Museum provides ‘Full Story’ of assassination conspiracy

Sue Bland

The Mary Surratt House, described as a clandestine Confederate safe house during the Civil War, was home to the first woman ever executed by the federal government. The crime for which she was convicted: conspiring with John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Surratt House Volunteers Photographed: 2010 By: Cassi Hayden
Docents create living history at the Surratt House Museum.

While it was Surratt’s Washington, D.C., boarding house where she allegedly became involved in the plot to first kidnap and then kill Lincoln, it was her tavern and home in Maryland where Booth found hidden weapons and field glasses as he escaped following the assassination of the president. Her son, John Surratt, had been a friend of Booth and a Confederate courier and spy.

Today, the National Historic Register-listed house is open for tours led by costumed interpreters Wednesdays through Sundays for a modest admission of only $3 for adults, $2 for seniors, and free for children. A special exhibition, The Full Story: Maryland, the Surratts and the Crime of the Century, is now open.

Surratt’s son had become involved with Booth and his gang. Before and during the Civil War, the Surratts’ Maryland home was a center for much community activity, and an underground network of Confederates who lived in Southern Maryland frequented the Surratt tavern.

As it turned out, the man who saved Mary Surratt financially ended up sending her to the gallows.


Convicted, but was she guilty?

When Mary Surratt moved to Washington, she rented the tavern to a former policeman, John Lloyd, who became a state witness and testified at her military trial about her requests to “get the shooting irons ready” when she visited the farm on the afternoon of the assassination. Her son had shown Lloyd a hiding place for the ammo and supplies used by the conspirators after a failed kidnap attempt in March 1865.

Mary Surratt was convicted and hanged for her role along with three men; other cohorts of Booth were imprisoned. Debate still rages about whether key characters in the story — Surratt and Dr. Samuel Mudd — were truly guilty.

Mudd set Booth’s broken leg when the assassin appeared at his Southern Maryland home. His home opens for tours in Waldorf, Md., late March to November.

The Surratt House Museum has run manhunt tours following Booth’s escape route since 1977. (It took 12 days to hunt down and finally kill Booth in April 1865.) A special conference and tour is planned March 20–22.

There are special tours and events in Washington and Maryland. The Smithsonian, for example, will show the coach that President and Mrs. Lincoln took to Ford’s Theatre the night of his death. Ford’s Theatre will host a matinee stage production.

The Surratt House is operated by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.


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Surratt House

Docents create living history at the Surratt House Museum.

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