When John Wilkes Booth was crouching in Richard H. Garrett’s tobacco barn, listening to Lieutenant Colonel Everton Conger’s orders to surrender, he decided to go out with a bang. He refused the surrender, then once the barn was lit on fire he took a bullet to the neck, delivered by Sergeant Boston Corbett. He was dead by the break of dawn, less than two weeks after he had prematurely terminated the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre.
Or was he?
Way out in the sprawling suburbs of historical perception there exists the notion that the man whose life was snuffed to a nub in that barn was actually a man named James William Boyd, a Confederate soldier who looked enough like Booth that his body passed through ten pairs of identifying eyes (not counting the pair that aimed the gun that took his life), as well as an official autopsy. The composers of this theory also posit that the government knew about the mix-up and let it happen. Because where is the fun in a murder without a deep and sinister government conspiracy?
As for the “real” John Wilkes Booth… well, on the off-chance that this is all true, we can say with a relative certainty that Booth was, in fact, this guy:
One day in 1873, some eight years after the furor over the Lincoln assassination had been pressed between the leaves of history, Memphis lawyer Finis L. Bates met and befriended a liquor and tobacco merchant named John St. Helen. It’s good to get to know the man who sells you booze and smokes, and Bates was particularly taken by John’s ability to spout Shakespeare from memory. The two became good friends outside the seller-consumer relationship.
Five years later, John St. Helen was on what he believed to be his deathbed, profoundly ill. He confided in Finis Bates that he was in fact John Wilkes Booth. He asked Finis to advise his brother, Edwin Booth, of his demise. Then he recovered. Read more…
Like many who don’t seek to occupy their thoughts with world-shifting brilliance or cunning inventorism, I spend an inordinate amount of time in day-dreamy contemplation. I’ve written about a host of historic criminals, and sometimes it strikes me that the prose we are left with, which documents their foulest of deeds and paints the page red with the nefarious blood-spritz of their infamous acts, is somewhat lacking. These men were not evil masterminds who plotted their wickedness from the dimly-lit murk of a dastardly lair.
Well, maybe that was the case for someone like William “Boss” Tweed, but for the most part I think history’s monsters could be better understood – I say ‘understood’, not ‘forgiven’ – with a tiny relevé in perspective. Sometimes their heinous horrors were simply the path of least resistance to a sought-after goal.
Like survival. In the dazzling pantheon of American cannibalism stories, there’s a sparkling room reserved for Alferd Packer, the man who ascended into Colorado legend for having feasted upon an intrepid troupe of gold-hungry explorers one winter eve in 1874. What tipped him into infamy was little more than desperation, panic, and a sprinkling of unmanaged greed. Would any of us have done things differently?
Okay, probably. Almost definitely. What the hell, I guess I had to ask.
Alferd Packer – and his name was transcribed as both ‘Alfred’ and ‘Alferd’, though he preferred Alferd, allegedly because of a misspelled tattoo on his arm – served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was discharged for epilepsy then drifted west, earning a scant income as a small-time con man. Whether he was legitimately on the hunt for gold or whether he’d simply duped a team of money-hungry would-be prospectors into trusting his abilities as a gold-sniffing mountain man, we’ll never know. Read more…
All month long I have been receiving emails, letters, semaphore flags and be-noted thrown bricks, asking if I’ll be devoting Day 666 to Apollyon, the Father of Lies, the King of Babylon, the Ruler of Demons, the Roaring Lion, the Serpent of Old, the Wicked One… you know, that dude who hooked up with Robert Johnson at the crossroads and taught him how to invent the low-down dirty blues.
Well, no. What has Satan done for me lately? Do you think I sold my soul to be a government print shop drone? No, Satan can find some other schmuck to pen a missive to his madness. My curiosities lean more toward the more esoteric, the seldom-explored quirks and quarks of the world. Everyone knows the story of Satan.
But what about the story of 666 itself? It’s the Number of the Beast, sure. But it’s just a number. Today happens to mark 666 days since January 1 of last year. So what? Why should we burden ourselves with something as silly as hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia?
An astute observer will notice the three hexes in that word and the ‘phobia’ at the end and rightly deduce that it means a fear of the number 666. This delves from the source of most of our humanly fears that don’t involve being eaten by something or stepping on a strewn piece of recently discarded gum: religion. Revelations 13:18 features this little number only once, and even then its actual meaning is open to a bit of interpretation. Read more…
So you want to learn more about astrology. Maybe you’re seeking answers and guidance from the stars, or perhaps you’re just looking to fleece a few bucks off the gullible suckers who think they can find answers and guidance in the stars. No matter – you’re going to need to learn the skill of identifying astronomical symbols.
These little pictographs were used to represent various thingies in the sky, beginning back in the days of the Greek papyri from the late classical era. The standard symbols have been used ever since, from the Byzantine era up through modern times, as a means for astronomers and astrologers to keep track of all those chunks of rock and gases that flicker and fly through the cosmos.
Here’s a handy guide to remembering which symbols are which. Because astrology appears far more mystical and cool when you’re reading unintelligible symbols instead of actual words. Read more…
Good morning, children of the star-spooged cosmos. How are you? It’s okay, it’s okay. Madame Chakra-Lubowitz knows how you are. It’s her job to know how you are. It’s also her job to tell you how you shall be. And you shall be well. Most of you, anyway. Some of you are screwed. But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s unlock the stars, plug into the planets and Facetime the future through the mystic sneeze-guard of Zodiac truth.
Make sure you check the expiry date of that yogurt before you callously shove it into your face. Also, that person you loaned money to last week spent most of it on microwavable food at Costco, and knew before they’d freed the first alfredo noodle from its flash-frozen prison that they would never pay you back. Take care, for every third quarter in your pocket is going to tumble through a vending machine or parking meter like pit-stink through cotton. Better bring more than you’ll need; it’ll be one of those damn days.
You’ll need this if you even want a hope at that sweet, sweet Mr. Pibb nectar today.