disease to infect a person, and if a thousand cases of fever were removed from the place of the disease no danger whatever need be apprehended. The Fever in the Dry Tortugas was of the same type as typhoid, and the treatment on the expectant plan – that, is watching the case the treating the symptoms as they manifest themselves.”

“Were you untrammelled in your management of the sick?”

“No, sir; there’s where I felt the awkwardness of my position. I was trammelled and consequently could not act with the independence a physician under such circumstances should have.”

The Doctor talked at considerable length on many other topics connected with his imprisonment. In replying to the remark that his feelings must have been greatly exercised at coming within sight of his old home and meeting his wife once more he said, with visible tremor, that words were entirely inadequate to express the overwhelming emotions that filled his mind. It appears that a few days before he left the Dry Tortugas a company of the Third artillery, who were on board a transport about being shipped to some other point, on seeing the Doctor walking on the parapet, set up three cheers for the man who periled his life for them in the heroic fight with the dread visitation of fever. We talked along till midnight, then retired to a comfortable leather bed, and, rising with the sun in the morning, started out homeward journey to Washington.

References:
(1869, March 31) Dr. Mudd. New York Herald, p. 10.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Grave Thursday: The Spangler Family

On select Thursdays we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


The Spangler Family

Burial Location: Prospect Hill Cemetery, York, Pennsylvania

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

In 1865, Ford’s Theatre carpenter and scene-shifter Edman Spangler was put on trial for his alleged participation in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Edman Spangler had known the actor John Wilkes Booth for several years and was one of the carpenters who assisted in the construction of the Booth family home, Tudor Hall, in Harford County, Maryland. Spangler’s friendship with Booth, his pro-Confederate sympathies during the war, and the fact that Booth often asked favors of Spangler (including the request for Spangler to hold his horse on the night of April 14th) caused Edman to be tried alongside the others who were involved in Booth’s plot against the government. In the end, the government could not prove that Spangler had any foreknowledge of the assassination plot but he was still found guilty of, “having feloniously and traitorously aided and abetted J. Wilkes Booth in making his escape.” For this, Edman Spangler received a sentence of 6 years in prison at Fort Jefferson.

Prior to his friendship with John Wilkes Booth, however, Edman Spangler had been born and raised in York, Pennsylvania. Edman’s family had been in York since his great grandfather, Baltzer Spangler* immigrated to the area from present day Germany in 1732. Baltzer was one of four Spangler brothers who established homes in the York area around this time. In 1760, Baltzer built a two-story brick mansion on what was then the outskirts of York.

The Baltzer Spangler House circa 1904

After Baltzer’s death in 1770, this home was inherited by one of his sons, George Spangler, who was Edman Spangler’s great great uncle. The home stayed in the family until the 1840s when it was sold. By 1850, the home had been transformed into a school run by a British veteran of the War of 1812 named Charles Henry Bland. The school was known as Sherwood’s School and also colloquially as Bland’s Academy. Clarence Cobb, a former student who attended the academy in the former Spangler home later recalled that, “Bland’s boys learned but little and were taught less. There was no system, no regular course of study, nor recitation. Bland’s school failed utterly, at the last. The old gentleman secured employment thereafter, as a steward, at Fairfax Seminary, Va., back of Alexandria. I am informed that he lived to a great age. He believed in corporal punishment and plenty of it. Perhaps his extensive exercise as a whipping-master was the cause of his health, vigor and activity. He never whipped me as I think I may say I was a good boy, but, I thought, he used to whale the bad boys for fun.”

When giving his reminiscences of Bland’s Academy in 1916, Cobb also recalled one of his former classmates at the time.

“John Wilkes Booth, whom we always called Jack, attended school there for only a few weeks in 1853.”

Cobb is the only source we have that John Wilkes Booth spent time at Bland’s Academy. We do know from period sources that Cobb was a classmate of Booth’s when the two boys both attended the Milton Boarding School in Cockeysville, Maryland together from 1849 – 1852. Cobb gives a vivid description of Booth as a student while at the Milton Academy but doesn’t say anything specific about his time at Bland’s. If John Wilkes Booth did attend school in York it would have been in the fall of 1853 and also would have represented the end of his formal educational career. In his authoritative volume, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, researcher Art Loux stated that Booth “may have” attended Bland’s Academy, perfectly demonstrating the lack of supporting evidence. So, while it has not been proven with certainty, it is still somewhat eerie that a young John Wilkes Booth may have been educated, albeit briefly, in a home built by the ancestor of a future conspirator.

Sadly, the Baltzer Spangler house, home to the short-lived Bland’s Academy, no longer stands today. Instead, the 400 block of Prospect St. in York is the site of rowhouses.

Drive by of the former site of Bland’s Academy, about 420 Prospect Street, York, PA

Another son of Baltzer Spangler who inherited some of the property around the Spangler home was Edman Spangler’s grandfather, John Spangler. John and his wife, Margaret Beard, were the parents of eight children before John’s death in 1796. In the 1890s, when a Spangler genealogist was working on a book about his ancestors, he found an extraordinary relic among John Spangler’s belongings:

“In the old and handsome family Bible of John Spengler, was found by the writer a letter in German, alleged to have been written by God Himself and delivered by an angel at Madgeburg, Germany in 1783. It exempted the possessors from lightning, fire and water. A century ago it made a profound impression.”

The letter discovered in John Spangler’s bible was a fairly common document in the Pennsylvania Dutch communities at the time. Called a himmelsbrief or “heaven’s letter”, these papers were a mixture of Christian scripture and magic, claiming to ward off misfortune as long as the owners abided by the moral covenants instructed by the letter. In essence, these letters were an early form of chain letters with a healthy dose of Christian teachings to make them popular. The Madgeburg letter found in John Spangler’s bible was one of the most common versions of himmelsbrief. You can read more about these interesting chain letters here.

The second of John and Margaret Spangler’s children was William Spangler. William was born on September 21, 1785. He likely spent quite a bit of time in the old Baltzer Spangler home owned by his nearby neighbors and cousins. Around 1814, William married a woman named Anna Maria and they began their family together. They would have at least 5 children between the years of 1815 – 1825. The youngest of their children was Edman Spangler, born on August 10, 1825. Less than six months later, on February 12, 1826, Anna Maria Spangler died, leaving William a widower with several young children. To help support his young family, William Spangler became the sheriff of York County in 1827. He served a three year term which ended in 1830. William married again that same year. His new wife was named Sarah “Sally” Spangler. Sarah was a widow herself having been previously married to William’s first cousin once removed. She fulfilled the much needed role of mother to the Spangler children, including Edman. William and Sarah had one child of their own, Maria Jane, who was born in 1834.

As perhaps a harbinger of the misfortune to befall the Spangler family and the nation a few years later, Edman’s older brother Theodore Spangler died on April 15, 1852 at the age of 36. Thirteen years later would see the death of President Lincoln on the same date.

The news of Lincoln’s assassination spread quickly and, in a short while, the Spangler family in York began reading of their son and sibling’s name in connection with the great crime. William Spangler, now an old man of 79 years, wrote a letter to his son asking him to explain the circumstances he found himself in. Below is William Spangler’s letter to Edman with his numerous misspellings and complete lack of punctuation unaltered:

“York April

Dear Son This is to let you no that we are all in good Heath except my selfe I am Getting worse in my leg and Arm I can Scarcily do aney Work but I thank my God That my Bodey heath is Good I have no particulars to wright Onley this that our Family is in grate distres That your name is mentiond In So maney papers About you In this murder of the Chief President now if you Will gratfy us to hear of you The truth of the matter and The reason of your name in Almost everey paper in the Countrey You can certainly Let me no the truth about The Matter I expected A Letter from you as you might have reconsiled our Family much by Sending us the truth of all you no About it there is so much About it in the Nues that We cannot no the truth And as the[re] is So much Suspicen I dont want to wrigh More than I want to no wat you no about it if you Wright and think that your Letter is or may bee Suspicious Take it to the post office and Let it bee red by some of the Members of the post office My hand is so lame that I can scarceley hold the pen Dear Son Do answer this Imediatley From your Affecinate father God bee with you Wm Spangler”

What response, if any, Edman composed to his father is not known. In the end, William and the rest of the Spanglers in York read about the conspiracy trial and Edman’s subsequent six year prison sentence to Fort Jefferson.

Despite his advanced age, William Spangler lived long enough to see his son’s release from prison in March of 1869. Spangler, Dr. Mudd, and Samuel Arnold each received a pardon from outgoing President Andrew Johnson. The forth conspirator sentenced to prison at Fort Jefferson, Michael O’Laughlen, had died of a Yellow Fever epidemic in 1867. Spangler returned home but it’s not clear if he went to York. Shortly after his release he was right back at work as a theater carpenter for John T. Ford. A staunch believer in his employee’s innocence, Ford had bankrolled Spangler’s defense at the conspiracy trial and the efforts to get him released from prison. Likely out of appreciation, Spangler went to work at Ford’s Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore.

On July 7, 1873, Edman Spangler’s step-mother, Sarah Spangler, died in York at the age of 80. It is unknown if Edman attended her funeral. In September of 1873, the Holliday Street Theatre suffered a devastating fire which destroyed the building. When that happened, Spangler retired from the theater scene and bid goodbye to John T. Ford. Rather than making his way north to York, Spangler headed south to the farm of Dr. Mudd in Charles County, Maryland. Though strangers to each other prior to Lincoln’s death, the two had become friends during their shared imprisonment. Dr. Mudd welcomed Spangler into his home with open arms and even gave Spangler his own piece of land to live on and work. On February 7, 1875, at the age of 49, Edman Spangler died at the Mudd farm . On February 9th, he was buried by the Mudd family at the original St. Peter’s Cemetery.

William Spangler actually outlived his infamous son, but only by a few months. The elder Spangler died on October 28, 1875 at the age of 90. In 1882, Maria Spangler, the daughter of William and Sarah and half-sister of Edman Spangler, died and was buried with her parents.

Today, there are four Spangler gravestones standing in Section S, Lot 236 of Prospect Hill Cemetery in York, Pennsylvania, all of whom are related to conspirator Edman Spangler.

Graves of John and Margaret Spangler, Edman Spangler’s grandfather and grandmother.

Grave of Maria Jane Spangler, half-sister of Edman Spangler

Grave of William and Sarah Spangler, Edman’s father and stepmother

There may be other Spangler relatives buried in the same plot as those pictured above such as Edman Spangler’s biological mother and his brother who died on April 15, 1852. Unfortunately, during the Great Depression, a fire destroyed a large chunk of the records at Prospect Hill Cemetery. If additional Spanglers are buried in this plot unmarked, they are known only to God now.

In the end, it’s a bit unfortunate that Edman Spangler is buried so far away from the rest of his kin. York was such a big part of his family’s story and Prospect Hill Cemetery is filled with many more of his cousins, uncles, and aunts. Yet Edman Spangler lies in a small rural cemetery far away from any member of his family. Sent to prison for his alleged involvement in Lincoln’s death, it appears that, in at least one way, Edman Spangler never really came home.

References:
The annals of the families of Caspar, Henry, Baltzer and George Spengler, who settled in York County, respectively, in 1729, 1732, 1732, and 1751 : with biographical and historical sketches, and memorabilia of contemporaneous local events by Edward W. Spangler (1896)
June Lloyd’s research on her Universal York blog
York County Heritage Trust
“J. Wilkes Booth at School: Recollections of a Retired Army Officer Who Knew Him Then” by James W. Shettel, The New York Dramatic Mirror, February 26, 1916 Part 1, Part 2
John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux
Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD
Prospect Hill Cemetery, York, PA
Thanks to Colleen Puterbaugh at the James O. Hall Research Center for confirming Edman Spangler’s death date for me after I found conflicting newspaper obituaries claiming he died a week later.
*As was common at the time, many of Edman Spangler’s ancestors anglicized their names when they immigrated. Baltzer Spangler, for instance, was born, Johann Balthasar Spengler. The last name of “Spengler” would slowly change over a couple generations to “Spangler”. For ease of reading, I have used the anglicized names and modern surname of Spangler.

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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