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Did John Wilkes Booth survive?
Chattanooga Free Press ^ | 2/19/07 | Dick Cook

Posted on 02/19/2007 8:23:24 AM PST by Borges

SEWANEE, Tenn. — A signature in the Franklin County Courthouse and a mummy last seen in 1975 convinced two Tennessee men that John Wilkes Booth, the killer of Abraham Lincoln, escaped capture, traveled South and lived into the 20th century.

Now one of those men is hoping to use DNA evidence to prove it.

The other man, Arthur Ben Chitty, a historiographer at the University of the South who died in 2002, spent 40 years amassing anecdotal evidence that Mr. Booth married a Sewanee woman and lived there for a time, said his daughter Em Turner Chitty.

And there was one piece of physical evidence: the signature of “Jno. W. Booth” and his bride, Louisa J. Payne, recorded Feb. 24, 1872, in the marriage license records office of the Franklin County Courthouse.

“What passes for history is good public relations — that’s my dad’s main thesis,” said Ms. Turner, an English teacher at Pellissippi State College in Knoxville. “The thing that got him most seriously interested (in Booth) was the signature.”


In Memphis, Ken Hawkes got hooked on the Booth mystery in the early 1990s, when everybody in his office was following Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War.

Mr. Hawkes was an autopsy technician for the Shelby County medical examiner’s office. He said that after the episode dealing with President Lincoln’s assassination, a coworker told him a mummy that was purported to be Mr. Booth was toted around the Midwest in carnivals during the 1930s.

“I thought it was nonsense,” Mr. Hawkes said last week. “Everybody knows Booth was killed in Virginia two weeks after the assassination.”

But then a doctor in the office showed him a story from a magazine about the Booth mummy.

The doctor said that using forensic medicine, “if we could find the remains, we could show one way or the other if it could be John Wilkes Booth,” he said.

Two weeks later, Mr. Hawkes said, he began to think maybe he ought to find the mummy and do DNA testing.

“I started looking for it and looked and looked and looked,” he said.

The history books state that Mr. Booth shot President Lincoln the day before Easter 1865 at Ford’s Theater. Mr. Booth and a group of conspirators escaped Washington, D.C., and were cornered in Richard Garrett’s barn in Bowling Green, Va., 12 days later.

The barn was set afire, and Mr. Booth was shot and died within hours. Several Union soldiers who were acquainted with him identified his body. He was buried in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore. SEWANEE CONNECTION

On the third floor in the back of the Jessie Ball duPont Library at the University of the South, archivist Annie Armour points to shelves filled with documents and books that Mr. Chitty, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the school, amassed related to Booth.

Opening a box of newspaper clippings, legal documents, letters and audio recordings of interviews, Ms. Armour said, “I don’t see anything that proves or disproves.”

But, she added, “There are a couple of people around here who swore that (Booth) lived here for a while.”

Ms. Chitty said that in 1956, her father met with a man named James. H. Rees. Mr. Rees told Mr. Chitty that when he was a boy he knew McCager Payne, the son of Louisa Payne and stepson of her husband, John St. Helen.

According to Mr. Chitty’s interviews with relatives, Louisa Payne learned after she married that “St. Helen” wasn’t her husband’s real name. Family lore says she insisted they remarry under his given name. That’s when the signature of “Jno. W. Booth” was made in Franklin County.

Mr. Chitty acquired Mr. Rees’ material on Mr. Booth in the 1980s. The trove included a 1926 interview with McCager Payne in the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, Ms. Chitty said.

Mr. Payne told the interviewer he had overheard his stepfather tell his mother about “knots on his left leg” and admit that he was Mr. Booth.

Mr. Payne said his stepfather saw the boy had overheard and said, “If you ever tell what you heard me say, I’ll rip your throat from ear to ear,” according to the Leaf-Chronicle.

Several months later the three went to Memphis where Mr. St. Helen/Booth left the boy and his mother and headed to Texas. He told them he would be back but never returned, Ms. Chitty said.

Ms. Chitty said her father’s archives show Louisa Payne and her son returned to Sewanee.

“The story goes that (Louisa) became pregnant only a few months after the marriage,” Ms. Chitty said. “She returned to Payne’s Cove and had the baby, (Laura) Ida Booth. Strangely enough, she became an actress.”

Ms. Chitty said she reviewed her father’s collection of Booth material in 1988.

“There was so much evidence that he gathered, eyewitness evidence, documentary evidence. This story, when you first heard it, was crazy,” Ms. Chitty said.

“But there was a lot of evidence,” she said.


Mr. Hawkes has been trying to find what he says may be Mr. Booth’s mummified remains.

In 1903, a dying, alcoholic house painter named David E. George told a minister in Enid, Okla., that he was John Wilkes Booth, Mr. Hawkes said.

Finis Bates, a Tennessee lawyer who decades before knew Mr. St. Helen/Booth, traveled to Oklahoma and determined that the body was that of the man he had known. Mr. Bates acquired the body and had it preserved, Mr. Hawkes said.

At some point, Mr. Bates’ widow sold it to a carnival where the mummy became a major attraction in shows like Jay Gould’s Million Dollar Spectacle, he said.

Mr. Hawkes said he contacted every carnival, sideshow and circus he could find searching for Mr. Booth’s mummy.

News accounts from a Life magazine article in 1931 show that six doctors in Chicago examined and X-rayed the mummy. They found it had a shorter left leg, a distorted right thumb and a scar on its neck, all consistent with physical characteristics of Booth.

Mr. Hawkes said the last documented sighting was in Philadelphia in the early 1960s. But he has a 1991 letter from a man who says he saw the mummy in Pennsylvania in 1975 at a carnival.

“The clincher for me was the man said X-rays were with the mummy that the doctors made in Chicago,” he said.

Mr. Hawkes said the Pennsylvania man told him that the carnival promoter was asking everyone who came in to look at the mummy if they wanted to buy it.

“I do believe the mummy still exists,” he said. “I think it’s in a private collection.”

TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: abelincoln; abrahamlincoln; fordtheater; godsgravesglyph; godsgravesglyphs; greatestpresident; tinfoil
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To: HuntsvilleTxVeteran
"I want a grant!"

There's one (actually two) buried in Grant's Tomb in NY City.

61 posted on 02/19/2007 10:07:06 AM PST by mass55th (Courage is being scared to death - but saddling up anyway~~John Wayne)
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To: Vinnie
I saw the broadcast when Roger Mudd announced that Dr Mudd had been exonerated. He made a comment to the effect that Dr. Mudd's great-grandson [or whatever it was] Roger Mudd was pleased with the news, while his own photograph appeared above him on the screen as it would for anyone else being mentioned in a news item.

If I remember correctly, Mudd was pardoned because of his medical attention to patients during an epidemic.

62 posted on 02/19/2007 10:08:38 AM PST by Verginius Rufus
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To: Borges

As a bit of trivia on the subject of Booth, Wikipedia says that Cherie Blair is a four times removed cousin of JWB. I wonder if that's true or just the overactive imagination of someone who knows that her maiden name was Booth.

63 posted on 02/19/2007 10:09:19 AM PST by Mila (i)
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To: Borges

This is an insult to alcoholic housepainters everywhere.

64 posted on 02/19/2007 10:09:56 AM PST by fat city (What part of cognitive dissonance don't you understand?)
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To: Vinnie

"Dr. Mudd was imprisoned at Ft. Jefferson on Dry Tortugas."

While in that subtropical prison, Mudd used his medical skills to help treat prisoners during an outbreak of some tropical disease (malaria, yellow fever, or some such). His conduct was so heroic that he was pardoned.

65 posted on 02/19/2007 10:12:16 AM PST by hellbender
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To: bmwcyle

This story has reared its' head before, but it doesn't seem to want to go away...

66 posted on 02/19/2007 10:14:22 AM PST by Apple Blossom (...around here, city hall is something of a between meals snack.)
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To: Borges

"In 1903, a dying, alcoholic house painter named David E. George told a minister in Enid, Okla., that he was John Wilkes Booth, Mr. Hawkes said."

Being alcoholic is bad enough for the brain, but exposure to turpentine fumes and lead in paint pigment didn't help him either. Solvents and heavy metals are thought to explain the nuttiness of some artists.

As for the mummy, maybe it will appear on eBay soon.

67 posted on 02/19/2007 10:15:42 AM PST by hellbender
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To: Borges

Bush's great great grandfather planned Wilkes Booth's escape. ;)

68 posted on 02/19/2007 10:16:39 AM PST by popdonnelly ([Democrats] are jubilant at our disasters and are cast down when the rebels are defeated -Sept. 1862)
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To: Young Werther
The atmosphere surrounding the assasination was such that a rush to judgement occurred. 17 or 18 indiviuals were hung as consiprators but Mudd received a life sentence. In 1869 Andrew Johnson pardoned Mudd. What do you know that Johnson didn't?

Four people were executed, not "17 or 18," and Johnson pardoned Mudd in a group with every other still-living conspirator, mostly because Andrew Johnson was a pretty lousy president, the Jimmy Carter of his time, not because Mudd was any less guilty than Marc Rich. The evidence in front of the tribunal was damning, and a brief run-down is here: Samuel Mudd

69 posted on 02/19/2007 10:17:05 AM PST by SpringheelJack
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To: Young Werther
"Dr Mudd was convicted and sentenced to live as a conspirator to the crime but his only "sin" was providing a doctor's care to a person who he didn't even know let alone conspire with."

Doctor Mudd wasn't as innocent as you'd like go think. You might want to read Michael Kauffman's "American Brutus," and get the total details of Mudd's contacts with Booth. It's an in-depth study of the evidence collected at the time of the assassination. Mudd had met Booth on several occasions, and Booth had even spent the night at Mudd's home in the months prior to the assassination. It was Mudd who introduced Booth to John Surratt, and Mudd also managed to introduce Booth to various people connected to the Confederate cause. These same people, Booth would later tap for help in his attempt to escape south. If Mudd knew Surratt, then he was knee-deep in pro-Confederate activities, and may have even known about the plot to kidnap Lincoln.

70 posted on 02/19/2007 10:25:17 AM PST by mass55th (Courage is being scared to death - but saddling up anyway~~John Wayne)
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To: Borges

People with too much time on their hands.

71 posted on 02/19/2007 10:27:28 AM PST by Wuli
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To: SpringheelJack

No one famous ever dies, they just quietly retire into obscurity, usually as a convenient store employee or UPS driver.

72 posted on 02/19/2007 10:27:29 AM PST by reagan_fanatic (Every time a jihadist dies, an angel gets its wings.)
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To: Safetgiver; mass55th
Let's see:

1. I agree mass55th, Booth would have likely gone to London and performed on the stage for the rest of his life. Whether or not under his own name or thinly veiled would have depended on the attitude of the authorities at the time. Also thanks for the information on his burial place and why so far he has not been exhumed for DNA testing.

2. Safetgiver, your point about the makeup of an actor is well taken too.:

3. Still like the James case, this is interesting. And it is interesting to see history born out by DNA testing.
73 posted on 02/19/2007 10:42:28 AM PST by JLS
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To: reagan_fanatic
or a Mummy in carnival sideshows!

Mummy's Myth

74 posted on 02/19/2007 10:45:14 AM PST by Young Werther
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To: Fstrt5

........and gave rise to the ever popular phase "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"

75 posted on 02/19/2007 10:46:17 AM PST by newcthem (George Bush's legacy.....a war with an enemy that can't be named and the "Religion of Peace")
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To: Borges

Interesting read on JOHN WILKES BOOTH'S AUTOPSY.

76 posted on 02/19/2007 10:53:00 AM PST by BulletBobCo
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To: hellbender
As for the mummy, maybe it will appear on eBay soon.

It did, much to my wife's eternal sorrow. ;-)

77 posted on 02/19/2007 10:54:50 AM PST by TexasRepublic (Afghan protest - "Death to Dog Washers!")
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To: Borges
Yes, he is living under the alias of John Murtha.
78 posted on 02/19/2007 10:57:44 AM PST by fish hawk (The religion of Darwinism = Monkey Intellect)
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To: jwparkerjr

It was Life Magazine sometime in 1964 I believe. I found the issue once but for some reason didn't buy it.

79 posted on 02/19/2007 10:58:18 AM PST by Smittie
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To: Borges
Did John Wilkes Booth Survive?

Nah, I'm pretty sure he's dead by now.
80 posted on 02/19/2007 11:01:10 AM PST by redheadtoo
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