Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Boot, A Tiny Whittled Rocking Chair, and Jewelry Made of Hair

Yes! I finally made Dr. Mudd's house, a stop on the famed escape route that John Wilkes Booth made on the night he murdered President Lincoln. Dr Mudd served less than five years of a life sentence off the coast of Florida for aiding the assassin, who he claimed was too well disguised in a fake mustache to recognize the night he cut his boot off to set his broken leg at his house. (Oh, those wily confederate sympathizers! Always with the uber-convincing mustaches!)

Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation understated just how fascinating it is to visit a museum run entirely by various descendents of the subject, rummaging (at one point stumbling) through a century's worth of dusty, ill-preserved antiques (sad, really) and to constantly try to read a framed text only to be interrupted because the framer cut off the important part. What drives a family to do this? The evidence clearing Dr. Mudd's name is scant--it's generally confirmed he was a conspirator or a confederate sympathizer of conspiracy. So where is the motivation? If Dr. Mudd, confederate sympathizer, conspirator to aid Lincoln assassins, were your great great great grand-uncle, as he is to some docent(s), what would be your gain to display how much stuff your family had? Wouldn't you be tempted to chalk him up to a humiliating bad egg? To forget him? It gives a sense of identity, and a common struggle, I guess, to unite around a house full of stuff and photos that people pay $5 to see.

I want to make fun of old stuff, like the dusty couch Booth sat on that still sits up in the drawing room in the house, or the jewelry made out of braided hair that someone in the 19th century Mudd family tree made, but something is stopping me. Maybe it's that I'm realizing that in the whole county down there only one person voted for Lincoln, and only around 13 in the whole state--exactly what that means. That people in the state where I'm from tried four times to kidnap and/or assassinate him, and all to maintain a really f-ed up situation that made some of them rich and others of them just steeped in racial hatred and poverty. It stops being funny at weird moments, and then starts being funny when I think of the tiny wooden rocking chair that one of the conspirators whittled is in a glass case in the house. Not funny, just sad. Confusing. Funny. And so I return to wondering about the descendents and why they're doing this.

So conspirators like Ed Spangler are seen as people, too?

Whittlers of rocking chairs? I wonder.
Look at him, and then, next to assassination conspirator, think, whittler. of _tiny_ rocking chairs.

I'm glad that the Dr Mudd house is there. It's conflicted, disgusting at times, effusively materialistic, and definitely a place I wouldn't feel comfortable alone. They don't sell Sarah Vowell's book in their store, but the Surratt Tavern 30 minutes away stocks two copies, and I am glad for that.

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