The Lincoln Conspiracyback to the list
Alive (if not well) in Beloit in 1898
On April 20, 1889, 33 years after the murder of President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth, and the death of Booth in a Virginia barn, folks in Beloit, Wisconsin, Beloiters read in their local paper, The Beloit Daily News, a story from Mrs. J. M. Christ, described as a "gray-haired old lady living at 343 Euclid Avenue."
The headline in 1889, did justice to a journalistic tradition of sensational if not always accurate pronouncements, preserved today and found today now only in newspapers, but on television talks shows (and often the evening news), and publications usually found near the check-out lane of our local supermarkets.
BELOIT WOMAN WAS ON BOARD A VESSEL THAT
CARRIED THE ASSASSIN FROM HAVANA
ON HIS FLIGHT TO THE BAHAMAS ISLANDS
SHE BREAKS SILENCE OF MORE THAN THIRTY YEARS
Mrs. J. M. Christ Tells How Lincoln's Slayer Did Not
Die in a Burning Virginia Barn as is Supposed
Fox, the Accomplice, who closely Resembled Booth,
was the Man Shot
Mrs. Christ went on to tell how she, and her first husband, were on her husband's ship, the Mary Porter, in Havana, in June, 1865 (two months after Booth was killed). She tells of Booth taking passage on their ship to Nassau, and of giving up her stateroom to accommodate Booth and Captain Ralph Semmes, the famous commander of the Confederate raider, the Alabama. She tells of a one week trip, she and her husband spending time with Booth and Semmes playing card games of euchre and seven-up, but never speaking of Lincoln.
Mrs. Christ announced that it was not Booth killed in that Virginia barn, but his accomplice Fox.
Her story ends with her telling of seeing Booth in Nassau, following the voyage, a number of times over a two week period, and that he embarked on the steamer Wild Pigeon for England, with Captain Semmes. The crowning point of her story was that Booth had taken from a "little cabinet," and given to her a "large diamond ring in a gold setting," and on the inside of the ring were the initials "J.W.B." Mrs. Christ is then quoted as saying: "That is a little piece of property that I wouldn't take a great deal for." However, the story makes no mention of her displaying the ring to the reporter, where it was, nor what happened to it - nor did the reporter, apparently ask to see the ring.
Mrs. Christ also described her activities during the Civil War, sailing with her husband on his blockade runner during the War, and took credit for the "honor of having made the first secesh flag that was ever flung into the balmy breezes of Louisiana. That work being done aboard the Mary Porter on a voyage between New York and New Orleans. Seventy-five yards of bunting were used, the flag containing seven stars.
Mrs. Christ's story fails in several historical points. Had she not included Captain Raphael Semmes in her "story" it might have become part of the Lincoln Murder Conspiracy tales that still spring up today. The activities and location of Ralph Semmes, during the months of April, May, June and July of 1865, and particularity June, 1865, when the sailing trip of the Mary Porter, where he was said by Mrs. Christ to be sailing with Booth, are well known and documented. After the sinking of the CSA Alabama by the USS Kearsage, off the coast of France on June 19, 1864, Semmes escaped capture and went to England. Working his way back to the South, he was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Confederate Navy, and took charge of the James River Squadron. At the fall of Richmond, he caused the James River Squadron to be blown-up, and took his sailors to Danville, Virginia. Admiral Semmes, taking the position that his admiral's rank was equal to that of an army brigadier general, and that he had no ships to command, sought and obtain a commission as a Confederate Brigadier General, of an army unit. He was the only man, North or South, to serve in the Civil War as both an Admiral and a General. Semmes served under General Johnston, and was present at his surrender at Greensboro, North Carolina, May 1, 1865, and was paroled. He then returned to his home in Mobile, Alabama, but was arrested, indicted for piracy, and spent the next four months in jail. He was subsequently released on his parole, and never formally charged or tired for piracy. Semmes later served as a probate judge, professor of moral philosophy at Louisiana Military Institute (the forerunner of Louisiana State University), edited a newspaper, and died in 1877. Raphael Semmes, who extensively wrote of his war experiences, never mentioned a sailing voyage with John Wilkes Booth, and as he was in jail in Mobile, Alabama, during June, 1865, such a voyage never occurred.
Mr. Christ's statement that "Booth's accomplice Fox," which the story reports..."by a strange coincidence...also limped, as from a broken leg, and had a scar upon his neck as Booth had"...does not exist in any historical reports or records. There was a man by the name of Samuel Cox, a Virginia farmer, who was reported to have given a meal to Booth, and his traveling companion David Herold (later hung as one of the Lincoln assassins), and recruited his (Cox's) adopted son, Thomas A. Jones, to hide the fugitives and provide them with a boat to cross the Potomac River, but Samuel Cox was not with Booth in that Virginia Barn.
Regardless of the above facts, certainly known in 1898, the next day, April 21, 1898, the Beloit Daily News published another "eye witness" report, claiming that Mrs. Christ was right - Booth did not die in that Virginia Barn.
W.D. Kenzie Corroborates the Statements of
Mrs. Christ as the Escape of
J. Wilkes Booth
HE KNEW ASSASSIN WELL
Mr. Kenzie was at the Virginia Barn and
Declares Positively the Man Killed
There was not Lincoln's Slayer
WITNESSED LINCOLN'S DEATH
Mr. Kenzie, in 1898 a 53 year old Beloit lumber merchant and manufacturer of sash-doors, a Civil War veteran, and in his story to the Beloit Daily News reported that he personally knew John Wilkes Booth, having met him in New Orleans, and "they became very good friends and associates covering a period of about four months" in the Winter of 1862-1863. Mr. Kenzie went on to tell that he had been sent to Washington, D.C., in March of 1865, the actual date never stated, on a recruiting trip. He was at Ford's Theater the night President Lincoln was shot, saying:
"On the night of the assassination of President Lincoln, I went to Ford's theater and was present at the time that booth killed President Lincoln. I was looking at my program and did not see Booth when he jumped. I heard the shot and saw Booth standing on the platform and recognized him instantly. I then looked at my program to see of Booth was in the play, but did not find him. Then I discovered the commotion on the stage and in Lincoln's box, then I stood up and saw Booth with his hand raised shouting 'Sic Semper tyannus.' As Booth turned to move off, I noticed that he was dressed with high riding boots and limping in his right leg. I was badly scared and jumped up and beat it and got my horse and went over to Georgetown as fast as the horse could carry me and reported it over there."
Mr. Kenzie then tells that he later "joined up with Sergeant Cobertt's Co. of 5th Mass. Cavalry," in the hunt for the assassin Booth. His story continues that he was there, in person, April 26, 1865, twelve days after the assassination, when Booth was reported killed in that Virginia barn. He reported that he personally viewed the body taken from the burning barn, and that the "face was exposed enough so that I could see the color of his hair and side of his face and from the fact that this man had sandy hair and Booth had very dark hair, I knew at once it wasn't he." Continuing, Mr. Kenzie stated, "his body was exposed, on the lower part of it and he had no injured leg that I could see and he did not have on riding boots, but I think ordinary shoes and I sized him up as being an ordinary Virginia farmer." Finally, Mr. Kenzie makes a flat out statement, "what I do know and positively state is that it was not the body of John Wilkes Booth."
In 1922, at age 77, Mr. Kenzie gave a sworn affidavit, where he repeated the statements made in the 1898 newspaper article, but added to it. He claimed in his affidavit "I rode in Lincoln's funeral procession as escort from the White House to the Capital down Pennsylvania Avenue." He further claimed to have been detailed as a guard at the trial of the six conspirators, in Washington.
Mr. Kenzie's story holds several questions as to its accuracy. First, "Sergeant Corbett" who is generally acknowledged as the man who shot Booth in that Virginia barn, was a member of the 16th New York Calvary, not the 5th Mass. Calvary. Booth was killed on April 26, 1865, eleven days after he had shot the President. The President's body was moved from the White House to the Capital on April 19, 1865, and on April 21, 1865, his body started its long trip to Springfield. The claim of Mr. Kenzie that he "rode in Lincoln's funeral procession" while at the same time with a calvary unit searching for Booth (somehow, as a Regular Army artilleryman leaving his own unit and attaching himself to a volunteer Calvary unit) leaves some doubt as to its creditability.
Second, although it is quite possible that Mr. Kenzie, while stationed in New Orleans during the Winter of 1862-1863 had occasion to see Booth in a performance, Booth extensively traveling throughout the entire Civil War period, including a period in New Orleans, it was not probable that Mr. Kenzie and Mr. Booth "became very good friends and associates covering a period of four months." Mr. Kenzie, born June 20, 1844 (according to his obituary at his death in 1927), would have been eighteen years old during the winter of 1882-1863. John Wilkes Booth, a distinguished actor, would have been twenty-four. Booth's support for the Confederate cause has been well documented, and it would appear he would have had little, if anything, in common with young eighteen year old Michigan artilleryman.
Third, the body of Booth was taken to the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., there was an autopsy, the body examined and identified by at least ten different individuals, including Booth's dentist, and a physician who had performed a minor surgical procedure on Booth's neck.
In February, 1869, Booth's body was exhumed for re-burial in the Booth family plot, and again identified, when buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Baltimore. Mr. Kenzie's position on this fact is, "I'll stake my life on it no one was ever buried there." Nothing, of course, deters the conspiracy buff.
Mr. Kenzie, in the Beloit Daily News article of April 21, 1989, relates how he met Booth, as follows:
"He was a regular visitor at our quarters and often brought friends with him. As first sergeant it was my duty to show visitors about and thus I became thoroughly acquainted with the man who was to figure as a principal in the crowning tragedy of the century."
Mr. Kenzie's service in the Civil War, according to his written statements, and an affidavit, commenced with his enlistment, August 5, 1861, at Niles, Michigan, in Company F of the Sixth Michigan Volunteers. With his birthday being June 20, 1844, he would have been 17 at the time of his enlistment. He stated that he had served "more than half" of his enlistment when he transferred to the Regular Army, and was assigned to Company F of the 1st U.S. Artillery, this would have made his transfer to the Regular Army sometime between January and March, 1863. He then tells, with justifiable pride of his promotion to Corporal, "soon after" to Lance Sergeant "for a short time," then Quartermaster Sergeant, and "not long after" to 1st Sergeant "before I was 19 years old which rank I held until I was discharged..." It, therefore, is highly unlikely that during the Winter of 1862-1863, when he was a private, or at best a corporal, he would have been running in the same social setting of John Wilkes Booth. Further, Mr. Kenzie in later years produced an affidavit from the commanding officer of Company F, supporting his claim, and that affidavit acknowledges the good service of Mr. Kenzie, giving his rank as Quartermaster Sergeant, not 1st Sergeant.
Although one would think that two such sensational stories as that from Mrs. Christ and Mr. Kenzie would generate a great deal of at least local discussion, there does not appear any further stories in the Beloit paper on the subject of Booth. One reason, perhaps, was the commencement of the Spanish-American War in April, 1898, and the departure of Beloit's National Guard for that conflict the week following the Christ and Kenzie stories, which made this old, and less than patriotic news, fall out of favor. Perhaps the stories were recognized as being myths.
But Mr. Kenzie would be heard from again, when on June 9, 1923, The Beloit Daily News again published his story. In 1923, at age 78, Mr. Kenzie added numerous details to his story, the article repeated the tale of Mrs. Christ (then dead), concluded that "history has been hoaxed." In 1923 Mr. Kenzie claims he had been visited "within the past few years" by a man named Bates, a family friend of the Booths and companion of the assassin, who told Kenzie that Booth had worked his way from Europe to Texas, and had died six years ago (1917), in Oklahoma. It's probable that Mr. Kenzie had read a book by Finis L. Bates, published in 1907, entitled The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth, for his added statements, and perhaps even met with Mr. Bates, but Mr. Kenzie's name does not appear in Bates' book as an authority for his discredited conspiracy theories. It's interesting to note that in a letter to Bates, dated January 22, 1922, Mr. Kenzie wrote: "I have seen his (Booth's) finger ring which he took off and gave a lady who was the wife of the Ship Captain, all of which can prove that the party is alive and lives on." We can assume he refers to the ring Mrs. Christ claimed Booth gave her. If he “lives on” in 1922 Booth would have been 84 years old, and in the 58 years since his death in 1865, he had remained totally silent about what he considered to be his noble deed in killing President Lincoln.
As in 1898, the second story published in the local press, received no response nor did further stories about the subject appear. Not to be disheartened, yet another reporter from The Beloit Daily News discovered the Kenzie story, this time in 1956, going through the twice told tale all over again, and as before there was no follow-up story printed.
The June 14, 1923 edition of The Beloit Daily News, did, however, give Mr. Kenzie the opportunity, in an article separate from the Booth Story, to be extensively quoted regarding his opinions on the trial of Mary E. Surratt, one of the Booth conspirators, based on his claim that he was a guard at her trial. The caption of the story reads:
MOCKERY OF JUSTICE, BELOITER SAYS
In this article the reporter colorfully described Mr. Kenzie's participation in the sad events of April and May, 1865, as follows:
"Kenzie was 'one man in a million' among the thousands in the Union Army, in that fate directed his presence first at New Orleans, where he made the personal acquaintance with the actor, later taking him to Washington and drawing him to the scene of the alleged Booth slaying, then minutes after Boston Corbett had mowed down his victim; and finally put him in command of the guard of soldiers at the room in which Mrs. Surratt and other alleged accomplices of Booth's were given their "mockery of a trial' and sentenced."
Mr. Kenzie promotes himself to "command of the guard of soldiers" during the trial, and the artful use of the words "victim" for the man killed in that Virginia barn, and "alleged" for the conspirators, gives rise to a less than objective viewpoint on the part of the reporter. Elsewhere in the article Mr. Kenzie is quoted as saying that the results of his observation of the trial and "several and related incidents...made me a Democrat for life. I had fought for the union for four years, but I never condone such tactics against my worst enemy."
Mr. Kenzie called the trial a "frameup," because "First, of course, I knew that the alleged slain 'Booth' was not Booth." He stated that the body had been hidden, then buried, and there was never any inspection of the body from that Virginia barn. He was, of course, mistaken, official records of the autopsy of Booth, and the examination of his body by physicians before it was buried, are well documented. Mr. Kenzie, however, was offended, after those long years, by the lack of legal jurisprudence, and absence of the basic Constitutional rights denied the Lincoln conspirators, by a military and not a civil trial.
It's easy to look back in history and say what should have been done. What was done in 1865 was in context of the time, the elation of the end of the Civil War, and then national shock of the murder of President Lincoln and attempts to kill other Union leaders. There was nationwide suspicion of a Confederate plot for vengeance, retribution and possibly a continuation of the fighting regardless of the surrender of the Confederate Army. We had experienced four years of the worst of all wars, a civil war, Americans killing Americans. There had been a promise of stability, President Lincoln was in control, he had over three more years to serve as President to handle the aftermath of the Civil War...with him gone nobody knew what was going to happen. Were men like Lee and Davis to be tried for treason? Were the Southern States to be required to pay for the Civil War by seizing or confiscating property, it was a given that the slaves as property existed no longer. There was a large boiling cauldron, immediate public calls for "vengeance" for the killing of the President and the military trial was the pragmatic cost for keeping the lid on. The American Civil War, with hundreds of thousands dying, ended with the hanging of four people involved in the murder of President Lincoln, and hanging of one Confederate, the man in command of Anderson Prison, as a sacrificial scapegoat for the thousands who died of neglect as prisoners of war. It one will take the time to compare Reconstruction after the American Civil War, with the horrors committed after other civil wars in ancient and modern history, our mistakes were few indeed.
The reader, if interested in reading more about the myths created by the murder of President Lincoln, myths that persist today in the minds of those of the "conspiracy cult" who walk among us, should look at "The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies," by William Hanchett, published in 1986, which in itself destroys most if not all of the conspiracy nonsense, but also offers an extensive bibliography of the dozens of books and articles about the subject, giving all sides. Although I have attempted, and failed, to find the names of either Mrs. Christ or Mr. Kenzie, or their stories, in any books on the subject of Booth and the assassination of President Lincoln, their “stories” are part of the history of Beloit, Wisconsin.