Abraham Lincoln: Part 3: “The Ghost Train”
As the slain president’s “creepy” corpse on display embarked on that sombre and single hometown journey to Springfield, the war-weary nation mourned and waited. Apparently, the corpse travelled on a newly constructed presidential steam engine to be known as the “Dean Richmond”. It also boasted a hearse car prepared and fitted with black silk throws and drapes finished with swinging silver tassels and with a paid permanent embalmer and undertaker in continuous residence, preparing the corpse for future viewings by thousands of mourners.
Later, the coffin would be transported by four to six black horses from the train to the many statehouses of the towns and cities for viewing by grieving crowds. A newspaper at the time reported that “in Chicago queues leading to the city courthouse moved forward one foot an hour”. It must have been an amazing sight to behold and be part of, and none would ever forget it for the rest of their lives, I suspect. But, of course, the body cannot be refrigerated between stops to maintain its facial features, so the embalmers in attendance frequently struggled in difficult conditions to somehow make it acceptable for future sightings and display, and not always successfully, we are told because wax can collapse or melt due to the temperature.
The funeral train now began its slow arduous journey westward to its expected destination, and then afterwards to steam into history. It seems that the specially designed and purpose-built carriage that housed Lincoln and son with all its accoutrements was on track. The raised hearse prepared for public viewings would years later be “torched” in a mysterious fire by someone unknown. As the train steamed out of a sombre Washington, we are informed through the press that “the nation can now finally mourn for its fallen but never to be forgotten Commander-in-Chief, Abraham Lincoln.” John Wilkes Booth, however, was himself on the move by horse and with a broken leg, which was definitely hindering him in reaching safely to his future destination, known politely then as the ‘gallant south.’
Following his escape over the navy yard bridge in Washington, Wilkes Booth had made over thirteen stops along the way, with the most important for him arriving at Dr. Samuel Mudd’s home, and in the middle of the night as well. I am proposing that he must have known the way and in the dark as well to reach the doctor’s front door. The Mudd residence had been suggested for use in the previous failed attempt to kidnap Lincoln if we are to believe assorted reports. The house was then very much off the main highway, yet Booth and Herold were able to locate it and gain help and assistance once being admitted, it seems. Mudd would later foolishly claim that he had not recognized Wilkes Booth on that fateful night when the two men knocked on his door. This cannot be true because it seems he had in fact met with Booth maybe half a dozen times from 1864 onwards, as far as we know. Booth was apparently seen in Mudd’s local catholic church on one occasion.
(Booth’s escape map)
In fact, “the court nearly hanged Mudd, his prevarications were painful,” as Mr. Fredrick Stone, his defence attorney, remembered some years later when discussing this controversial trial and its final outcome for his client. But arrive at the obliging doctor’s front door Booth and Herold finally did and all in the dark as well!
If nothing else, Booth was always persistent in what he demanded. Now, whilst in the doctor’s capable hands, his wounded leg would finally be treated by using two panels of wood from a chest drawer because obviously, the doctor had no splints on hand. Later, both men would also be offered shelter and food for the night, then both hopefully to depart the next day.
I do not support the popular assumption that Mudd was just a “good old country doctor” somehow going about his medical business caring for his patients, suddenly shattering his comfortable world when two unknown strangers hammered on his closed door out of the dark in the middle of the night demanding medical aid if you please.
In fact, Samuel Mudd was apparently no longer practising medicine but had turned his hand at working a lucrative 500-acre farm employing over fifty slaves no less. Mudd, I’m afraid, was no emancipator of African-Americans either, but rather despised the idea of giving them their freedom. I think he saw them very much like children to be seen and definitely not heard.
I suggest this pro-Confederate doctor had made the personal acquaintance of Booth the previous year and had been familiarized with Booth’s previous preposterous plans to kidnap the president and may be offered his home to detain the president as an unwilling prisoner, then hopefully to ransom him for thousands of captured Confederate troops.
However, to be fair to the doctor, I’m not sure if he was fully cognizant of the fact that Booth’s future plans for the president meant shooting him. Booth had only made this fateful decision on the morning of Good Friday, and there is no way he could have brought the doctor into the picture of what he was about to perform with a derringer pistol several hours later in the Ford theatre, unless of course, Booth dispatched a messenger with a letter to Mudd asking for sanctuary after the murder, then explaining to Mudd what he performed in the crowded Ford Theatre. But this scenario seems unlikely to me.
At this point, some consideration has to be made of a 1924 book entitled The suppressed truth about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by Burke McCarthy. The author argues: “That Booth, as a secret convert to Roman Catholicism, had killed Lincoln in obedience to the demands of Jesuit plotters.” The author also states that a Rear Admiral George A. Baird who had been on the “Montauk” when Booth’s body was later identified and that he had seen naval officers take a small Roman Catholic medal from the dead man’s neck… this it seems later disappeared.”
I can smell a Jesuit aroma swirling around here perhaps!
Coincidently as I research this article for our newsletter it is very near to the anniversary of the actual capture and shooting of John Wilkes Booth on April 25th, 1865. But there are, in my opinion, too many disparities that do not add up in the official published report of what was played out that night at Garrett’s farm.
So, I humbly offer the official version and the unofficial version for your perusal:
John Wilkes Booth and fellow co-conspirator David Herold were finally located in hiding at Richard Garrett’s farm on April 25th. There, they were eventually cornered like rats in the farm’s tobacco curing barn. Also, do you remember that unexplained mysterious password that Booth offered to the enquiring sentry on the navy bridge? And how he was surprisingly allowed to leave the “locked down” town when all the other bridges were heavily guarded and closed for all traffic? But not this particular bridge. That password was of course “TBR”. So, was this an oblique reference somehow to the mysterious Tobacco Road that, once uttered by Booth, eventually led him to the tobacco curing shed on the Garrett spread near Port Talbot Virginia?
Once there, the accused were surrounded by excited shouting Union soldiers who had strict orders from Edwin Stanton to bring Booth back alive for future questioning, hopefully, to stand trial later with the other suspects. But for some unknown reason, one of the soldiers at the besieged barn, a 43-year-old Sgt. Boston Corbett, who was remembered as “a religious eccentric” by his pals for some reason, took it upon himself to step forward and aim his gun at Wilkes Booth, mortally wounding him. He would then later declare to his commanding officer when asked, why he went against strict orders not to fire: “Sir, God Almighty directed me.” He certainly had taken aim at Booth (or someone) through the flames of the wooden ventilation slats of the barn, hitting him in the spine and bringing him down that day.
(Sgt. Boston Corbett)
Booth was now seriously wounded. Now, I don’t know about you, but somehow Corbett fit the profile of a Jack Ruby plant in this melodrama dramatically staged on the farm. Booth, or someone like him, was then dragged clear of the smouldering barn and propped up against a tree.
Entering into the drama was the live-in school tutor to the Garrett children, she is a Miss Lucinda Holloway. She decided to take it upon herself to have Booth gently moved to the covered porch of the farmhouse. I don’t suppose she attempted this herself but enlisted some of the soldiers for this mercy task. Once there she then placed a pillow under his head and stayed with him until he expired.
For the rest of her life, it seems this lady would remember his face as being “luminous… tenderly. Lucinda Holloway will massage his temples and forehead. Her fingertips felt the life draining out of him. The pulsation in his temples grew weaker and weaker until extinction descends on the dying man.”
This description of the ministering angel reads as a chapter lifted out of a Georgette Heyer novel (and no disrespect to this fine author, now deceased). It seems the young lady would then recall this scene with relish in the long years ahead of her and recount it often to whoever requested it of her. Later, she would also secretly remove a lock of Booth’s hair for herself and also gain his field glasses, “his prized possession”, of course. They seem to have performed this saved lock hair procedure very much in those days, didn’t they? Remember Stanton using his pocket scissors to perform the same task for the Secretary of the Navy’s wife? Then there was Mrs Lincoln’s mournful request for a souvenir lock of her husband’s hair, which should not be forgotten either.
The dying man now slumped forward on the crowded porch, held in the warm arms of Miss Holloway, departing from this fallen world and en route for hell. Then, Booth was heard to whisper to no one, in particular, those mysterious words: “Useless, useless.” Then the man was gone. Once he boasted some years previously that: “I have too great a soul to die like a criminal.” Ah, the arrogance of men and never a sincere word, it seems, of repentance from this actor’s. So often the case from many a dying person’s parched fading lips.
For him, or “someone”, it is now the final curtain of his life. But is it because: “The hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice” (John 5:28)?
This should be of concern to all unsaved people!
I wonder: Was the young impressionable Lucinda Holloway his final loving fan? Did she perhaps descend into a deep mourning soon afterwards these events that changed her young life? Did she perhaps attempt to acquire an autograph from him to add to her other mementoes? It seems she never committed to marriage and I wonder why because it cannot be for the lack of suitors. So, was it perhaps her that placed that suspect religious medallion with loving care around his neck (a saint Christopher, in fact)? He, if you didn’t know or care, is the so-called catholic patron saint of travellers.
(For some reason unknown, in 1970 Paul VI, downgraded this popular saint if indeed he ever existed. But who cares anyway!)
Later, when Booth’s diary was discovered by searching Union troops and handed over to Edwin Stanton, it seems eighteen pages had been mysteriously removed. Also retrieved from Wilkes Booth’s personal belongings were five professionally posed “pin-up” pictures of assorted young ladies tucked neatly into his leather wallet. Sadly it seems Mrs Mary Surratt was not one of them to grace Booth’s pocket book. I suspect Miss Holloway or maybe Mrs Surratt were the last two ladies to see him alive because someone offered him this useless religious trinket which he accepted. Both ladies have to be considered as possibly offering Booth that mysterious medallion or placing it tenderly around his neck. But then maybe doctor Mudd or his wife performed that role, for whatever bizarre purpose. I suppose the jury is still out on this one.
Another popular theory:
John Wilkes Booth the actor had a tenuous connection, it seems, to the then Vice President Johnson. Indeed, he paid a courteous call earlier at the Kirkwood House hotel, where Johnson was then in residence, just hours in fact before the shooting of Lincoln. Once there, in the lobby of the hotel he left one of his calling cards with the desk clerk which reads cryptically: “Don’t wish to disturb you, are you in?” This card was left in Johnson’s hotel mailbox, all very strange.
Later, Mrs Lincoln, always a shrewd judge of politicians and their personal greedy motives, was always suspicious of “good old Andy” Johnson and his possible role in her husband’s murder. She also made her views known as well in most of the polite Washington social circles about him.
Now, into this post-assassination period of mourning Washington chief of police, a Colonel Lafayett C. Baker appeared. A “secret service melodramist in the first order,” remembered one of his old working colleagues concerning Baker and not with affection, it seems.
More importantly to me is that Baker was apparently one of Stanton’s favourites. It seems that Baker had somehow made the acquaintance of some of the conspirators and probably Booth. So, was Baker the “points man” involved somehow in Booth’s dramatic escape over that bridge just hours after the shooting, using that ambiguous password which has never been explained? Later, after the “body” of Booth was returned to Washington it would be Baker who would take command of the body and its disposal. It appears that no photographs were taken of Booth’s body or at least none that have survived. Later, the corpse would, in fact, be interred in the old arsenal yard, where it would be placed secretly in a plain wooded box, then left in an unmarked location.
Incidentally, the other four hanged conspirators would themselves later be placed in that same hidden plot. It seems all five Booth conspirators now lay side-by-side for the next few years hidden away from the public eye. Yet, “For there is nothing hid which shall not be manifested” (Mark 4:22).
It has also been suggested by some researchers of this painful period that Wilkes Booth was involved with the then Vice President Johnson in some form of collusion to remove Lincoln as president, thereby opening the White House door for Johnson to succeed him as the 17th president. This suggestion mainly arrives from that enigmatic visiting card measuring just 3 inches by 2 inches that Booth had left for Johnson at the Kirkwood House. I’m not sure this is enough evidence to point the actor’s finger solely at Johnson. I suggest a well-oiled cabal with or without Johnson’s support was active plotting Lincoln’s demise. The Kirkwood was, of course, where the VP could be found with his retinue and other dubious freeloaders working and playing hard. It could be that Johnson’s then secretary and confidant Col. William A. Browning was the crucial points man liaising with Booth and other nefarious parties hoping to gain financially from the coming collapse of the defeated Confederacy.
Both Booth and Browning were not strangers, it seems, as they became acquainted with each other in 1844 in Nashville. Apparently, both Booth and Johnson got along “splendidly,” even sharing assorted mistresses, it seems, bringing, of course, all the disgusting sexually transmitted diseases to those who dabble in this perversion of the body. Remember, continued and repeated debauchery will eventually lead to death, leading all unrepentant sinners to the fires of a waiting Hell, where the worm never dies. Terrible but true to contemplate or to consider for all unsaved lost souls!
Browning died in 1866 and strangely enough Mrs Lincoln confided to a close friend, Miss Sally Ore, that “Johnson had some hand in this.” Maybe the grieving widow knew something we don’t know, and it seems odd as well that Johnson apparently never sent Mrs Lincoln a note of condolence after her husband’s murder, which is sad and strange. She certainly thought so!
All of these important politicians could have been members of a Masonic manoeuvre to remove Lincoln. Of course, there had been several earlier calls and attempts to kill Lincoln, he being a very unpopular man to many Americans tired of the never-ending war. Most of the Masons of that period would or could have been attending that infamous Washington Lodge, which could well have been Jesuit-infiltrated and controlled by pagan Rome and still flourishing today under the Jesuit pope.
Andrew Johnson was certainly a Mason, it seems, having been initiated in 1851. As regards Col. Lafayette Baker, he was another practising lodge man.
More interestingly, the colonel was running ex-Confederate spies and perhaps one of many as well, with one in particular interest, this being James William Boyd. Boyd had been employed successfully in the past by the colonel for clandestine purposes. And doesn’t he bear a similar likeness to Booth, I suggest (see pictures below), sporting the same initials as well. It seems that Baker had obtained some “dirt” on Boyd and would use it when he needed information on an enemy rather like a workshop vice.
Stanton had also suspiciously had Boyd brought from prison before the assassination of Lincoln. Perhaps Boyd will be briefed and paid to impersonate Booth, but of course, being unaware that it will be him who will be later shot dead by Sgt. Corbett in the barn, allowing, of course, Booth to escape Stanton’s justice in Washington.
(Booth, left, Boyd, right)
Some days after the assassination, Booth had departed with ease from Washington and perhaps with Johnson’s valuable assistance and was now free. With Johnson’s support, Baker sent James W. Boyd to join up with Booth and Herold on the escape trail. Yet Booth and Herold were later cornered in Garrett’s tobacco shed when the Union soldiers, under the command of a Lt. Harmon P. Norris, the husband coincidently of Stanton’s niece, quickly surrounded the barn and ordered the barn to be lit, thereby hoping to force out the fugitives and into his custody.
Yet Herold quickly ran and shouted to Norris, “That’s not Booth in there”. Only later after intense interrogation would he change his story. I suggest a likely liaison point for the three men “to hook up” would be in the notorious Port Tobacco. I appreciate how the journalist George Alfred Townsend described the town after a visit and he writes: “If any place in the world is utterly given over to depravity it is Port Tobacco…gambling, corner fighting, and shooting matches were its lyceum education and he compared it with the slimy river and adjacent swamps of the great reptile period when iguanodons and pterodactyls and pliosaurs ate each other.
Into this abstract of Gomorrah, the few detectives looking for Booth and Herold went like angels who visited Lot. It should also be remembered that co-conspirator George Azterodt, who had failed in murdering Andrew Johnson at the Kirkwood, was associated with this venue, and he actually went by the nickname of “Port Tobacco” where beer and bourbon, we are informed, flowed like water. A likely location for the three men to choose this town of sexual proclivities and assorted perversities, making even Casanova blush, it seems.
As regards those still searching Union troops, the manhunt was at a standstill. In other words, the trail had gone cold, well for the time being anyway. Port Tobacco, it must be remembered, was an important rebel stronghold then. I’m sure John Surratt would have been a frequent visitor to the town as well, perhaps sampling the open wares of the flesh. The town would also offer methods of sharpening the spying skills that he had used previously in his mother’s drinking tavern/post office in Surrattsville before his dismissal.
Interestingly, four years later President Andrew Johnson granted permission by executive order for John Wilkes Booth’s body (or someone’s) to be removed and interred in the family plot in Baltimore. The same instruction was also offered to the other conspirators, with their respective families accepting this offer and claiming their bodies for reburial.
But remember, “Jesus said,” Verily, Verily I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3-7). You have been warned!
Colonel Baker would later in 1866 be dismissed by President Johnson, for personal reasons. He died in 1868, supposedly of meningitis or being possibly murdered by persons unknown with arsenic poisoning no less, this according to a laboratory analysis performed later on a sample of Baker’s hair obtained in the 1970s. All very strange indeed, but then the whole Lincoln saga has left more questions unanswered than answered, it seems.
However, I still suggest there was a tenuous connection between Port Tobacco (TBR), which may be a secret code for Tobacco Road, and that final shootout at the tobacco curing shed at Garrett’s farm in Virginia, where supposedly Booth or someone was shot by Corbett, by the same manner in which Lincoln was wounded in the head, directly behind the left ear. And don’t forget: he acted against strict army orders. Boston Corbett was never punished for shooting Booth, but he did enjoy an additional compensation, that being fame. The public then celebrated him as “Lincoln’s Avenger”.
Boston Corbett later received a considerable share in Stanton’s reward money, being offered $17,500, the same amount as Lafayette Baker. In fact, the president’s own annual salary in those days was a mere $25,000, so not a bad day’s work for both gentlemen, it seems.
Strangely enough, Boston Corbett later entered into a private correspondence with the Booth family according to Booth’s sister, Asia Booth Clarke. In her later memoirs, she writes: “For by his shot he saved our brother from an ignominious death. May he have no regret.” Very kind and forgiving, I thought, from the good lady. As regards the self-mutilation stories about Corbett, I believe they originated from the” dirty tricks” department, hoping to discredit his supposed Christian beliefs that were then espoused to the public.
The old “switcheroo” as they used to refer to it in those good old black-and-white westerns of long ago if you remember, which I certainly do.
In fact, at a hidden location somewhere along that suspicious escape trail Booth now rested with Herold and had newspapers and food brought to him by sympathizer Thomas Jones. It seems Booth enjoyed reading about the hunt for himself in newspaper reports but seemed very disappointed about the public’s adulation heaped upon the dead president’s memory, with him now cast as the villain. It is important to remember that Lincoln was deeply unpopular because of the war and to date was the only American president to wage a war on his own people.
Booth may also have been waiting for further orders from someone in Washington regarding where he should go next. Later, Booth and Herold were joined by Captain James William Boyd, one of Lafayette Baker’s numerous agents, you may remember. It’s not clear if the fugitives recognized Boyd or what his future purpose would be. Yet, Booth would later shave off his trademark moustache, maybe at Mudd’s obliging house, so he must have been aware that something was being planned concerning his escape. Yet the body recovered from the burning barn and viewed later did boast a moustache and offered protruding sandy red hair as well. But Booth had black hair, so something is wrong!
After all this, perhaps Booth escaped, aided by who knows whom and was quickly reunited with his waiting wife Izola, then journeying in comfort to Canada and seen later in London. He was also spotted in Bombay of all places. It seems he may even have journeyed to Rome, to meet and personally report to the Jesuit black pope Peter Jan Beckx, or maybe even to have an audience with the pontiff himself, bringing a letter of introduction from John Surratt Jr. (the once Catholic seminary student) who allowed his own mother to hang at the end of a rope. He was now, it seems, comfortably domiciled in Rome under the protection of the “holy mother church,” having originally been aided by a senior member of the catholic Jesuit clergy in Montreal. Then in the years to follow Wilkes Booth would use assorted aliases, John R. Wilkes amongst others, very clever indeed.
In 1903, one member of Booth’s family would claim through an affidavit that their brother did survive, then later visited and stayed with members of the family ten days at a house in Maryland. So, it seems possible that Booth, if he did escape, lived out another 38 stress-free years, somehow beating the system.
I did come across a strange quote from someone who knew the Booth family and they remembered: “That the Booths had an inherited strain of darkness in them.” Not sure what that means. I am perhaps leaning towards the suggestion that Booth did eventually escape and survived as a possible important spy of Andrew Johnson or Colonel Baker, then provided with the necessary letters of transit and money, of course, to pursue his future lifestyle. I’m sure John Wilkes Booth thought of everything concerning himself and his survival. These sorts of people usually do, don’t they? But then as an actor of his magnitude, he could perform any role offered him, even understudying the pope and that mysterious black pope if required.
The famed American photographer Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) should also be brought into the picture (sorry for the pun). This Scotsman had indeed previously photographed Lincoln and Albert Pike and in his full wicked Masonic regalia. (Incidentally, if you have inherited any such items from dead Masonic relatives, burn them now!) These two men were just two of the dignitaries Gardener “snapped”. He also lugged his heavy camera onto the battlefield, capturing some historic scenes of that civil war, later photographing events in and around Lincoln’s final train journey home to Springfield.
This now leads me to the fact that Gardner was himself a practising Mason and Mormon and socialist, and oddly enough, after “retiring”, in 1871 this famed photographer founded an insurance company aptly named The Masonic Mutual Relief Ass Ins. Company. This certainly seems to me quite an occupation change to pursue midlife. Certainly, other famed photographers of the past, such as Adams, Bresson, Avedon, and Karsh, never (as far as I know) considered such a drastic life change but rather continued using their talent well into old age, and to great success.
Alexander Gardener remains perhaps the best-remembered man to ever capture on camera those iconic scenes of the execution by hanging of the four conspirators on that hot day in 1845 (these will naturally be featured next in this series). He was also called upon to record pictures or present evidence of John Wilkes Booth’s naked body when his corpse was laid out on a long narrow table under a huge canopy deck of the ship USS Montauk, this being performed on Edwin Stanton’s orders. It seems that twelve handpicked men would be a part of a mock inquest that would formally identify Boyd’s body as that of Booth’s.
Several witnesses reluctantly brought on board to identify the deceased had some serious doubts that this was indeed the body of the late unlamented John Wilkes Booth. None seemed surprised that the face had a moustache because none had been informed earlier that Booth had apparently shaved his moustache off on Easter Sunday. Brought on board was Dr. John Franklin May who had previously removed a neck growth on Booth. When presented with the corpse on the ship, he replied: “There’s no resemblance in that corpse to Booth, nor can I believe it to be him”. This physician was Then the coerced (probably by Lafayette Baker), only to be finally dismissed. Indeed, soon after viewing the corpse on display, many others expressed their own personal doubts as well. This definitely was not the John Wilkes Booth that they had known and worked with previously.
Earlier on board that moored ship, some of the detained prisoners would surprisingly be primed, posed, and photographed for public consumption, namely Sam Arnold, Michael Olaughlin, and Edmund Spangler, but not Dr. Samuel Mudd for some strange reason. Also photographed were Lewis Payne, George Atzerodt, and David Herold, all posed by Gardner for his camera but not Mrs Mary Surratt, surprisingly. I’m not sure why she was spared Gardner’s superb vista of vision in capturing her striking facial features. Those finished Booth corpse pictures that he had taken soon afterwards mysteriously vanished “almost as soon as they were taken and have never been seen again,” recalled one historian of that period.
The mock inquest would then formally identity Boyd’s body as that of Booth. I suspect those wet-plate pictures must be somewhere today, just waiting for some keen Lincoln or Booth researcher to locate their whereabouts, possibly filed away under some other name or occasion.
Did Edwin Stanton have them deliberately destroyed, perhaps himself smashing those photographic” wet plates” in a seething Stanton strop as he looked at the face of the man who had caused him so much pain and grief? He was also very angry that photographs of Lincoln’s corpse had been allowed to be taken on that funeral train.
Amazingly, just one photograph previously taken by Gardener of the dead Lincoln has survived, being discovered a few years ago, tucked away in a locked museum vault. As with all of Gardener’s wonderful atmospheric photographs, the clarity he captures and the technique he pioneered is brilliant, and these must be his lasting heritage.
But I do wonder why he invested such detail and effort in promoting these almost “timeless” photographs of some of these captured co-conspirators. Or were they intended to be just trophy pictures to be passed around the lodge by smutty men? But for whose enjoyment and why? It’s still a mystery, yet Booth’s path and Gardener’s may just have crossed previously through their blasphemous Masonic rituals or perhaps at those popular theatrical soirées always celebrated backstage after a final theatrical performance. Maybe Gardener even took some of those photographs of the ladies featured in Booth’s wallet, who knows.
Now, the story gets more bizarre because in 1878 a young ambitious Mississippi lawyer by the name of Finis L. Bates first encountered a dying man named John St Helen declining on his sick bed, or so Bates thought. The man then proceeded to inform Bates in a so-called deathbed confession that his true name was John Wilkes Booth, that he had previously been a paid agent for President Andrew Johnson, and that he had carried out the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865. The dying man then sobbed with much emotion to Bates, whispering through tears that: “He had killed the best man who ever lived”. It seems the man also had important information about that mysterious password that allowed him to cross unfettered over the navy yard bridge to freedom. According to the dying man, this had earlier been given to the guards, it seems, by a mysterious captain who had ridden up previously and instructed the soldiers to offer any stranger immediate access over the bridge, but only if they used this important password.
So, who was this suspicious captain? And was he perhaps hastily dispatched from Andrew Johnson or someone else offering aid to the escaping man? Also, the dying man could recite pages of Shakespeare to Finis Bates and seemed to know much more about what happened in those twelve days as he escaped from Union soldiers. There was also a strong facial resemblance between Booth and George as seen in photographs of that period.
It seems also that in India the fugitive Booth, for some reason, would fake his own death, perhaps in a planned drowning accident on the murky River Ganges of all places. As a convincing actor, it must have worked a charm for him in convincing local authorities of his demise and issuing a death certificate. I rather like to speculate that he perhaps journeyed to beautiful Switzerland and easily faked his own death there perhaps at the famous Reichenbach falls, as another fictional favourite of mine did to perfection so many years ago, courtesy of Arthur Conan Doyle, of course (more about him, Harry Houdini, and spiritualism in a coming article).
It appears that the actor would later return, perhaps for financial or health reasons, to the United States. Once there, he was now comfortable using the new names of John St Helen or David E. George. There is also a report that after he had married and later informed his bride that he was, in fact, Wilkes Booth and not the alias he had long been using, the shocked bride marched him down to the courthouse and insisted he sign the marriage certificate as John Wilkes Booth, which he did, incredibly. Remember that the marriage license is the one license that never expires.
Then years later living under the assumed name of David E. George, this gentleman committed suicide in 1903 by arsenic poisoning (not recommended) in Enid, Oklahoma in the Grand Avenue Hotel, room number four, it seems.
Oh, by the way, remember that lone soldier who shot Booth (or someone) at Garrett’s farm, Sgt. Boston Corbett? Well, he is apparently buried in Enid, Oklahoma in an unmarked grave!
After the death of George or Booth, Finis Bates had the body preserved and mummified for posterity and more importantly for financial reasons, of course. It seems there was still an outstanding reward for the body of Booth.
(The purported corpse of Booth)
Over the years, this gruesome cadaver would be displayed in fairs, circuses and rodeos. Ownership of it would change frequently and many times, until it disappeared somewhere in the 1970s, perhaps into someone’s private collection. All very gruesome and also reminiscent of Cromwell’s head which also did the financial rounds throughout England!
If the original derringer pistol handled by Booth at the Ford Theatre was stolen in the 1960s, as is claimed, then maybe that same pistol is residing in the same private collector’s possession and now posed in the hand of John Wilkes Booth’s mummy, to be seen in a spot-lighted glass-sealed cabinet, on view for by invited visitors. All very gruesome, I suggest.
Today, 22 members of the Wilkes Booth family have finally hoped to have the body of their infamous relative exhumed from his supposed grave in Maryland and to have DNA samples collected to settle this question once and for all. But this legal outcome seems to have been stalled in the courts for some legal reason.
Lois Trebisacci, she being Wilkes Booth’s great, great, great granddaughter, said in an interview: “I just feel we have the right to know who’s buried there.” And you know I somehow agree with that enquiring lady. So let’s throw some light on this mystery once and for all. But you know what, I’m not holding my breath any time soon.
To be continued…..
(Rare unused Abraham Lincoln stamp)
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