Posts Tagged With: Research

A Military Tribunal Observance

Hello fellow history enthusiasts,

Kate Ramirez here stepping in for Dave to tell you all about some of the events hosted inside the walls of Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D. C.

As you know, commemorations remembering the 150 years since the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the death of John Wilkes Booth have long since passed. However, another milestone passed just a few weeks ago, 150 years since the beginning of the Lincoln Conspiracy Trial. Accordingly, Fort McNair hosted a two day event which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

(Side note: I’m trying to get the hashtag #LCT150 to go viral and become the official hashtag for the trial. So if you could use that for your various social media postings I would really appreciate it).

On May 8th, Fort McNair held a VIP event in the Officers’ Club which is only a few yards from Grant Hall, where the trial took place in a room on the third floor. Among the guests were Dave and I, many high profile military officials, Colonel Michael Henderson (Commander of Myer-Henderson Hall) delivered the welcome remarks, published Lincoln assassination historians like Kate Clifford Larson, and descendants of various individuals involved in the assassination, including Dr. Samuel Mudd and Thomas Ewing. After some mingling set to the tunes provided by some amazingly talented military musicians, four acclaimed speakers talked in depth about the military tribunal and its participants.

Fort McNair Event Program 5-8-15

Starting off the program was American Brutus author Michael Kauffman. He provided an overview of events and discussed the differences between military and civil trials.

Mike Kauffman Fort McNair 5-8-15

John Elliott, co-author of Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators, spoke about how it would have felt to be a spectator during the infamous trial of 1865. For all those who have seen Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, being a spectator was not as cushy as it appeared on film. In the days before fire codes and maximum capacity rules, there was nothing wrong with shoving as many people into a room as possible. Add that to the fact that air conditioning had yet to be invented and it was the middle of summer. You do the math.

John Elliott Fort McNair 5-8-15

Barry Cauchon, the second author of Inside the Walls, who thankfully got his computer connected to the projector in time, gave an AWESOME (yes, that word deserves to be in all caps) presentation about finding the smallest of details in the different execution photos. You can even see the Smithsonian Castle in one of the images. It was like “Where’s Waldo” but more fun.

Barry Cauchon Fort McNair 5-8-15

Betty Ownsbey, author of Alias Paine (a second edition was just released so go buy it), was the final presenter. This was fitting as she talked about the various myths surrounding the original burial of John Wilkes Booth (no, he was not tossed into any rivers in case you were wondering), the final resting places of the four executed conspirators, and the journey taken by the skull of Lewis Powell.

Betty Ownesby Fort McNair 5-8-15

The event then moved outside to the execution site where Barry Cauchon and John Elliott had earlier marked the locations of the gallows, the graves of the conspirators, the first burial place of Booth, the prison door, and various other structures we have all seen in pictures. Usually I do not find it fortunate that a tennis court was built on the hanging ground. However, said court does come fitted with bright lights which made seeing Barry, his informative presentation, and the gallows and shoe factor markers easy despite the sun having all but disappeared behind the horizon.

Barry Cauchon Execution Site 5-8-15

(Barry demonstrating the height of the gallows).

Barry Cauchon Shoe Factory 5-8-15

(Barry discussing how Alexander Gardner set up his cameras in the shoe factory, which was about 100 feet from the execution site).

As for admiring markers which were in darker areas, that gave everyone a valid excuse to return in the morning for the Grant Hall open house (except for Dave who attended the Tudor Hall symposium in Bel Air, MD). However, Dave and I did manage to get a few good pictures before leaving. 

Dave Taylor Execution Site 5-8-15

(Dave standing on the same spot as George Atzerodt when he was executed).

Kate Ramirez Execution Site 5-8-15

(I chose to sit where David Herold was standing when he was executed. I also look a bit like Vampria. I swear I’m not actually this pale in real life).

Kate Ramirez Shoe Factory 5-8-15

(The more natural lighting near the shoe factory marker shows my skin’s normal coloring).

Due to being on a military base, Grant Hall is only open once every quarter. May 9th was all the more special since it was the 150th anniversary of the trial’s beginning (the trial began in secret on May 9, 1865. May 10th was the first day the public was allowed inside) and visitors got to tour the refurbished trial room with John and the courtyard with Barry. I got much better pictures of the different markers in the sunlight. FYI: John needs to get some serious props since he got a facial sunburn while helping Barry put everything together. Dedication, ladies and gentleman. Dedication.

Surratt Grave Marker 5-9-15

Powell Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

Herold Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

Atzerodt Grave Marker Grant Hall 5-9-15

(The approximate locations of the executed conspirator’s original graves. Why the government felt they needed to keep dead bodies for four years I will never understand. But that’s just my opinion).

Grant Hall with Grave Markers 5-9-15

(The two red lines represent where the prison wall used to stand. It’s the place where all the soldiers were chilling on execution day in case you don’t know which wall I’m referring to).

Grant Hall Stairs Marker 5-9-15

(This red box marks where the stairs for the gallows were).

Grant Hall Prison Door 5-9-15

(The spot of the now demolished prison door through which the conspirators entered the courtyard on July 7, 1865).

Grant Hall Gallows and Wall Markers 5-9-15

(This is the length from the door to the stairs. The conspirators did not march a long dramatic distance like in the movies).

Grant Hall Gallows and Shoe Factory Markers 5-9-15

(The view from the gallows in the foreground to the shoe factory in the background).

Grant Hall Shoe Factory Marker 2 5-9-15

(And vice versa).

Execution Site from Trial Room 5-9-15

(You can see the entire execution site from the courtroom window on the third floor of Grant Hall).

Grant Hall John Wilkes Booth Burial Place Marker 5-9-15

(X marks the spot of John Wilkes Booth’s original burial place).

The courtroom was nicely decorated with pictures showing who sat where on the prisoner dock and at the commissioner table. This was especially helpful to me since I can usually recall where each conspirator was but often can barely remember the names of the commission members let alone where they chose to sit.




(That’s Samuel Arnold next to the window. The light obscured his picture).


While John gave his lecture on the details of the trial, I got the chance to talk with Michael Kauffman, who returned to speak about how the eight conspirators got involved with John Wilkes Booth and how that influenced their individual fates.


If you ever get a chance to talk with Mr. Kauffman, ask lots of questions because he is an endless storage of facts and tidbits. Did you know that the red color of the Surratt Tavern originally came from turkey blood? Yep, the paint was a mixture of milk and turkey blood. I also managed to get this picture once the chairs were free to sit on again.

Michael Kauffman Kate Ramirez Grant Hall 5-9-15

And this one when the tours were over and the Boothies still hanging around (no pun intended) decided to take advantage of the nice weather and continue chatting outside (and also because we had to vacate the courtroom or else be locked inside).

Kate Ramirez John Elliott Barry Cauchon Michael Kauffman Grant Hall 5-9-15

(Me, John Elliott, Barry Cauchon, and Michael Kauffman indulge in a group selfie).

Though the story surrounding Grant Hall is one of intense darkness in American history, the coordinators at Fort McNair were able to put together a spectacular event that was a remembrance of the past but also an environment for us in the present to interact with friends in a more light-hearted manner.

Fort McNair Event 5-8-15

Times of great horror have the ability to shed light not only on the past but also on the present and future. When we as historians can look objectively at acts of violence without passing too many judgments about the players we realize that we’re not so different from them after all.

Grant Hall Past and Present

(Okay, so it isn’t the clearest image in the world but you get the idea).

(Final image created by John Elliott and Barry Cauchon).

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Winner of John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day

It’s been one week since the contest ended for a free copy of Art Loux‘s masterful book, John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day.  The contest was a terrific success with over 80 comments being posted by people expressing what facet of the assassination story interested them the most.  I want to thank each and every person who commented and joined in on the conversations.  It was all great fun.

Art Loux's JWB DBD

To select a winner, all of the eligible comments were assigned a sequential number based on when they were posted.  Then an online random number generator was used to select the winning comment.  I’m pleased to announce the winner of the free copy of John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day is…

Herb Swingle!

Herb posted the following comment(s) about what he finds interesting in the Lincoln assassination story:

Booth, “jumped the gun” and took it upon himself to extinguish the flame of what America needed at that time of History!

What makes me, “Sit up and take interest”, is how easy Booth was able to do what he thought he could get away with!

I feel that John Surratt enjoyed Sarah Slater’s companionship while in Canada also.

Thank you so much for commenting, Herb, and congratulations on winning.  Your free book should be arriving in a couple of days.

To everyone else out there, please make sure you purchase your own copy of this wonderful book.  As I stated in the original contest page, this book is the perfect book for everyone with an interest in the Lincoln assassination.  It will easily prove to be one of the most consulted and respected texts on the subject of John Wilkes Booth and his deed.  Please take the time to purchase your own copy from an online retailer of books like Amazon or support the gateway to the Lincoln assassination story, the Surratt House Museum, by ordering your copy from them.  See the ordering information below for details.

Your purchase of John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day will not only provide you with unmatched scholarship into John Wilkes’ life and movements, but it will also support the legacy of the late Art Loux.  It is one of the cruelest fates that Art is not here with us today to appreciate the acclaim he so justly deserves.  JWB: DBD was Art’s life’s work and through it, his generosity and passion live on.  If you have not already, please take a moment to read my short remembrances of this great man.

Again, I want to thank everyone who commented and took part in the contest.  It was wildly successful and so I may do another one in the future.  In the meantime, go out and purchase your own copy of John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux.  I promise you won’t regret it.

John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day is available from the Surratt House gift shop for $50 (+6% Maryland tax if ordering from within the state).  The cost for shipping is $3.  Life members and/or volunteers of the Surratt Society receive a 15% discount.  Place your credit card order by calling the museum at (301) 868-1121, or send a check payable to Surratt House Gift Shop to 9118 Brandywine Road, Clinton, MD 20735.  While you’re at it, take the time to peruse some of the other wonderful books they have for sale by clicking here.
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John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by Art Loux

John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day by the late Art Loux is a truly remarkable gift to the historical community.  As a history of the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, it is unmatched in its scope and detail.  It represents Mr. Loux’s life’s work with his decades of in-depth research cataloging the movements of John Wilkes Booth.  The book was released on August 20th, almost eight months since Mr. Loux’s passing.

Art Loux's JWB DBD

There are always new books being written about the various aspects of Lincoln’s assassination. There are the big name authors like Kauffman, Steers, and Swanson who give wonderfully detailed accounts of the whole assassination story.  There are biographers like Ownsbey, Larson, and Titone who explore the lives of specific conspirators and their families. And, as always, the true drama of the Lincoln assassination is the perfect muse for pieces of historical fiction like “Wild” Bill Richter’s new, well researched and footnoted, novel.

At the same time, however, there are many poorly researched and poorly written books out there that saturate the topic with misinformation and supposition costumed up as fact. Authors of these volumes usually delude themselves into truly believing their own views regardless of the mountains of evidence against them.  Some even go as far as to spam every nook and cranny of the internet attempting to portray their views as fact.

This is why books like John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day are so important.  In an age of historical sensationalism misconstrued as fact, Mr. Loux’s book provides a model for how to conduct and present one’s research. John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day is devoted solely to the education, not manipulation, of its readers.  Each chapter provides an excellent narrative of the important events in that period of John Wilkes Booth’s life followed by a detailed record of his daily movements and activities.  It is the perfect book for everyone with an interest in the Lincoln assassination.  The casual reader will love to follow the 26 year journey of John Wilkes Booth to see what led him into Ford’s Theatre on April 14th, 1865.  The researcher will love pouring over the daily record and the thousands of fascinating footnotes.

Every chapter, even every page, provides new insight into the man who would later kill the 16th President.  For example, did you know that John Wilkes Booth once had to extinguish a fellow actress on stage when her dress caught on fire?

John Wilkes Booth extinguishes a fellow actress

John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day is filled with fascinating stories like this that have never been published anywhere else.   You can purchase your copy from online retailers like Amazon, or you might consider supporting the Surratt House Museum (the gateway to the assassination story) by purchasing your copy from them.

I sincerely believe that this book should be read by everyone interested in the Lincoln assassination. Due to this belief, I have purchased an extra copy of the book to give away here on the blog.  If you would like to win one free copy of Art Loux’s masterpiece John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post describing what aspect of the Lincoln assassination interests you the most.  In one week’s time, on September 21st, I will pick one of the commenters at random to receive a free copy of this indispensable book. The contest is now over. You may continue to comment, but any new comments will not be entered into any drawing.  Thank you all for participating.

Though Art is no longer with us, he has left behind an inspiring legacy of scholarship and generosity. So get commenting below for your chance to win a free copy of John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day courtesy of

Contest Rules: To win a copy of John Wilkes Booth: Day by Day you must write one (1) comment on this post explaining what aspect of the Lincoln assassination interests you the most. A valid email address must be attached to the comment in order to win. Multiple comments from the same person will be counted as one entry.  Contest will end on September 21st, 2014 at 20:00 PST.  The winner will be notified via email.  If no response is received within three (3) days, a new winner will be chosen.  In the event that the winner chooses to forfeit the prize, another winner will be selected.  Winners agree to have their name and comment used in a future post. Click here for the announcement of the winner of this contest.
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Armed and Dangerous: A Historical Misreading by Kate Ramirez

Preface by Dave:

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking fellow Lincoln assassination researcher, Kate Ramirez, along the John Wilkes Booth escape route.  During the day-long trek, she mentioned an article she had written about a glaring transcription error from one of the conspirator’s writings.  I immediately asked her if I could publish her article on my site for us all to enjoy.  What follows is Kate’s article, and another example of always looking at the original source material first, instead of relying on the work of others.

Please do not reproduce the material printed here (excluding the images of the poem and of David Herold’s signature which are found at the National Archives) without the consent of the author, Kate Ramirez.

Armed and Dangerous: A Historical Misreading by Kate Ramirez

In the aftermath of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865, southern actor turned assassin John Wilkes Booth and his fellow co conspirator David E. Herold were moving south in an effort to escape the chaos seizing the northern states and the Union soldiers thirsty for their blood.

It was on the 24th, ten days after the nightmare at Ford’s Theatre, that Booth and Herold finally arrived in Port Conway, Virginia and proceeded across the Rappahannock River on what would be the final stages of their escape. Before crossing, the pair met a trio of Confederate soldiers. One, Private William “Willie” Jett, became the most well known of the three, often remembered as the man who betrayed Booth by leading the 16th New York Cavalry to the farm of Richard H. Garrett. There is a lesser known tale (which can be found in Michael Kauffman’s American Brutus) which tells of Jett asking the famous actor to sign something as a memento. In turn, Booth gave Jett something less incriminating than a signature: a poem.

Picture 1

Booth and Herold wrote the poems shown above. The top section belongs to Booth and the bottom to Herold. Historians have copied the poems for numerous books and articles but none have ever realized that one word in Herold’s poem has been misread and therefore miswritten the same number of times. The word is arm. Or, as it has been recorded, brow. The mistake is something of a contradiction, small in size but rather large when one realizes it has been sitting in plain view since 1865 and no one has noticed it.

The picture below shows where the word is found in the poem.

picture 2

All the sources I have seen record the line as, “She shyly clung upon his brow.” However, it is my belief that the line actually reads, “She shyly clung upon his arm,” which would make much more sense. Brow is another word for forehead. You cannot cling to it. However, you can cling to an arm.

Some might argue that Herold’s poem rhymes and changing the words would throw off the rhyme scheme. After all, the words brow and arm sound nothing alike nor do they rhyme. While that is true, the word in question does not fall in the lines that rhyme. Herold’s poem rhymes the last word in every other line. In the photo below, the red arrows show the end words that rhyme. The black star is the word arm/brow. It does not have a matching rhyme.

picture 3

Here is a close up picture of the word being discussed.

If it were the word brow, the letter O would be missing. Some might again argue that Herold was writing with a quick hand because he and Booth had to get moving. However, other words that include the letter O are written just fine. Look below at the words South and honor. All the letters are formed. There is clearly no O in the word thought to be brow.

picture 5

Another probable cause for the misreading is the fact that Herold looped the letter A in an interesting way. If looked at too fast, the letter can look like a lowercase b. However, if you examine the pictures below, which shows the words dark and daughter, you will notice that Herold often wrote the letter A with a similar loop.

picture 6

The final example involves the M in the word I believe to be arm. It appears to be the W of brow because of the extra line Herold left at the end. However, that line could also be decorative and Herold seemed to like writing with a decorative flair. Look at the photo of his signature below.

picture 7

Just as the M was mistaken for a W, those fancy penmanship loops that decorate the H in Herold and the final D in David could both be mistaken for the letter E if glanced at too quick. Such letter loops look to have been part of Herold’s writing style and he incorporated them in, probably subconsciously, when he could.

Let’s review. The word arm would make more sense in the context of the poem than the word brow, changing the word would not affect the rhyme scheme, the letter O appears to be missing and not just squished in with the other letters due to quick writing, the letter A is looped and not the letter B, and the letter M has an extra embellishment and is not the letter W. Now look at the word again.

picture 8

See what I’m talking about? The word once thought to be brow actually appears to be the word arm.

So to end by restoring the original voice of David E. Herold,

Dark daughter of the Sultry South
Thy dangerous eyes and lips
Essayed to win the prize and leave
Dear honor we Eclipse
She shyly clung upon his arm
He stayed now at the door
I could not love thee, dear so much
Loved I not Honor more.
Adieu, forever mine, my dear
Adieu forever more!

Herold B&W Grave

Kate Ramirez at Ford's TheatreAbout the author: Kate Ramirez (also known under her penname Kate H.) is an avid writer and researcher of the Lincoln assassination. Her main focus within that topic is the lives of the conspirators and the defense of their names and voices.


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JWB at The Rocks

On August 8th, 1854, 16 year-old John Wilkes Booth wrote the following to his friend William O’Laughlen (the older brother of his future conspirator Michael O’Laughlen):

“I paid another visit to the Rocks of Deer Creek the other day. it looks just the same and sunday I whent to that large camp meeting with the hope of seeing you there. but I was dissipointed. I saw John Emlet there or that fellow that works in your shop. The Indian’s where up here the other day with their great Bear.”

The “Rocks of Deer Creek” that Booth describes is a natural outcropping of rocks above Deer Creek in Harford County, MD.  It is about 11 miles distant from the Booth family home of Tudor Hall.  “The Rocks” as it was called by most, was a popular attraction for the locals during the time that the Booth children were growing up.  The area served as a common gathering spot for Christian camp meetings and even reenactments of medieval jousting tournaments, the official sport of Maryland.  The Booths traveled to the Rocks frequently for entertainment and to take part in the social activities planned there.  John Wilkes Booth wrote another letter to Billy O’Laughlen on June 18th, 1855 describing an upcoming event at the Rocks:

“Then comes the grand affair. A pick nick party to be held on the rocks of Deer crick. Thirty-seven couples to attend”

His sister, Asia Booth, also wrote to her friend, Jean Anderson, about this upcoming trip by John to the Rocks:

“John is going on a picnic to the rocks tomorrow. Oh, those great rocks.”

The Rocks are great indeed.  Today the area is an official Maryland park called, appropriately, Rocks State Park.  It was previously named Deer Creek State Park.  The park is home to the second highest waterfall in Maryland, the Deer Creek is a prime place to fish and go tubing, and many take advantage of the hiking trails.  The biggest attraction, however, is the precarious 190 feet rock outcropping called the King and Queen Seat.

King and Queen Seat 1

Here is a picture of me standing at the edge of the outcropping of the King and Queen seat.

Dave on King and Queen Seat

The spot is quite beautiful but not for those who are afraid of heights.

King and Queen Seat Pano

In addition to its magnificent beauty, the King and Queen Seat also serves as a giant memorial to generations of visitors.  The rocks are literally covered with carvings.  These carvings consist of the names and dates of souls who have long since passed, many of them dating to around the Civil War era.  Though many of them are hard to see today, worn down with the passage of time, some are still incredibly clear…

Carvings on the King and Queen Seat

…or, with the spraying of some water, others suddenly leap to life:

Carvings near the King and Queen Seat

It was these carvings that brought me back to the Rocks of Deer Creek after having visited the park the last year.  Between that first visit and today, I had learned that one of the names supposedly carved on the Rocks was that of John Wilkes Booth.

As demonstrated by the letters, we know, at the very least, that John Wilkes Booth visited the Rocks on multiple occasions.  So, regardless of the outcome of my search, I was pleased to know that I was walking on the same ground and viewing the same awe inspiring vista that teenage John Wilkes Booth once witnessed.  The idea that John Wilkes Booth’s name is one of the many carved on the King and Queen Seat comes from author Stanley Kimmel who wrote, The Mad Booths of Maryland. In the comments part of the book Kimmel wrote the following:

“While exploring these rocks, the present writer came upon the names of W. H. Schuck, a boyhood playmate of John Wilkes Booth, and of J. Booth carved on a large boulder.  It was a place to which the Booth children often rode on horseback during their vacations, and the Tournaments were surely witnessed by John Wilkes, who was at home much more than Edwin.”

The idea of searching the massive King and Queen Seat and the surrounding boulders for the “J. Booth” found by Kimmel was a daunting one. To ease my search somewhat, I was blessed to have the scholarship of Richard Sloan.  Richard is an original Boothie who, for many years in the 1970’s and 80’s published his own Lincoln assassination newsletter, The Lincoln Log.  In 1977 Richard published an article about another brave soul who searched for Kimmel’s “J. Booth” and was successful:

1977 05 - 183

As helpful as this piece was (especially the picture of the carving), it did not give a detailed location of the carving at the site.  In the days before GPS however, how exact could you really get?  I played with the idea of revisiting the Rocks last summer to search for this carving but felt that, without a bit more to go on, the likelihood of discovering the carving was quite remote.  I put it on the back burner pending some more investigation.  Then, in August, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Michael Kauffman, author of American Brutus.  I brought up the carving to him and my desire to look for it.  Though it had been many years since he had visited the Rocks, he gave me his best recollections of it and even drew me a rough map on the back of a restaurant placemat.  He wished me luck in my search but also expressed one caveat which will follow later.

For eight months I waited for a good opportunity to make the 2 and 1/2 hour drive up to Harford County.  When I saw that author and fellow Boothie Jim Garrett was going to speak today at Tudor Hall, I decided that the trip would be justified even if I failed.

Armed with the scrawled map from Michael Kauffman, the above page from the Lincoln Log, a dish brush, and a spray bottle of water I drove to Rocks State Park and hiked up to the King and Queen Seat.  Well, wouldn’t you know it, Michael Kauffman’s memory was wonderfully accurate and his map, as basic as it was, led me to the the right boulder straight away.  I sprayed the water on the boulder and quickly saw the name “W. H. Schuck”  just as Kimmel described.  Below it was another “Schuck”.  I sprayed around the whole boulder, and used the brush to clear up the rock a bit and remove some of the moss.  Then, a familiar looking engraving appeared right near the edge of the boulder:

Booth carving at Deer Creek

I knew that I had found Kimmel’s “J. Booth”.  It was on the same boulder as W. H. Schuck and the features of the rock matched the picture from the Lincoln Log.  Success!…sort of.  Shortly after scrubbing the area clean a bit more, I discovered that Kauffman’s caveat proved to be true. Before drawing me the map eight months before, Michael Kauffman had told me directly that he did not believe that the carving said “J. Booth”.  Kimmel and others had seen what they wanted to see.  After examining the carving carefully, I sadly have to agree.  There is no way the carving is of “J. Booth”.  The last letter in the name is unarguably an “E” not an “H” and the supposed “B” in Booth is most likely an “H” as the bottom is open instead of closed.  I used a stick the trace the carving and this helped to show the carving a bit more clearly:

J Hoote

My best guess is that this name is “J. HOOTE” not “J. BOOTH”.

Though a tad disappointed, I did not leave the Rocks feeling dejected.  This whole endeavor is a perfect example of how the process of researching can be even more rewarding than the product.  The product of the research was determining for myself that the carving identified by Kimmel was NOT done by John Wilkes Booth – barely a speck of minutiae in the grand scheme of history.  The process, however, was incredibly rewarding.  I visited the Rocks a year ago, told my colleagues at the Lincoln Discussion Symposium about it, heard about the story of Booth’s name, investigated the prior research, interviewed a person who had seen it, and successfully found the rock, among thousands, containing the same carving.   Just because the product was not what I was hoping for does not negate the enjoyment I felt in investigating it.

If you’re ever in the area, I recommend you all visit Rocks State Park.  Not only can you enjoy the beautiful vista of the King and Queen Seat but you can also hike around with the knowledge that you are walking on the same land that the Booth children once enjoyed.

And, if you’re curious, there’s a boulder practically on the left of the path before you get to the seat.  Clean it off, spray it with some water, and investigate Stanley Kimmel’s “J. Booth” for yourself.

Carving with Seat in distance

With the edge of the King and Queen Seat in the distance, my spray bottle of water, brush and piece of paper in the foreground mark the boulder containing Stanley Kimmel’s alleged “J.Booth”.

The Mad Booths of Maryland by Stanley Kimmel
“Right or Wrong, God Judge Me”: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper
The Lincoln Log by Richard Sloan (5/1977)
Lincoln Discussion Symposium
Tour of Booth Family Historic Sites in Harford County
Michael Kauffman

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A Preface to a Reenactment

This coming week will mark the 149th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. In previous years the National Park Service and the Ford’s Theatre Society have commemorated this moment in history with a wreath laying ceremony at the Petersen House.  If the tradition is repeated (and I dearly hope that it is) I will, sadly, not be around to witness it.  Instead, I will be about 40 miles south, sharing in the moment of silence surrounded by nothing but trees and birds.  I feel that the log cabin born President wouldn’t mind.

Starting this Saturday, April 12, I will be isolating myself into a forested area in Southern Maryland for a little over four and a half days.  I will not have a tent.  I will not have access to running water.  I will not have a change of clothing.  The purpose for this self imposed isolation is my desire to reenact a moment of history.  Those of you who follow this blog, my Twitter account, or are part of the discussions over at Roger Norton’s excellent Lincoln Discussion Symposium, already know the period of time that I am trying to reenact.  149 years ago, from about midnight on April 16th through dusk on April 20th, John Wilkes Booth and his accomplice David Herold found themselves hiding from Federal troops in a pine thicket in Southern Maryland.  Their caretaker was a man by the name of Thomas Jones.  During those dangerous times, Jones kept the two men hidden and fed while he waited for a chance to get them across the Potomac River.  For almost five days, Booth and Herold hid in the pines worried that the snap of every twig was the cavalry about to pounce on them.

I want to duplicate that experience.  Prior to his spell in the woods, Booth was a braggart regarding his deed and expected his act to be celebrated by his countrymen.  A distinct shift in thinking occurred during those long days and nights in the woods.  Booth read about how his crime was perceived in the newspapers that Jones brought him and he was dismayed.  Rather than finding the doors of Confederate sympathizers opening wide for him, he found himself sleeping on the cold ground dependent on a single soul for his basic needs.  The Booth who emerge from those woods, was a transformed man, a beaten man.  The glorious dream that Booth hoped for faded into a wooded nightmare before his very eyes.

My future camp site

My future camp site

In literature about the assassination, the time in which Booth was in the pine thicket is given little space.  This is not the blame of the historian of author, however.  The lack of interpretation of Booth’s time in the pine thicket is due to the lack of resource material regarding this very private time for the assassin.  Therefore, I decided that understanding this period of time on the escape of John Wilkes Booth would require more than just consulting texts and resources.  To attempt to get into the mindset of John Wilkes Booth, I decided to recreate the conditions that he faced.

Over the past couple of months and with the help of so many generous colleagues, I have assembled the clothing and supplies that Booth would have had with him during his time in the pine thicket.  My reenactment will feature one major anachronism: a video camera.  With this modern tool, I will record my experiences and my thoughts throughout the endeavor.  After returning to modern times, I will edit and share the footage of my primitive camp out here on the blog.

I hope this endeavor explains my more recent silence on BoothieBarn.  The preparation for this undertaking has been massive and has precluded me from engaging in my normal research.

When the 149th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination rolls around in a few days and this blog appears to be silent on the matter, just read one of the previous posts (like this one or this one) and think of this crazy researcher who is at that moment laying out in the woods trying to get into the mindset of the assassin … and trying to remember how many leaves there are on poison ivy.

P.S. Some of my friends and family have expressed their concern for my safety during this excursion.  In order to provide “proof of life” to those caring souls I will be asking my own Thomas Jones to post pictures of me on my Twitter account when she comes to bring me supplies.  So keep an eye on @BoothieBarn over the next week to see how I’m getting along.

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Update: JWB’s Note at the Archives

Yesterday, I found myself in Washington, D.C. for a time.  I braved the snow and waited, cold and wet, in line outside the National Archives for an hour.  When I finally got in, I made a beeline not for the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence, but rather for the special exhibit on signatures, “Making Their Mark”:

Making Their Mark exhibit card  My quest today was to see the note that John Wilkes Booth left for Vice President Andrew Johnson, hours before he assassinated President Lincoln.  In the online exhibit guide for “Making Their Mark” you can see a high resolution image of the front and back of the note:

Booth's note to Johnson


Back of Booth's note to Johnson

Fun fact: They do not allow you to take pictures inside of the National Archives.  This is particularly true in the rotunda where the lights are dimmed and there are many guards to protect our country’s charters of freedom from the damaging effects of flash photography.  The core documents to our freedom have faded so much over the years that this very much justified, despite the desire of many to take a selfie with the Bill of Rights.

Luckily, the “Making Their Mark” exhibit was not housed in the rotunda but, instead, in a special exhibit room with more lighting and only one patrolling guard.  While I take the rules of any museum very seriously (you should have seen the way I was giving the evil eye to some high school kids engaging in a snowball fight on the grounds of the Archives before I got in), I just couldn’t pass up the chance to snap a few photos of Booth’s note to share with you all.  If it helps, I did turn off the flash on my phone so that it would not harm the document in any way.  I hope the Archives will forgive me.

Booth's note display  I was both shocked with how small the actual note was.  It was smaller than my 2″ x 3 1/2″ business card that I carry around with me.  After I got back home, I decided that the note was a little bigger than 1 1/2 inches tall and almost 3 inches long.  Here’s a closer picture of the note with an approximate scale:

Booth's note with approximate scale

For some background, here is the conspiracy trial testimony of Col. William A. Browning, Andrew Johnson’s private secretary, in which he mentions the note:

“William A. Browning,
a witness called for the prosecution, being duly sworn, testified as follows:
By the Judge Advocate:
Q. Will you state if you are the private secretary of the President?
A. Yes, sir: I am.
Q. Were you with him on the 14th of April last?
A. I was.
Q. (Exhibiting a card to the witness.) What knowledge, if any, have you of that card having been sent to him by John Wilkes Booth?
A. Between the hours of four and five o’clock in the afternoon, I left Vice-President Johnson’s room in the Capitol, and went to the Kirkwood House, where I was boarding with him. Upon entering, I went up to the office, as was my custom; and I saw a card in my box. Vice-President Johnson’s box and mine were adjoining: mine was 67, his was 68. In 67 I noticed a card. The clerk of the hotel, Mr. Jones, handed it to me. This I recognize as the card.
Q. Will you read what is on it?
A. “Don’t wish to disturb you. Are you at home? J. Wilkes Booth.” It was in my box.
(The card was offered in evidence without objection and is marked exhibit no. 29.)
Q. You do not know anything about the handwriting of Booth?
A. No, sir.
Q. You had no acquaintance whatever with J. Wilkes Booth, had you?
A. Yes, sir: I had known him when he was playing in Nashville, Tenn. I met him there several times. That was the only acquaintance that I had with him.
Q. Did you understand the card as sent to the President, or to yourself?
A. At the time, I attached no importance to it. I had known him in Nashville; and, seeing the card, I made the remark, when it was handed to me by the clerk, “It is from Booth: is he playing here?” I had some idea of going to see him. I thought, perhaps, he might have called upon me, having known me; but, when his name was connected with this affair, I looked upon it differently. It was a very common mistake in the office to put the cards intended for me in the Vice-President’s box; and his would find their way into mine, they being together.”

Appropriately enough, even though I snapped a few more pictures of the note before we left, I was so nervous about being caught and possibly banned from the National Archives for life (a horrible punishment for a researcher) that all the rest of my pictures are blurry messes.  If you want nice pictures of the note, I refer back to the images of it from the “Making Their Mark” online exhibit guide.

“Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” at the National Archives, March 21, 2014 – January 5, 2015
“Making Their Mark” online exhibit guide
The Lincoln Assassination Trial – The Court Transcripts edited by William Edwards

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JWB’s Note at the Archives

A new exhibition entitled, “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” is coming to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  Here’s a blurb from the Archives describing the exhibit:

“Signatures are personal. The act of signing can be as simple as a routine mark on a form, or it can be a stroke that changes many lives. Signatures can be  an act of defiance, or a symbol of thanks and friendship. “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” will draw from the billions of government records at the National Archives to showcase a unique collection of signatures and tell the stories behind them.

illustrate the many ways people have placed their signature on history, from developing to signing Power The stories in these records, of famous and infamous, known and unknown individuals, are part of our s history, all having made their marks on the American narrative.”

The exhibit contains the signed documents of many notable (Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, etc.) and famous (Jackie Robinson, Katharine Hepburn, Michael Jackson, etc.) individuals.  It also contains documents from unknown people who wrote of the world around them such as a Japanese American in an interment camp signing a loyalty oath during WWII.

The collection also contains the signatures of infamous individuals like Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and presidential assassin, John Wilkes Booth.

The National Archives houses the paper evidence collected by the government during the investigation into Lincoln’s assassination.  Therefore, they have a multitude of documents written by or owned by Booth to display.  For this exhibit, the Archives is displaying one of the most intriguing notes that John Wilkes Booth ever signed: his note to Vice President Andrew Johnson.

Booth's note to Johnson

John Wilkes Booth left this note for the Vice President in the hours leading up to the assassination.  His short message, “Don’t wish to disturb you Are you at home? J Wilkes Booth” has been the subject of inquiry ever since.  Conspiracy theorists attempt to use this note as evidence of the Vice President’s complicity in Lincoln’s murder, but most historians seem to believe that, in the moments leading up the tragic events, Booth was making sure all his targets were accounted for in order to topple the entire head of the government: Lincoln, Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward.

I am not personally aware if this note has ever been on public display before this exhibit.  The “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” exhibit runs from March 21st, 2014 until January 5th, 2015.  After that, it is likely this fascinating artifact, and all the others, will be returned to the vaults of the National Archives.  Don’t miss the opportunity to see John Wilkes Booth’s note to Vice President Johnson on display at the National Archives.


Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” Exhibit eGuide.  Download the guide HERE and turn to page 22 for a back view of Booth’s note. I’ve also tweeted the page on Booth so check out my Twitter account @BoothieBarn.

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