It’s an unmarked stone sitting peacefully in the middle of suburbia. Hidden beneath it? The mortal remains of one of America’s most notorious assassins: John Wilkes Booth.
The Baltimore cemetery that houses Booth is built like a fortress. The entrance is an uninviting brick castle with an entryway just wide enough for a single car. Soaring 19th-century stone walls outline the boundary of the dead, topped with modern steel cables and razor blades.
It is not in a good neighborhood. People cluster on the barren street corners, aimlessly sitting on the sidewalk in the middle of the day. Cop cars are on a constant crawl, burned-out units melt between current living spaces, and nearby sirens punctuate the sounds of city life.
It’s a different world inside the cemetery. Quiet, empty, and peaceful.
After assassinating Abraham Lincoln in 1865, John Wilkes Booth fled from Washington, DC, through Maryland and into Virginia. The Southern sympathizer and his co-conspirators were discovered two weeks later hiding in a tobacco barn. Although the others surrendered, Booth refused and was ultimately shot to death.
The Booth family was well-known in Maryland society. Their family burial plot in Baltimore contains elaborate, ostentatious memorials, marking their wealth and prestige for future generations.
The assassin rests here. In life, he vehemently disagreed with the rest of his family, who did not share his treasonous beliefs. In death, he is remanded to the very edge of the family burial plot, with no other Booth grave touching his.
His burial stone contain no official identification. Unofficially, it is covered in pennies left by cemetery visitors. Whether this is to commemorate Lincoln’s ultimate legacy or to celebrate his assassin is unclear. I choose to believe it is one final token of contempt for Booth’s revolting beliefs.
Another final token of contempt is Baltimore itself. The city that surrounds Booth’s cemetery is predominantly African-American, with an African-American mayor (a woman, no less). Booth may have killed the great liberator, but he could not kill what Lincoln started.
But this place feels too peaceful for Booth. Baltimore citizens continue to find a final resting spot within these stone walls, and I wonder what they think about spending eternity with a murderous traitor. I wonder what the people on the street corners outside think about their proximity to him, if they even realize such an infamous man is but a few steps away.
You may be wondering why I have not named the cemetery nor the part of Baltimore in which it resides. Per cemetery guidelines, I am not to specifically identify the location of my photographs. If you’re interested, you can easily Google the information–and if you live in this region, I hope that you pay it a visit.
Booth’s Baltimore grave is just one of a litany of strange facts about Maryland. I’ll explore the fascinating area each Monday in my new Mondays in Maryland feature–I hope you’ll join me!