The Mystery of John Wilkes BoothI have read with approval...


April 04, 1992

The Mystery of John Wilkes Booth

I have read with approval the views expressed in your March 25 editorial, "John Wilkes Booth: RIP."

Nathaniel Orlowek believes that the man shot in Richard Garrett's barn in Caroline County, Va., on April 26, 1865, was not John Wilkes Booth. Further, he believes that Booth escaped to wander the earth and end up a suicide on Jan. 13, 1903, in a cheap hotel at Enid, Oklahoma Territory, using the alias of David E. George. Thus Mr. Orlowek contends that the body buried in Baltimore's Green Mount Cemetery could not be that of Booth. Just who is buried in that grave gets a bit murky in his account -- maybe a man named "Ruddy" or "Roby."

This complex story of a high-level "conspiracy" and resulting "cover-up" has been making the rounds for years. Along the way it has gathered many adherents, true-believers, unshaken and unshakable. Their cause was given a boost last September in the sensational NBC television show, ''Unsolved Mysteries.''

It is remarkable that the Enid suicide had blue eyes, while John Wilkes Booth's eyes were brown. That fact might take a tad of explaining. Well, perhaps Edwin M. Stanton and Col. Lafayette C. Baker engineered this genetic switch. After all, they were powerful men and would stop at nothing, absolutely nothing, to conceal Booth's identity and maintain the "cover-up." So a simple little detail like changing the color of Booth's eyes from brown to blue was surely not beyond them. Nothing to it, really.

Following the NBC television show, the Surratt Society (Box 427, Clinton, Md. 20735) opened its columns in the Surratt Courier for a lively debate on the question of the alleged "escape" of John Wilkes Booth. The issues for November 1991 through March 1992 included articles by historians and researchers. Mr. Orlowek contributed, as did Dr. Arthur Ben Chitty, who agrees with him on basic points. Other contributors considered the whole thing to be utter nonsense.

But it goes on. Now Mr. Orlowek has filed a petition in court to have the remains in Green Mount Cemetery exhumed. There is no need for all this. The evidence is overwhelming that John Wilkes Booth was buried in that grave. So I hope the management of Green Mount Cemetery will take this evidence into court to resist exhumation.

Historical curiosity is not sufficient reason to disturb a grave.

James O. Hall

McLean, Va.

Maryland Should Act

Here is another slow-growth opinion from a white, college-educated, middle-class, nuclear-familied suburbanite who already has a good quality of life and who doesn't want to see it lost to growing environmental degradation.

Your stance on the amendments to the growth control bills is troubling.

It is begging for trouble to let growth in the Chesapeake Bay watershed continue to be managed by county governments and their powerful developer friends. Strong incentives are needed to counter their demonstrated lack of discipline in managing land use. Troubling are the results we get from the population increases and resource demands that come along with growth managed in the conventional fashion.

Just look at the environmental troubles we have now in this region -- from oyster harvests at record lows to landfills reaching capacity and nowhere left to put our tremendous waste stream. Almost every day there's yet another story or two in your paper, describing a bad situation getting worse because of the ever-increasing population burden.

We can implement all the recycling programs and energy conservation programs ever thought of. But until we can successfully manage growth on a regional basis, our waste stream will continue to increase, overwhelming our ability to handle it safely.

The high quality of life enjoyed by the landed few (and the regular quality of life enjoyed by those who make a living from land development) may suffer in the short-term, but by taking a strong stance for slowing growth and against more strain on the watershed, we'll all have something better to pass on to our children and begin to regain sustainability.

On our present course, we are taking away the ability of Maryland's land to comfortably and safely support the humans who live on it as well as making it increasingly difficult for much of Maryland's flora and fauna to even survive.

You don't present any facts to back up your claim that the "enormous undertaking" to manage growth is impractical. I don't understand your comment on the second amendment. As for the third comment, if you replaced "farmers" with "farmland owners," it would ring more true. There ought to be some higher level of authority over farmland owners who want to sell out our farming heritage and transform the rural farm landscape into nasty, yet profitable suburban sprawl.

Our nation is rapidly spending its resource capital and Maryland should take a strong first step locally to stem this foul tide. Maryland's future generations would then be in better economic shape to make it through the coming decades of gradual global warming.

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