Treasures of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum

Dr Mudd House 2015-11

Located off of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd Road in Waldorf, Maryland is, appropriately, the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. Situated on 197 acres of farmland, the museum tells the story of Dr. Mudd and his involvement with the tragedy of 1865.

Dr. Samuel A. Mudd

There are so many fascinating objects to see at the Mudd House. In fact, one could return time and time again and still find new items of captivating interest.  The following are just a few of the countless treasures to be found at the Dr. Mudd House Museum.

A Doctor’s Life (Prior to 1865)

Dr. Mudd’s Medical Book

Mudd medical book

Dr Mudd's name on medical book

Mudd medical book interior

This volume of Beck’s Materia Medica (the text of which can be read online here) was owned by Dr. Mudd and was conceivably used by him while he was studying for his degree in medicine. Perhaps he also consulted this book from time to time during his practice. In addition to his name being written on the cover of the book, there is also an interior inscription of “Saml. A Mudd MD, Bryantown Char. Co., M.D.” While Dr. Mudd’s handwriting changed over time, the interior inscription does appear to match the handwriting on Dr. Mudd’s doctoral thesis, making it likely that he wrote the inscription himself. This book is sometimes seen laying out on the secretary in the doctor’s office or is otherwise shelved with some other medical books.

Dr. Mudd’s Mortar and Pestle

Mudd's mortar and pestle

In his occupation as a physician, Dr. Mudd owned and used this mortar and pestle to create medicines for his patients. It is on display in the doctor’s office.

Clay Jars made by Dr. Mudd’s slaves

Jars made by Dr Mudd's slaves

The practice of medicine was largely secondary to Dr. Mudd, who was first and foremost a plantation owner with a large farm. Dr. Mudd own several slaves who worked in his fields tending to his crops and in his home doing domestic chores. These clay jars, on display in the kitchen of the Mudd house, were made by some of the Mudd family slaves. Dr. Mudd could be a very harsh master at times and at the trial of the conspirators several of his former slaves testified against him. One of his former slaves, Elzee Eglen, recounted how Dr. Mudd had shot him for being “obstreperous” and then threatened to send him south to Richmond to build defenses for the Confederacy. Elzee escaped from slavery by running away from Dr. Mudd’s farm in 1863. On the other hand, a few of Dr. Mudd’s slaves testified in his favor and stated that he was a kind master. After Emancipation, three of Dr. Mudd’s slaves stayed with the family and continued to work for him for several years. We do know that Dr. Mudd participated in “slave catching posses” to recapture escaped slaves. At the very least, Dr. Mudd’s strong ties to slavery and the cause of the Confederacy dispels the concept that he was “a Union man,” as he tried to paint himself after being arrested. To learn more about those held in slavery by Dr. Mudd, I recommend the book, The Doctor’s Slaves by Robert K. Summers.

The Booth Sofa

Booth Sofa Mudd House

The centerpiece of the Mudd House parlor is an antique settee. This small sofa is undoubtedly the most iconic item on display in the Dr. Mudd House and the most photographed piece in the museum. After the assassin of Abraham Lincoln and his accomplice arrived at the Mudd farm during the early morning hours of April 15, 1865, the injured assassin was brought inside and laid upon this couch. It was while here that Dr. Mudd first examined the leg of John Wilkes Booth.  To subsequent generations of the Mudd family, this couch perfectly personified the desired mythology for Dr. Mudd. This settee was an innocent bystander, a piece that unknowingly gave comfort to an assassin. One can not place blame a sofa for being laid upon just as one cannot blame a doctor for fulfilling his Hippocratic Oath. However, while the sofa is free from any wrong doing, history has proven that Dr. Mudd had known Booth long before the assassination and likely provided assistance in Booth’s plot to abduct Abraham Lincoln.

Mrs. Mudd’s Painting

Mrs Mudd's Painting

On the wall of the bedroom where John Wilkes Booth slept during most of the daytime hours of April 15, 1865, hangs a beautiful painting called, “The Sleeping Beauty.” This painting was painted by Sarah Frances Dyer, Dr. Mudd’s wife. She painted this portrait when she was in school and it demonstrates Mrs. Mudd’s creative talents.

Wood Working to Pass the Hard Time (1865 – 1869)

A. Fort Jefferson

Many of the unique treasures contained in the Mudd house consist of objects Dr. Mudd created while carrying out his prison sentence at Fort Jefferson. During his imprisonment, Dr. Mudd (and the other prisoners) tried their hands at various crafts and trades to help pass the time. The imprisoned conspirators often sent boxes of crafts and carpentry projects back home to their loved ones. Here is a newspaper article which mentions the Lincoln conspirators’ handiwork:

Gifts from Fort Jefferson article

The following artifacts, on display at the Mudd house, are all items created by Dr. Mudd while he was in prison.

Shark Cartilage Cane

Dr Mudd Cane

Fort Jefferson is located approximately 67 miles west of Key West, Florida. This island prison was so isolated and the threat of survivable escape from it was so low that prisoners were allowed almost complete access to the entire island. As such, there were many chances for Dr. Mudd and the others to collect specimens from the tropical waters. Dr. Mudd made several canes and walking sticks while at Fort Jefferson but this one has the unique feature of being decorated with shark cartilage likely scavenged from the remains of a shark that had washed up on the Dry Tortugas. This cane is displayed on the bed in Dr. Mudd’s bedroom.

Book of Pressed Flowers

Dr Mudd's pressed flowers

Though a limited amount of flora grew on Fort Jefferson due to the lack of fresh water, Dr. Mudd still took the time to collect samples of flowers and leaves from the island’s vegetation. He put his specimens into this album, which appears to have been originally created to hold CDVs, common photographs of the day. This book is on display in a case in the second floor hallway.

Letter Opener

Mudd letter opener

Dr. Mudd created this plain yet practical letter opener while at Fort Jefferson. It is displayed in the second floor case.

Frame of Shells

Dr Mudd Frame of Shells

Though fresh water was scarce, what was not lacking on the shores of Fort Jefferson’s beaches were shells. As such, Dr. Mudd took to collecting shells and affixing them to many different objects. This frame decorated by shells is in the second floor display case.

Jewelry Boxes

Mudd jewelry box 1

Mudd jewelry box 2

The Dr. Mudd House displays two jewelry boxes built by Dr. Mudd which he ornately encrusted with a plethora of seashells. Another jewelry box created by Dr. Mudd appeared on Antiques Roadshow several years back.

Cribbage Board

Dr Mudd's cribbage board

Jewelry boxes and cribbage boards appear to have been the most popular items to construct when spending time at Fort Jefferson. In 1867, Dr. Mudd’s fellow conspirator Edman Spangler sent a package of gifts to his former employer John T. Ford. The package contained several items to be distributed among the friends and families of Spangler, Dr. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, and Michael O’Laughlen. The items were four decorated boxes and six cribbage boards.  So it appears that the conspirators had a veritable cribbage board factory at Fort Jefferson and honed their skills making them. This board, said to have been created by Dr. Mudd, is in the second floor display case.

Checkerboard Tabletop

Dr Mudd's checkerboard top

This checkerboard tabletop, created by Dr. Mudd, is affixed to a small table just inside the front door of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. It demonstrates Dr. Mudd’s increasing skill at inlay and marquetry. It is worth noting that lumber was fairly scarce on the islands of the Dry Tortugas. These pieces would have been made with either driftwood that washed up on the shore, or with surplus wood from the Fort’s carpentry shop where Dr. Mudd was sent to work alongside Edman Spangler.

Circular Game Table

Dr Mudd's inlaid table

As Dr. Mudd’s time on Fort Jefferson increased, it appears he became more and more adept at woodworking and general carpentry. This game table shows great skill and is likely due to the teachings of his fellow inmate, Edman Spangler, who had been a carpenter by trade. Spangler helped construct the Booth family home of Tudor Hall many years before he was employed by John T. Ford to work as a carpenter and scene shifter in his theaters. It is likely that Spangler gave lessons in carpentry to his fellow prisoners and assisted Dr. Mudd in the creation of this table. It is on display next to the Booth sofa in the front parlor of the Mudd house.

A Familiar Guest (1873 – 1875)

As we know, Dr. Mudd eventually secured a pardon from President Andrew Johnson due to his conduct during a Yellow Fever epidemic that swept Fort Jefferson in 1867. That epidemic took the life of Michael O’Laughlen, one of the other Lincoln conspirators. President Johnson pardoned Dr. Mudd shortly before the end of his term. He also pardoned the two remaining conspirators, Samuel Arnold and Edman Spangler. The men had bonded quite a bit due to their shared ordeal and circumstances. Though they parted ways, there was a reunion of sorts between Dr. Mudd and his teacher of carpentry, Edman Spangler.

Spangler Icon

Spangler originally went back to work for John T. Ford in his theaters. John T. Ford always believed in his employee’s innocence and worked hard to get Spangler released. However, when Ford’s Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore burned down in 1873, Spangler found himself out of a job. Spangler made his way to Dr. Mudd’s farm where he was welcomed in with open arms. Spangler lived with the Mudds for about 18 months doing carpentry, gardening, and other farm chores. Some of the artifacts on display at the Mudd house were owned or built by Edman Spangler.

Doll Chairs

Spangler doll chairs

These doll chairs, on display in the second floor case, were made by Edman Spangler for Dr. Mudd’s young children. Nettie Mudd, the doctor’s youngest child, recalled that Spangler’s, “greatest pleasure seemed to be found in extending kindnesses to others, and particularly children, of whom he was very fond.”

Spangler’s Wood Plane

Spangler's wood plane 1 Mudd house

This wood plane, used in carpentry work to flatten and smooth a piece of wood, belonged to Edman Spangler and he likely used it while doing carpentry projects around the Mudd farm. It is usually regulated to a shelf in the doctor’s office but if you ask about it, and your docent is willing, he or she may take it out so that you can see the stamped ends that bear Spangler’s name.

Spangler's wood plane 2 Mudd house

Spangler’s Dresser

Spangler's dresser Mudd house

This dresser was made by Edman Spangler while he lived at the Mudd farm. Today, this piece furnishes the children’s bedroom, a fitting place due to Spangler’s affinity for children.

Spangler’s New Testament

Spangler's New Testament from Ewing

In the second floor display case of the Mudd house is a 1861 copy of the New Testament which belonged to Edman Spangler. It was inscribed to him by Mrs. Ewing. At the trial of the conspirators, Edman Spangler was one of the last to find legal representation and it was essentially appointed to him by the court. His lawyer was General Thomas Ewing, Jr. Ewing had already been hired to defend Dr. Mudd and Samuel Arnold and was then asked to defend Spangler as well when the latter could not find any other representation. When Mrs. Ewing, the wife of Spangler’s lawyer, gave him this New Testament is unknown. However, whether he received it in the midst of the trial or at its conclusions when his fate was known, Spangler likely read thorough it for guidance and hope during the dark days at Fort Jefferson. It was found among his things when he died in the Mudd house on February 7, 1875. Edman Spangler died at the age of 49 while being cared for by his good friend, Dr. Mudd.

Endings and Beginnings (1883 – Present)

Dr. Mudd’s Original Gravestone

Mudd Outbuilding with grave

Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd died on January 10, 1883 at the age of 49. He was interred at St. Mary’s Catholic Church Cemetery where his parents were buried. Dr. Mudd’s wife, Sarah Frances, outlived her husband by 28 years before passing away in 1911. She was buried alongside her husband but for many years had no stone of her own. Around 1940, some of Dr. and Mrs. Mudd’s descendants decided to replace Dr. Mudd’s old headstone with a new one that would include both of their names. This was also deemed advantageous to do because there was a mistake on Dr. Mudd’s original tombstone that needed to be corrected. When the gravestone was replaced, Dr. Mudd’s old headstone was brought back to the farm. It was eventually placed in an old chicken coop located right behind the Mudd house. Look closely at the image below and see if you can find the mistake on Dr. Mudd’s original headstone.

Former Mudd Stone

The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House

One cannot discuss the wonderful treasures in the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum without acknowledging the treasure that is the restored house museum itself. Dr. Mudd’s home continued to be owned and lived in by his descendants all the way up to the present day. As a family home, it underwent its share of upgrades and changes. In the 1970’s, the house looked quite a bit different than it did in Dr. Mudd’s day:

Dr. Mudd House circa 1970

It is very fortunate that generations of the Mudd family came together in the 1970’s and embraced the house’s historical importance. They choose to restore the house to its 1865 appearance and open it as a museum. The earliest known photographs of the Mudd house, like this one from 1895, were consulted during the restoration in order to duplicate the exterior of the home as accurately as possible.

Mudd house 1895 Victor Mason

Dr. Mudd House 1

Today, the restored Mudd house sits on almost the same amount of land it did in 1865, preserving the historic landscape that John Wilkes Booth and David Herold saw when they departed the home after receiving aid.

Mudd house landscape

Click to enlarge

Even ignoring the massive repository of items and artifacts relating to Dr. Mudd’s life and saga, the Mudd house is definitely a treasure all its own.

Plan Your Visit (The Future)

Despite the numerous artifacts highlighted in this post, there is still so much to see at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum. There’s Mrs. Mudd’s original cruet set, the Mudds’ original sideboard table, a large format photograph taken of Dr. Mudd at Fort Jefferson, a secretary built by Dr. Mudd while in prison, keys said to be from Dr. Mudd’s prison cell, a chair from Ford’s Theatre, and so much more. Just to see these artifacts in person is worth the $7 admission price. The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum closes down for the winter season so you have plenty of time to plan your future visit to this very worthwhile museum. Please visit DrMudd.org for more information.

References:
The Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum
The Doctor’s Slaves by Robert K. Summers
The Assassin’s Doctor by Robert K. Summers
American Brutus by Michael Kauffman

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “Treasures of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum

  1. Robert Summers

    Dave: absolutely marvelous article on the Dr. Mudd House Museum. Well done, and thank you.

    – Bob Summers

    >

    • Thank YOU, Bob for writing so many wonderful books on your ancestor, Dr. Mudd. Your books are always the first ones I consult when I write about the good doctor.

  2. Wonderful post! I second Bob.

    Dave, do you know if that is the cane Dr. Mudd made for William Henry Heiss?

    • Roger,

      The cane made for William Henry Heiss is on display at the museum but it is not this shark cartilage cane. That cane (which is a pretty basic cane) is in the same second floor display case as many of the other artifacts.

  3. Thomas Boarman Mudd

    Great article on the Sam Mudd house and some of its treasures! My first visit to the home was in the late 1940s. I remember playing baseball out front with the Mudd children, riding a horse, and partaking of a country dinner that featured a salty ham and the best veggies on earth.

  4. JIM DAVIS

    Dave: Great article. I went to Green Mount Cemetery yesterday and visited the Booth plot. Understand JWB is buried there but grave is not marked. Is here interned there?

    • Jim,

      John Wilkes Booth is indeed interred in the Booth family plot in Green Mount. He has no grave marker of his own but his name is on the back of the Booth obelisk which is the same side John Wilkes is buried.

  5. Dennis D. Urban

    I visited the Mudd farm for the second time this past summer. I saw and photographed most of the artifacts pictured. I did not know about the wood plane. A visit is highly recommended if anywhere close to the area. The home and artifacts are truly well preserved and one can almost sense the presence of Dr. Mudd when in the home. I expected to see him emerge from one of the rooms at any moment. A memorable experience to be sure.

    • The Mudd House is very much a place preserved in time. The surrounding farm landscape really helps transport you back to 1865.

  6. Tom Bowman

    Dave:

    Great article…..What type of adhesive did Dr. Mudd use to affix the shells to the frame and jewelry boxes?

    Thanks,

    Tom Bowman

    • Tom,

      I’m not a wood worker so I couldn’t tell you how Dr. Mudd affixed these shells to the box. Seeing they’ve been there for about 150 years, I’d say whatever he used worked very well.

      Dave

      P.S. I sent you an email about your question regarding Booth’s hat.

  7. Laurie Verge

    I can’t give you a positive answer as to what would have been used to adhere the shells to the various decorative pieces that Dr. Mudd created (although I have coveted the large cask for ages!). However, I have collected antique valentines (pre-1900 mainly) for years and have about 75-100. I used to display them faithfully every February at Surratt House until I started to damage them.

    That said, some of the pieces in my collection are termed “sailors’ valentines,” and that does not refer specifically to ones in a heart-shape. Sewing boxes, frames, pin cushions and assorted other items that would be both useful, attractive, and treasured by sweethearts at home were largely created by the sailors aboard the whaling vessels that spent months at sea or in ports where shells were plentiful.

    I have several that are true valentines – heart-shaped, red velvet, tiny shells, etc. – and I’m able to describe the adhesive used to hold the shells in place (at least on my pieces). It appears to be a thin coating of plaster of paris, white in color, very obvious as containing the shells because they have literally been pressed down slightly in it, and as hard as cement – even in a thin layer. When I was ten, I spent months in an old-fashioned body cast after smashing a shoulder. The adhesive on my shell valentines reminds me very much of that cast. Makes me itch just thinking about it…!

  8. Tom Bowman

    Thanks Laurie…………………..

    I was just wondering what Dr. Mudd may have used. He didn’t have all the adhesives we have available today.

    Down here in the South Carolina Lowcountry, along the coast, people used to crush shells and mix them with lime to make ‘tabby.’ It is just like concrete.

    Being on that island Dr. Mudd had plenty of shells to use for his crafts.

    It is testament to his workmanship that these wonderful items have lasted for 150 years.

    Sounds like you have a great collection too.

    Regards,

    Tom Bowman
    Port Royal, SC

  9. Laurie Verge

    I know exactly what you mean by “tabby.” It was used in many early home constructions here in Maryland also, with oyster shells being a chief source. That could very well be tabby on my sailors’ valentines.

    I love the area of your Lowcountry. Please cure the heat and humidity so that I can retire there…

    • Tom Bowman

      We have many old buildings, homes and even sidewalks made of tabby (also made of oyster shells). Port Royal is right on the coast between Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC.

      The heat and humidity are not a problem with AC and nice sea breezes. Right now it’s cold here – with the temperature going into the 20s tonight. Hopefully this won’t last long.

      This area is the fastest growing part of the state with more and more retirees moving in. Better hurry.

  10. Laurie Verge

    Dave,

    I meant to ask earlier – the artistic photo that you posted of the back of the Dr. Mudd House reminds me of the beautiful pictures done by Buddy Secor, a professional photographer who recently provided outstanding images for a special edition of Hallowed Ground, the magazine of the Civil War Trust. It was devoted to the escape and capture of Mr. Booth.

    He was a delight to work with and gave Surratt House a full set of the photos that he took. We have already used some of them, giving him full credit, of course. Is this by any chance one of them? It is almost identical to the one that was published in the magazine, only Buddy took the shot from a farther distance.

    • Laurie,

      Pretty much all the photos on this post were taken by yours truly. The only exceptions are the circa 1895 picture of the Mudd house, the images of Dr. Mudd and Edman Spangler, and the one of Fort Jefferson which was kindly shared with me by Dop Troutman. Now I’m curious as to what the photos by Mr. Secor looked like.

      • Laurie Verge

        Then congratulations on being an accomplished landscape photographer, because the opening photo is grand. We had a limited supply of the magazine on the escape route that featured Buddy Secor’s work, but I doubt that there are any left except for the library copy and the one that I’m hoarding on my desk.

  11. Thanks for exploring some things visitors don’t notice or take fore granted. I don’t think my tour guide pointed out the stuff in the display cases.

  12. Great post that does justice to what I regard as one of the ten most authentic historical sites I have ever visited.

  13. Dave –

    Thanks for a WONDERFUL “walk down Memory Lane!” I remember Dr. Mudd’s granddaughter Emily who lived here in Richmond years ago. She was a wonderful friend and I would go over to her house often to see her and look at (and handle) her artifacts, i.e. Dr. Mudd’s medical book, (the very same one!), the cribbage board, a pottery jar owned by the Mudd family and Dr. Mudd’s medical kit which is now in Ford’s Theatre…..

  14. Dorothea Barstow

    Dave – thank you for the wonderful article on our Dr Samuel Mudd House! We are fortunate, indeed, to have so many original artifacts and the spectacular land and house. One of our visitors commented
    that the House had been “lovingly preserved” – we like to think so. I look forward to seeing you when you’re here with the Escape Route Tours. FYI – we open on April 2nd!

  15. Great article! I’ve been through the House several times and on the grounds many times, but there’s never enough time to explore it thoroughly.

    Just FYI if you haven’t been there recently: last fall a Scout from our Boy Scout troop installed a series of signs for a self-guided tour following JWB’s trail off the property and into the swamp, and marking other significant sites on the property.

    • I’m glad you liked the article, Kelly. I have seen the signs you mentioned and they look great. I’m so happy the Mudd house is continuing to update their site to make their visitor experience even better.

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