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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 357

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This is the grave of John Wilkes Booth.

There’s really no need for a biography of Booth.

All I can really say is that it was extremely weird to visit this spot. I have seen the graves of some very terrible people in this series. But few have affected me like Booth. The killing of Lincoln was such an utter catastrophe for this nation. I am not overly confident that a Lincoln term through the early stages of Reconstruction would have led to an outcome all that different by, say, the early 1900s than what actually happened. But it certainly couldn’t have hurt. At the very least, Lincoln, who was a savvy man and smart politician, would have moved toward black male suffrage and the end of the Black Codes far before Congress could manage to make it happen over Johnson’s veto. It’s even possible that there are no Black Codes if Lincoln is still president. Who knows, maybe the nation moves toward something like a racial democracy if Lincoln lives.

John Wilkes Booth killed that possibility when he killed Lincoln.

The other weird thing about this was the leaving of so many pennies. Obviously, I am far from the first person to visit this grave. When I initially put this grave on Twitter, a lot of people responded by wondering if the pennies were left there to actually honor Booth. I think this is unlikely. Even southern partisans largely sympathized with Lincoln in the aftermath. See how he is portrayed in Birth of a Nation and what a disaster his assassination is meant to be for the South. It’s a ridiculous portrayal, but it worked for southern mythology. I also don’t think it’s probably a version of kicking dirt on his corpse either. I think it’s probably mostly apolitical, a sign that someone visited the grave of someone who changed the world for the worse, but not a real meaningful statement. I think people just do things because someone else did it and it doesn’t go much deeper than that.

John Wilkes Booth is buried in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.

This grave visit was paid for by LGM reader contributions and I am extremely grateful for them. If you would like this series to visit the graves of other presidential assassinations, well, it’s kind of hard, but you can indeed make it happen here. Leon Czolgosz’s body was dropped in a vat of acid. There is some claim that his remains are with a bunch of other prisoners in a part of a cemetery in Sennett, New York, but if Eric Rauchway’s portrayal of the situation in his great book Murdering McKinley is correct, and I am sure it is, I don’t see how there could really be remains to bury. Charles Guiteau is in the private collection of the National Museum of Health and Medicine and sadly is not on display. Why they even have this, I don’t know. Lee Harvey Oswald, however, is in Fort Worth, Texas and I could use some Tex-Mex anyway (not really, it’s in my view the least appealing of all forms of Mexican food), so make it happen! Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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