Did John Wilkes Booth Survive and live in Tennessee?

February 19, 2007

Today’s Chattanooga Times Free Press (alas, subscription required) trots out the latest John-Wilkes Booth-escaped-death theory, this time claiming that the assassin of Lincoln married a Sewanee woman and lived for a period of time in Tennessee.

Tales of Booth’s second act have been around for a while, as this Wikipedia entry explains.

As Dick Cook writes in the Times Free Press, “. . . there was one piece of physical evidence: the signature of “Jno. W. Booth” and his bride, Louisa J. Payne, recorded Feb. 24, 1872, in the marriage license records office of the Franklin County Courthouse.”

The rest of the story centers in a Flannery O’Connoresque tale. Seems that one Ken Hawkes, who was an autopsy technician for the Shelby County medical examiner’s office, heard accounts of “a mummy that was purported to be Mr. Booth being toted around the Midwest in carnivals during the 1930s.” If this mummy could be found, Mr. Hawkes believes, DNA tests would reveal if it is the remains of the notorious Booth.

And there’s the rub. The mummy has disappeared–nothing on eBay or in the National Enquirer. “I do believe the mummy still exists,” Hawkes said. “I think it’s in a private collection.”