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Dr. Mudd’s House and the Greenbelt Connection

posted in: Day Trips

Dr. Mudd Home Museum

This is a day trip AND a Greenbelt story, as you’ll see.

I recently visited the Dr. Mudd Home Museum in Waldorf, about a 45-minute drive from here. Here’s some brief history, from the museum’s website:

Sam was a 31-year-old country doctor, and the father of four children…when President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., on Good Friday, April 14th, 1865. The assassin, actor John Wilkes Booth, broke his leg while fleeing the scene and needed medical attention. Accompanied on horseback by David Herold, Booth arrived at Dr. Mudd’s home at 4 a.m., April 15th. Sam splinted the broken limb and let the travelers rest for several hours in an upstairs bedroom before they continued their journey later that afternoon.

Dr. Mudd Home Museum
Above, the drawing room where Booth first was examined by Dr. Mudd as he lay on that red couch
Docent Kathy Labukas at Dr. Mudd Home Museum

The Greenbelter arrives! Kathy Labukus, life-long resident of Old Greenbelt and now my next-door neighbor, is not only a docent at the museum, but is a Mudd descendant herself! Here she is showing the tour group some photos of her great-great uncle, Samuel’s brother, and his wife. Today there are about 600 known direct descendants of Mudd but none of Booth or Lincoln. Hmm, what does that tell us?

Kathy told us that she was discovered as a potential docent for the Mudd Museum while leading a tour of Old Greenbelt, as a docent at the Greenbelt Museum. She made sure to recommend the group pay it a visit..(Nice plug for Greenbelt!)

Dr. Mudd Home Museum

Kathy described how all the items were collected for the dining room, including five chairs dating from the 1800s and owned by Dr. Mudd’s brother that she donated herself.

Dr. Mudd Home Museum

We learned that these chairs weren’t original to the home but are examples of the seats at Ford’s Theatre at that time. On the right is the usual chair for audience members – not too comfy – and on the left, the type of rocker Lincoln was sitting on that fateful night.

Dr. Mudd Home Museum

What happened to Dr. Mudd subsequent to that night seems somewhat clouded in mystery, or maybe a tale of no good deed going unpunished. Because punished Mudd was – sentenced to life in prison, and particularly nasty one at that. It was at Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s Kathy pointing to a painting of the fort, which Kathy has visited. She reports that the prison itself is falling apart but visitors (to what’s now a national park) can camp on the beach and enjoy the island in its current use as a wildlife refuge.

The upside to the unhealthy conditions at Fort Jefferson? Mudd saved so many lives during the yellow fever epidemic there that his wife’s appeals for his release were finally granted – by President Andrew Johnson in 1869.

We were told that Booth had met Mudd a year before the assassination at a meeting of the Confederacy Underground and had even visited this farm, so presumably he would have been recognized by Mudd and his family. Their defense was that Booth was disguised that night by a fake beard and mustache. But my question is: Even if they did recognize Booth, the Mudds didn’t find out about the assassination until the next day, so why was it a crime to treat Booth?

Dr. Mudd Home Museum

This case is filled with items made by Dr. Mudd during his time at Fort Jefferson, with a walking stick he made from fishbone sitting on top. Called a “swagger stick,” it was popular in the 1800s. (Mudd’s prison duties were in the carpentry department.)

Docent Kathy Labukas at Dr. Mudd Home Museum

Kathy was a terrific tour guide throughout the house and her passion for collecting antique kitchen appliances came in handy here in the Mudd family kitchen. Here she holds a strange utensil and asks if anyone in the group can guess what it was used for – nope! Turns out it was for washing clothes.

Exterior Dr. Mudd Home Museum

Visitors enter from the rear of the home, up the red ramp to the Visitors Office.Exterior Dr. Mudd Home Museum

A retired teacher, Kathy was great at engaging the kids on the tour, including these cuties from Australia. Their education has now been enhanced with up-close knowledge of an authentic outhouse (a two-seater!), plus some lovely chamber pots on display in the bedrooms.

But wait – visitors from Australia? They included a military family temporarily stationed in this area and parents visiting from Down Under. So while they didn’t fly here just to visit this museum, they also went to Gettysburg and seemed to be keen followers of American Civil War history. I say – go figure.

Exterior Dr. Mudd Home Museum

Out back is a fun little “Civil War Museum” created by Eddie Roberts, a member of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. He’s a Civil War reenactor, both as Union and Confederate soldiers.

Civil War room at Dr. Mudd Home Museum

Civil War buffs – homegrown or visiting from overseas – will love this little shack.

Civil War room at Dr. Mudd Home Museum

 

Sign at Dr. Mudd Home Museum

Finally, this berry-stained sign tells the story of Booth’s exit from the Mudd farm and eventual killing. From the museum’s website:

Leaving by way of a dirt road, Booth and Herold proceeded to Samuel Cox’s house in Bel Alton, Maryland, arriving later that same evening. On April 21st they crossed the river to Virginia and made their way to the Garrett farm near Bowling Green. In the early morning hours of April 26th, two weeks after the assassination, Union cavalry surrounded a tobacco shed where Booth was sleeping. They set fire to the shed. Booth was shot while trying to escape the flames. He died on the Garrett front porch.

IF YOU GO

The museum ‘s normal hours are every Wednesday and Saturday, from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm, and Sunday hours are 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm. The last tour begins at 3:30 pm. The last day of the regular 2018 season will be Sunday, November 18th.

But then they reopen on November 30, December 1 and 2 for their super Victorian Christmas. (Kathy recommends it highly).

The home and grounds are free for children 5 and under, $2.00 for children ages 6 to 12, and $7.00 for everyone 13 and up.

For directions, put “Mudd Museum Waldorf” into your GPS, not the street address (Learn from my mistake.)

On your way down Route 5 to the Mudd Museum you’ll pass close by the Surratt House Museum, it’s easy to add this other leg to your modern-day Booth journey.

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com and direct Good Gardening Videos.org, a nonprofit, ad-free educational campaign.

4 Responses

  1. Kathy Labukas
    | Reply

    Thank you, Susan, for your detailed article about the Dr. Samuel Mudd House Museum. I hope it encourages your readers to venture out to Southern Maryland to take a tour.

  2. Donna Snoddy
    | Reply

    Kathy, don’t know if you remember me (from St. Hughes), but this was a great story. Thank you for sharing!!!

  3. KATHERINE JARVA
    | Reply

    Yes, Thank you, Susan. Is definitely a destination in our future, since reading this article. Yea for Kathy, too.

  4. Wendy Osborne
    | Reply

    Thanks for the great tour!

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