Experience the Morning of April 15, 1865 at Dr. Mudd’s House!

Ever wonder what it looked like at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House when Booth and Herold arrived the morning following the assassination? Earlier this week, we created a time-lapse video to allow you a chance to experience it!

The staff at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House prides itself on giving our visitors the chance to experience history. We do this by providing guided tours through the house that allow visitors to stand where history happened and give up close access to the artifacts that were there at the time of Booth’s arrival at Dr. Mudd’s home. Additionally, we take visitors on guided tours of the escape route where they can feel the denseness of the Zekiah Swamp. One experience that we unfortunately haven’t provided is a glimpse at what it looked like at the time John Wilkes Booth arrived at 4am on April 15, 1865.

On April 13, 2022 an experiment was conducted to create a time-lapse video of the light levels at the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House on the same timeline as the arrival of John Wilkes Booth and David Herold. The aim of the experiment was to see the scene in the front yard as it would have looked 157 years prior. An Android cellular phone equipped with Time Spirit app was used for the experiment. The app captured an image every 12 seconds for the duration of the video and compressed the images into a short video clip. April 13, 2022 was selected for the date of the experiment because it produced the closest meteorological, astronomical, and sunrise timetable as the actual event on April 15, 1865.  During the April 13th experiment, the moon was at nearly 90% illumination, the sun rose at 6:35 am, and the skies were lightly cloudy with stars visible through the cloud cover. On April 15, 1865 the sun rose at 6:32 am, the moon was at 90% illumination, and evidence suggest light cloud cover or clear skies. The only major difference was that the moon set considerably earlier during the experiment than it did in 1865. The fugitives enjoyed the illumination of a nearly full moon through sunrise, whereas the video below shows no evidence of moonlight because it had already dipped below the horizon over the Zekiah Swamp in rear of the house around 4 am. Thus, the conditions in the video clips are actually darker than what Booth and Herold experienced.

The Parlor: the camera location was chosen because Dr. Mudd used this window to peer into the front yard at 4 am on April 15, 1865

In his written statement, Dr. Mudd recalled Booth and Herold arriving at the house.

“About 4 o’clock on Saturday morning, the 15th, two persons came to my house and commenced rapping very loudly at the door. I was very much alarmed at this, fearing it might be somebody who had come there not for any good purpose…Before opening the door, however, I inquired who was there. They told me two strangers form St. Mary’s Co. who were on their way to Washington; but that the horse of one of them had fallen, and broken the rider’s leg. Satisfying myself of the correctness of the statement of one of them having received an injury, by going to a window & seeing one of them in distress, I went and opened the door. I took them into the parlor, and laid the injured man on the sofa, until I could get a light, when I took him upstairs…After the injured man got off of his horse, the other one asked me if I could not have the two horses stabled, as one of them would not suffer herself to be hitched. I went after the boy (an African American laborer named Frank Washington), and he (Herold) held them until the boy came.[i]

Before taking the two men upstairs, Dr. Mudd went to his kitchen building and awakened Frank Washington to tend to the horses. Washington, formerly enslaved by Dr. Mudd, was now a hired hand that worked on the Mudd farm. As he entered the front yard to retrieve the horses, Frank remembered “the day was just breaking: it was just about daybreak.”[ii]

This video captures the scene in the front yard as it would have looked from 3:55 am to 4:55 am in 1865, which is the approximate timeframe covered in the statements above. The clip covers the time just before Booth’s arrival to about the time Dr. Mudd finished splinting Booth’s leg. It should be noted that the light conditions in the clip were still slightly darker than the naked eye. The fence in the front yard (where Dr. Mudd could see the man “in distress”) was visible to cameraman’s naked eye by 4:15 am. It was clear that Dr. Mudd would have clearly seen a person at the fence at that time. It is also important to note that it was almost pitch black inside the house. The cameraman’s light colored camera case was not discernable on the “Booth couch” from a few feet away. It would have been impossible to conduct any kind of examination until Dr. Mudd procured the light referenced in his statement. For reference, the first rays of light on the horizon visible at the 6 second mark occurred at 4:30 am. This was “day break” mentioned by Frank Washington. At that point, Booth’s boot had been removed and Dr. Mudd was working on building and applying the splint.  

A view from the front porch looking into the front yard at “daybreak” 4:30 am

Dr. Mudd noted that “my examination was quite short…I do not suppose I was more than three-quarters of an hour in making the examination of the wound and applying the splint.” After finishing, Mudd “walked around to my farm-yard and gave some directions, when I returned breakfast was ready; and this young man (Herold) was up and knocking about. I asked him to come to breakfast. He did so, but the other man remained upstairs in bed.”[iii]

View of the front yard from a window in the room where Booth was treated. This was the view around the time Dr. Mudd completed his treatment at 4:45 am. The light at right is the “dusk-till-dawn” light in our parking lot.

Breakfast was cooked by a 12 year-old former slave name Lettie Hall. She remembered Dr. Mudd coming to her kitchen dwelling and waking her to make breakfast. She remembered “I got up, killed a chicken, and had the finest biscuits I believe I ever baked. I put cream in for shortening, and they were so pretty and nice. A Mr. Harold {sic}…came down with the family to breakfast…”[iv]

This clip covered the time after the examination was complete and Dr. Mudd gave his instructions to the farm hands, Lettie cooked breakfast, and breakfast was served in the dining room just a few feet behind the camera. The time in the clip ranges from 4:55 am to 5:55 am in 1865. As can be seen, by the time Mudd’s examination was finished the farm was already in complete light. Due to better lighting conditions this clip is identical to what the cameraman observed with the naked eye.

The kitchen where Frank Washington and Lettie Hall began their day. This photo was taken at 5:15 am.

The following clip is a combination of both clips previously shown. The two were spliced together to show the entire time lapse from 3:55 am to 5:55 am on April 15, 1865. For reference, the splice occurs at the 10 second mark and represents the conditions at 4:55 am.

Mother Nature certainly played a factor in Booth’s decision to go to Dr. Mudd’s home. The fugitives reached Beantown around 3:30 am. On the day of our experiment, birds were chirping on the roost by that time. The outdoor savvy Herold would have recognized this as a warning of the impending dawn. From Beantown, the pair would still have nearly 20 miles to travel to the site of their boat hidden on King Creek west of Port Tobacco. Trying to reach the site of the boat would have exposed the men to several hours of travel in broad daylight and put them in danger of being spotted by witnesses or even a cavalry patrol. On the other hand, Dr. Mudd’s home was only three miles east of Beantown and Booth needed medical attention. Booth had already received hospitality at Dr. Mudd’s in the fall of 1864 and the duo new they could reach his farm before sunrise.  

Using the evidence in the video it is easy to see why Booth and Herold elected to stay at the Mudd farm following the completion of Mudd’s medical treatment around 4:45 am. Had the two decided to continue on their way south they would have been clearly visible on the roadways. Dr. Mudd noted that the two left his house around 4 or 5 o’clock that evening. Given that sunset was at 6:48 pm on April 15, 1865, Booth and Herold left Mudd’s farm in broad daylight with several hours remaining before dark. Evidence suggest that the two hid in the swamp until sundown. A former enslaved laborer at the home of Dr. Mudd’s father named Electus Thomas recalled an encounter with Herold “at dusk.” [v] Dr. Mudd’s father’s farm is only ¼ of a mile from Dr. Mudd’s home indicating that the two waited until daylight was nearly gone before daring to move into the open roads.

The route used by Booth and Herold to leave the Mudd farm between 4 and 5 pm on April 15, 1865

We hope these videos help give a new understanding of the story of April 15, 1865 at the Mudd farm. It was eye opening seeing the actual conditions experienced by those involved. It helped bring a better understanding of the manhunt and the timing of Booth and Herold’s arrival and departure from the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House.

[i] Lincoln Assassination File M599, Reel V, frame 226.

[ii] Poore, The Conspiracy Trial for the Murder of the President, Volume II (Boston: J.E. Tilton and Company, 1865), 316.

[iii] Lincoln Assassination File M599, Reel V, 212-225.

[iv] Butler Woman Cooked Breakfast for Booth after He had Killed Lincoln at Close of Civil War.” Butler Eagle (Butler, Pennsylvania), March 16, 1929.

[v] Lincoln Assassination File M-619, Reel VI, frame 363.