Each week we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.
Cora Lee Garrett
Burial Location: Carlisle Cemetery, Carlisle, Kentucky
Connection to the Lincoln assassination:
On Monday, April 24, 1865, at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, three men rode up on horseback to the farmhouse of Richard Henry Garrett and his family. Mr. Garrett was asked by the leader of the trio, a solider named Jett, if he would be willing to take care of one of their compatriots who had been wounded in the leg. The other two men promised to come back for their infirm friend on Wednesday morning. This temporary refuge was agreed upon with little deliberation by Mr. Garrett. He would later recall, “As it has always been one of the principles of my religion to entertain strangers, especially any in distress, I at once consented and promised I would do the best I could for him.” Little did Mr. Garrett know at the time that he had just invited into his home the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth.
Booth, portraying himself as Mr. Boyd, was kindly tended to by Mr. Garrett and his family. The occupants of the farm at that time numbered more than a dozen with Mr. Garrett, his wife, and ten children consisting of the bulk of the population. The children present on the farm were, in order: Mary Elizabeth, Jack, Kate, Will, Annie, Richard, Lillie, Robert, Nettie, and, the youngest, Cora Lee.
Though his broken leg pained him, John Wilkes Booth did make an effort to entertain the five youngest Garrett children, all of whom were 10 or younger. He mystified them by moving the needle of a compass around with his pocketknife and he even told them jokes and stories. However, it was to three year-old Cora Lee Garrett that Booth paid the greatest of attention.
Lillie Garrett, who was 8 years-old at the time of Booth’s visit would later give an account of Booth’s stay at the family farm to a newspaperman. In her account she detailed Booth’s fondness for Cora:
“We children were about him and with him nearly all of the time. Of course, we were full of romp and frolic, and sometimes he would attempt to be cheerful and encourage us in our play. Our little baby sister, then about 4 [sic] years old, he took a great fancy to, and used to pet her a great deal, but the rest of us he paid little attention to…
He talked more to my little sister than to any one else. He called her his little blue-eyed pet, and, at the last meal he took with us, she sat by his side in her high chair. We were all gathered around the table, when she began making a noise; mother spoke up quite sharply to her, and she burst into tears. Booth at once began soothing her, and said, “What, is that my little blue-eyes crying?”
Within twelve hours of drying his little blue-eyed pet’s tears, John Wilkes Booth was dead, shot in the tobacco barn belonging to her father. And while Cora may have made a distinct mark on John Wilkes Booth in his final hours, he might have been disappointed to learn that he did not make such a mark on her.
In 1881, a newspaper reporter named Col. Frank Burr visited the Garrett farm to talk with its inhabitants. Cora, then a young woman of 19, was still living with her sisters. Burr described his interaction with her:
“In a minute a bright rather handsome young girl, just budding into womanhood, stepped into the room, dressed in her riding habit. She had a full, round face and pleasant countenance lit up by a pair of large, poetic, blue eyes, and a wealth of golden hair fell down her back in a graceful braid, reaching below her waist. A jaunty riding hat evidently of home construction, set upon her shapely head…”
“‘I don’t remember anything about Booth,’ said the cheerful girl, ‘but they have told me a great deal about him since his death. How I wish I could remember him! I’m just going for a ride,’ and, after a few moments’ conversation, she stepped up and took her riding-whip from its place near the old fashioned fire-place, and a moment later had darted out the door to where her pony was hitched. She put the saddle upon the horse herself, and sprang into it without assistance, and in less time than it takes to tell the story her black pony was flying down the country road, bearing toward a neighboring farm house John Wilkes Booth’s last sweetheart.”
Cora, like the rest of her siblings, would move away from the old farmstead. When her brother, Richard Baynham Garrett, became a Baptist minister in 1882, she accompanied him when he accepted a pastorate located in Carlisle, Kentucky. While in Carlisle she likely made the acquaintance of a widower by the name of William Henry Fritts. Henry was 22 years older than Cora and had a son that was only six years younger than she was. It appears that any romantic feelings between the two took a while to develop as Cora left Kentucky in 1889 when her brother took up a new pastorate in Austin, Texas. Eventually, Henry Fritts followed her to Austin and the two were married by her brother Rev. Richard Baynham Garrett in 1892.
Cora moved back to Carlisle with Henry and the pair had two children together. Sadly, however, both of the children died in childhood. In 1899, Rev. Garrett accepted a pastorate at a Baptist church located in Portsmouth, Virginia. Whether Cora was homesick for her native state or wanted to be closer to her family, we don’t know, but, regardless, within a couple years of Rev. Garrett’s move to Portsmouth, Henry Fritts also accepted a job in Portsmouth, Virginia. He and Cora reunited with her brother. Cora and Henry had a nice life in Portsmouth with Henry working at the Navy Yard. However, in 1913 Henry Fritts died. Cora had his body transported back to Carlisle for burial next to his mother and father. She then returned to Portsmouth. Cora outlived her brother, the Rev. Garrett, who died in 1922 and was buried in Portsmouth.
Cora Lee Garrett Fritts died at the age of 70 on November 18, 1932. She was the penultimate witness to John Wilkes Booth’s death (albeit without any memory of the event), and left her brother, Robert Clarence Garrett, as the only remaining person alive who had witnessed the assassin’s end.
Since Cora had no children of her own (she also outlived her step-son), her final arrangements were tended to by her nephew. The original thought was to bury her back near the old farmstead in Caroline County, Virginia where she was born. There she would have joined her father, mother, and several of her siblings in the Enon Baptist Church Cemetery. But it was later decided that she should be transported to Kentucky and be laid next to her husband.
Cora Lee Garrett, John Wilkes Booth’s blue-eyed pet and last “sweetheart”, is buried in the Fritts family plot in Carlisle Cemetery.
GPS coordinates for Cora Lee Garrett’s grave: 38.314908, -84.034176