The Petition to Exhume John Wilkes Booth: A View from the Inside
University of Baltimore Law Forum, No. 27.2, pp. 47-57, 1997
12 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2010
Date Written: 1997
Rarely do history debates leave the confines of classrooms, academic journals, or meetings of amateur historians. Did George Washington really chop down a cherry tree? Or, on a more serious note, did Franklin Roosevelt have advance warning of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor?
In Maryland, however, an obscure history debate exploded into the courts. The debate involved John Wilkes Booth - America's greatest villain - and the contention that he escaped in 1865. Most historians and history buffs consider the escape theory to be folly, or even fraud. Nevertheless, the reliability of the Booth escape story was litigated in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City and in the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.
I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to try a case that might be noted by historians. Most cases fade away quickly, even those with reported opinions, but the suit to exhume John Wilkes Booth was likely to be remembered. Regardless of how historians might view the case's outcome, representing Green Mount Cemetery in the exhumation petition provided me with a history lesson and a court trial I will never forget. This article relates what happened in the case and some of my experiences.
Keywords: John Wilkes Booth, Greenmount Cemetery, Exhumations, Litigation, Heirs, American History, Abraham Lincoln Assassination, Forensic Anthropology, Civil War, Maryland
JEL Classification: K19, K29, K39, L84
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation