Monday, November 26, 2007

Face lift for Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas [National Park Service]

Word comes from the Associated Press that the National Park Service is finally starting on a three-year, $6-million project to refurbish Fort Jefferson, the installation in the Dry Tortugas off Key West where Dr. Samuel Mudd was imprisoned.

Mudd was the physician who set John Wilkes Booth's leg after he broke it escaping after assassinating President Abraham Lincoln. After Mudd was convicted of conspiracy and harboring a fugitive, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was sent to Fort Jefferson.

Reason for delay on the refurbishing project: a couple of busy hurricane seasons.

Curiously, the Associated Press article didn't mention anything about the Dr. Mudd connection.

Mudd always maintained his innocence. Although he knew John Wilkes Booth, he said he didn't recognize him when he and another conspirator showed up at Mudd's door at 3 a.m. after the assassination. The men used other names.

Mudd set Booth's leg and put splints on it and bandaged it up. Then he had his handyman make a pair of crutches for Booth, who then left with the other man.

Mudd tried to escape but he didn't get very far. He stayed in touch with his wife by mail. And his wife wrote to President Andrew Johnson asking for her husband to be released.

After Mudd had been in prison for a couple of years, yellow fever struck the island. The prison's physician died and Mudd took over helping the sick. He came down with the fever himself, but recovered.

His efforts to help people didn't go unrecognized. Soldiers from the fort signed a petition signed in support of Dr. Mudd. In 1869, after less than four years at Fort Jefferson, Dr. Mudd was released. President Johnson signed the order. He settled back on his farm and continued his medical practice.

Mudd died in 1883 at the age of 49.

The phrase "your name is Mudd" is widely believed to be a reference to Dr. Mudd. Some sources, however, suggest that the term was in use in England well before Lincoln was assassinated.

The British Web site references a 1823 book Slang- A dictionary of the turf etc. by John Babcock, in which the word mud is defined as "a stupid twaddling fellow. 'His name is mud!' ejaculated upon the conclusion of a silly oration ...' "

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