Green Mount opposes exhumation

January 15, 1995|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Sun Staff Writer

Green Mount Cemetery's attorneys have asked a judge to deny a request to exhume the purported remains of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.

The attorneys, William C. Trimble, who is also president of the cemetery board, and Francis J. Gorman, said the petition filed by Booth relatives contains neither substantial evidence nor substantial reason to justify disinterment.

May 18 hearing

Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan has scheduled a hearing May 18 on the exhumation request, submitted in October by Booth relatives, including those who hold the 1869 certificate of ownership of the burial plot.

The historians pressing for exhumation argue that Booth escaped April 26, 1865, from a flaming barn on a Virginia farm 12 days after he shot the president. They claim Booth lived in the South and West until 1903, when he poisoned himself with arsenic in Enid, Okla.

Government's explanation

Although the escape theory has circulated almost since the events occurred, most conventional historians accept the government's explanation that Booth died in the burning barn. They say his body was identified at the time by people who knew him and again in 1869 when the body was taken to Baltimore for reburial at Green Mount.

"It's a standard answer," Mark S. Zaid, the Washington lawyer who represents the family members, said. "But the judge will rule on the credibility of the evidence when we submit it in May. Green Mount said they will demand strict proof, and that's right, and we will provide it."

Although 22 Booth relatives have supported exhumation, two as plaintiffs, Judge Kaplan ordered their lawyer to advertise for still unknown relatives who might oppose it.

Mr. Zaid said advertisements will run later this month in newspapers in areas with Booth family connections. Some historians have begun a letter-writing campaign arguing against exhumation and asserting that those who believe the escape theory are rejecting documentary proof collected over the years.

Judge Kaplan said he would not comment on the case before he hears testimony and sees evidence supporting the request.

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