Skip to comments.Did John Wilkes Booth survive?
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 thats my dads 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.
BLAME KEN BURNS
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 examiners office. He said that after the episode dealing with President Lincolns 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 Fords Theater. Mr. Booth and a group of conspirators escaped Washington, D.C., and were cornered in Richard Garretts 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 dont 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. Chittys interviews with relatives, Louisa Payne learned after she married that St. Helen wasnt her husbands real name. Family lore says she insisted they remarry under his given name. Thats 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, Ill 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 fathers 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 Paynes Cove and had the baby, (Laura) Ida Booth. Strangely enough, she became an actress.
Ms. Chitty said she reviewed her fathers 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. Booths 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 Goulds Million Dollar Spectacle, he said.
Mr. Hawkes said he contacted every carnival, sideshow and circus he could find searching for Mr. Booths 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 its in a private collection.
There's one (actually two) buried in Grant's Tomb in NY City.
If I remember correctly, Mudd was pardoned because of his medical attention to patients during an epidemic.
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.
This is an insult to alcoholic housepainters everywhere.
"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.
This story has reared its' head before, but it doesn't seem to want to go away...
"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.
Bush's great great grandfather planned Wilkes Booth's escape. ;)
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
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.
People with too much time on their hands.
No one famous ever dies, they just quietly retire into obscurity, usually as a convenient store employee or UPS driver.
........and gave rise to the ever popular phase "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"
Interesting read on JOHN WILKES BOOTH'S AUTOPSY.
It did, much to my wife's eternal sorrow. ;-)
It was Life Magazine sometime in 1964 I believe. I found the issue once but for some reason didn't buy it.
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