The top photo is John Wilkes Booth in his 20’s, the second photo is the man who claimed to be Booth, age 63, embalmed and displayed before mummification. The Third photo is the mummified body that was displayed around the country.
On January 13, 1903 a man in Enid, Oklahoma, by the name of David E. George died. in his last dying statement, the man confessed to his landlord, Mrs. Harper, that he was in fact John Wilkes Booth. He told them that if they doubted him, then they should go to the rooming house where he lived and look behind the chair and they would find a loose board in the wall. The gun he used to kill Lincoln would be behind the board along with some papers helping to identify him. Well they found these things. This was soon the topic of discussion around town. The January 22, 1903 Enid Wave bore the following article banked with headlines:
WAS IT BOOTH?
The Impression Growing, From Evidence,
Circumstantial and Otherwise, that
the Supposed Remains of
David E. George are None
Other Than the Remains of
JOHN WILKES BOOTH!
The most remarkable circumstance surrounding the dead man, as links to the fact that his right leg was broken just above the ankle, years ago,… Besides these lines, comes to the fact that J. Wilkes Booth was born in 1839 and was twenty-six years of age when the assassination took place and sixty-three years old in 1902, if living, which is the exact age of George as found in his papers…
One thing is certain, the remains now lying embalmed in the Pennimann Undertaking Rooms should not be buried until the identity is made more clear…”
The remains of David E. George’s body were mummified and kept on display at the undertakers’ for many months. Shortly thereafter, Finis L. Bates, a Memphis Lawyer, bought the mummy and began presenting it on the circus side show circuit.
In 1931, at the urging of a showman that owned the mummy, the remains were X-rayed, operated on, and otherwise examined by a group of medical men and criminalists in Chicago, Illinois. It was claimed that the fractured leg, the broken thumb, and the scar on the neck were all verified. The panel was convinced that they had proven that the mummy was in fact the remains of John Wilkes Booth. Despite the fact that the panel consisted of recognized experts in their field, the investigation failed to gain wide publicity.
1937 saw several events that helped to make the financial turn-a-round for the seemingly ill-fated mummy. This was the year that Otto Eisenschimil released his book “Why Was Lincoln Murdered?” This author produced a vast amount of documentation that suggested that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton was the ringleader of the plot to kill Lincoln and that Stanton arranged to facilitate the escape of Booth. This book, while not exactly expounding on the possibility for Booth’s escape, none-the-less made it seem feasible. Another historical volume published in that year was “This One Mad Act” by Izola Forrester, a great daughter of John Wilkes Booth. This book presented evidence that members of her family were in personal contact with the assassin for a generation after 1865. As a result of these two books, 1937 saw much newspaper coverage of the controversy of the Lincoln assassination in general.
Mr. and Mrs. John Harkin owned the mummy from 1937 until at least 1942. (Mr. Harkin had been the former tattooed man for the Wallace-Hagenbeck Circus.) They toured the country with the Jay Gould Million Dollar Shows for several seasons.
In 1903 when Finis L. Bates read the news concerning the death of David E. George in Enid, Oklahoma, he rushed to Enid to check it out. Bates, in the early 1870’s, in Texas, had been a close friend with a man going by the name John St. Helen. When St. Helen became very ill he confided to Bates (he thought he was on his death-bed) that HE was John Wilkes Booth. St. Helen recovered. Later, when Bates asked St. Helen about the confession, St. Helen denied he ever said it. When Bates read the news of David E. George, nearly 30 years later, claiming to have been John Wilkes Booth, Bates became curious. he wondered if John St. Helen and David E. George were one in the same person.
Upon arriving in Enid, Bates headed to the Pennimann Undertakers Rooms to see the body of David E. George. Yes! This was the man he had known as John St. Helen. Bates secretly bought the mummy and took it back to Memphis. He spent five years conducting what he called research to prepare a book about this matter. (He hid the mummy in his garage during this time!) In 1908, Bates released his book. According to his book, the main plot goes something like this:
On the afternoon of April 25, 1865, Booth remembered that he had left his diary, wallet and other personal effects in the marsh a few miles from the Garrett farm. He asked a man by the name of Ruddy, who was caretaker at the Garrett farm, to retrieve them for him. Ruddy left to get them. Meanwhile, Booth got wind that government agents were closing in on him so he took off on his own leaving Herold behind. When Ruddy returned with Booth’s personal items he found that Booth was gone. Expecting him to return, Ruddy kept the personal items on his own person. Herold and Ruddy slept in the barn that night. When the government agents arrived this is why the man in the barn denied he was Booth. This is also why Booth’s personal belongings were found on the body of the man shot in the barn. Lastly, Bates made the claim that no reward money was ever actually paid to anyone for the capture of Booth but yet rewards were paid for the capture of Atzerodt and Payne. Therefore, this proved that the government knew they had the wrong man and that Booth was never caught.