Some Real Booth Mummies

Finis Bates spent many misguided years trying to convince the world that John Wilkes Booth escaped death at Garrett’s farm. He displayed the mummified remains of David E. George and tricked people into believing the body’s convoluted identity trail from David George, to John St. Helen, to John Wilkes Booth. Bates created convincing pseudo-history with a dead body as an effective centerpiece. However, long before the real John Wilkes Booth was even born, the Booth family had a legitimate connection with mummies.  I quote from Asia Booth Clarke’s book, Booth Memorials: Passages, Incidents, and Anecdotes of Junius Brutus Booth (The Elder):

“About this time [1833] my father [Junius Brutus Booth] purchased two Egyptian mummies, with a view of presenting them to General Jackson. They were to be sent to the Hermitage; but, finding that they were such rare specimens, it was suggested that they should be reserved for the Museum in Washington, for which Mr. Varden was then collecting curiosities. The mummies were priests of the god “Apis; ” and, on examination, the papyrus manuscripts, although in excellent and legible order, proved to be of such antiquity that it was impossible for the literati of that day to translate their meaning.

Languages, like nations and religions, take their turns and seem to prove the mutability of nature. Mr. Varden’s design being ineffectual, the mummies were subsequently deposited in the Patent Office, Washington, and removed thence to the Smithsonian Institute.”

The eccentric Junius, was one of contradictory tendencies at times.  He cherished life in all forms, forbidding the killing of animals in his home and following the practically unheard of practice of vegetarianism.  At the same time though, he was friends with people like Sam Houston and Andrew Jackson.  Original Boothie John C. Brennan once said how odd a gift he thought the mummies to be for Jackson as Jackson wasquite good at, “shooting people and producing his own cadavers”.  The actor who wept during his organized funeral for dozens of killed pigeons, did not have the same reverence, it seems, for the remains of the long dead Egyptians.

According to Michael Kauffman in his book American Brutus, no donation record can be found for Junius’ mummies at the Smithsonian.  Nevertheless, as I visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and explored the Ancient Egypt exhibit today, I couldn’t help but wonder if one of the mummies on display once belonged to Junius Brutus Booth.  At least then there would be a real “Booth Mummy”.

John Wilkes Booth looking for his father’s donated pair of mummies in the Smithsonian.

References:
Booth Memorials: Passages, Incidents, and Anecdotes of Junius Brutus Booth (The Elder) by Asia Booth Clarke
American Brutus by Michael Kauffman
The photo of JWB in the Smithsonian was taken using the Augmented Reality function of Michael Kauffman’s new publication, In the Footsteps of an Assassin.  After purchasing the book, smartphone users are able to download an app which provides tour commentary on the go.  It also includes four augmented reality photo ops in which an overlay of Lincoln, Mary Todd, JWB or Lewis Powell, can be added before taking any picture.  Now, I can take snap a photo of Booth anywhere, without any photo editing required.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Some Real Booth Mummies

  1. This is a truly outstanding site! I’ve added the site as a link from by Lincoln Blog. Great work.
    Bill Nash, AbesBlogCabin.org

    • Bill, forgive me for being remiss. I just saw your kind comment now.
      Thank you for your compliments. I have to say your blog (whose name I love BTW) is also wonderfully done and I’m honored to be linked from it. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on your blog and on the Abraham Lincoln Discussion Symposium.

      ~Dave Taylor

  2. Fascinating blog! I just stumbled on this little post while attempting to follow the trail of a collection of mummies, possibly the collection from which Booth acquired his two. Have you in your reading come across where Booth was when he purchased them?

    • Sarah,

      Forgive my delay in replying to you. Junius Brutus Booth appears to have purchased his mummies in Louisville, Kentucky or thereabouts. He wrote a letter on January 20, 1834 to his father from Louisville (where he was performaing at the time) and stated, “I have just purchased two Egyptian Priests of the God Apis (Mummies) and hire them for exhibition at the Museum, for which I receive 12 dollars per week. Perhaps this is as good an investment as the stock in some of the more tottering banks at this juncture. They (the Priests) are in good preservation and yet neither eat nor drink; they are direct from Thebes and have only been in the Union 4 months. The Papyrus Mss. are in excellent and legible order, but unfortunately the Literati have not been able to translate their meaning. A Frenchman named Champolion published a work explanatory of Hieroglyphics, but these seem of greater antiquity than those he describes. Languages like Nations and Religions take their turns and all seem to prove the constant mutability of Nature.”

      I hope this letter can be of use to you. If you do manage to track down more information about Junius Brutus Booth’s mummies (either where they came from or where they are now) I would be very interested.

      Thanks,

      Dave

      • Thanks, Dave. In her book Ancient Egyptians as Artifacts: Mummies in Nineteenth Century America (2009), S. J. Wolfe attempts to trace the paths of all the Egyptian mummies that arrived in the United States in that era. She claims that after Booth exhibited the mummies for a time, he gave them to John Varden, the curator of the National Gallery of the Patent Office in Washington, where they eventually became part of the Smithsonian collection. That seems plausible to me. Where they came from, I’m not as sure. Wolfe wants to make them part of the collection from which Mormon prophet Joseph Smith got his four mummies and Egyptian writings that he “interpreted” and turned into part of The Book of Abraham, a lesser known Moron scripture. That’s the collection I am particularly interested in. The numbers work out right, and the dates roughly correspond, but there are some early 19th travel considerations and some details that don’t match up quite right, which lead me to wonder if the Booth mummies really came from same collection. Also, none of the leading Book of Abraham scholars trace the mummies through Kentucky or to Booth. Thanks again for your help!

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