Friday, July 03, 2009

Help me find John Wilkes Booth's missing mummy!

Ready to play Gumshoe?

While researching an upcoming book, I came across the intriguing story of the long-lost mummy of John Wilkes Booth ... or at least a fellow who claimed to be him.

It all begins in 1870, five years after the Lincoln assassination, when a young man named John St. Helen settled in Glen Rose, Texas, where he took a job as a bartender and acted in the local theater. He reportedly had an encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare and remarkable stage presence. But when the daughter of a local politician invited a slew of U.S. Army officers and a federal marshal to her fabulous wedding, St. Helen mysteriously disappeared.

In 1871, he popped up in Granbury, just up the road. He again worked as a bartender at a local saloon and befriended a local lawyer named Finis Bates. Bates noted years later that although St. Helen was a teetotaler, he drank himself silly on one day of every year, April 14 — the anniversary of Lincoln’s shooting.

While in Granbury, St. Helen got sick and believed he would soon die. Secretly, he whispered to his friend Bates, “My name is not John St. Helen. I am John Wilkes Booth, assassin of Abraham Lincoln.”

To be sure, he bore a resemblance to the famed actor and dastardly killer. His age (about 40) was about right, and his theatrical demeanor gave one pause. And he told a remarkable story of mistaken identity on the Virginia farm where Booth was supposedly killed by federal troops.
But St. Helen didn’t die. He recovered long enough to disappear again, reportedly leaving behind a pistol wrapped in a Washington newspaper dated April 15, 1865.

That was the last anyone heard of St. Helen — until 1903, when an itinerant housepainter named David George committed suicide in Enid, Oklahoma. He’d again confessed his “true” identity to a local widow, who described him as an intelligent man who often quoted Shakespeare when in his cups. And the coroner discovered George’s right leg had been broken just above the ankle years before, and he was born in the same year as Booth. They wondered, might David George’s alias be a combination of two Lincoln conspirators’ names, David Herold and George Atzerodt, both hanged for their roles in the assassination plot?

George/St. Helen/Booth’s corpse was mummified and displayed for two years in the front window of an Enid funeral home until his old friend Finis Bates (future grandfather of actress Kathy Bates) came to identify George as his old friend, John St. Helen. He claimed the body, had it positively identified by Booth relatives, then sent it on a carnival sideshow tour as the mummy of John Wilkes Booth.

In 1931, a team of doctors and detectives X-rayed the mummy (pictured above). They allegedly found a broken leg and thumb, and a scar on the neck that matched wounds Booth was known to have suffered. Oddly, they also found a corroded signet ring in the mummy’s stomach — bearing the initial “B.” Suddenly, people began to wonder … could it be?

In 1937, the mummy reportedly attracted more than $100,000 from sideshow gawkers. Various carnivals displayed the mummy over the years until it vanished completely in the mid-1970s ... about the time the feds were cracking down on displaying human remains. Whether the Booth mummy was destroyed or is now in a secret collector's care, the central question is ... where is it?

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Personally, I am skeptical that David George was Booth ... but it's that sliver of possibility that intrigues me. Even if he isn't, though, maybe we can explore the tragedy of being nobody wanting to be somebody ... and ultimately being lost altogether. Whether the mummy is found or unfound, the book will explore bigger issues of culture and psyche ... and cultural psyche.

Who wants to play? Doesn't matter if you are a skeptic or a believer ... let the courts and scientists sort it out. If you have clues or special inside knowledge, let's see if we can crack the Case of the Missing Mummy. (And you thought it was easy?)

You may post here or write directly to Ron by clicking here

6 comments:

Kelly Hobbs said...

I'm willing to help you out if I can. Don't know much about it, but recently read Finis L. Bates book and currently reading The Legend of John Wilkes Booth: Myth, Memory and a Mummy.
Very interested in this topic and willing to do research.

Anonymous said...

AFTER THE INTERNET RESEARCH I'VE DONE ON MY OWN, IT TRULY APPEARS THERE COULD HAVE BEEN MORE CONSPIRATORS THAN THE STORY TELLS.I CANT UNDERSTAND WHY THE GRAVE OF J.W.B. WASNT EXCAVATED SHORTLY AFTER THE MUMMY APPEARED ON THE SCENE TO FIND OUT IF THE GRAVE ACTUALLY CONTAINS THE PROPER REMAINS. THIS WHOLE CASE NEEDS TO BE REOPENED BECAUSE IT STINKS TO HIGH HEAVEN. ANYBODY COULD SEE THAT THE MUMMY REALLY DOES LOOK ALMOST IDENTICAL TO ANY PHOTO IVE EVER SEEN OF J.W.B., THIS ALONE SHOULD HAVE SPARKED AN EXHUMATION, UNLESS THE BOOTH FAMILY WAS THREATENED , OR PAID OFF BY HIGHER-UPS TO ACCEPT THE REMAINS THEY RECIEVED AS BEING J.W.B'S. IN THAT CASE AN EXHUMATION WOULD HAVE BEEN WAVED BY THE FAMILY.DONT WORRY ABOUT THE MUMMY, TESTS HAVE BEEN DONE THAT SHOW THE MUMMY COULD VERY WELL BE THE REMAINS OF J.W.B., THE REAL QUESTION IS, IS J.W.B'S REMAINS IN THE GRAVE ITS SUPPOSED TO BE IN? HISTORY COULD BE CHANGED BY AN EXHUMATION

Anonymous said...

I remember reading ( I believe in "The Legend of JWB: Myth, Memory and a Mummy)the mummy was last known to be owned by a deli owner in the New Hope Pa. area. He is very guarded about it and reportedly has said he'd throw it in a dumpster before he sells or displays it.

Anonymous said...

Please check out our story on the Booth Mummy...
http://www.wreg.com/news/onyourside/boothmummy/

Ellen said...

Carnival Showman John Strong III informed me that he displayed the JWB Mummy for thirteen years, after which it was confiscated by the San Mateo Police! Somewhere, within the offices of the San Mateo Police. lies the Mummy of JWB, wrapped in purple silk. One way or another, the Police got him!

Anonymous said...

it looks a lot like the mummy at the Seattle old Curio Shop on the boardwalk