JOHN WILKES BOOTH AND THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION: This medical kit, beyond its historical link to the assassination, also serves as an excellent example of what a mid-nineteenth century country doctor had with him when he made his house calls.
EMBOSSED LABEL READS: “F. Arnold & Sons, Manufacturers of Surgical Instruments, 15 S. Sharp St., Baltimore.”
DESCRIPTION OF THIS PHOTOGRAPH: Dr. Mudd’s kit is displayed open, unclasped, so the medical instruments are displayed inserted into the sewn leather loops, each designed to hold a specific instrument in the most efficient manner. Efficiency was important because in 1865 country doctors rode horseback to treat patients. These surgical instruments had to handle as many potential surgical situations as possible and still be carried on horseback in the doctor’s famous “little black bags”. In addition to a variety of scissors, scalpels, tweezers and probes, you can see at the top a rounded suture needle—pinned to a piece of paper with the number 5 on it. Next to the needle is a flat roll of suture thread with the words “Surgeon’s Pure Silk, Warranted No. 7”. On the far right flap, the name of the manufacturer is embossed and slightly to the right of it is a clasp that would have attached to the back of the opposing flap once the entire kit was folded.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: After shooting
Dr. Mudd at first claimed that he did not recognize Booth and proceeded to treat him as he would any patient. The left leg had swollen badly and the Doctor cut the boot from the leg, set it and sent him on the way some 12-15 hours later. As military forces, pursuing Booth, searched the area they came upon Dr. Mudd’s house and, when questioned, he denied seeing or knowing Booth. A few days later, the military returned and arrested Mudd. Mudd was jailed and stood trial before a military tribunal. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he was released and pardoned after replacing a prison doctor who had died during a yellow fever outbreak. Many have come to doubt Dr. Mudd’s role in the conspiracy and many have tried to exonerate him.
This surgical kit was taken during the arrest of Dr. Samuel Mudd as a co-conspirator in Booth’s ill-fated scheme. Dr. Mudd received a life sentence—escaping the death penalty by just one vote.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Carol M. Highsmith.
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