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.
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:
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:
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.