Visiting Dr. Mudd

April 15,  1865, 4:30 am, a knock on the door of the southern Maryland home of Dr. Samuel Mudd. He left his bedroom in the back of the house, headed to the front door to ask who it was before he opens it. A man told him that his companion has hurt his leg.

  Samuel Mudd's house sits about 1/4 mile from the road--you'd have to know where you were headed to get there.

Samuel Mudd's house sits about 1/4 mile from the road--you'd have to know where you were headed to get there.

Dr. Mudd opened the door and let the two men in. Was he a physician doing his duty or complicit in the getaway of John Wilkes Booth?

We pondered that question on a visit to the Dr. Samuel Mudd House and Museum on a cold November morning. We were the first visitors of the day, and a descendent a few-times-removed who lives on the premises opened up at 11 am.

It turned out that the house was less than 10 years old that night in 1865, on land purchased for Samuel and his family by his father. According to our guide, Mudd made his living on the land. While he had a medical office on the second floor, his practice was limited and often paid in-kind by neighbors. 

Mudd brought who we now know was John Wilkes Booth first to his parlor couch, then up to a second-floor bedroom, lay him on bed, removed his boot, and set his leg. He claimed he did not know the identity of his patient until after Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, left. Perhaps the night-of, things were dark and confused. But the next day? They had met at least twice. (Later evidence showed more involvement, including a statement by one of the conspirators, discovered in the 1970s, that Mudd was involved with Booth's original plot.)

  We had to stand from afar to get a look at "the" couch where Booth lay. But we were told it is the original piece of furniture.

We had to stand from afar to get a look at "the" couch where Booth lay. But we were told it is the original piece of furniture.

Dr. Mudd was convicted as being part of the conspiracy and sentenced to life imprisonment on Fort Jefferson, a well-fortified island off of Key West. When a yellow fever epidemic hit the prison, his medical knowledge benefitted his fellow prisoners and himself. Andrew Johnson pardoned him in 1867 and he returned to the farm, medicine, and local politics. He died in 1883, at age 49.

The house remained in the Mudd family through the years, lived in by family members, rented out, then empty until turned into a private museum. The tour had two interconnected yet dissonant themes--the history connected the assassination and the material culture of the late 19th century (which furniture was original to the family or at least of the period, how it was was acquired).

With this view out to the southeast, the path that Booth and Herod probably too 12 hours after arriving at the Mudds, it is clear which of the two themes we found most riveting.

  Around 4:00 pm, April 15, 1865. John Wilkes Booth, with broken leg and makeshift crutch, and David Herold, headed down this path into the Zekiah Swamp. 

Around 4:00 pm, April 15, 1865. John Wilkes Booth, with broken leg and makeshift crutch, and David Herold, headed down this path into the Zekiah Swamp. 

Lots more photos on the BoothieBarn blog, Dr. Mudd House Pictures.

 

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