On April 26, 1865, Sergeant Boston Corbett shot and killed John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin who was hiding out in the barn of a tobacco barn in Caroline County, Virginia. Or did he? Some historians have suggested that the man in the barn wasn't Booth, and that he lived for several more decades under assumed names before committing suicide. Now, Booth's descendants have authorized the exhumation of John Wilkes Booth's brother, Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, to get a DNA sample and close the books on the case. The DNA will be compared with a sample from vertebrae of the man killed in the barn. The body itself is buried but bone samples are in the collection of the National Museum of Medicine and the (incredible) Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. From CNN:
"I just feel we have a right to know who's buried there,'' said Lois Trebisacci, 60, who told The Boston Globe she is Edwin Booth's great-great-great granddaughter.
In 1995, the family tried to exhume the body inside the family plot that contains the man shot in the barn, but a judge denied the request.
"The family was as much interested in disproving [the escape] theory as they were in proving it,'' Mark Zaid, an attorney for Trebisacci, told the Globe…
A spokesman told The Inquirer that the National Museum of Health and Medicine was concerned about damage to the precious piece of history, just for the sake of trying to debunk a myth. But Jan Herman, chief historian for the Navy Medical Department and special assistant to the Navy surgeon general in Washington, said since only a small drill would be used, the sample wouldn't be damaged.
It's very much a case of weighing what's worth it.
"If it compares favorably, that's the end of the controversy," Herman told the Inquirer. "That was Booth in the barn, end of case.
"If it doesn't match, you change American history."
UPDATE: BB reader Noah Kuttler says, "Brad Meltzer's Decoded" on the History Channel spent an entire episode on this topic last Thursday. The episode is currently available on their website and something I am sure Boing Boing readers would appreciate seeing since it has all the details (and more) on the topic. "Decoded: The Lincoln Assassination" (Also, thanks Jason Weisberger!)