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Six Degrees of Separation - Or Less

The Smithsonian Associates Civil War E-Mail Newsletter, Volume 5, Number 2

Ever since Dr. Samuel Mudd was convicted of conspiracy in the murder of Abraham Lincoln, the remaining Mudds of Maryland have attempted to clear his name. The family always held that Mudd was innocent, that he had never met Booth before, and that he did not know who Booth was when he came to Mudd's farmhosue with a broken leg. They also insist Booth wore a disguise that night. The facts don't bear this out. It's been proven that Mudd met Booth several times previously, and that Mudd was a known Confederate sympathizer. As for the disguise, Mrs. Mudd later said Booth's beard and mustache kept falling off that night, and the next morning Booth didn't use a disguise at all. Although it was 137 years ago, two Mudd cousins, born long after their grandfather died, have fought to clear his name, literally until their own dying days.

Mudd's grandson, Dr. Richard Mudd of Lansing, Michigan, died this May at age 101. He was most famous for petitioning every president since Franklin Roosevelt to pardon his grandfather. Legally, the president can only commute the sentence, which Andrew Johnson did in 1869 to reward Mudd for assisting the prison staff at Ft. Jefferson, Florida during a yellow fever epidemic. Samuel Mudd cannot be pardoned, but that never stopped Richard Mudd or the others from trying.

His cousin, Louise Mudd Arehart, was born in the same house where Samuel Mudd treated John Wilkes Booth. She died last March at age 84. She was already elderly and still living in the house when she says her grandfather appeared to her. That vision inspired her to restore the old house and open it to tourists. She said her grandfather appeared to her afterward and he seemed much happier now that his side of the story was being told.

Arehart would greet tour buses from the front porch dressed as her grandmother might have been the night Booth arrived. Then she or another family member would escort groups through the house, and in the melodic accents heard only in these parts of southeastern Maryland, tell the Mudd version of events. The most important stop was the bookstore, where she encouraged everyone to buy her books about the Mudds, or pamphlets with Maryland crab cake recipes, or miscellaneous items of Confederabilia. She let you know she appreciated it if you had exact change.

Not long ago we were on one of those tours and we listened to the saga of the poor country doctor who made the mistake of answering his door in the early hours of April 15, 1865. Most of us were skeptical, but that didn't diminish the sense of intrigue or the excitement we felt being at the scene of these historic events, and in the presence of this lively lady. She was something.

We met a lady whose mother's father knew the man who killed Abraham Lincoln. That's just four degrees of separation. Now Louise Mudd Arehart and the Mudds of her generation are gone, and the degrees of separation will grow. Right now it's hard to believe that just four degrees separate us from Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Samuel Mudd, and the most defining event in American history.