Posts Tagged With: News

BoothieBarn is now LincolnConspirators.com!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for continuing to join me on this journey!

Sincerely,

Dave Taylor

Categories: News | Tags: , , | 26 Comments

2020 Surratt Conference Cancelled

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

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

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

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

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One Million!

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

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

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

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

Here are some more numbers to mark this milestone:

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

629 = average words per post in 2012

756 = total number of blog followers

2,354 = age of the blog in days

3,119 = average words per post in 2018

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

15,633 = average views per month in 2017

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Dave (and Kate) Taylor

Categories: News | Tags: , , | 13 Comments

The Confederate Memorials

In addition to being a school teacher, I also have a part time job giving tours at Historic Port Tobacco Village in Charles County, Maryland. Port Tobacco is the original county seat of Charles County with a long and multifaceted history. The village also plays into the Lincoln assassination story due to George Atzerodt’s residence there and Thomas Jones being offered $100,000 for Booth’s whereabouts in a Port Tobacco hotel. It’s a nice spot to visit and learn some history.

Today, I was fortunate enough to give a tour to a group of four retirees from Pennsylvania. They were in Maryland to visit some of the Booth escape sites which means we got along swimmingly. I provided them insight into the Confederate leanings of Maryland during the Civil War and how Southern Maryland was a hotbed of Confederate sympathizers which worked in Booth’s favor. As we went on, the group asked me about the recent events in Charlottesville and the ongoing removal over Confederate monuments. This was the first time I had been asked to share my opinion about it in public.

I am not someone who shies away from or avoids the uncomfortable or dark parts of our history. I spend most of my time investigating and researching the individuals who murdered our 16th President. Though I am not a professional historian, I always try to look at things with a historian’s eye and understand the context of an event.

And so, with that historian’s perspective, I told the group my heartfelt opinion. The Confederate memorials in our country’s cities should come down. It is not only the right thing to do morally, but also historically.

I’d like to expand on the statement above by addressing some of the reasons I have come across regarding people’s reasons for wanting the Confederate memorials to remain.


1. “What’s the big deal? It’s just a statue.”

A great many people might have this sort of reaction when discussing the removal of Confederate memorials. It derives from either a lack of knowledge on the subject or from a view of “It doesn’t bother me so it shouldn’t bother you.” The former situation can hopefully be remedied by educating oneself about what the the memorials represent. The latter situation speaks to an individual’s inability to empathize and consider the feelings of others. You may not be personally offended by a statue of Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee, but one would hope it would not be difficult for you to see why others might be offended. As I teach my third graders, it is important that we attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of people different from ourselves and consider their feelings and points of view. When it comes to the Confederate memorials, it is imperative for white Americans who question the need to remove these pieces to see these statues through different eyes. How would you feel about walking by and seeing these statues if your ancestors were brought over to this country on slave ships and forced into generations of servitude? Or, as a person of color in this country who has to deal with both random and institutionalized acts of racism each day, how would you feel seeing these figures, who fought for white supremacy, in prominent positions in front of your local government buildings? One would hope that morality, understanding and compassion alone would make a compelling case for why these memorials deserve to be removed.

2. “You are erasing history”

This is among the most common reaction I have seen from people who are in favor of keeping the Confederate memorials, despite the moral objections to them. This view holds that the monuments are pieces of history and that they should remain since they represent our past. Some proponents of this view are able to admit that these statues represent a shameful part of our past, but that they still deserve to stay. While, on the face of it, this seems like a reasonable enough opinion, the truth of the matter is that these memorials do not represent the history that the proponents of this view think they do.

Perhaps the thing that has bothered me most in the recent days has been seeing those I considered educated historians fall into the trap of believing that these monuments represent benign figures of history. Below is a wonderful graphic put together by the Southern Poverty Law Center regarding when most of our nation’s over 1,500 public statues and memorials to the Confederacy were erected.

Please click to enlarge

According to the SPLC, “The dedication of Confederate monuments and the use of Confederate names and other iconography began shortly after the Civil War ended in 1865. But two distinct periods saw significant spikes. The first began around 1900 as Southern states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise African Americans and re-segregate society after several decades of integration which followed Reconstruction. It lasted well into the 1920s, a period that also saw a strong revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The second period began in the mid-1950s and lasted until the late 1960s, the period encompassing the modern civil rights movement.”

The correlation should be evident and speaks to the true purpose of these memorials. The monuments that are coming down were never intended to be benign representations of Civil War history as some would like to think of them.  The erection of these statues were direct responses to the efforts of bringing about racial equality and, when viewed in that proper context, we can see the perception of these memorials as being symbols of white supremacy far more accurate then them being symbols of the past. The only history these memorials represent is one of white supremacy, and sadly their removal will not do anything to erase that part of our history or present.

I think it’s important for us to note that the memorials being removed are not historic markers on Civil War battlefields or educational panels inside of museums. Nor are people calling for the destruction of Confederate graves or headstones. The graphic above does not count the, “approximately 2,570 Civil War battlefields, markers, plaques, cemeteries and similar symbols that, for the most part, merely reflect historical events.” As far as I am aware, there have been no calls to shut down the Gettysburg battlefield, stop teaching about the Civil War in schools, or disinter Confederate dead. The Civil War is not going to be forgotten by the removal of these memorials. If you truly feel that that removing these statues will result in the “erasing of history”, I would like to point out to you that there are millions of articles, pamphlets, books, magazines, journals, dissertations, exhibits, maps, songs, documentaries, websites, etc, written about the Civil War that will teach you far more about history than a Jim Crow era statue to white supremacy ever could.

3. “Robert E. Lee (or any other Confederate name) also did a lot of positive things for the country, too.”

I’ve certainly seen this argument. The idea is that the people on the memorial pedestals may have expressed views contrary to the Confederacy, acted with honor, were well respected, helped to bring the nation back together after the war, or contributed to America in other ways.  This view holds that it is not fair for statues of these figures to be condemned just for “wearing the Gray”. This is an interesting point of view that I’d like to explore.

Using this view, I would like to propose that a new Civil War statue be placed in D.C.. The figure for the statue would be a man who, in the midst of the secession crisis wrote, “I believe in country right or wrong, but gentlemen the whole union is our country and no particular state. We should love the whole union and not only the state in which we were born. We are all one people, and should have but one wish, one object, one heart.” This man, so against secession, was described personally by his peers as, “a manly man; a term not easily defined, for there are those, blessed by nature, who have lacked the qualities of manhood. [He] was not one of these; he was firm as a rock, honest, sincere, and unassuming in his private associations. If he had not a good word, he never used a bad one, to friend or foe; yet he never brooked an insult or pocketed an affront. Young, impetuous, fearless, true, he was also kind, loving, and sympathetic; he could wile away hours playing with children, like a big boy (he often did so with mine) and the next moment, he was a man among men. His word was his bond, and men that knew him never doubted it.” Lastly, my proposed figure, a man who opposed secession and was so admired by his friends, was described as a “genius” by newspapers nationwide. “The hackneyed term, talent, cannot be used in speaking of this young [man] of such wonderful promise. It is genius in the broadest and largest acceptation of the term.” Doesn’t the man described above sound worthy of a possible memorial? Based on the side of these view points, the answer would certainly be, yes. And yet when I tell you that the man I have described is John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Lincoln, does it still seem like a good idea to place a memorial to him? Decency would hopefully compel you to say no, but why is that so? It is very much true that John Wilkes Booth opposed secession originally and found himself in trouble while performing in Montgomery, Alabama due to this pro-union view. Booth was loved and respected by practically every single person he interacted with. He was notably fond and good with children. His genius on the stage made it so that Booth was considered one of the country’s greatest actors. Yet, despite all of John Wilkes Booth’s positive attributes one would never put up a statue of him in a public square because he chose what his legacy would be when he shot Abraham Lincoln.

The same can be said for Lee, Jackson, Davis, and all of the Confederate officials. No matter what they may or may not have personally felt about issues like slavery, when they made their choices to fight against the Union, they surrendered their legacies to that of the Confederacy. While one is free to explore the complex histories of these figures, in the same way that this blog explores the histories of those connected in Lincoln’s death, nothing you can find will ever unravel these figures with the cause they sided with. All of the men featured on the memorials that are coming down chose the legacy of siding with the Confederacy. And, lest we forget, the Confederacy’s reason for existing was the perpetuation of racial based rape, torture, and genocide, otherwise known as slavery. That is the legacy of the Confederacy and those who fought to support it.

4. “Of course slavery was wrong but lots of people owned slaves. Are you going to target George Washington and Thomas Jefferson next because they were slave owners?”

Perhaps the most desperate of all of the reasons to keep the Confederate memorials is the above “slippery slope” analogy. It attempts to equate pre-Civil War slave owners such as Washington and Jefferson with the slave owning Confederates. It usually follows that, if we are to remove these Confederate statues, when will it end? Are we going to tear down Mount Vernon and Monticello since they had slaves? Such a false equivalency would be laughable if not for the large number of people who fall victim to it. One is free to compare historic figures such as George Washington and, say, Jefferson Davis. But to put them on equal footing just because they were both slave owners shows a total disregard for the time periods in which they lived and the causes for which they fought. There is no equivalency in the legacies of the first President of the United States and the only President of the Confederate States. The legacies of Washington and Thomas Jefferson are not spotless, but attempting to equate them with those who fought a war to continue the bondage of millions of people is an insult.

Even worse than attempting to equate Washington and Davis or Jefferson and Lee is attempting to equate a Confederate statue on the grounds of a courthouse with educational institutions like Mount Vernon and Monticello. Museums like Monticello should be commended for their continued efforts to explore their owners’ relationships with slavery even when doing so results in uncomfortable truths, such as Jefferson’s sexual abuse of Sally Hemmings.  It is also important to note that the efforts of these institutions in addressing the truth of our former Presidents and slavery were widely brought about by activists who demanded that the lives of the enslaved peoples on these plantations not be forgotten.

When museums are done right, they explain the events of the past, both good and bad, providing needed context for those in modern times to understand them. Museums are not in the business of justifying events of the past. These Confederate memorials, on the other hand, were erected for the express purpose of providing pro-Confederate propaganda by appealing to notions of honor, sacrifice, and nobility, in order to appease a white population uncomfortable with the thought of racial equality.

5. “I saw a video of people pulling down a statue. This is just the work of criminals who break the law.”

A few days ago a group of protesters wrapped a rope around a Confederate memorial on the courthouse grounds of Durham, North Carolina and pulled down a statue, which was largely crushed under the weight of its marble base as it fell. The police watched the events but did nothing to stop the protesters at the time. Since then several arrests have been made for the destruction of public property using video footage to identify those present. This morning, over 100 people lined up at the Durham County Detention Center to willingly surrender themselves for contributing to the memorials’ destruction. Many of those who surrendered themselves were not present when the memorial was pulled down but were standing in solidarity with those that did.

Did the protesters break the law by taking matters into their own hands and destroying the Confederate memorial? Yes, they did. Do they deserve punishment for the destruction of public  property? I believe that they do. But that instance of vigilantism and the action of of the community today in response to it, speaks to the importance of this issue and that these memorials cannot be ignored. People may not want to see it, but the Confederate memorials are a civil rights issue. The history of their creation and their intended message made it so that they were always were. Unfortunately, it took the murder of Heather Heyer at the hands of overt white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia to make others, including me, aware of the fight that has been occurring for decades.

The protesters in Durham tore down a statue and should be punished accordingly, but that doesn’t make them, or their cause, wrong. When Nazis and KKK members are unabashedly marching in the streets to support a Confederate monument and an innocent protester standing up to their hate is mowed down, there should be no question as to which side is in the right. They may have broken the law and others may very well follow them, but the cause of ridding our cities of these symbols of white supremacy is a just one.

This summer, I visited the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama. I watched the video and explored the exhibits regarding the stories of some of the men and women who lost their lives in the quest for equal rights for all Americans. It was a deeply moving experience which was concluded with a visit to the Civil Rights Memorial. I was struck with how many average white Americans during the 1950’s and 60’s era saw those engaged in the civil rights marches and events as “criminals” and ” law breakers”. By rebelling against racists practices, these individuals broke the law time and time again. They may have been on the wrong side of the law, but they were on the right side of history.


For those of you who may not have been aware of or were confused about the reasons why Confederate memorials were being removed from government properties, I hope this post has been helpful. When I concluded my tour today, the visitors informed me that, while they already supported the removal of the memorials due to Nazis and the KKK being in favor of keeping them, learning the history behind the creation of these public memorials had given then the insight they needed to strengthened their view.

We are not erasing history. Museums, battlefields, historic markers and our National Parks tell the story of the Civil War. The Confederate memorials in public squares do not tell the story of the Civil War. Many still are under the impression that removing these public statues is the same as destroying Confederate grave stones, but that is not what is happening. The statues are not, nor have they ever been, representations of benign history. These memorials are physical representations to the cause of white supremacy both in substance and intent. What we have seen, and what we will continue to see in the coming weeks, are Americans from all walks of life coming together to finally remove these memorials and define what causes are worthy of commemoration in today’s society. These memorials to white supremacy will be taken down. Confederate schools and streets will be renamed. These actions have no impact on the history of the Civil War, for the past has already been written. We are removing these statues for the sake of the future. When Nazis support the heritage of these white supremacist monuments and spill the blood of those who who fight back against their hate, it is up to all people to defy them. Removing these memorials show that we, as Americans, not only acknowledge the tragedies of our past, but understand that their demons still haunt us today. Removing these memorials will not eliminate the demons, but will prove that we will no longer let those demons represent who we are as a society.

References:
For an excellent view on the way the Confederacy is represented in our public spaces, I highly recommend: Whose Heritage?: Public Symbols of the Confederacy by the Southern Poverty Law Center
I also highly recommend the works of Civil War historian, Kevin Levin. He has an entire website about how the Civil War has been remembered over the years which is extremely insightful.

P.S. I have decided to preemptively disable the comment feature on this particular post. By disabling all comments, I can naively believe that everyone who has read this is on the side of morality and social justice. If you have read this post and still do not see several compelling reasons to remove the Confederate memorials, then nothing I, or anyone else can say, will change your mind. Everyone is free to believe what they will, but I will not allow my comment section to become filled with more false equivalences and hyperbole about how removing white supremacist statues is the same as desecrating Confederate dead. I’ve read the other side. I’ve addressed many of their reasons above.  If those reasons alone are not enough for you, then you and I have nothing to talk about.

Categories: History, News | Tags:

“An Evening with John Wilkes Booth”

On March 3, 2017, Kate and I presented at an event for the Friends of Rich Hill and the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco. The event venue was the restored Port Tobacco courthouse in Port Tobacco, Maryland. Though Port Tobacco is the former stomping grounds of conspirator George Atzerodt, the subject of this event was the lead assassin, John Wilkes Booth. While I have given speeches about Booth in the past, including my 2016 speech for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum volunteers, I had never previously attempted to portray John Wilkes Booth in the first person. The event in Port Tobacco, billed as “An Evening with John Wilkes Booth”, was my first attempt at being John Wilkes Booth, rather than just discussing John Wilkes Booth.

The following play is meant to provide an insight into the mind of John Wilkes Booth by utilizing much of his own words and writings. Some of the words said by Booth are uncomfortable to hear, but they are vital if we are to truly understand the world view of Lincoln’s assassin. The video of the performance is embedded below or you can watch it directly on YouTube by clicking here.

If you are interested in more first person portrayals of conspirators, Kate will be performing as Mary Surratt twice in April, 2017. On April 1st, Kate will be performing her one woman show about Mrs. Surratt’s imprisonment at the annual Surratt Society Conference in Clinton, Maryland. To sign up for the conference please visit the Surratt House Museum’s website. Kate will also be portraying Mary Surratt at an event in Port Tobacco, Maryland on Friday, April 7th at 6:00 pm. At this performance, Mrs. Suratt will be joined by George Atzerodt and the two of them will discuss their involvement in the conspiracy against Lincoln. The event at Port Tobacco is free and open to the public.

EDIT: I just realized that today is the five year anniversary of my very first posting here on BoothieBarn. When I started this site, it was an outlet for me to share some of the interesting things I had learned while researching the Lincoln assassination. I didn’t really know if it would be of interest to anyone other than myself. However, through this site I have made many wonderful friends and have been fortunate enough to speak about John Wilkes Booth and Lincoln’s assassination in several venues. And so after 5 years, 400+ posts and almost 600 followers later, I want to thank you all for your much appreciated support. As long as I keep finding interesting things about the Lincoln assassination to share, I expect posts will continue here on BoothieBarn for many more years to come. 

Categories: History, News | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

BoothieBarn Live on NBC 4!

If any of you in the D.C. metropolitan area happened to be watching NBC’s News4 Midday today, you might have seen a familiar face and outfit. I was asked to appear on the live news show along with Melissa Willett of the Charles County Garden Club in order to promote this Saturday’s Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage in Charles County. Every three years the pilgrimage takes place in Charles County and this year it will be featuring two properties connected to the Lincoln assassination story. Participants in the tour will have the opportunity to visit and go inside Thomas Jones’ house of Huckleberry as well as walk the property of the Loyola on the Potomac Catholic Retreat which contains the exact site of where John Wilkes Booth and David Herold got into a boat and tried to cross the Potomac. Melissa and I were interviewed about the event by NBC anchor Barbara Harrison:

UPDATE: NBC 4 has put up a much better version of this interview on their website. Watch it here: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Historic-Homes-Tour_Washington-DC-380991271.html

As stated in the interview I will be at Huckleberry from 10:00 – 5:00pm on Saturday, showing people the inside of the house and discussing Thomas Jones’ role in assisting John Wilkes Booth. Tickets for the tour, which contains a total of eight homes, are $35 and they can be purchased at any of the sites during the tour on Saturday, May 28, 2016. The proceeds from the event will be benefiting the Maryland Veterans Museum.

I enjoyed the interview with Ms. Harrison and was happy to see that, in the footage that rolled as we spoke, the highway marker for the Garrett site made an appearance. Kate and I wrote the text for that marker and it was on the day that we unveiled it that I made my first live television appearance. I always have fun sharing my interest in the Lincoln assassination story with others, even if it is for a brief time during a busy news show.

Categories: News | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

John Wilkes Booth’s Richard III

NOTE: The live event has already occurred but you can still watch a video of the production embedded below.

Tonight (2/2/2016) at 7:00 pm CST (8:00 pm EST) a very special staged reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III will be enacted by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Hidden Room Theatre troupe will be recreating the production as it appeared using a promptbook which belonged to, and was annotated by, John Wilkes Booth.

John Wilkes Booth's Richard III promptbook

John Wilkes Booth was famous for his portrayal of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and he regularly opened his engagements in different cities with Richard III. Booth’s first full appearance as Richard occurred on October 5, 1860 and his last was on May 12, 1864. Between those two dates he performed the lead role a total of 115 times. Richard was truly Booth’s title character and the one he was most known for. The adaptation of Richard III that Booth used for the role was one that was filled with sword fighting and intensity that suited the younger Booth well. Just as Edwin Booth is known today as being the world’s greatest Hamlet, John Wilkes Booth could have been remembered as the world’s greatest Richard, had he not chosen a different path.

The Harry Ransom Center has in its collection one of only two known promptbooks belonging to John Wilkes Booth. The complete book has been scanned and is available digitally HERE. The book is filled with John Wilkes Booth’s handwritten instructions and cues regarding how his version of Richard III should be staged and enacted. It makes alterations to the printed script’s directions and adds supplemental material on how he wanted scenes to go. Promptbooks were common for stars to send out to different theaters ahead of their engagements. The stock actors in the theater’s company would then read the book in order to know how a particular star wanted “their” version of the play to go.

Usually, other than traveling back in time ourselves, reading through John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook would be the best way to get an idea of what Booth’s acting looked like. However, tonight, John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook will be used as the source material for a production of Richard III. The event will be streamed live over the internet on the Harry Ranscom Center website. The live stream is scheduled to start at 7:00 pm CST and can be accessed by clicking this link: http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/multimedia/webcast/

During the event, Harry Ransom curator Eric Colleary will be live tweeting the event and answering your questions about the production and source material. You can follow along with the discussion on Twitter with the hashtag #BoothR3.

I hope you are able to watch this unique production tonight. It is the closest we are able to get to actually watching John Wilkes Booth himself on the stage. For more information, please check out this program from the Harry Ransom Center.

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

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

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , | 31 Comments

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