The Fake “Mrs Surat”

In the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination, photographs of the assassin were highly sought after. Newspaper classifieds of the day often contained advertisements for Lincoln memorial ribbons right beside advertisements offering photographs of John Wilkes Booth.

JWB photos ad 1

The lucrative business of assassination related imagery extended not only to photographs of the assassin, but also to his conspirators. As a result, photographer Alexander Gardner was quick to reproduce his mugshot photographs of the accused conspirators into carte de visites for the masses to purchase:

However, two of the conspirators who were put on trial, Dr. Samuel Mudd and Mary Surratt, never had their photographs taken with the rest of the conspirators.  While the public could easily do without a picture of Dr. Mudd (himself little more than another male face in Booth’s crew) the desire to see and own a picture of the solitary woman accused of helping plot the death of the President was something worth attaining. One would think that the lack of a legitimate mugshot photograph of Mary Surratt would hinder the creation of a massively produced CDV like the ones pictured above. However, such trivialities did not stop some unknown photographer from creating and selling the following CDVs of Mary Surratt:
Fake Mary Surratt CDV BoothieBarn

The small details of spelling Mary Surratt’s name correctly or attempting to find an actual likeness of the conspirator were not important to the photographer who created these fabricated CDVS. The public purchased and filled their albums with these fraudulent “Mrs Surat” images, with most having no idea that the woman pictured was not the assassin’s accomplice. The identity of this “Mrs Surat” has not been determined, but she bears very little resemblance to the true Mrs. Surratt:

Mary Surratt's CDV 1

Despite being fake, these period “Mrs Surat” CDVS are still sought after by collectors and can often sell for more money than legitimate images of John Wilkes Booth himself.

At the end of the day,  “Mrs Surat” is a perfect example of America’s unwavering devotion to the entrepreneurial spirit and the old adage, “Caveat emptor” – Buyer beware!

For more pictures of Mary Surratt, check out the Mary Surratt Picture Gallery.

Categories: History, Uncategorized | Tags: | 4 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.

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

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , | 28 Comments

Behind the Walls of Rich Hill

Originally posted on Friends of Rich Hill:

On Sunday, November 1, 2015, the Friends of Rich Hill will be hosting a special event called, “Behind the Walls of Rich Hill”.

Behind the Walls of Rich Hill Click to enlarge

This special “behind the scenes” look at the ongoing restoration of Rich Hill is for Friends of Rich Hill members only, however you can become a member on the day of the event by donating at least $10.

This is a unique chance to see the architectural “guts” of Rich Hill before they are covered up again during the restoration process.

We hope to see many of you on November 1, 2015 between 2:00 – 4:00 pm at Rich Hill which is located at Rich Hill Farm Rd., Bel Alton, MD 20611

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What’s Missing? Episode 2

Once again it’s time to test your Boothie knowledge, resourcefulness, and observational skills with a game called, What’s Missing?

What's Missing Icon

Below you will find 20 images all related in some way to the Lincoln assassination story. Most of them have previously appeared on this website, either in the Picture Galleries or in one of the many posts. Your job is to look at the images carefully to see if you can determine “What’s Missing?” from the image. You can click on each image to enlarge it a bit and get a better look. When you’re stumped, or ready to check your answer, click on the “Answer” button below each image. Good luck!

What’s Missing A:

What's Missing A

What's Missing Answer Icon

What’s Missing B:

What's Missing Answer Icon

What’s Missing C:

What's Missing C

What's Missing Answer Icon

What’s Missing D:

What's Missing D

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What’s Missing E:

What's Missing E

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What’s Missing F:

What's Missing F

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What’s Missing G:

What's Missing G

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What’s Missing H:

What's Missing H

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What’s Missing I:

What's Missing I

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What’s Missing J:

What's Missing J

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What’s Missing K:

What's Missing K

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What’s Missing L:

What's Missing L

What's Missing Answer Icon

What’s Missing M:

What's Missing M

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What’s Missing N:

What's Missing N

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What’s Missing O:

What's Missing O

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What’s Missing P:

What's Missing P

What's Missing Answer Icon

What’s Missing Q:

What's Missing Q

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What’s Missing R:

What's Missing R

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What’s Missing S:

What's Missing S

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What’s Missing T:

What's Missing T

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So how did you do? Let us know in the comments section below.

Categories: Levity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A Prison Letter from Col. Samuel Cox

Originally posted on Friends of Rich Hill:

Col. Samuel Cox of Rich Hill Col. Samuel Cox of Rich Hill

When Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, arrived at Rich Hill during the wee hours of April 16, 1865, he sent in motion of series of events that would have long reaching consequences for the occupants of the home. The reputation of Col. Samuel Cox, the owner of Rich Hill, as an ardent Southern sympathizer led Booth to his door. We don’t know what thoughts were racing through Cox’s head when he was face to face with the assassin on his doorstep, but, in the end, he decided he would assist the wounded man in some way. Cox allowed John Wilkes Booth and David Herold to enter his home for a meal but then sent them off into a nearby pine thicket, to be cared for by his foster brother, Thomas Jones.

Perhaps Cox hoped that his brief interaction and assistance to Booth would…

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The Lincoln Assassination on Aerial America

Aerial America Logo

Aerial America is a stunningly beautiful television show on the Smithsonian Channel. The premise of the show is simple: use awe inspiring aerial photography to tell compelling stories of a state’s varied history. The series, which premiered in 2010, has featured each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and has also expanded into other destinations. The hour long episodes feature exquisite fly overs of historic sites and vistas, along with a compelling retelling of their significance.

On April 26, 2015, the episode devoted to Washington, D.C. aired for the first time.  It was ironic date for the show to debut because not only is April 26 the same day John Wilkes Booth was cornered and killed, but the episode itself featured a five minute segment about Lincoln’s assassination and Booth’s escape. The episode provided beautiful shots of Ford’s Theatre, Baptist Alley behind Ford’s, the Surratt Tavern, Dr. Mudd’s House, Rich Hill, and Grant Hall where the trial of the conspirators occurred. Here are some screen grabs of the episode:

Ford's Theatre 1 Aerial America

Ford's Theatre 2 Aerial America

Baptist Alley Aerial America

Surratt House 1 Aerial America

Surratt House 2 Aerial America

Mudd House 1 Aerial America

Mudd House 2 Aerial America

To see the episode images of Col. Samuel Cox’s home of Rich Hill, please visit the Friends of Rich Hill blog post entitled, Rich Hill on Aerial America. and please consider following the Friends of Rich Hill blog to stay up to date with our rehabilitation of the home.

Grant Hall Aerial America

The episode also contained some generic shots of woods, swamps, and farms to represent other areas of the escape route but were clearly not the real places they were describing. Still, the five minute segment gave a wonderful look at part of the escape of John Wilkes Booth, from the unique aerial perspective.

You can visit the Aerial America page of the Smithsonian Channel’s website to check for future airings of the Washington, D.C. episode (next one appears to be November 28th at 5:00 pm EST).  You can also purchase the episode through video streaming websites like Amazon Video.

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The Escape of John Wilkes Booth

I found this free interactive mapping program online today and decided to see if I could construct a nice little map of John Wilkes Booth’s escape route. Unfortunately, this particular map will not embed straight into my site, but you can click the image below to view it.

The Escape of John Wilkes Booth map image

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Two Previously Unpublished Photographs of Rich Hill


In another of my posts for the Friends of Rich Hill blog, I look at two previously unpublished photographs of Rich Hill at a time when a member of the Cox family still lived there.

Originally posted on Friends of Rich Hill:

One of the fun parts about researching the history of Rich is discovering new images of the historic home that very few have ever seen before. For a relatively unassuming house in Southern Maryland, Rich Hill has been photographed fairly often over the years. This is mainly due to the home’s association with Lincoln’s assassination and the escape of John Wilkes Booth. Since the 1865 crime itself, countless people have journeyed over Booth’s escape route and viewed Rich Hill in person, picturing the fugitive and his accomplice, David Herold, knocking on Samuel Cox’s door on the morning of April 16th.

The following photographs follow this idea and come from a scrapbook that was created of John Wilkes Booth’s escape route in the early 1920’s. The small handmade scrapbook, which has never before been published, was recently sold at auction in January of 2015. The new owner of the scrapbook was kind…

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