Apr 14, 2011

You don't have to travel far to enjoy your own "Assassination Vacation"

People travelling on Route 22, just north of Bel Air, Maryland may notice a sign that reads as follows: Tudor Hall The home of the noted actor Junius Brutus Booth, the elder. Birthplace of his children. His son Edwin Booth was born here November 13, 1833. "Hmmm," you may wonder, "Edwin Booth, I seem to recall he had a brother ..."

He certainly did have a brother, John Wilkes Booth, and yes, he too grew up at Tudor Hall. The region has always been squeamish about it's connection to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and rightly so, it was a bad thing to do, and also, back in 1865, the locals were very worried about having their region burnt to a crisp in some ugly reprisal. However, after 150 years, I think we can talk about it today. Ol' John Wilkes Booth wasn't the only person caught up in the assassination drama from the area, oh no, the region is chock full of them, though he's the only one from Harford County, many of the the rest weren't far away. Here's a few (excerpted from Wikipedia):

Louis J. Weichmann: "Louis J. Weichmann (September 29, 1842 - June 5, 1902) [born in Baltimore] was one of the chief witnesses for the prosecution in the conspiracy trial of the Abraham Lincoln assassination. Previously he was also a suspect due to his association with the Surratt family."

Samuel Arnold: "Samuel Bland Arnold (September 6, 1834 - September 21, 1906) [Baltimore] was involved in the plot to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. He and the other conspirators, John Wilkes Booth, David Herold, Lewis Powell, Michael O'Laughlen and John Surratt, were to kidnap Lincoln and hold him to exchange for the Confederate prisoners in Washington D.C.."

Michael O'Laughlen: "Michael O'Laughlen, Jr. (3 June 1840 in Baltimore, Maryland - 23 September 1867 in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida) was a conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln."

John Ford: "John Thomson Ford (16 April 1829 - 14 March 1894) was an American theater manager in the nineteenth century. He is most notable for operating Ford's Theatre at the time of the Abraham Lincoln assassination. Ford was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and was the son of Elias and Anna (née Greanor) Ford. ... He was a good friend of Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor."

Edmund Spangler: "Edmund Spangler (August 10, 1825 - February 7, 1875), also known as Edman, Edward, and Ned Spangler, was originally from York, Pennsylvania, but he spent the majority of his life in the Baltimore, Maryland area. He was an alleged conspirator in the Abraham Lincoln assassination and had worked at Ford's Theatre at the time of Abraham Lincoln's murder."

William Norris: William Norris of Maryland was the Chief Signal Officer of the Confederate States Army and Chief of the Signal Bureau in Richmond. ... Norris also commanded the Secret Service Bureau, a unit within the Signal Corps.

Reverdy Johnson: "Reverdy Johnson (May 21, 1796 - February 10, 1876) was a statesman and jurist from Maryland. ... In 1865, he defended Mary Surratt before a military tribunal." Johnson wasn't a plotter, just a local caught up in the drama.

If birthplace is any indicator, perhaps the assassination plot wasn't just a Southern Maryland thing after all, extending northward up through York, Pennsylvania, coincidentally[?] following the famed "Doctor's Line," a Confederate espionage ring that stretched from Richmond into Maryland and who knows how far north.

Those wanting to make a day-trip of the thing should start with, of course, Tudor Hall, the birthplace of John Wilkes Booth. It's a pretty site with an interesting architecture and a spiffy little pond. Diehard Booth fans can head a few miles south to see the old Bel Air Academy on Gordon Street, where little Johnny dreamed through a few semesters of school. If it's lunchtime, run right to the old Milton Academy in Sparks (named for Paradise Lost poet John Milton), another Wilkes Booth school, now a very good eatery known as the Milton Inn, described by the Zagat Survey as "top ranked Traditional American Cuisine."

After lunch, head south to Baltimore's Green Mount Cemetery where Booth is buried (unmarked in the Booth family plot), along with two other conspirators: Samuel Arnold and Michael O'Laughlen. You can also pay a visit to the grave of Reverdy Johnson, Mary Surratt defender and one of our greatest unsung statesman. After that, take a short hop on over to Old Saint Paul's Cemetery and view the grave of George Atzerodt, executed Lincoln conspirator, buried under the fictitious name "Gottlief Taubert."

Then take the beltway to Loudon Park Cemetery (the private one, not the national one, next door), and see the grave of John Ford of Ford's theatre fame, and while you're at it, pop on over to Confederate Hill to see where much of Maryland's old sympathy's now lay. Loudon Park is a hop, skip, etc. from New Cathedral Cemetery, final resting place of John Harrison Surratt, former Papal Zouave and, oh yeah, the son of Mary Surratt. Or pop on over to All Saints' Cemetery in Resiterstown where William Norris is interred. Norris was head of the Confederate Secret Service and may or may not have been involved in a plot to, at the very least, kidnap Lincoln.

From there you can finish up your day trip or make it a true vacation via Washington D.C. and down through Booth's escape route in Southern, MD, ending at Garrett's Farm in Northern Virginia, either way, have fun and "Break a Leg!"

This post was inspired by Sarah Vowell's excellent book "Assassination Vacation," available at all the better bookstores.

Top photo: Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) and Reverdy Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) on the steps of the Capitol. From the movie The Conspirator.