One of the top actors of his day, Booth assassinated President Lincoln on April 14, 1865, before being killed himself. But Booth had quite a journey on the way to death.
After shooting the president, Booth jumped to the stage from Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theater shouting “Sic semper tyrannis!”, breaking his leg in the process. He proceeded to escape through Maryland to Northern Virginia.
While on the lam, Booth had his leg treated by a doctor who would later be tried for conspiracy. Booth and fellow conspirator David Herold hid in the swamps for nearly a week. By April 26, federal officers had cornered the men, who were hiding in a tobacco barn. Booth was coaxed out when only when the barn was lit on fire, but refused to surrender. As he ran out with guns up, Sergeant Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett shot him. The soldier maintained that he had only meant to disarm the man, but Booth only lived a few hours after the officers dragged his body to the farmhouse porch.
Booth’s body was sewn into a horse blanket and transported back to Washington, D.C. on the Potomac River. He was autopsied in the Navy Yard and identified by, among other things, a tattoo of his initials on his wrist.
First, he was buried in the Old Penitentiary, along with his co-conspirators who were hanged there. Booth’s remains were exhumed and reburied in a warehouse of the Penitentiary in 1867. Finally, in 1869, his remains were exhumed a third time and released to his family.
The assassin’s body was transported to Baltimore, the city of his youth, and buried in the Booth family plot in Green Mount Cemetery. The family plot is easy to find due to Junius Brutus Booth’s towering obelisk. But the Booth family, John Wilkes’ brother Edwin in particular, believed that an elaborate headstone for John Wilkes might attract unwanted attention and vandalism. Visitors today believe the small, plain, unmarked headstone denotes John Wilkes Booth’s final resting spot. Though some believe the white stone in the Booth family plot is actually that of Asia Booth Clarke, John Wilkes’ older sister. In lieu of flowers or stones, people leave pennies behind on the headstone, as if to give Lincoln the final word.
Know Before You Go
Green Mount Cemetery is open daily from 9 a.m.- 3:45 p.m., except for Sunday. Ask for a map at the entrance/guard house.