Tag: Undertaker

Day 992: The John Wilkes Booth World Tour


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…

Day 440: Strange Tales From the Hall of Inventors


If you’re wandering through the halls of the National Inventors Hall of Fame museum in Alexandira, Virginia, then congratulations, you have more free time than most of us. This is a shame, because something is lost when we forget the paths these visionaries blazed for us. We might remember some of the most pertinent events – Thomas Edison inventing the steam-powered lemonade dispenser, Henry Ford coming up with the idea for pizza-flavored Pringles, Andy Williams constructing the first ceiling fan out of cabbage leaves and a tensor bandage – but the inspirational stories behind the stories will be lost to the ages unless this museum preserves them.

For example, did you know that Theophilus Van Kannel, the inventor of the revolving door, also invented the Witching Waves amusement park ride at Coney Island pictured above? Of course you didn’t! That’s what you pay me for.


In 1890, Russan Jew Conrad Hubert decided to come to America. He’d made a good living (and earned a formal education) making and selling booze back home, but there were few opportunities in that field when he landed. He tried opening a few businesses: a cigar store, a restaurant, a jewelry store, a milk wagon route, a farm, and a boarding house – hey, it was New York in a time when Ellis Island was still shuffling the huddled masses inward from distant lands. A guy had to find the right fit. Read more…