John Wilkes Booth in the Woods Finale

John Wilkes Booth in the Woods

On April 12th of this year, I underwent a journey into history.  For 3 days and 2 nights, I completely immersed myself in the conditions John Wilkes Booth faced while hiding out in a pine thicket after he assassinated Abraham Lincoln.  The project took months of preparation and the assistance of countless individuals who alerted me to new research, informed me of the intricacies of 19th century attire, and provided much needed moral support for such an endeavor. I strove to ensure that this experience was as genuine as possible and committed to feeling the same discomfort Booth felt.

Even from the beginning I knew I wanted to document the experience in order to share it with others.  While the 19th century method of documentation would have been limited to the written word, modern technology allows us to go further.  Therefore, with camera gear as my only anachronism, I walked into the woods with the same meager supplies that were afforded to Booth hoping to shed some light on this forgotten part of his escape.

Today, I publish the final installment of the series, bringing the project to its completion.  I am extremely grateful to not only those listed in this final video but also the many others who helped my along the way and prayed for my safety.  I hope that you have enjoyed this series as I hope to produce more like it in the future.

To watch the final video, you can either click on the image above and scroll down, click HERE to watch the video on YouTube, or play the embedded video below.

Remember that all of the videos in the series can be found in one place by clicking the “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods” image at the top of this post.

Thank you all for coming on this journey with me.

~ Dave Taylor

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Mapping the Assassination

I came out to Washington, D.C. for the very first time in 2009.  It was the summer between my junior and senior year of college and the trip was an early graduation gift from my parents.  My father and I had a great time exploring the many wonderful sites before returning back home to Illinois.

Two Illinois natives visiting an old friend.

Two Illinois natives visiting an old friend.

It was a whirlwind visit as we tried to do all the touristy things D.C. has to offer.  We visited the Lincoln Memorial, Ford’s Theatre, the Air and Space Museum, the American History Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Library of Congress, the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial and the Newseum.  We paid our respects at the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam Memorials, as well as visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Marine Corps War Memorial.  We also went up into the Washington Monument, and viewed both the House of Representatives and the Senate in session.  It was a blast.

Admittedly though, my favorite part of the trip was the one day in which my father and I rented a car from Union Station and drove the escape route of John Wilkes Booth.  I had been learning about the assassination for years and I couldn’t wait to visit some of the places I had read so much about.  My father always appreciated Lincoln, so much so that he volunteered not once, but four times to chaperone groups of rowdy eighth graders on their annual class trip to Springfield, IL.  Though Dad doesn’t have the same interest in Lincoln’s assassination as I do, he definitely appreciates the importance of it.

In planning for our day trip, I spent hours tracking down the various locations we wanted to go and printing off directions on how to get there.  It was a difficult process.  I often had to consult many different websites just to figure out where exactly a certain place was.  It took awhile, but in the end, I managed to work up an itinerary.

Our condensed tour was great, except for one hitch.  On our way to the Mudd house I had planned for us to stop and visit the grave of Edman Spangler.  Dad and I pulled up at St. Peter’s Cemetery and spent about an hour looking at every single grave in the place to no avail.  We were almost late for the last tour of the day at the Mudd house due to our searching.  When we told the people at the Mudd house of our difficulty they informed us of our mistake.  “Spangler,” they said, “is buried in the Old St. Peter’s Cemetery.” Dad and I had spent an hour trampling through the wrong cemetery.

This completely understandable mistake has always stuck with me.  It makes me laugh to think of the time Dad and I wasted reading every grave in the new St. Peter’s Cemetery (which, by the way, is down the road from the old cemetery).  It shows how helpful and important it can be to have a guide.

Since moving to Maryland I have been lucky to have the guidance of many knowledgeable individuals.  As time has gone on, I’ve slowly become a guide myself and I am able to point out places relating to the assassination of Lincoln around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.  Some time ago I started a project of recording the locations of various assassination places using a mapping app called Rego.  At first it was just for my own reference as I pinpointed places I had visited or places that I wanted to visit.  This summer I drove a circuitous route to Illinois and back so I could visit a few of those places on my list.

In August, I decided to make my map widely available.  I converted my Rego map into a custom Google map complete with a color coded key.  Without fanfare or announcement, the new page on BoothieBarn appeared called Lincoln Assassination Maps.

Maps Header Menu Maps Pages Menu

About a month after I created the page, I received a wonderful email from a man who took his grandson along the escape route and used my map to help them plot their course.  I emailed him back expressing how ecstatic I was that someone had not only found the map but used it as I had hoped.  Since then I’ve been slowly adding more places to the map expanding far beyond the escape route.  Using aerial views and my own knowledge, I’ve tried to pinpoint places as specifically as I can, even putting markers directly on top of where graves are in a cemetery in some cases.  Currently, the only map on the Lincoln Assassination Maps page is one that covers D.C., Maryland, and the Northern Neck of Virginia.  Though it already contains about 100 sites, it, by no means, is complete.  Future maps will highlight places in other regions such as the Midwest, the South, the Northeast, and even an International map.

With a subject as vast as the assassination of Lincoln, a guide is much needed commodity.  I hope that these maps will serve as beneficial guides for those of you who want to explore the plethora of assassination related sites.

Click HERE to check out the BoothieBarn Lincoln Assassination Maps page!

DC, MD, VA Assassination map thumb

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The Burial of a Confederate Veteran

On November 12th, 1994, 20 years ago today, the remains of a Civil War veteran were laid to rest in Geneva Cemetery in Geneva, Florida.

Geneva Cemetery 1994 Ownsbey

As was to be expected at the burial of a man who had died 129 years before, the number of attendees were few.  He had no direct descendants to speak of. Those present were comprised mainly of collateral relatives (great grand nieces and nephews), a Baptist minister, a newspaper reporter, members of the local chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans, and two historians.

Reverend Parmenter Preaching Lew's Funeral 1994 Ownsbey

The casket had been custom made for the occasion.  The wood was a beautiful mahogany and the interior was lined with red velvet.  A bronze plate affixed to the top of the casket was engraved with the service record of the deceased: “2nd Florida Infantry, Co. I – Hamilton Blues” and the”43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry – Mosby’s Rangers”.

Powell's casket 1994 Ownsbey

The service was brief, but fitting.  Remarks were made by the deceased’s elderly grand niece about the family’s memory of her great uncle.  A historian spoke candidly and compassionately about the man’s life, service, and death.  The invited Baptist preacher, whose church had been founded by the veteran’s father, spoke about the trials of the Civil War.  “Had I lived when he did,” the minister said, “I probably would have done the same thing. War is war, and I believe he did what he did believing he was right.” To conclude the service, a local SCV chaplain recited a prayer. The casket was lowered delicately into the ground in a  grave adjacent to that of his mother, reuniting mother and son for the first time since the man’s death so many years ago.

Lowering Powell into the ground Kauffman 1994 Ownsbey

The burial of this forgotten soldier occurred on the day after Veterans Day.  This coincidence is quite fitting considering that, to most, this man’s service as a veteran will forever be forgotten due to the actions he took that ultimately led to his death.

For you see, it was no ordinary Confederate veteran that was laid to rest this day 20 years ago in Florida.  Rather, the casket that was buried contained the skull of Lewis Thornton Powell, the attempted assassin of Secretary of State William Seward.

Lewis Powell

Lewis Powell's Skull Ownsbey

As has been previously written, the skull of Lewis Powell was removed from his body by a D.C. undertaker.  It was donated to the Army Medical Museum who later turned it over to the Smithsonian along with many Native American remains.  The skull was rediscovered in 1993 when the collection was being documented in order to return the Native American remains to their respective tribes.  Assassination authors Betty Ownsbey (Lewis Powell’s biographer) and Michael Kauffman helped to identify the skull.  With the help of these two researchers, the skull was turned over to descendants of the Powell family and the interment service was arranged.  The following are some more pictures of the reburial of Lewis Powell next to his mother at Geneva Cemetery all courtesy of Betty Ownsbey:

Powell's Funeral Service 1994 Ownsbey

Powell's funeral 1994 Ownsbey

Powell's funeral Kauffman and Ownsbey 1994References:
Betty Ownsbey, whose knowledge of Lewis Powell and generosity are both unsurpassed
Read more about Powell here: http://www.lewisthorntonpowell.com/
Lincoln Conspirator’s Remains Buried In Seminole County by Jim Robison

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The Death of Amelia Booth

Collaboration in the research community is a truly wonderful thing. I would wager that the best books on any subject share one common trait: a lengthy acknowledgements section. When your subject is as vast and as multifaceted as the Lincoln assassination, it’s impossible to truly go it alone.  Thanks to the internet, connections are made between people and facts all the time, expanding our collective knowledge in ways we never thought possible.  Some of my proudest moments have been when this blog has able to facilitate a discussion that has changed our understanding of event (like when we determined that conspirator George Atzerodt is NOT buried under the name “Gottlieb Taubert” in St. Paul’s Cemetery as was previously thought).  Therefore it is always a highlight to receive an email out of the blue from someone who has found a valuable piece of information and wants to share it.

Amelia Portia Adelaide Booth was the first child of Junius Brutus Booth and his first wife, Marie Christine Adelaide Delannoy. While this should conceivably mean she was the first child born to Junius Brutus Booth (the man who would later sire the assassin, John Wilkes Booth) this is probably not the case.  Prior to his introduction to Adelaide the young and amorous Junius was not once, but twice sued for paternity in London courts.  Junius’ propensity for passion even prevents Amelia from being accurately described as his first legitimate child.  He married Adelaide Delannoy on May 8th, 1815 but Amelia was born not even five months later on October 5th.  As an aside this means that out of the 12 children sired by Junius Brutus Booth (plus two more if the above mentioned paternity suits are accurate), only one could truly be considered legitimate.  All of his children with Mary Ann Holmes were born out of wedlock since he was still married to Adelaide at the time.  This leaves his second son with Adelaide, Richard, his sole legitimate heir.

I have mentioned Amelia Portia Booth a couple times here and there especially in reference to her father’s early life. In one post I lamented that so little was known about her since she died in infancy.  Even the date of her death was unknown to me.  However, thanks to a generous email from a fellow researcher we now have an exact date of death for Junius’ little girl.

According to the England & Wales Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers accessed via Ancestry.com, an “Amelia Booth” died on July 7th, 1816 at the age of 9 months. Her parish is recorded as St. George’s, Bloomsbury which is the same parish she was baptized in.

Click for full page record.

Click for full page record.

The benefactor of this information is New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini who has written several novels including Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival. She stumbled across my page and this piece of information while conducting research for a future novel she is working on which will include the Booth family.  My deepest thanks go to Ms. Chiaverini for sharing this discovery with us.

References:
England & Wales Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers accessed via Ancestry.com
Jennifer Chiaverini

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The Assassination…in Color!

The advent of photography allowed the Civil War to be documented in an unprecedented way.  Instead of relying solely on written accounts and hastily drawn sketches of the battlefield, photography allowed the horrors of war to be transmitted in painful detail to the masses.  In the 150 years that have passed since that great conflict, the black and white and sepia tinted images of the war have become well known and almost commonplace.  However, thanks to new technology and painstaking work by devoted enthusiasts/artists, we are now able to see Civil War scenes and figures almost exactly as they appeared in real life.  Instead of being trapped forever in black and white, these historic images are being reborn in color.

The following images are colorized versions of assassination related people and events.  They are the detailed work of two different men.  One of them is named David Richardson.  David owns and operates his own website, Civil War in Color, where he sells his colorized and 3D photographs.  The other artist is named Mads Madsen.  He is a twenty something year-old Denmark man with a passion for colorization.  His online gallery, which I encourage you all to visit and get lost in for awhile, contains hundreds of images that he has brought to life with his shockingly realistic colorization.  Just today, Mads released a colorized version of John Wilkes Booth and it is so extraordinary that I knew I had to share it.

Both men have been slowly developing and improving their techniques in order to create the most realistic images possible.  The images below come from different periods of that development, with some not being as refined as others.  They nevertheless provide a vivid and unique view of assassination related figures and events.

Work by Mads Madsen:

John Wilkes Booth by Mads Madsen

John Wilkes Booth by Mads Madsen

George Atzerodt by Mads Madsen

George Atzerodt by Mads Madsen

Samuel Arnold by Mads Madsen

Samuel Arnold by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell 1 Colorized by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell Before and After by Mads Madsen

Lewis Powell Before and After by Mads Madsen

The "Lincoln Hanging" by Mads Madsen

The “Lincoln Hanging” by Mads Madsen

Work by David Richardson:

David Herold by David Richardson

David Herold by David Richardson

George Atzerodt by David Richardson

George Atzerodt by David Richardson

Michael O'Laughlen by David Richardson

Michael O’Laughlen by David Richardson

Edman Spangler Colorized by David Richardson

Edman Spangler by David Richardson

Lewis Powell by David Richardson

Lewis Powell by David Richardson

The Execution by David Richardson

The Execution by David Richardson

I hope both men continue their impressive work.

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John Wilkes Booth in the Woods: Part 10

John Wilkes Booth in the Woods

The tenth installment of my series “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods” is now complete and available for viewing.

In this part I get some unexpected news and start walking towards the Potomac River.

To watch the video, you can either click on the image above and scroll down, click HERE to watch the video on YouTube, or play the embedded video below.

There is one final installment of “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods” left to go. Stay tuned for the conclusion of this historical reenactment.

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Samuel Arnold’s Letter at the Lincoln Library and Museum

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to visit the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum for the first time. Not to be confused with the Presidential library and museum in Springfield, Illinois, this museum is attached to Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee.  As part of its charter, LMU has been collecting and displaying Lincoln and Civil War era artifacts since its founding.  In 1977, the collection moved to its current space in the form of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum building.

Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum Harrogate, TN

While the museum itself is very impressive and has a plethora of Lincoln artifacts and images on display, I made prior arrangements to conduct research while I was there in order to see some of the assassination related objects they have in storage.  The day went by fast and I got to see and touch (with white gloves mind you) many relics connected to the death of Lincoln.  I’m especially grateful to Michelle Ganz, the head archivist there who was extremely friendly and helpful during my research into the collection.

One object that I got to see at the ALLM is the following letter.  It was written by conspirator Samuel Arnold in 1905.  Arnold, as you might recall, was a childhood friend of John Wilkes Booth who joined the actor in his initial plot to abduct President Lincoln.  When that plan fell through and it was clear that nothing of consequence could be done to save the Confederacy, Arnold bowed out of Booth’s plot.

Drawing of Sam Arnold done by military commission member Lew Wallace.

Drawing of Sam Arnold done by military commission member Lew Wallace.

After Booth assassinated Lincoln, Arnold was tried as a co-conspirator under the law of vicarious liability.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment and served about three and a half years at Fort Jefferson before he was pardoned by outgoing President Andrew Johnson in 1869.  Arnold held various jobs after being released from prison, the longest of which was as a butcher in Baltimore.  In his later years, however, he retreated from the world and the humanity contained therein.  He retired to farm in Ann Arundel County, Maryland where he spent his days in the presence of his animal companions.  In 1902, another man named Samuel Arnold died in Anne Arundel County and the press mistook him for the Lincoln conspirator.  After reading the poor obituaries he received, Arnold allowed his memoirs of his interactions with Booth to be published in the Baltimore American newspaper.

After his memoirs were published, at least a couple people decided to reach out to the hermit-like Samuel Arnold.  One interested man’s name was Al Emmett Fostell.  Fostell was a minstrel performer and theatrical manager with a deep interest in Abraham Lincoln.  He also owned and operated a traveling exhibit of Abraham Lincoln artifacts.  Fostell wrote to Arnold in 1904 with a simple request to have an autographed picture that he could add to his collection.  Arnold replied to Fostell saying that he had but one recent photograph of himself, it having been used to illustrate his memoirs in the Baltimore American.  “The negative of which,” Arnold wrote, “I suppose was destroyed during the conflagration which devastated the city of Baltimore, February 8th.”  Arnold wrote of the isolated nature of his surroundings and his own inability to get a photograph taken any time soon.  Fostell was not one to give up, however, and so a bit of a correspondence began between the two.  Over the next year the pair wrote intermittently to each other.  It was during this time that Arnold suffered several health problems including a broken hip and bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia.  Eventually, however, Arnold found the time to travel to Washington and pose for a photograph.  He instructed Fostell to write to the photographer, J. Orville Johnson, so that a copy may be made from the negative in his possession.  “Should you write,” Arnold instructed him, “do not use my name as I had them taken under under the name of Mr. Charles M. Prout (to avoid notoriety) this is my adjoining neighbor.” Fostell did just that and, upon receiving the image of “Charles Prout” from the photographer, he sent the image to Arnold for his autograph.  Arnold attached his name, age and date to the photograph and also sent along the following letter, now in the collection of the ALLM.  The letter speaks volumes about Arnold’s opinion of his treatment by the government in 1865:

“Friendship
A Arundel Co Md
March 14th 1905

Mr. A. E. Fostell
Dear Sir,
Yours of the 10th at hand also Photo. I thank you for your kind wishes and trust the after part of my life, may have some little pleasures. At the age of 70 years and 6 months, I have attached my autograph to my photo, this 14th day of March 1905. Forty years have nearly passed since my young life was clouded and crushed, my reputation tarnished and character before unsullied destroyed through the venality of my country. When so robbed, after suffering agony, torture both of mind and body, incarceration in narrow cells, guarded by the Military arm of the U. States Govt. I prophesied that if convicted and deprived of my liberty by that unconstitutional Military commission (Lynch Law), before which perjury of the most glaring character as well as subordination of perjury the most dominant feature were resorted to that I would outlive each and every individual who took part in that unholy crime. How true my prophecy has been filled let the following decide. I have stood upon the river bank eagerly gazing upon Charon as he conveyed their bodies across the river Styx. The Secretary of War at that time, has long since been ferryed over. The Judge Advocate Genl and his associates have one by one passed over. Each members of the Court has followed in their wakes, accompanied by many if not all the witnesses of importance, the crowning wedge Genl. Lew Wallace lately has gone to meet his associates. Even those who zealously guarded us with their cordon of arms at the time, are with their former associates in that unknown world. Their victims are there also to meet them face to face, whilst I the only and last survivor still live, (Charon having completed his work) a sentinel upon its bank. Retributive justice has had its reward – pomp and power have been destroyed and innocence still lives, thru disease, sickness, tortures, irons, shackles, incarceration and machinations & all other evils attending therewith. Death of their victims either by the rope or imprisonment had been determined upon in the beginning, twas the intended goal contemplated for each, but I thank my God he preserved my life – a miracle, to conclusively establish that man the pigmy in his exalted power over his fellow man, to give life or death, as he may propose is powerless to enforce his edict against the power of his Creator. Every drop of ink consumed in chronicling upon the page of history of the country implying connection, knowledge or assistance rendered by me in that abominable & damnable crime, the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, is a base lie, and fully known at the time. Preston King and Genl Lane answered their question and demands, the former by finding a watery grave the latter by the bullet. All nations are guilty of similar crimes and will again happen in serving the ambitions of man. I await my end calmly and placidly when God will justly decide the guilt or innocence of all from the blood stained Secty of War to the most abject prisoner who sat before that Court in all its pomp, splendor & power. The body dies but the Spirit lives forever. This is my consolation.

Samuel Arnold Signature Fostell letter LMU

While the ALLM holds this letter from Samuel Arnold in their collection, they do not have the autographed photograph that once accompanied it.  That image was somehow acquired by the late Lincoln collector, Dr. John K. Lattimer. After Dr. Lattimer’s death, most of his vast collection was sold at auction, including Sam Arnold’s autographed picture:

Old Sam Arnold L

At least one other letter occurred between Arnold and Fostell following the latter’s receipt of the autographed photo. However, any further communication between the men would have been limited due to Samuel Arnold’s increasingly ill health and his subsequent death in September of 1906.

It is highly likely that Al Emmett Fostell added the letter and the photograph to his personal Lincoln exhibit.  The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum contains a vast collection of Lincoln related books and pamphlets, including a rare catalog of Fostell’s exhibit.  This catalog was made in 1904, before he had received Arnold’s photograph.  Nevertheless, Fostell had quite an extensive collection of Lincoln artifacts, especially assassination related ones.  A sampling of his collection follows below, or you can click HERE to view the whole catalog courtesy of the ALLM.

  • A playbill for “Our American Cousin” supposedly stained with Lincoln’s blood. Provenance: Mrs. Harry Clay Ford
  • Key to the box at Ford’s Theatre in which Lincoln was assassinated. Provenance: Joseph Sessford
  • Letters and portraits of Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln, Henry Rathbone, Pauline [sic] Harris, Laura Keene, Harry Hawk, the Ford brothers, John B. Wright (Ford’s stage manager), J. E. Buckingham (doorkeeper), Joseph Sessford (ticket seller), William Withers (orchestra director), H. B. Phillips (lyricist for “Honor to Our Soldiers), Boston Corbett.
  • Piece of lace curtain that draped the box. Provenance: R. A. Whitehand
  • Signed check by John Wilkes Booth
  • Set of tickets used on April 14th. Provenance: Joseph Sessford
  • Some of the printer’s type that was used to print the Ford’s Theatre playbills for April 14th. Provenance: R. O. Polkinhorn
  • A Ford’s Theatre ticket, dated March 27th, 1865, said to have been confiscated from Lewis Powell after his arrest.  The ALLM has this ticket in their collection today.
  • An original $100,000 reward poster for the conspirators.
  • Undertaker J. H. Weaver’s bill for the burial of John Wilkes Booth in Green Mount Cemetery. Provenance: Alex Russell foreman of Green Mount Cemetery
  • A piece of President Lincoln’s coat (the one from Alphonso Donn) from the night he was assassinated. The ALLM has a pieced of Lincoln’s coat in their collection today, possibly it is this one.
  • Ticket to the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson.

Al Emmett Fostell died in 1920 and his collection was sold off to various collectors. To this day you can still find his name as provenance for various auction pieces that were once housed in his traveling Lincoln exhibit.

Samuel Arnold was, at times, a contradictory individual. In his twilight years he chose to retire to a farm away from mankind. He had his photograph taken incognito to “avoid notoriety”. And yet, in contrast, he released a tell all memoir about his involvement with John Wilkes Booth and his mistreatment by the government. He was also a seemingly open correspondent to anyone who wrote to him inquiring about his life. It appears that Samuel Arnold’s desire to be left alone was always eclipsed by his need to clear his name and tell his story.

This letter, housed at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate, Tennessee, demonstrates that Arnold never truly recovered from the effects of 1865 and the stigma of those events followed him until his dying day.

References:
Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum
Heritage Auctions
Cowan’s Auctions
Harry Ransom Center
Art Loux Archive

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John Wilkes Booth in the Woods: Part 9

John Wilkes Booth in the Woods

Part 9 of my series “John Wilkes Booth in the Woods” is now complete and available for viewing.

In this part I try one of Booth’s favorite drinks and finally receive the newspapers I’ve been craving.

John Wilkes Booth in the Woods

To watch the video, you can either click on the images above and scroll down, click HERE to watch the video on YouTube, or play the embedded video below.

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Photos from the Archives: John Wilkes Booth Comes Back to Ford’s Theatre

BoothieBarn:

Ford’s Theatre’s newest blog post discusses the first museum that was housed inside their historic edifice: the Army Medical Museum. They were also kind enough to link to one of my posts on the subject. Take a look and, if you so desire, you can also check out my pictures of John Wilkes Booth’s vertebrae by visiting here: http://boothiebarn.com/2014/06/27/john-wilkes-booths-vertebrae/

Originally posted on FORD'S THEATRE | BLOG:

A view of the Army Medical Museum when it was housed on the third floor of the former Ford’s Theatre. Courtesy of The National Museum of Health and Medicine.

A view of the Army Medical Museum that was housed on the third floor of the Ford’s Theatre site. Courtesy of The National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, powerful public reactions caused the War Department to seize Ford’s Theatre from John T. Ford (eventually offering him compensation) and gut the building. The department transformed the former theatre into a three-story office building. The first two floors stored veterans’ pension records, while the third became an Army medical museum.

The Army Medical Museum at Ford’s Theatre opened on April 13, 1867, almost exactly two years after the assassination. Highlighting the morbidity of the war’s medical practices, the museum’s collections of human body parts, and particularly human skulls, was a far cry from the once jovial theatre, but it entranced tourists all the same. The collection also included a…

View original 324 more words

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When is Edwin Booth’s Birthday?

The Junius Brutus Booth Society is a wonderful organization that works to educate the public and scholars about the illustrious Booth family. Their main venue for doing so is the Booth family home in Harford County, Maryland: Tudor Hall.

Tudor Hall

In addition to the superb Spirits of Tudor Hall Facebook page and blog, the JBB Society also publishes a quarterly newsletter for members.  For the low membership price of $12 a year you are not only supporting a hardworking organization that is effectively transforming Tudor Hall into a preeminent Booth family museum but you also receive impressive scholarship in the form of the newsletter, Booth History Spotlight.  For example, the Fall 2014 newsletter contains part one of an in depth look at the life of Dr. Joseph Booth, Edwin’s dedication address for an Edgar Allen Poe Memorial, an account of Edwin’s final days, a recipe written by Edwina Booth, and information about future tours and talks at Tudor Hall and beyond. Each issue also contains a small part called “The Spotlight Quiz”. This quiz takes the form of a piece of trivia which tests and informs you about a member of the Booth family. Today’s post was inspired by this issue’s Spotlight quiz:

IMG_5509

Now this question seems easy enough, already giving you the month of Edwin’s birth. Off the top of my head, I knew Edwin was born during a spectacular meteor shower but I’ve never been good at memorizing exact dates. My response was sometime in mid-November.

The newsletter gives the answer, “Edwin Thomas Booth was born at the Booth family farm on November 13, 1833.” But is this true?

Oddly enough when it comes to the exact birthdate of the world’s greatest Hamlet, the biggest theatrical star of his generation, Edwin’s exact date of birth is a little unclear.  Back in 2011, Tom Fink, president of the Junius Brutus Booth Society, wrote a piece about how even Edwin Booth was unsure of his birthdate.  I quote from Tom’s article which you can read in its entirety here:

“Edwin Booth wasn’t sure of the exact date of his birth at the property of Tudor Hall. His mother and older brother Junius, Jr. disagree on the day he was born. In a letter to his daughter, Edwina, dated November 14, 1869 describes his dilemma:

My Own Daughter,
Your dear letter with the pretty book-mark (“I love you”) came safely last night, just in time. It seems there is some doubt as to the exact date of my arrival here. Grandma says I was born on the night of the great “star shower” in 1883, and insists that it was November 15; but Uncle June says he remembers well—both my birth and the “Star Shower” occurred on November 13, 1833. So you see, I do not know which is the day—for, although I was there, I was too young to pay attention to such weighty matters, and can’t remember much about it. However, your little present, which I shall always cherish, my darling, came in good season for either day…”

It is interesting to note that Mary Ann Booth was always convinced that her son was born on November 15th. Not only does Edwin mention this in the above quoted 1869 letter to Edwina, but Mrs. Booth makes the same claim in her own letter to Edwina in November of 1875:

MAB to Edwina 11-9-1875 Taper Re Edwin's birthdate

“You will soon have your Papa in Philadelphia. I think, next Monday is your Papas birthday. I always keep it on the 15th of Nov – that was the day of his birth – but someone has changed it to the 13th.”

As much as I would like to support Mrs. Booth and her claim of November 15th as her son’s birthdate, it doesn’t seem to be correct. As Tom goes on to say in his article, the great Leonid meteor shower of 1833 that both Mary Ann Booth and her eldest son June agreed Edwin was born under occurred during the night of November 12 – 13th. If Edwin was born on the 15th, then he would have missed the prophetic celestial event by two days. It is for this reason that November 13th (June’s pick) is widely accepted as Edwin’s true birthdate and is more than likely correct.

JBB and Edwin Folger

So yes, the answer to this Booth History Spotlight quiz, is true. However, like so many things about the Booth family and the Lincoln assassination, this fun exercise serves to remind us that we must take time to question and find the evidence for every assumption we make.  Even something we take for granted, like a birthdate, can have a far more complicated story than we know.

References:
The Question of Edwin Booth’s Birthday by Tom Fink
Junius Brutus Booth Society
Spirits of Tudor Hall
The Taper Collection

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