Posts Tagged With: Michael O’Laughlen

Tracing the Letters from John Wilkes Booth to Samuel Williams O’Laughlen

The earliest known writings of John Wilkes Booth consist of a series of letters he wrote in 1854 and 1855 when he was 16 and 17 years old. The recipient of these letters was Samuel Williams “Billy” O’Laughlen. Billy O’Laughlen was the elder brother of Michael O’Laughlen who would later join Booth in his plot to abduct President Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth had met the O’Laughlen brothers after his father, Junius Brutus Booth, bought a house on Exeter Street in Baltimore in 1845. The purchase of this house was to appease Junius’ wife, Mary Ann Booth, who felt increasingly isolated at their Harford County farm year after year. Since 1840, the family had rented different homes in Baltimore during the cooler months and Mary Ann also found the schools in the bustling metropolis a better place to educate her growing children. The family still travelled back to their farm, especially during the warm summers and it was during these visits to Tudor Hall that a teenage John Wilkes Booth would write to his companion back in Baltimore. A total of eight letters from Booth to Billy O’Laughlen have survived through the years with a few of them having resurfaced in recent auctions.

In preparation for one of my upcoming daily tweets, I decided to devote September 14 to one of the letters Booth wrote to Billy O’Laughlen on that date in 1855. I am much indebted to the 1997 book by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper called, “Right or Wrong, God Judge Me” The Writings of John Wilkes Booth. In this edited volume, Rhodehamel and Taper transcribed a large percentage of John Wilkes Booth’s letters to friends and family, including the known O’Laughlen letters. From their work we know the text of Booth’s letter:

Tudor Hall. Sept: 14th: 1855.

My Dear Friend,

I received you letter the other day. I thought you did not intend to write to me, by your delaying it so long. I should have written long ago but I was waitting till I heard from you. I tried to see you on the night of my debut. I saw Welch (I believe you know him) he said he would tell you to come out, but I expect he never did it. I am doing very well up here, but I am getting very tired of the country. I am thinking of moveing to Sebasterpol you know there is some excitement there. and yet the country has been lively lately and next week there are two pick-nicks going on. and on the 25 there is a very large ball to be held in Bel-Air, and there are Plenty of Pigeons, Patriges and Sqrirrels for shooting. we are thinking of moveing to Baltimore in the winter but are not certain. I will be in Baltimore anyhow in October if nothing happens. you must excuse this dull letter, but I feel very low spirited to day. Answer soon and try to write me a long letter. Give my respects to all who ask after me your Ever Affectionate Friend,

J. W. Booth

In this letter, Booth refers to his debut, which was the first time he took the stage in a professional manner. This occurred on August 14, 1855 where he played the role of Richmond from Richard III at Baltimore’s St. Charles Theatre. The performance was a benefit for his childhood acquaintance (and future brother-in-law) John Sleeper Clarke, who knew the Booth name would help draw in curious theatregoers and increase his box office proceeds. The mention of moving to the excitement in “Sebasterpol” is a reference to Siege of Sevastopol, a yearlong conflict in the Crimean War. Just a few days before Booth wrote this letter, Russian defenses had abandoned Sevastopol after heavy bombardment and massive casualties were inflicted on them by the Allies. The fall of Sevastopol essentially marked the beginning of the end of the Crimean War for the Russians. Booth’s desire to be part of something exciting and historic would be realized four years later when he left his acting career in Richmond to go and serve as a guard at John Brown’s execution.

Always hoping to see the original, handwritten copies of John Wilkes Booth correspondences, I did a little searching to see if this September 14, 1855 letter had been sold at auction lately. While some of the other letters to O’Laughlen have been sold, it does not appear that this one has resurfaced publicly in the last couple decades so I could not find the handwritten version. Still, I was curious where these O’Laughlen letters came from in the first place.

In Rhodehamel and Taper’s book, they state that, “Around 1965, a Baltimore woman cleaning out a desk in her basement suddenly realized that the old letters she was burning were signed, ‘J. Wilkes Booth.’” Digging a bit future we find a newspaper article from the New York Post dated November 2, 1966 entitled “Lincoln & Booth Letters: Evil Will Outsell the Good” which describes an auction set for the next day by auctioneer Charles Hamilton.

Among the many treasures Hamilton was set to auction was a letter Lincoln wrote after this third Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858 and three of the letters Booth wrote to O’Laughlen, including the September 14, 1855 one. As the name of the article implies, Hamilton gave his opinion that the Booth letters would sell for more than the Lincoln letter. “Evil is unfortunately always fascinating,” the auctioneer noted. “If you go to a zoo, you’re fascinated by cobras and rattlesnakes. If you have a choice of two books to read, you’d probably prefer ‘The Life and Cruel Deeds of Jesse James’ to a volume of sermons…I dislike the thought of a Presidential murderer’s letters being worth more than those of the President himself, but that’s what happens.” At the conclusion of the article, there is a brief mention of where Hamilton acquired the Booth material proving a little more context than Rhodehamel and Taper provided:

“The John Wilkes Booth letter came to Hamilton from Mrs. Agatha McCarthy, an elderly widow who discovered an old desk in the basement of her Baltimore home, which she said was ‘just full of Booth.’ She burned many of the old letters she found, before she recognized the bold signature: ‘ J. Wilkes Booth.’ Her home was owned previously by Thomas Jones, a co-conspirator with Booth in the Lincoln assassination, and somehow Booth’s old writing desk had resided for years in McCarthy’s basement.”

Now this entire explanation perplexed me. These are letters written by Booth to Billy O’Laughlen when he was a teenager. According to this article they were found by a woman in the basement of her home that used to be owned by Thomas Jones, the Southern Marylander who took care of Booth and Herold when they were hiding in a pine thicket during their escape. The mixture of these disparate figures into one story felt off to me. In addition, the article suggests that the desk in which the letters were found in Mrs. McCarthy’s basement was Booth’s writing desk. We are to believe that letters a young Booth mailed to Billy O’Laughlen somehow made their way back to Booth’s own writing desk and then into the hands of Thomas Jones in Baltimore.

To be fair, Thomas Jones did live in Baltimore after the Civil War. He can be found living there in the 1870 and 1880 censuses with his family. Jones was still living there in 1883/1884 when he was visited by journalist George Alfred Townsend (GATH) who interviewed him about his involvement in Booth’s escape. That interview resulted in the article “How Wilkes Booth Crossed the Potomac”, filling in the missing timeline in Booth’s escape.

So I decided to try and track down where, exactly, Thomas Jones resided while living in Baltimore. I used census records, Baltimore directories, and even the addresses on GATH’s telegrams to Jones, to plot the different places Thomas Jones lived during his decade and a half in Baltimore. After adjusting for the street numbering change that occurred in Baltimore in 1886, I determined all the modern addresses I could find for Jones’ whereabouts.

I then decided to try and track down Mrs. Agatha McCarthy and see where she lived. The first hiccup in my search for her was her name. Agatha’s last name was McCarty not McCarthy as the auction article stated. I know that’s a minor mistake, but it doesn’t help with overall veracity of the story when you can’t get the name of your provenance source right. With some digging I found that Agatha McCarty’s maiden name was Shipley, she was born on December 5, 1870 in Baltimore County. In 1899, she married Frank P. McCarty and moved to Baltimore where she would spend the rest of her life. In the 1900 census the newlyweds are living at 2709 Boone St. In 1905, the two moved just a bit south to 2409 Greenmount Ave. In 1913 they moved a block south on Greenmount Ave. By 1920, the couple had moved into their forever home at 636 Cokesbury Ave. Agatha McCarty would live here for the rest of her life (save for her final hospital stay) until her death in 1968 at the age of 97.

And so, here is my map of all the places I could find where Thomas Jones and Agatha McCarty lived in Baltimore. Jones’ residences are in yellow and McCarty’s are in red. At no point does it appear that Agatha McCarty lived in a home formerly occupied by Thomas Jones. The two never even lived in the same neighborhood of Baltimore. Now I suppose it’s possible that at some point after Jones moved back down to Southern Maryland a desk he owned might have been sold away or given to a neighbor and from there it somehow made its way to Mrs. McCarty. Furniture does have a habit of moving around. But even in that unlikely scenario, the question remains, “Why would Thomas Jones have Booth’s childhood letters?”

For the most part, Jones largely stayed quiet about his involvement with John Wilkes Booth in the aftermath of the assassination. He was arrested on suspicion and held at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington for a time but was eventually released. It really wasn’t until he consented to be interviewed by GATH in 1883 that he opened up about his role helping the assassin on the run. Eventually, Jones saw his claim to fame (infamy?) as an opportunity. In 1893, Jones published his own book entitled, J. Wilkes Booth: An Account of His Sojourn in Southern Maryland after the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, his Passage Across the Potomac, and his Death in Virginia. It told of Jones’ work with the Confederate mail line during the Civil War and how Booth came to be under his care during the escape. Jones took his book to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair hoping to sell a bunch of copies, but the Yankees in the Land of Lincoln weren’t very good customers. The book was a financial flop for Jones who died two years later in 1895. Though the book doesn’t go into the history of John Wilkes Booth, is it possible Jones somehow acquired Booth’s childhood letters during his work on it? Possibly, but I think even this to be very, very unlikely. After a bit more research, I think I’ve come up with a more believable explanation.

Let’s take a look at the map of the Jones and McCarty residences again.

I’ve zoomed in a little bit and added a purple pin. That purple pin marks 419 E 20th Street. From 1890 through 1913, that was the home of a grocer turned carpenter who had always resided in Baltimore. The carpenter who resided here had gone through a lot, including the death of his younger brother. The reason for his brother’s death could be traced back to when a new family moved in across the street from his childhood home at 57 N Exeter in 1845.

Yes, I’m talking about John Wilkes Booth’s childhood friend, Samuel Williams “Billy” O’Laughlen. Even at the time of the assassination, the elder O’Laughlen was in the grocery business and was trying his best to get his younger brother, Michael, involved. Part of the reason Michael O’Laughlen was able to meet with Booth so often in D.C. was because he was doing work for his brother’s business there. The elder O’Laughlen transitioned to carpentry work after the Civil War and remained in Baltimore where he married and had children of his own. He died in 1915 at the age of 76 and is buried next to his brother and other family members at Green Mount Cemetery.

Looking at the map we can see that the home Samuel Williams O’Laughlen had for 23 years was in the same vicinity of where Agatha McCarty resided just off of Greenmount Ave. They’re not next-door neighbors, but definitely closer to each other than Thomas Jones ever was. Also, unlike Jones who resided in Baltimore years before Agatha McCarty moved to town, O’Laughlen was there at the same time as the later owner of the letters. For 13 years O’Laughlen and McCarty lived in the same area of Baltimore, just blocks apart.

I’m inclined to believe that Agatha McCarty got the Booth letters from Samuel Williams O’Laughlen not Thomas Jones. The letters had been written to O’Laughlen after all, and he likely retained them. How McCarty ended up with them is anyone’s guess. Maybe she knew the O’Laughlens from the neighborhood and received them directly or, as the original story goes, she found them in an old desk that had once belonged to them and somehow ended up in her possession. Regardless of how she came across them, we know that she did have them as of 1942. In that year an article was published about a Shipley family reunion, which Agatha McCarty nee Shipley attended. McCarty was a bit of a family genealogist and was mentioned in the article as having brought with her a file of 1,900 births and deaths in the family. The article also included the line that, “She also had a framed copy of a letter written by J. Wilkes Booth bearing his autograph eleven years before the death of Lincoln.”

I haven’t been able to find any other mentions of Mrs. McCarty and the Booth letters aside from this and the auction article from 1966. Whether there is any truth to her having burned several other letters before noticing the signature, we’ll never know.

In the end, this is an example of the inherit difficulties in tracing provenance of an item. For these specific Booth letters, their still uncertain line doesn’t really change much. The handwriting and contents of the letters from Booth and Billy O’Laughlen establish that they were, indeed, written by the future assassin of Lincoln. But for countless other artifacts, where the question of authenticity is less self-evident, establishing the provenance of the item and how it got from historical person or place to now is often filled with holes. Sometimes the best we can do is to lay out the evidence we have and acknowledge that it could be wrong or mixed up a bit as I think is the case here. In truth, far fewer things you see on display in museums are as iron-clad authentic as you might expect. This is not because museums are actively lying to you or trying to trick you, but because humans often leave poor or almost nonexistent records behind sometimes. Institutions do their best to engage in exercises like this to trace provenance, but as you can see, the process often raises more questions than it answers.

Finally, with all due respect to Mrs. McCarty knowing that the whole story of her flaming discovery may have been just a clever ploy by the auctioneer, please don’t go around burning old letters and documents you might find without looking at them first. You never know what valuable piece of history you might uncover.


P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to promote an upcoming book on John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln assassination from a familiar name. Coming twenty-four years after the publication of his edited volume of Booth letters, “Right or Wrong, God Judge Me” The Writings of John Wilkes Booth, John Rhodehamel is set to release a new book on September 7, 2021 called America’s Original Sin: White Supremacy, John Wilkes Booth, and the Lincoln Assassination.

I am very much looking forward to reading Rhodehamel’s work which explores Lincoln assassination through the lens of the white supremacist act it was. Here’s the publisher’s description:

“In this riveting new book, John Rhodehamel argues that Booth’s primary motivation for his heinous crime was a growing commitment to white supremacy. In alternating chapters, Original Sin shows how, as Lincoln’s commitment to emancipation and racial equality grew, so too did Booth’s rage and hatred for Lincoln, whom he referred to as “King Abraham Africanus the First.” Examining Booth’s early life in Maryland, Rhodehamel traces the evolution of his racial hatred from his youthful embrace of white supremacy through to his final act of murder. Along the way, he considers and discards other potential motivations for Booth’s act, such as mental illness or persistent drunkenness, which are all, Rhodehamel writes, either insufficient to explain Booth’s actions or were excuses made after the fact by those who sympathized with him.”

Terry Alford, the author of Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth, has already positively reviewed the book writing:

“This unique book combines Rhodehamel’s intriguing insights with the excellent characterizations and top-tier research that have always distinguished his work.”

With Alford’s endorsement, I’m confident Rhodehamel’s book will be a valuable addition to any Lincoln library and encourage any one interested in the Lincoln assassination to pre-order it from your favorite bookseller.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Lincoln Assassination On This Day (August 9 – 22)

A couple of weeks ago on my Twitter account I did a “On This Day” or “OTD” tweet regarding one of the possible days where John Wilkes Booth recruited his childhood friends Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen into his plan to abduct President Lincoln. While Arnold later wrote his belief that this initial meeting, “was in the latter part of August or about the first of September A. D. 1864,” Art Loux, author of John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, concluded that Booth couldn’t have been in Baltimore during that time and that the most likely day for this meeting to have occurred was on August 8 or 9. Having just been looking at Art’s book for another matter, I decided to mark the possible anniversary of this event on August 9th:

Since the 9th, I’ve proceeded to find other events to mark for each subsequent day. In this way, I’ve apparently started a daily #OTD post for events related to the Lincoln assassination, John Wilkes Booth, and the Booth family. I know only a limited number of my blog readers are on Twitter and so I’ve decided that each week, I will repost my tweets from the past week here on my blog so that everyone can see what anniversaries have occurred over the past week. This first post will have two weeks worth of material as I didn’t think of reposting them until today. If you click on any of the pictures in the tweet, it will take you to the page on Twitter where you can click to make them bigger 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 two weeks.


August 10

Bonus August 10 tweet from the Dr. Mudd House Museum (another great Twitter follow) reminding us of a certain stage carpenter’s birthday


August 11


August 12


August 13


August 14

Thank you so much to Eva Lennartz for sharing her photo of the Rathbones’ final resting place and for having discovered that their remains were not completely disposed of as was previously believed!


August 15

(Note: After I posted this tweet, my friend Steve Miller who is THE expert on Boston Corbett let me know that he doesn’t think Corbett was actually in the hospital for a month. Instead, Steve believes that Corbett was returning to the hospital regularly for outpatient visits. Thanks for the info, Steve!)


August 16


August 17

This one should look familiar.


August 18


August 19


August 20


August 21


August 22


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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Testimony Regarding Michael O’Laughlen

Over May and June of this year, I presented a day-by-day project documenting the Trial of the Lincoln Conspirators. To further support usability of this project for students and researchers, I am releasing individualized tables of the testimony given at the trial relating to each conspirator. Rather than having to look through the entirety of the trial to gain an understanding of the specific evidence against a single person, all of the relevant testimony regarding each conspirator has been organized into an easily accessible and hyperlinked table. I have previously released the testimony regarding Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, Samuel Arnold and continue today with Michael O’Laughlen. The text that follows this paragraph contains the same information that will always be found on a standalone page of the trial project called Michael O’Laughlen Testimony and can be accessed by clicking the picture of O’Laughlen on The Trial homepage. The organized testimony regarding the other conspirators will be published over the next week.


The following table shows all of the testimony given at the Lincoln conspiracy trial concerning Michael O’Laughlen. Clicking on any of the witnesses’ names will take you to their corresponding testimony in the chronological Trial project.

The default arrangement of the witnesses in the table is by Relevant Testimony. This organizes the witnesses based on what specific aspect of the conspirator’s case was discussed. In the case of Michael O’Laughlen, I organized the testimony into four categories, labeled A – D. Descriptions of what each category means can be found after the table. The tabs on the bottom of the table allow you to view the witnesses arranged by Date and Alphabetically by last name.

Mobile users: Due to the smaller screen size on mobile devices, you will likely have to scroll left and right on the table to see the Relevant Testimony column.

Relevant Testimony descriptions:

A. Michael O’Laughlen’s Association with John Wilkes Booth & Others

The prosecution had a fairly easy time in connecting Michael O’Laughlen with John Wilkes Booth and some of the other conspirators. During the period of time when Booth was plotting to abduct Abraham Lincoln, O’Laughlen was seen conversing with Booth on multiple occasions. Booth also sent letters and telegrams to O’Laughlen when the conspirator was home in Baltimore. When Samuel Arnold’s confession was testified to, it included the fact that O’Laughlen was part of the conspiracy to kidnap Lincoln.

B. Michael O’Laughlen Targeted General Grant and Communicated with Booth

O’Laughlen had the bad luck of actually being in D.C. on the night preceding (and of) the assassination of Lincoln. The government brought forth witnesses who claimed that O’Laughlen had been seen outside of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s home on the night of April 13. Stanton was entertaining Gen. U. S. Grant for the evening and O’Laughlen allegedly asked about the General before being asked to depart by those present. The prosecution also used the testimony of some of O’Laughlen’s friends in their attempt to prove that O’Laughlen was in contact with Booth on April 13 and 14.

C. Michael O’Laughlen was not Arrested at Home 

The weakest aspect of the prosecution’s case against O’Laughlen was the suggestion that he was evading arrest when he was arrested at the home of a friend rather than his own home. Walter Cox, O’Laughlen’s lawyer, showed that, in fact, O’Laughlen had arranged for his own surrender to authorities by way of his brother-in-law. He chose a different location than his home as he did not want his mother to become upset at the sight of his arrest in her home.

D. Michael O’Laughlen was Nowhere Near Sec. Stanton’s Home

Walter Cox had multiple witnesses who testified that O’Laughlen was nowhere near the home of Secretary Edwin Stanton on April 13 and could not have threatened Gen. Grant in anyway. There was nothing nefarious in O’Laughlen’s visit from Baltimore to D.C. on that day. He and his friends wanted to take part in the end of the war celebration that was going on. Many of O’Laughlen’s friends testified that the group drank and partied consistently on April 13 and a great deal on the 14. O’Laughlen was still with his merry band when the news of Lincoln’s assassination reached them, thus was not actively participating in the crime. While it was true that O’Laughlen had made efforts to see Booth on both the 13 and the 14, there was no evidence that either of these meetings were successful and were likely related to money Booth owed O’Laughlen’s brother.

For the closing argument in defense of Michael O’Laughlen please click here.

Please remember that the Relevant Testimony descriptor is not meant to be definitive. In many instances, a witness might cover material from more than one category. For example, O’Laughlen’s brother-in-law, Philip Maulsby, covered many different aspects of the government’s case against the conspirator. Still, the attempt has been made to determine the most applicable category for each witness’s overall testimony.

Categories: History | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Grave Thursday: Mary Van Tyne

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.


NOTE: I know today isn’t Thursday. I’ve been swamped with getting ready for the new school year to begin and though I tried to get this out yesterday, I found I had to do a bit more research. Rather than wait another week to post it, I figured I’d just post it tonight instead. So enjoy this Friday edition of Grave Thursday.

Mary Ann Van Tyne

Burial Location: Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Mary Van Tyne, whose maiden name was Ricard, was originally born in England. We know she had moved to the  United States by 1833 for it was during that year that she married Dr. John P. Van Tyne in Maryland. By 1840, the pair had relocated to Washington City and quickly began building their family. By 1850, Mary and John were the parents of at least 5 children. In February of 1851, John Van Tyne died at the age of 44, leaving Mary a widow. She supported her family financially by working as a seamstress and dressmaker. As time went on, Mrs. Van Tyne even advertised her talents as a seamstress.

In 1857, Mary’s only remaining son, Charles, died at the age of 21. In the 1860 census, Mary Van Tyne is shown as a widow, working as a dressmaker with her four daughters: Mary, Kate, Florida, and Ellen.

During the Civil War, the population of D.C. boomed. Many homeowners made supplemental incomes by renting out rooms. Conspirator Mary Surratt would follow this route after relocating from her Maryland tavern to her D.C. town home. Mrs. Van Tyne, likewise started to rent out rooms and advertised her spaces in the D.C. papers.

In February of 1865, two men took up Mrs. Van Tyne’s offer of lodging and began renting one of her rooms. Their names were Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen and, unbeknownst to Mrs. Van Tyne, they were taking part in John Wilkes Booth’s plan to abduct President Lincoln.

While Mrs. Van Tyne did not have a lot of contact with her new boarders, she did get to know a few things about them. For instance, Mr. O’Laughlen told her that he was also known as McLaughlin, and that if she should receive any mail addressed as such that it should come to him. Once, when cleaning their room, she came upon a pistol but didn’t think much of it and merely placed it in a bureau drawer for safe keeping. Often, the two men would leave and go to Baltimore on a Saturday and not return to the city until Monday or Tuesday.

The two men were also frequently visited by a handsome man. The man would call at all times of day looking for the men and leaving messages for them. Finally, Mrs. Van Tyne inquired with her boarders about who the handsome man was. They informed her that he was John Wilkes Booth, the popular actor. Once, Mrs. Van Tyne overhead something among the men about business and she later asked Arnold what business they were in. Arnold replied that the three men were in the oil business together in Pennsylvania. Booth was a common visitor and often appeared to keep her boarders out late. Mr. Arnold and O’Laughlen had a night key which allowed them to come and go as they pleased. Since they were sleeping in a back bedroom on the first floor, she did not always know whether they were home or not.

Finally, on March 18th, Arnold and O’Laughlen told Mrs. Van Tyne that they were going to be leaving for good on Monday the 20th. They were off to the Pennsylvania oil fields, they told her. They mentioned that while they were anxious to leave that very night, Booth was performing at Ford’s Theatre and they wanted to see him. Mrs. Van Tyne expressed her own desire to see Booth perform. Grateful for the lodging Mrs. Van Tyne had given them, O’Laughlen gave Mrs. Van Tyne three complimentary tickets for Booth’s performance in The Apostate at Ford’s Theatre that night.

Mary Van Tyne neither heard from nor saw Mr. Arnold or Mr. O’Laughlen after they left on March 20th. After the assassination of Lincoln, the identities and movements of John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators were traced. On May 5th, Mrs. Van Tyne was interviewed by Baltimore provost marshal, James McPhail. McPhail and his men were largely responsible for hunting down Arnold and O’Laughlen. Mrs. Van Tyne told all that she knew about the two men who stayed in her home.

Ten days later, Mrs. Van Tyne was among the first to be called to the witness stand at the trial of the conspirators. She testified about Booth’s common visitations to her home in search of Arnold and O’Laughlen. She was also asked to identify a picture of Booth as the man she saw. While she identified it, she also made the observation that the photograph presented to her was a poor likeness of the man and did not truly capture how handsome Booth was. After providing her testimony for the day, Mrs. Van Tyne returned home and back into obscurity.

Mary Van Tyne continued to live in Washington, D.C.. By 1870, she moved out of her D street boardinghouse and began living with her daughter, Florida, who had married a man named Friebus. She would live with her daughter and son-in-law for the rest of her life. On December 18, 1886, Mary Van Tyne died of “valvular disease of [the] heart”. Her age at death is difficult to determine. Her obituary stated that she was “in her eighty-first year.” Her burial records give her an age of “80 years” and “5 months” at time of death. The census records did not really help the matter. Unlike many census records where women miraculously age less than a decade in the ten years span between censuses, Mrs. Van Tyne actually managed to age more than ten years between the 1860 and 1870 census. The 1850 and 1860 census records give her birth at about 1812 which would make her about 74 at her death. The 1870 and 1880 censuses give her birth at about 1806 which puts her back up at 80.

Upon her death, Mrs. Van Tyne was interred in Section P, Lot 202, Site 5 in D.C.’s Glenwood Cemetery. If Mrs. Van Tyne was marked with a gravestone upon her death, it no longer stands. Her burial lot is only marked by the gravestone of her daughter, Florida Friebus nee Van Tyne, who died in 1915.

GPS coordinates for Mary Van Tyne’s unmarked grave: 38.921110, -77.004470

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

“Helped to Guard the Conspirators”

While doing a little searching tonight, I came across an interesting article from the December 15, 1902 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It highlights a Philadelphia resident named Isaac M. Marshall who claimed to have been among the guards detailed the watch over the Lincoln assassination conspirators during their trial and imprisonment. The article gives some candid thoughts that Corporal Marshall had about the conspirators, which I thought would be worth sharing.

Living at 3213 Mt. Vernon street is a veteran of the Civil War – Isaac M. Marshall – who was one of the guards of the conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln, and who has still a vivid recollection of how they looked and acted when on trial for their lives at the old Arsenal in Washington. “I was a member of Company I, of the Third Regiment, Hancock’s Veteran Corps, at the time,” he said yesterday to a reporter of The Inquirer. “We were camped outside the capital in 1865, and the morning after the great crime had been committed we got orders to watch all the approaches leading from the city. The entire regiment was given this duty and no one was allowed to go through the lines without establishing his or her identity, and that they had a right to pass on.

“Later on our company was at the Arsenal during the trial of the men and Mrs. Surratt. I remember all of the conspirators well. Lewis Payne, one of those who were hanged, always wore a knit shirt. He was stalwart and of athletic build and had an eagle eye. The stern look on his face never appeared to change. David E. Herold was handsome, and he knew it. He had long black hair and he frequently pushed it above his forehead. There were many young women present – admitted by card – and to some of these he frequently bowed. One of his peculiar actions was to raise his hands so that they could see his manacled wrists.

“Of Samuel B. Arnold, whose story of alleged cruel treatment I have read with deep interest, as it appears from day to day in The Inquirer, I want to say this: Whatever may have happened to him at the Dry Tortugas, he did not look as if he had suffered any before his trial occurred. On the contrary, he appeared to have been well fed and otherwise well cared for. You could scarcely tell what kind of a man he was. At times his countenance wore a look of defiance; then of sternness and again of unconcern. He was neatly attired, as were all the others, save Payne, who managed to change his clothes after the crime, assuming the garb of a laborer.

“Michael O’Laughlin, who also went to the Dry Tortugas, was the only one who seemed to be affected and sorry. George Atzerodt I didn’t pay much attention to. Dr. Mudd did not have the appearance at all of a physician or professional man. Mrs. Surratt was always veiled; sat immovable and looked like a statue. After the trial the Third Regiment was sent to Camp Butler, at Springfield, Ill., and I was there when the lamented Lincoln was buried…”

Marshall’s extended comment about Samuel Arnold is due to the fact that this article came out in 1902, the same year that Arnold allowed his lengthy memoirs to be printed in the newspapers after he had read his own obituary. In his memoir, Arnold complained at length about the treatment he received at the hands of the government. Marshall provides a small rebuff to Arnold’s claims that he was mistreated while in Washington (though considering the hoods Arnold and the others were forced to wear, you can’t blame him too much for complaining). The other descriptions of the Lincoln conspirators are very much in line with what other visitors of the trial observed.

While I can’t positively confirm that Isaac Marshall was one of the guards at the trial of the conspirators, it seems fairly likely he is telling the truth. The Old Arsenal Penitentiary, where the conspirators were imprisoned and tried, was largely manned by members of the Veteran Reserve Corps, which Marshall was a member. On the day of the execution of the conspirators, Marshall’s specific group, the Third Regiment, was assigned duty as sentinels from the northeast corner of the arsenal grounds extending along the east bank of the river. Members of the 3rd regiment were also stationed in a line 100 yards south of the prison grounds. So, at the very least, Marshall did have guard duty on the day of the conspirators’ death. Even Marshall’s claim to have been in Springfield when Lincoln was buried is possible. The Third Regiment wasn’t officially mustered out of service until December of 1865 and Abraham Lincoln’s remains were “buried” in a temporary vault in Oak Ridge Cemetery on December 21, 1865. Isaac Marshall may have had the unique experience of being present at both the execution of the conspirators and at one of Abraham Lincoln’s many burials.

Isaac Marshall died on July 6, 1919 and is buried in Fernwood Cemetery, outside of Philadelphia.

References:
(1902, December 15) Helped to Guard the Conspirators. Philadelphia Inquirer, p 5.

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Grave Thursday: Frederick Aiken

Each week 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.


Frederick Aiken

frederick-aiken-grave-1

Burial Location: Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

Frederick Aiken was one of Mary Surratt’s defense counsels at the trial of the conspirators. A dramatic version of his exploits during the trial was the subject of the 2010 movie, The Conspirator, starring James McAvoy and Robin WrightDuring the course of researching for the film, it was discovered by researcher Christine Christensen that Aiken had been buried in an unmarked grave in D.C.’s Oak Hill Cemetery. The Surratt Society completed a fundraiser to mark Aiken’s grave. I briefly posted about the installment of the grave marker in 2012.

I highly recommend Christine Christensen’s article about Aiken’s life called, Finding Frederick.

Coincidentally, Frederick Aiken is buried within throwing distance of another attorney at the trial of the conspirators, William Smith Cox, the lawyer who represented Michael O’Laughlen. Later, Walter Cox would be involved in a trial for another assassinated president when he was the presiding judge at the trial of Charles Guiteau, the assassin of President James Garfield.

aiken-and-coxs-grave-oak-hill

 

GPS coordinates for Frederick Aiken’s grave: 38.914285, -77.058428

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The Dry Tortugas Prisoners

On April 7, 1866, the following article was published in the New York Herald. It provides an interesting  look at the condition and day to day existence of three of the Lincoln assassination conspirators imprisoned at Fort Jefferson: Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Edman Spangler.

The Dry Tortugas Prisoners

Health and Varied Employments of the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators and Colonel Maramaduke, the Rebel Emissary to Burn Chicago – How They Look, Talk, Feel, and Behave, &c

Our Fortress Monroe Correspondence

Fortress Monroe, April 5, 1866.

The government transport steamer Eliza Hancox, Captain Shuter arrived here this morning from Galveston, Texas. She left Galveston on the 22d ult., and on the route, meeting with some rough but mainly favorable weather, stopped at Key West, Charleston and Morehead City. From here she expects to go to New York to be discharged from the government employ, though there is some talk of her being detained as quarantine steamer. She brings several discharged prisoners from the Dry Tortugas. By conversing with these prisoners I have obtained full particulars touching the present condition, health, and varied employments of the assassination conspirators against President Lincoln, now undergoing imprisonment there.

Dr. Mudd.

Dr. Mudd 4

Dr. Mudd, since his attempt to escape by concealing himself in the coal bunker of a steamer, has not been able to revive the confidence reposed in him previous to that time. He is still kept under close guard, and compelled to clean out bastions in the casemates of the fort, and do some of the most menial and degrading work required to be done. Instead of becoming reconciled to his lot, he grows more discontented and querulous. Never very robust, he is now but little better than a skeleton, and his growing emaciation shows how bitterly his spirit chafes under his imprisonment, and how deeply the iron pierces his soul. His constant prayer is for death, which alone can set him free. It is natural he should suffer more than his colleagues in crime. The most intelligent of them all, and in the associations and habits of his former life greatly lifted above them, he is so much the more the keenest sufferer now. But there is none to pity him. All keep aloof from him.

Arnold.

Sam Arnold's Mug Shot

Sam Arnold’s Mug Shot

Arnold is employed as clerk of Captain Van Reade, Post Adjutant. An uncommonly fine penman and accurate accountant – his profession will be remembered as that of a bookkeeper – and well behaved and modest and yielding in his demeanor, he grows in usefulness and popularity each day. A guard attends him to his meals, which are the same as the other prisoners, and at night he is in close custody. His behavior shows that he appreciates his position and that he does not, like Dr. Mudd, and intend to abuse the confidence placed in his and lose it. His health is good.

Spangler.

Spangler 1

Spangler is at work in the Quartermaster’s carpenter shop. Already he begins to count the years, months, and days remaining to complete his term of imprisonment. He is robust and jolly – a physical condition he attributes, however, – solely to his being innocent of any participancy in the dreadful crime charged against him.

Colonel Marmaduke

In striking contrast to the persons I have referred to is Colonel Marmaduke, found guilty of the noted conspiracy to free the prisoners at Camp Douglas and burn Chicago. He has charge of the post garden. In respect to manual labor, no royal gardener has an easier time. Like the lilies of the field, he toils not. His only business is to see that those under him work. He has the privilege of going outside the fort at any time between reveille and sunset. He does not evidently allow his prison life to interfere seriously with his health or spirits, for both are excellent. In the extent of freedom allowed him, he is very much given to putting on the airs of a fine gentleman and walks and struts about like one on the very best terms with himself and the world.

Number of Prisoners

When the Eliza Hancox left Key West there were at Fort Jefferson, or the Dry Tortugas, sixty-five white and ninety-five colored prisoners. Most are undergoing sentences of courts martial, and every day the number is being diminished through expiration of terms of imprisonment. Under the admirable and humane managements of Companies C, D, L and M, Fifth United States artillery, Brevet Brigadier General Hill commanding, doing garrison duty, there is nothing of which to complain, either on the part of prisoners or soldiers. The rations are of the best and abundant, and the prisoners’ quarters and barracks are kept clean and healthy. Officers, soldiers and prisoners enjoy unwonted good health.

There are two main things of note in this article. First, even though Dr. Mudd had enacted his failed escape attempt in September of 1865, the former prisoners interviewed in this piece recount Mudd still paying the price for it. The sorrowful description of Dr. Mudd’s condition was no doubt distressing to Mrs. Mudd as this column was published nationwide. Dr. Mudd also did not spare his wife the details of his degenerating condition in his letters home to her.

Second, this article has a great deal of unintended, and slightly ironic, foreshadowing. Clearly someone neglected to “knock on wood” after writing the final lines that Fort Jefferson was “clean and healthy” and that the “prisoners enjoy unwonted good health”. Dr. Mudd and Samuel Arnold, in their letters and later recollections would definitely disagree with those assertions. However, even if the Fort was clean and healthy at that time, by August of 1867, the exact opposite had become true with the Yellow Fever epidemic that infected 270 of the 400 people at Fort Jefferson and claimed 38 lives. One of the lost souls was conspirator Michael O’Laughlen, who is ironically absent from this article as well.

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 3 Huntington Library

Poor O’Laughlen. He’s the conspirator we know the least about and he was already being overlooked a year before his early demise at that “healthy” prison with, “nothing of which to complain,” about.

References:

“The Dry Tortugas Prisoners” New York Herald, April 7, 1866

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Picture This: A New Image of Michael O’Laughlen

At around 9:00 p.m. on April 17, 1865, a young, mustachioed man in handcuffs was brought to Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard and placed aboard a ship named the U.S.S. Saugus. The Saugus was lying at anchor in the middle of the water in preparation for its role of becoming an island fortress to hold those arrested as conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination. This 24 year old man, whose presence on board christened the Saugus as a prison ship, was named Michael O’Laughlen.

O'Laughlen from Harper's Weekly

O’Laughlen was a long time friend of John Wilkes Booth. The two grew up as boys together on Exeter St. in Baltimore, where the Booth’s lived across the street from the O’Laughlen family. Though Booth had a more personal relationship with Samuel Williams O’Laughlen, Michael’s older brother, Booth still had fond memories of Michael. As both Booth and O’Laughlen grew up, their lives went in different directions. Booth became a noted Shakespearean star, following in the footsteps of his father and brothers, while O’Laughlen ended up joining a Maryland regiment which fought on the side of the Confederacy. Much of O’Laughlen’s time in the Confederacy was plagued with illness and by 1862 he was back home in Maryland assisting his brother in the hay and feed business.

In the fall of 1864, Booth reconnected with his old friend and the charismatic actor easily convinced O’Laughlen to join his plot to abduct President Lincoln for the benefit of the Confederacy. Delays and inaction continued for several months and O’Laughlen eventually lost interest in the plot and returned to work with his brother. On April 13, 1865, O’Laughlen traveled from Baltimore down to D.C. in order to take in the Grand Illumination celebration with friends. He allegedly made a couple of attempts to meet with Booth on this date, but failed to connect with the actor. When the assassination occurred on April 14th, O’Laughlen was terrified due to his intimate connection with the assassin. O’Laughlen returned to Baltimore but, after a few days, realized that his arrest would be unavoidable and imminent. O’Laughlen was the only conspirator to have turned himself in, arranging his surrender at the home of his sister.

And so it was that Michael O’Laughlen was the first of John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators to be placed aboard the Saugus, confined for his own protection away from mob violence that might do him harm but also in a condition that would prevent him from communicating with anyone. As other conspirators were arrested, they would be place aboard the Saugus as well, until the ship no longer had enough space to adequately isolate them all and the U.S.S. Montauk was brought alongside for additional space. O’Laughlen was kept aboard the Saugus during this time, confined to the ship’s head.

O’Laughlen was on the Saugus from April 17th until April 29th when all the accused aboard the ironclads were transferred to the Arsenal Penitentiary. The research of authors Barry Cauchon and John Elliott has shown pretty conclusively that during this period of confinement, photographer Alexander Gardner made four visits to the ships to photograph the conspirators. O’Laughlen’s mugshots were taken with the bulk of the other conspirators’ images on April 25th. The following are the two images previously known of Michael O’Laughlen:

Michael O'Laughlen Mug Shot Front

Michael O'Laughlen Mug Shot Profile

Until now, these two images were the only images we have ever found of Michael O’Laughlen. Mugshots such as these were used by artists to create engravings for the illustrated newspapers of the day. However as a low interest conspirator and one who was not involved in the actual assassination plot, few took the time to make an engraving of the mild mannered O’Laughlen. The public was far more interested in getting a look at Lewis Powell, the scoundrel who viciously attacked the Secretary of State, so far more impressive engravings were made of him.  One of the lesser known illustrated newspapers, the Washington Weekly Chronicle, contained engravings of most of the conspirators when they published their July 15, 1865 issue:

Washington Weekly Chronicle 7-15-1865

Though Lewis Powell took center stage, the Chronicle also provided this engraving of Michael O’Laughlen:

O'Laughlen Washington Weekly Chronicle

A detailed look will demonstrate that this particular engraving does not actually match either one of the two known mugshot photos of Michael O’Laughlen. It is somewhat similar to the hat-less photo of O’Laughlen, but this engraving shows more of his face than the original source image.

The easiest conclusion to draw is that the engraver added a little bit of their own artistic license when creating the drawing of Michael O’Laughlen. This is not unheard of. As a matter of fact, the large image of Lewis Powell in this edition does not match a known image of Lewis Powell. Despite the tagline that this engraving was based on a photograph taken especially for the Washington Weekly Chronicle, according to author Betty Ownsbey, this engraving of Lewis Powell appears to be a sort of composite between two images of Powell, instead.

Composite Powell Engraving Washington Weekly Chronicle

So it seemed reasonable that the engraving of Michael O’Laughlen in this issue was also not based on an actual photograph, but instead on an artist’s extrapolation of O’Laughlen’s mugshot photographs.

It turns out, however, that this engraving actually isn’t an extrapolation or artistic license. Today, while searching through the online digital collections of the Huntington Library in California, I decided to click on a thumbnail that I assumed was one of the two common mugshot photographs of Michael O’Laughlen.

O'Laughlen Thumbnail Huntington

Immediately I was struck with the suspicion that something was wrong. It was a strange feeling to have. Before me was obviously the hat-less mugshot photo of Michael O’Laughlen, and yet, at the same time, it wasn’t right. As a longtime researcher and reader on the Lincoln assassination I have become so accustomed to seeing the same images over and over again. My accustomed brain was saying, “Yep, this is the same picture of O’Laughlen you always see,” but, at the same time, I couldn’t shake the idea that something was different. Suddenly, I had to see Michael O’Laughlen’s mugshot photographs, I needed to silence the voice saying something was wrong. I opened up my O’Laughlen Picture Gallery and stared at the mugshots. Then it hit me, this image was not the same as the traditional hat-less mugshot. I was surprised and ecstatic to see that this was the photograph that the Washington Weekly Chronicle engraving was based on. Here, at long last, was O’Laughlen’s missing mugshot photograph:

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot Huntington Library

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 2 Huntington Library

Unlike the original hat-less photo, O’Laughlen’s face is angled more towards the viewer in this image. The fact that O’Laughlen’s chin is slightly blurry here also hints that he was moving, possibly turning, when the photo was taken.

While Michael O’Laughlen escaped formal execution at the conclusion the trial of the conspirators, his ultimate fate would be equal to it. While serving his life sentence at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, O’Laughlen was one of the many souls who contracted Yellow Fever in the fall of 1867. Despite the attentive care provided to him by his fellow prisoners, Dr. Mudd, Edman Spangler, and Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen perished from Yellow Fever on September 23, 1867. Dr. Mudd lamented that O’Laughlen had become a dear friend to him and that he would miss his, “warm friendly disposition” and, “fine comprehensive intellect.”

This newly discovered mugshot of conspirator Michael O’Laughlen gives us another, much needed angle on a man whose life was tragically cut short due to his involvement in John Wilkes Booth’s plot against Lincoln. It gives us an additional chance to look into the eyes of a young man who has realized that he allowed a charismatic friend to lead him down the path of his own destruction.

New Michael O'Laughlen Mugshot 3 Huntington Library

This image should also remind us that there are still new discoveries to be made. The book of the Lincoln assassination will never be completely written, and, as demonstrated here, it will never be completely illustrated either.

References:
The Huntington Library Digital Collections
A Peek Inside the Walls: 13 Days Aboard the Monitors by John Elliott and Barry Cauchon
Betty Ownsbey
The Assassin’s Doctor by Robert K. Summers
LOC

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