Teaser: In the Pines

Rain and thunderstorms have cut my planned four and a half day reenactment of John Wilkes Booth’s time in the pine thicket to only three days and two nights.  Though I was not able to recreate the duration of Booth’s concealment, I believe that I got a great sense of Booth’s conditions and the mindset that overcame him during this time.  I’m currently going through the over 300 video clips that I shot during my excursion and I will be editing them together to create a documentary of the experience.

While a finished video is a ways off, I did want to share with you some still photos that I have of the camp out.  In addition to my video camera, I brought along a trail camera to take still shots.  Usually tied to trees and used by hunters to track their game, the trail camera I had took one picture per minute when activated by motion.  Sadly, there is no way to see the pictures as they are being taken so I just had to tie the camera to the tree and hope that the angle would capture me when activated.

Therefore, as a teaser to my pine thicket video, here are some of the pictures captured by the trail camera during my time in the woods.  Just ignore the time and date stamps at the bottom as I neglected to set this up before turning on the camera:

Thinking about my first hours in the woods as the sun sets.

Thinking about my first hours in the woods as the sun sets.

Armed to the teeth as I go to bed for the first night.

Armed to the teeth as I go to bed for the first night.

Good morning sunshine

Good morning sunshine

Passing the time writing in my Booth diary

Passing the time writing in my Booth diary

Always on the look out for federal troops

Always on the look out for federal troops

Enjoying the bread my Thomas Jones brought me to eat

Enjoying the bread my Thomas Jones brought me to eat

I was about to bed down for the second night and found a toad on my blanket.  Here I'm coaxing him away with my crutch.

I was about to bed down for the second night and found a toad on my blanket. Here I’m coaxing him away with my crutch.

About to go to sleep for the second night.

About to go to sleep for the second night.



My favorite shot of them all.  This shows me right after trying my first drink of bourbon whiskey.  I am not a fan.

My favorite picture of them all. This shows me right after trying my first drink of bourbon whiskey. I am not a fan.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.  There’s much more to come!

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Give Ford’s Theatre YOUR Opinion!

fords-150-remembering-lincolnA couple weeks ago, Lindsey and I were invited by the Ford’s Theatre Society to take part in a focus group for Lincoln enthusiasts.  The purpose of the focus group was to gauge our interest and experience using websites as educational tools.  The Ford’s Theatre Society is preparing to launch an exciting new project which will coincide with the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination next year.  It is entitled the “Remembering Lincoln” project and will involve a website geared around the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination and the national reaction towards his death.  As part of their preparation for this project, the Ford’s Theatre Society would love to hear your input about what interests you about the Lincoln assassination and what ideas you might have for the “Remembering Lincoln” site.  They asked me if I would be willing to spread the word about a survey that they will be conducting over the next few days, which I am more than happy to do.



Please, as soon as possible, take the short survey created by the Ford’s Theatre Society linked above and provide your thoughts on a new website to teach about Lincoln’s assassination.  If you complete the survey, you will be entered into a drawing to win a new book about the history of Ford’s Theatre.  Even if you don’t win the book, however, you’ll still be helping an important institution in the Lincoln assassination saga develop their programming and strengthen their mission of educating the public about Lincoln’s last day.  The survey will only stay up for a few days, so please let your voice be heard soon.  They would love to get as many responses as they can in that time in order to help them craft the “Remembering Lincoln” website in a way that would be useful and enjoyable to you.

You can read a little bit more about the “Remembering Lincoln” project by clicking HERE or HERE


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A Preface to a Reenactment

This coming week will mark the 149th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. In previous years the National Park Service and the Ford’s Theatre Society have commemorated this moment in history with a wreath laying ceremony at the Petersen House.  If the tradition is repeated (and I dearly hope that it is) I will, sadly, not be around to witness it.  Instead, I will be about 40 miles south, sharing in the moment of silence surrounded by nothing but trees and birds.  I feel that the log cabin born President wouldn’t mind.

Starting this Saturday, April 12, I will be isolating myself into a forested area in Southern Maryland for a little over four and a half days.  I will not have a tent.  I will not have access to running water.  I will not have a change of clothing.  The purpose for this self imposed isolation is my desire to reenact a moment of history.  Those of you who follow this blog, my Twitter account, or are part of the discussions over at Roger Norton’s excellent Lincoln Discussion Symposium, already know the period of time that I am trying to reenact.  149 years ago, from about midnight on April 16th through dusk on April 20th, John Wilkes Booth and his accomplice David Herold found themselves hiding from Federal troops in a pine thicket in Southern Maryland.  Their caretaker was a man by the name of Thomas Jones.  During those dangerous times, Jones kept the two men hidden and fed while he waited for a chance to get them across the Potomac River.  For almost five days, Booth and Herold hid in the pines worried that the snap of every twig was the cavalry about to pounce on them.

I want to duplicate that experience.  Prior to his spell in the woods, Booth was a braggart regarding his deed and expected his act to be celebrated by his countrymen.  A distinct shift in thinking occurred during those long days and nights in the woods.  Booth read about how his crime was perceived in the newspapers that Jones brought him and he was dismayed.  Rather than finding the doors of Confederate sympathizers opening wide for him, he found himself sleeping on the cold ground dependent on a single soul for his basic needs.  The Booth who emerge from those woods, was a transformed man, a beaten man.  The glorious dream that Booth hoped for faded into a wooded nightmare before his very eyes.

My future camp site

My future camp site

In literature about the assassination, the time in which Booth was in the pine thicket is given little space.  This is not the blame of the historian of author, however.  The lack of interpretation of Booth’s time in the pine thicket is due to the lack of resource material regarding this very private time for the assassin.  Therefore, I decided that understanding this period of time on the escape of John Wilkes Booth would require more than just consulting texts and resources.  To attempt to get into the mindset of John Wilkes Booth, I decided to recreate the conditions that he faced.

Over the past couple of months and with the help of so many generous colleagues, I have assembled the clothing and supplies that Booth would have had with him during his time in the pine thicket.  My reenactment will feature one major anachronism: a video camera.  With this modern tool, I will record my experiences and my thoughts throughout the endeavor.  After returning to modern times, I will edit and share the footage of my primitive camp out here on the blog.

I hope this endeavor explains my more recent silence on BoothieBarn.  The preparation for this undertaking has been massive and has precluded me from engaging in my normal research.

When the 149th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination rolls around in a few days and this blog appears to be silent on the matter, just read one of the previous posts (like this one or this one) and think of this crazy researcher who is at that moment laying out in the woods trying to get into the mindset of the assassin … and trying to remember how many leaves there are on poison ivy.

P.S. Some of my friends and family have expressed their concern for my safety during this excursion.  In order to provide “proof of life” to those caring souls I will be asking Lindsey (my own Thomas Jones) to post pictures of me on my Twitter account when she comes to bring me supplies.  So keep an eye on @BoothieBarn over the next week to see how I’m getting along.

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Update: JWB’s Note at the Archives

Yesterday, Lindsey and I found ourselves in Washington, D.C. for a time.  We braved the snow and waited, cold and wet, in line outside the National Archives for an hour.  When we finally got in, we made a beeline not for the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, but rather for the special exhibit on signatures, “Making Their Mark”:

Making Their Mark exhibit card

Our quest today was to see the note that John Wilkes Booth left for Vice President Andrew Johnson, hours before he assassinated President Lincoln.  In the online exhibit guide for “Making Their Mark” you can see a high resolution image of the front and back of the note:

Booth's note to Johnson


Back of Booth's note to Johnson

Fun fact: They do not allow you to take pictures inside of the National Archives.  This is particularly true in the rotunda where the lights are dimmed and there are many guards to protect our country’s charters of freedom from the damaging effects of flash photography.  The core documents to our freedom have faded so much over the years that this very much justified, despite the desire of many to take a selfie with the Bill of Rights.

Luckily, the “Making Their Mark” exhibit was not housed in the rotunda but, instead, in a special exhibit room with more lighting and only one patrolling guard.  While I take the rules of any museum very seriously (you should have seen the way Lindsey and I were giving the evil eye to some high school kids engaging in a snowball fight on the grounds of the Archives before we got in), I just couldn’t pass up the chance to snap a few photos of Booth’s note to share with you all.  If it helps, I did turn off the flash on my phone so that it would not harm the document in any way.  I hope the Archives will forgive me.

Booth's note display

Lindsey and I were both shocked with how small the actual note was.  It was smaller than my 2″ x 3 1/2″ business card that I carry around with me.  After we got back home, we mutually decided that the note was a little bigger than 1 1/2 inches tall and almost 3 inches long.  Here’s a closer picture of the note with an approximate scale:

Booth's note with approximate scale

For some background, here is the conspiracy trial testimony of Col. William A. Browning, Andrew Johnson’s private secretary, in which he mentions the note:

“William A. Browning,
a witness called for the prosecution, being duly sworn, testified as follows:
By the Judge Advocate:
Q. Will you state if you are the private secretary of the President?
A. Yes, sir: I am.
Q. Were you with him on the 14th of April last?
A. I was.
Q. (Exhibiting a card to the witness.) What knowledge, if any, have you of that card having been sent to him by John Wilkes Booth?
A. Between the hours of four and five o’clock in the afternoon, I left Vice-President Johnson’s room in the Capitol, and went to the Kirkwood House, where I was boarding with him. Upon entering, I went up to the office, as was my custom; and I saw a card in my box. Vice-President Johnson’s box and mine were adjoining: mine was 67, his was 68. In 67 I noticed a card. The clerk of the hotel, Mr. Jones, handed it to me. This I recognize as the card.
Q. Will you read what is on it?
A. “Don’t wish to disturb you. Are you at home? J. Wilkes Booth.” It was in my box.
(The card was offered in evidence without objection and is marked exhibit no. 29.)
Q. You do not know anything about the handwriting of Booth?
A. No, sir.
Q. You had no acquaintance whatever with J. Wilkes Booth, had you?
A. Yes, sir: I had known him when he was playing in Nashville, Tenn. I met him there several times. That was the only acquaintance that I had with him.
Q. Did you understand the card as sent to the President, or to yourself?
A. At the time, I attached no importance to it. I had known him in Nashville; and, seeing the card, I made the remark, when it was handed to me by the clerk, “It is from Booth: is he playing here?” I had some idea of going to see him. I thought, perhaps, he might have called upon me, having known me; but, when his name was connected with this affair, I looked upon it differently. It was a very common mistake in the office to put the cards intended for me in the Vice-President’s box; and his would find their way into mine, they being together.”

Appropriately enough, even though I snapped a few more pictures of the note before we left, I was so nervous about being caught and possibly banned from the National Archives for life (a horrible punishment for a researcher) that all the rest of my pictures are blurry messes.  If you want nice pictures of the note, I refer back to the images of it from the “Making Their Mark” online exhibit guide.

“Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” at the National Archives, March 21, 2014 – January 5, 2015
“Making Their Mark” online exhibit guide
The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts edited by William Edwards

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The Memorials on Tenth St.

Today, Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House across the street constitute the “Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site”.  Operated by the National Park Service in partnership with the Ford’s Theatre Society, both buildings exist for the purpose of educating the public about Lincoln’s last hours.  Standing as they are today, it is sometimes difficult to imagine that, historically, they have not always been dedicated to serving Lincoln’s memory.  In fact, it was not until several years after Lincoln’s death that an effort was made to commemorate these buildings in anyway.  The modern museums of Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House started off quite humbly as mere memorial plaques.

While the site of Lincoln’s assassination and the house in which he died were well known and hardly forgotten sites of Washington history, there was no move to commemorate either one of the buildings until nearly 14 years after the Great Emancipator’s death.  The first building to receive some sort of physical recognition was the Petersen House.  In 1879, it was the home of lawyer and newspaper publisher, Louis Schade.  You can read more about Mr. Schade and his connections to the assassination story HERE.  Schade had bought the Petersen House from the Petersen heirs in 1878.  In August of 1879, a couple of newspaper articles announced the installation of a marble tablet on the exterior wall of the Petersen House commemorating the historic nature of the house:

1879 marble tablet at Petersen House 2

1879 Marble tablet at Petersen House

As reported, the tablet was created and put up by a private citizen, Charles Rousseau.  Mr. Rousseau was a Belgian native who learned the art of sculpture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels.  He made his living carving tombstones and was quite talented at it.  One of Charles Rousseau’s creations is this tombstone for Benjamin Grenup, believed to be the first Washington, D.C. fireman to have been killed in the line of duty when he was run over by the fire wagon:

Charles Rousseau Benjamin Grenup

Whether Mr. Rousseau took it upon himself to make a tablet for the Petersen House, or whether Schade commissioned it, is not known.  Regardless, the tablet with its gold lettering was installed high on the exterior wall, far out of reach.  Here is a picture of the Petersen House as it appeared when Schade lived there as published in John E. Buckingham’s 1894 book, Reminiscences and Souvenirs of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln:

Petersen House Buckingham 1894

In the image, Buckingham retouched the tablet to make lettering readable:

Buckingham Marble Petersen tablet 1894

This marble tablet remained the only marker on the site for many years.  After the house was sold by Schade to the federal government in 1896, Osborn Oldroyd became its curator and started displaying his Lincoln collection inside.

Petersen House w Oldroyd Marble Tablet

As time went by, the small marble tablet began competing with Oldroyd’s large signs hawking admission to the house to see his collection.

Petersen House Oldroyd Tablet

Almost 30 years passed and the small marble tablet remained fixed high on the exterior.

Petersen Original Marble Tablet Transcription

However, by 1909 the marble tablet was no longer on display.  Photographs during this time only show the three holes and the discoloration of the bricks from where the tablet had hung for so many years.

Petersen House No tablet

Whether Rousseau’s tablet fell or was purposefully removed is unknown. One text states that the tablet was removed because of complaints from visitors who stated it was placed too high up on the wall to read easily. If this is correct, perhaps Oldroyd felt his large museum signs provided the necessary information. Regardless, for a time in the early 1900′s, the only memorials on the Petersen House were the advertising for the Oldroyd collection of Lincolniana.

Meanwhile, across the street, the edifice that witnessed the horrible crime of April 14th, 1865, remained bare of any memorials. No private citizen had adorned the exterior wall of “Old Ford’s Theatre” like Charles Rousseau had done for the Petersen House. Instead, the building had been transformed into an office building, suffered a tragic collapse of the interior in 1893, and talks of demolishing it reappeared every few years or so in the press. Through it all, however, the scene of the crime remained.

It was not until 58 years after the death of Abraham Lincoln that a group of citizens decided it was time to commemorate the site of Lincoln’s assassination. The group, established by the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, was called the Citizens Committee of Historic Sites. With the help of the commissioners, the committee appealed for funds from Congress for the, “erection of suitable tablets to mark historical places in the District of Columbia”. For several years the committee was appropriated $500 and placed bronze plaques at various sites in D.C. On February 28, 1923, their appropriations were renewed and the committee started the design of two new plaques. One plaque was going to take the place of Rousseau’s marble tablet on the Petersen House while the other was to be placed on the long neglected Ford’s Theatre.

The formal unveiling of the new plaques occurred on April 29th, 1924.  I quote from the 1925 book, Abraham Lincoln in the National Capital by Allen C. Clark:

The exercises began at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The invocation was by the Rt. Rev. Mongr. Cornelius F. Thomas. A History of the Ford Theatre Site was presented by Allen C. Clark. Eloquent addresses were made by the Hon. Henry R. Rathbone and by Frederick L. Fishback, Esq., of the Washington Bar. Mr. Rathbone vividly described and minutely, the scene of assassination. Mr. Fishback touchingly told of the last hours and of the funeral journey to Springfield. The tablet on the Ford Theatre site was revealed by Miss Maud Burr Morris; and Mrs. Osborne H. Oldroyd drew the cord which held the drapery to the tablet on the house where Lincoln died. It was the American flag which draped the tablets. The band from the Military School under the direction of Prof. W. J. Stannard interspersed selections. Frederick D. Owen was in charge of arrangements. Allen C. Clark presided.

As mentioned in the above quote, one of the speakers at the ceremony for the plaques was Representative Henry Riggs Rathbone.  Rep. Rathbone’s father was Henry Reed Rathbone, the army Major who was present in the box when Lincoln was assassinated.  Though the exact details of what he stated do not appear to have been recorded, the ceremony was attended by over 200 people.

Ford's and PetersenTablets - Washington Post 4-30-1924

In addition to this newspaper article from the Washington Post, there is also the following photograph of Rep. Rathbone speaking at the ceremony.  This fascinating photograph of a Rathbone speaking in front of Ford’s Theatre was the genesis for this post:


Rep. Henry Riggs Rathbone speaking at the unveiling of the memorial plaques on Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House on April 29, 1924. Click to greatly enlarge. LOC

The plaque that the Committee of Historic Sites placed on the Petersen House still stands on the house today.  It is located at a much more readable level than its predecessor, now hanging between the basement and first floor.

Petersen House with plaque

Petersen House Plaque

The plaque on Ford’s Theatre hung on the exterior of the building for many years, marking the location of the great crime of ’65.


In the early 1960′s public support swelled to restore Ford’s Theatre to its former glory as a working theatre and a Lincoln museum.  During the periods of restoration and construction the plaque was taken down for obvious reasons.

Ford's during reconstruction no plaque NPS

When the newly restored Ford’s Theatre was unveiled in 1968, the plaque hung by the Committee of Historic Sites in 1924 was not restored to its place.  While the exact location of the Ford’s Theatre plaque is not known to this author at this time, it is likely that it entered the collection of the National Park Service and is being safely stored away.

The historic nature of a location is rarely appreciated in its time.  In most instances, plaques are markers to note where something historic once was but is no longer.  For many years it was a strong possibility that Ford’s Theatre or the Petersen House could be sold and torn down.  If events had played out differently, the magnificence that is Ford’s Theatre or the emotional impact that is the Petersen House would have been reduced to raised lettering on a piece of bronze.  We are fortunate that the generations that came before us had the forethought to preserve and protect these sites so that they may be enjoyed today.  Still, we also must remember that, like Rome, the structures we respect were not built in a day. The glorious museums on Tenth St. were founded on the actions of private citizens like ourselves and some memorial words on a tablet.

Abraham Lincoln in the National Capital by Allen C. Clark
Restoration of Ford’s Theatre by George Olszewski
William A. Petersen House: House Where Lincoln Died – Historic Structure Report by the National Park Service
Washington Post
Library of Congress
Meserve Collection
Reminiscences and Souvenirs of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln by J. E. Buckingham, Sr. (1894)
National Park Service

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Alonzo Chappel’s The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln

After being fatally shot at Ford’s Theatre, the unconscious body of our 16th President was carefully carried across the street to the home of William Petersen.  He was brought into the bedroom of boarder William Clark, who was out of town for the night, and laid diagonally across the bed.  It would be in this room that Abraham Lincoln would pass away at 7:22 am the next morning.  During the almost nine hours that Lincoln spent in the Petersen boardinghouse, dozens of Washington’s elite made an appearance at his death chamber to pay their last respects.

Room In Which Lincoln Died

 Those who have visited the restored Petersen House across from Ford’s know that the room the President died in is small.  It measures 9′ 11″ wide by 17′ 11″ long.  Despite its small size, the room in which Lincoln died has gained the moniker of the “Rubber Room”.  This is due to the way in which the small room stretched to unrecognizable proportions in the various engravings, lithographs, and prints that were made following Lincoln’s death.  There’s a wonderful chapter in the edited book, The Lincoln Assassination: Crime & Punishment, Myth & Memory by Lincoln authors Harold Holzer and Frank Williams that explores the “Rubber Room” phenomenon in detail.  In summation, the various artists of deathbed illustrations were forced to make the room appear larger and larger in order to cram more and more dignitaries  into one, defining scene.  Here are just a few depictions of how the small bedroom photographed above became a massive hall for the mourners.

Death of Abraham Lincoln Kellogg

Death bed of Lincoiln Brett

Death of Lincoln Ritchie

As fancifully large as these depictions are, they all pale in comparison with the magnitude of a painting by Alonzo Chappel.  His piece was a collaboration with another man by the name of John B. Bachelder, who served as the massive painting’s designer.  Entitled, The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln, Chappel and Bachelder wanted to depict all of the notable people who visited Lincoln that night at the same time and, in doing so, stretched the rubber room into unparalleled proportions:

The Last House of Abraham Lincoln by Alonzo Chappel (Click to enlarge)

The Last House of Abraham Lincoln by Alonzo Chappel (Click to see an enlarged view)

In all, the painting contains the images of 47 people in the back bedroom of the Petersen House.  The room has grown so much to accommodate all of these souls, that the walls started duplicating themselves.  It appears that the known lithograph that hung in the room “The Village Blacksmith” gave birth to a smaller, mirrored version of itself as the walls stretched out:

The Village Blacksmith & son Chappel

Just for fun, let’s say that all of the individuals pictured in Chappel’s painting were present in Lincoln’s death room at the same time.  Using modern measurements, William Clark’s room has an area of 177 square feet.  We’ll subtract 20 square feet for the bed on which Lincoln died since that is the only piece of furniture that we know had to remain in the room.  That leaves us with 157 square feet.  We’ll divide that by the 46 visitors in Chappel’s painting (we’re not including Lincoln since he was laying on the bed).  That gives everyone in the room a cozy 3.4 square feet all to themselves.  To give you some perspective, in a well ventilated, outdoor setting like a crowded rock concert, the accepted bare minimum amount of space per person is 7 square feet. For many interior settings the common rule of thumb is at least 9 square feet per person.  If everyone in this painting tried to get into William Clark’s room at the same time, they would be literally crammed together like sardines in a can.   What’s more, this imaginary calculation does not include the other furniture in the room, the large amount of space that the women’s hoop skirts would require, and the measurements by Osborn Oldroyd which, if correct, would lower the room’s original square footage from 177 sq. ft. to 161.5 sq. ft.

Despite the laughable morphing power of the small bedroom, Chappel’s painting was considered one of the best depictions of the death chamber of Abraham Lincoln.  The details for each person were exquisitely done and so life like.  Of course, there was a very good reason why Chappel was able to paint such realistic versions of the many people who visited Lincoln that night.  The designer of the piece, John Bachelder, had convinced many of the people in the painting to sit for photographs in the poses that Chappel wanted to paint.  Notable figures like Andrew Johnson, Edwin Stanton and even Robert Todd Lincoln posed in Mathew Brady’s studio in ways that the painting would later recreate.

Robert Todd Lincoln Alonzo Chappel

In addition to the cabinet members and politicians who posed for Bachelder and Chappel, there were also two individuals whose presence at the Petersen House was never questioned but, for some reason, they did not appear in other depictions of the President’s death.  These two neglected people were Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln’s guests for the evening, Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris.

Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris (composite by the author)

Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris (composite by the author)

Both Henry and Clara posed for their own photographs and were worked into the painting.  Clara is given a degree of prominence in the painting standing just behind the grieving Robert Todd Lincoln:

Clara Harris in Chappel's Last Hours

Henry, on the other hand, is removed from the chair he posed in and is literally sidelined to the far left of the painting.  He is almost obscured by the dark edge and frame, perhaps an ironic foreshadowing of the darkness that would later compel him to murder Clara and try to take his own life.

Major Rathbone in Chappel's Last Hours

Alonzo Chappel’s work, The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln, is a work of contradiction.  The painting simultaneously contains the most detailed and accurate depictions of the individuals who visited the dying President while also demonstrating extreme hyperbole and imprecision with the seemingly ever expanding walls of William Clark’s bedroom.  It’s a beautiful yet unbelievable painting and it exemplifies the “Rubber Room” phenomenon in a truly unsurpassed way.

Civil War Art Entry for The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln
Library of Congress print of The Last Hours of Abraham Lincoln (slight differences)
Looking For Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon by the Kunhardts
The Lincoln Assassination: Crime & Punishment, Myth & Memory edited by Harold Holzer, Craig Symonds, and Frank Williams

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“Lincoln’s Assassin” on NatGeo’s “Diggers”

Those of you who get the National Geographic channel will want to be tuning in next Tuesday, March 25th at 10 pm EST.  On that date and time a new episode of the metal detecting show “Diggers” will be premiering.  The name of the episode is called “Lincoln’s Assassin” and the show will highlight the exploits of metal detecting duo “King” George Wyant and Tim “Ringy” Saylor as they search for long lost artifacts in places related to John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln's Assassin Diggers

Over the course of the production, the Diggers dug for Booth relics at his childhood home of Tudor Hall, Bryantown Tavern, Thomas Jones’ Huckleberry, down by the edge of the Potomac, and at Mrs. Quesenberry’s house in Virginia.  “KG” and “Ringy” are unique treasure hunters, making jokes all along the way and making bets over who can uncover the best “nectar” (find).  At the end of the episode the pair will show their “nectar” to an archaeologist and assassination author Michael Kauffman to see if they found a Booth artifact that will change our understanding of history.

This episode will not only be an entertaining look at metal detecting, but also highlight several sites related to the life and escape of John Wilkes Booth.

On a personal note, I had the good fortune of being present at Huckleberry back in August on the day that the crew was shooting there.  I had unknowingly shown up at the Loyola Retreat House to take some pictures of the water’s edge, when I saw a large number of vehicles outside of Huckleberry.  After approaching the Diggers group and learning that they were shooting an episode about Booth, I was graciously invited to remain and watch the production.  It was an entertaining afternoon to say the least.  “KG” and “Ringy” are quite funny and Michael Kauffman was an excellent foil to their exuberant declarations of finding Booth’s “this” or “that”.  Here are a few pictures I took while the guys were shooting their scenes:

Diggers set 1

Diggers set 2

Diggers set 4

Here’s a shot of Michael Kauffman providing some background information about the different places the Diggers visited and Booth’s escape route:

Diggers set 5


I was also allowed inside of Huckleberry where some of the production assistants were working.  Huckleberry is used to house visiting priests to Loyola and is therefore furnished like a typical house today.  Nevertheless here is a short video I shot from inside the house.  Michael Kauffman makes a brief appearance to answer a couple of my questions:

In the midst of shooting there was a huge down pouring of rain and so there was a mad dash to protect the cameras and other equipment.  I helped the best I could by grabbing hold of the tent awning they had set up to prevent it from blowing away in the strong winds.  Michael Kauffman made the wiser choice of rushing into Huckleberry with his camera and microphone.  Within a half an hour the rain had stopped and there was only one more scene to shoot.  After they shot the scene I took this picture of Mike Kauffman and the guys:

Diggers set 6

Why is “Ringy” covered in mud?  You’ll just have to watch Diggers on Tuesday, March 25th at 10 pm EST to find out!


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Surratt Conference 2014

This is the weekend of the annual Lincoln Assassination Conference put on by the Surratt House Museum and the Surratt Society.  It is a time when all of us crazy Boothies descend onto Southern Maryland and discuss the fascinating minutiae regarding Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  The core of the conference is on Saturday with six speakers presenting on a range of topics.


It’s going to be another recording breaking year for attendance with about 140 people signed up.  However, knowing that many of our friends and colleagues are not able to make the trip this year, I’ve decided to put my newly created @BoothieBarn Twitter account to good use.  Over the next couple of days, I will be tweeting pictures and updates from the conference keeping you all informed about our activities.  I’ll be using the hash tag #Surratt2014 to identify those relating to the conference.  In this way, even long after the conference is over, you can still search Twitter for that hash tag to see what it was like.

While the Surratt House always schedules wonderful bus tours for the Friday and Sunday around the conference, today I will be foregoing that in order to take a few colleagues around to the assassination sites around Charles County, Maryland.  My guests are Heath Atkinson and his brother Josh, along with my long time friend and accomplice, Jim Garrett.  Heath runs the @ALassassination Twitter account and Jim is a registered speaker for this year’s conference along with his co-author, Rich Smyth.  Even though our trip isn’t really connected with the conference, I’ll still be using the hash tag #Surratt 2014 to document our adventure today.

Well that’s all for now. Be sure to follow @ALassassination and @BoothieBarn on Twitter to see how #Surratt2014 plays out.

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JWB’s Note at the Archives

A new exhibition entitled, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” is coming to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  Here’s a blurb from the Archives describing the exhibit:

“Signatures are personal. The act of signing can be as simple as a routine mark on a form, or it can be a stroke that changes many lives. Signatures can be  an act of defiance, or a symbol of thanks and friendship. “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” will draw from the billions of government records at the National Archives to showcase a unique collection of signatures and tell the stories behind them.

illustrate the many ways people have placed their signature on history, from developing to signing Power The stories in these records, of famous and infamous, known and unknown individuals, are part of our s history, all having made their marks on the American narrative.”

The exhibit contains the signed documents of many notable (Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, etc.) and famous (Jackie Robinson, Katharine Hepburn, Michael Jackson, etc.) individuals.  It also contains documents from unknown people who wrote of the world around them such as a Japanese American in an interment camp signing a loyalty oath during WWII.

The collection also contains the signatures of infamous individuals like Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and presidential assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

The National Archives houses the paper evidence collected by the government during the investigation into Lincoln’s assassination.  Therefore, they have a multitude of documents written by or owned by Booth to display.  For this exhibit, the Archives is displaying one of the most intriguing notes that John Wilkes Booth ever signed: his note to Vice President Andrew Johnson.

Booth's note to Johnson

John Wilkes Booth left this note for the Vice President in the hours leading up to the assassination.  His short message, “Don’t wish to disturb you Are you at home? J Wilkes Booth” has been the subject of inquiry ever since.  Conspiracy theorists attempt to use this note as evidence of the Vice President’s complicity in Lincoln’s murder, but most historians seem to believe that, in the moments leading up the tragic events, Booth was making sure all his targets were accounted for in order to topple the entire head of the government: Lincoln, Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward.

I am not personally aware if this note has ever been on public display before this exhibit.  The “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” exhibit runs from March 21st, 2014 until January 5th, 2015.  After that, it is likely this fascinating artifact, and all the others, will be returned to the vaults of the National Archives.  Don’t miss the opportunity to see John Wilkes Booth’s note to Vice President Johnson on display at the National Archives.


Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” Exhibit eGuide.  Download the guide HERE and turn to page 22 for a back view of Booth’s note. I’ve also tweeted the page on Booth so check out my Twitter account @BoothieBarn.

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BoothieBarn is now on Twitter!

Yesterday, fellow Lincoln buff, Heath Atkinson, announced via Roger Norton’s Abraham Lincoln Discussion Symposium that he had started a Lincoln assassination Twitter account.  Usually I’m a bit reticent when it comes to social media, which might sound strange seeing as I write a blog.  However, since Heath’s new Twitter account, @ALassassination, is essentially tailor made for my interests, I decided to look into creating my own Twitter account so I could “follow” his tweets.  I found that setting up a Twitter account was very easy to do.  Soon I was not only following Heath’s tweets, but also Spirits of Tudor Hall, Ford’s Theatre NPS, Ford’s Theatre Society, and Lewis Powell’s biographer, Betty Ownsbey.  At first I thought I was just going to follow people but, after replying to one of Heath’s tweets, I branched out and wrote my own.  Strangely enough, it appears that this thing that millions of people like to do is actually quite enjoyable. Though the 140 character limit is a rather difficult limit for a verbose individual like myself, I feel this is a fun way to put up little assassination tidbits between postings.  So, rather than just follow others from the shadows, I’m pleased to announce that BoothieBarn is now on Twitter!

BoothieBarn on Twitter

There are three ways you can follow me and my tweets.

1. Join Twitter and Follow @BoothieBarn

This is the best way to go.  Even if you don’t want to make tweets, having an account allows you to get notifications every time I tweet a tweet.  Setting up an account is quick, easy, and free.  Sign up at Twitter.com

2.  Bookmark my Twitter page

You can bookmark my Twitter profile page on your computer and check it every once and awhile for new tweets.  My profile page is:


3. Check my Twitter feed on the side of this page

If signing up for an account or bookmarking another site seems like too much work, you can always catch up on my tweets when you’re visiting this site.  I just added a new Twitter widget to the main page.  My most recent tweets should show up on the right underneath the most recent comments here on BoothieBarn.

Twitter Widget

I hope you’ll check out @BoothieBarn on Twitter and be sure to also follow Heath Atkinson’s @ALassassination and @SpiritsTH as well.

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