These photographs retrace the escape route of John Wilkes Booth as he fled from Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC after shooting and killing President Lincoln. During Booth’s 12-day and approximately 75-mile flight, he struggled to understand why he was not greeted as a liberator and war hero. His flight led to trials and public hanging of his conspirators and the federal government’s first execution of a woman. Booth himself was shot and killed following a confrontation with Union soldiers near Port Royal, Virginia; a hero in his own mind and a villain to history.
Tracing his path almost 150 years later, the route is now a mixture of urban living, declining suburbs, new housing developments, rural pockets of country living, and highway commuter culture. The landscape is a palimpsest, etched with stories upon stories, encoding the mythologies that we create for ourselves about contemporary life in the United States.
After making contact with Confederate sympathizers in southern Maryland, John Wilkes Booth and his companion hid in a nearby pine thicket for nearly four days. Union Troops searched the area and were close enough to be heard by the fugitives.
A sympathizer brought food and newspapers as they waited to flee again. The newspapers revealed that Booth had been universally condemned. In disbelief, he wrote in his pocket diary "Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment. The country is not what it was."
In their first attempt to cross the two-mile wide Potomac River to Virginia, Booth and his companion rowed all night with errant navigation only to emerge upstream from where they started on the Maryland shore. Booth's pocket diary described the "night being chased by gunboats till I was forced to return wet, cold, and starving, with every man's hand against me, I am here in despair. And why? For doing what Brutus was honored for. What made Tell a hero?" None of the gunboats logged a sighting of the fugitives. The crossing took place again the following evening.