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John Wilkes Booth, Mummy or Myth?

 

Well-known as the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, actor John Wilkes Booth was reportedly turned into a mummy, some thirty years after Lincoln's death, and exhibited in the backroom of an Enid, Oklahoma funeral parlor and many carnival sideshows. This myth mixes a number of themes from American history: government  cover up, conspiracy theories, and the display of human remains at carnivals. Was Booth able to escape his pursuers and live another 30 years? Or did a drifter known as David George try to convince people that he was John Wilkes Booth, either for drinks or attention? In either event, a mummy identified as that of John Wilkes Booth toured the country for years.

 

What's special about the mummy

The mummy itself was not especially well created and received a number of treatments by the mortician. Preservation seems to have been maintained by frequent applications of Vaseline. Interestingly, the mummy's black hair turned white over the years.

The mummy, no matter its condition or location, is special because of the legend surrounding it. 

  

Where to see the mummy  

According to C. Wyatt Evans, the mummy was last seen in New Hope Pennsylvania in 1976. Since then, it seems to be have been purchased by a private collector who values privacy. Some people have tried to track it down, but at this point, no one has been able to locate the collector--or the mummy. 

 

Where to find more information about the mummy

The Legend of John Wilkes Booth: Myth, Memory, and a Mummy traces the legend of the Booth mummy, both the details that gave rise to the myth and the need that many people had to believe the myth. In researching and writing the book, Evans hoped that "readers will come away with a sense of the legend's playfulness, irony, and pathos as well as an understanding of the ideological purposes it has served." In well-organized chapters, Evans discusses how a man named David George became the Booth mummy, traces the popular display of the dead in American culture, outlines the conspiracy theories surrounding Booth's death and/or disappearance, explains the need for some people to believe in the legend of the Booth mummy, and describes the sideshow of people who helped or hindered the legend.

Civil War history buffs and serious mummy buffs will appreciate the depth of detail found here. If the book has any fault, it is the style of writing which occasionally strays into dense, overly academic language and analyses (yes, a few parts do read like a dissertation in need of some editing). In the end, though, that doesn't matter. The story and the facts behind it carry the day.Anyone interested in the history of mummies, especially sideshow mummies, will not be disappointed with this book. Complete with 15 illustrations and photographs. Recommended! 

An inexpensive Kindle edition of The Escape and Wanderings of J. Wilkes Booth Until Ending of the Trail by Suicide at Enid, Oklahoma, January 12, 1903 (1922) is available from Amazon. This is the purported story of David E. George who on his death bed claimed to be John Wilkes Booth, killer of Abraham Lincoln.

If you're interested in something fictional, The Reluctant Assassin doesn't provide the facts, but imagines "what if." It's a novel in which a man renovating an old structure finds the mummified remains of a man and a diary. The diary seems to have been written by infamous assassin John Wilkes Booth.

You can also read an old Saturday Evening Post article online which features a few photographs. It's entitled, "The Assassin’s Mummy; or, John Wilkes Booth’s Second Career."

But, now that you've read this far, my favorite account of the mythical mummy is Gordon Grice's "The Mummy." This is a highly readable four-page article in the November/December 2004 issue of Oklahoma Today. Grice visited the hotel where David George died and provides plenty of details with his behind-the-scenes look at the death site. Seven excellent photos are included with the article, including three of the mummy. And if you can't locate that publication, Grice has published the entire article online (with additional material), beginning at this link. Lots of photos, too.

 

Other Books about John Wilkes Booth at Amazon.com