Year
1865

Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth dies

John Wilkes Booth is killed when Union soldiers track him down to a Virginia farm 12 days after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

Twenty-six-year-old Booth was one of the most famous actors in the country when he shot Lincoln during a performance at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., on the night of April 14. Booth was a Maryland native and a strong supporter of the Confederacy. As the war entered its final stages, Booth hatched a conspiracy to kidnap the president. He enlisted the aid of several associates, but the opportunity never presented itself. After the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, Booth changed the plan to a simultaneous assassination of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward. Only Lincoln was actually killed, however. Seward was stabbed by Lewis Paine but survived, while the man assigned to kill Johnson did not carry out his assignment.

After shooting Lincoln, Booth jumped to the stage below Lincoln’s box seat. He landed hard, breaking his leg, before escaping to a waiting horse behind the theater. Many in the audience recognized Booth, so the army was soon hot on his trail. Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, made their way across the Anacostia River and headed toward southern Maryland. The pair stopped at Dr. Samuel Mudd’s home, and Mudd treated Booth’s leg. This earned Mudd a life sentence in prison when he was implicated as part of the conspiracy, but the sentence was later commuted. Booth found refuge for several days at the home of Thomas A. Jones, a Confederate agent, before securing a boat to row across the Potomac to Virginia.

After receiving aid from several Confederate sympathizers, Booth’s luck finally ran out. The countryside was swarming with military units looking for Booth, although few shared information since there was a $20,000 reward. While staying at the farm of Richard Garrett, Federal troops arrived on their search but soon rode on. The unsuspecting Garrett allowed his suspicious guests to sleep in his barn, but he instructed his son to lock the barn from the outside to prevent the strangers from stealing his horses. A tip led the Union soldiers back to the Garrett farm, where they discovered Booth and Herold in the barn. Herold came out, but Booth refused. The building was set on fire to flush Booth, but he was shot while still inside. He lived for three hours before gazing at his hands, muttering “Useless, useless,” as he died.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Country music star George Jones dies

On this day in 2013, legendary country singer and songwriter George Jones, whose numerous hit songs include “White Lightning,” “Walk Through This World With Me” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” dies at age 81 in Nashville. In a career that spanned nearly 60 years, Jones had ...read more

Nuclear disaster at Chernobyl

On April 26, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident occurs at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Soviet Union. Thirty-two people died and dozens more suffered radiation burns in the opening days of the crisis, but only after Swedish authorities reported the ...read more

Nazis test Luftwaffe on Guernica

During the Spanish Civil War, the German military tests its powerful new air force–the Luftwaffe–on the Basque town of Guernica in northern Spain.Although the independence-minded Basque region opposed General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, ...read more

Polio vaccine trials begin

On this day in 1954, the Salk polio vaccine field trials, involving 1.8 million children, begin at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia. Children in the United States, Canada and Finland participated in the trials, which used for the first time the ...read more

Olympic track star Fanny Blankers-Koen is born

On April 26, 1918, Fanny Blankers-Koen, who won four Olympic gold medals in track and field events at the 1948 Summer Games, is born in the Netherlands. Blankers-Koen’s Olympic achievements are all the more remarkable because they came at a time when many people believed women ...read more

Reagan visits China

On this day in 1984, President Ronald Reagan arrives in China for a diplomatic meeting with Chinese President Li Xiannian. The trip marked the second time a U.S. president had traveled to China since President Richard Nixon’s historic trip in 1972.First lady Nancy Reagan ...read more

James Beckwourth is born

James Beckwourth, one of only a handful of early mountain men to emerge from the system of slavery, is born in Fredericksburg, Virginia.The exact year of Beckwourth’s birth is in dispute. Some historians suggest it may have been 1800 rather than 1798. The uncertainty arises ...read more

Studio 54 opens

The crowd outside 254 West 54th Street in New York City on this day in 1927 would have been waiting for the curtain of a Puccini opera. On this day in 1957 or ’67, they would have been waiting for a filming of an episode of Password or maybe Captain Kangaroo. On this day in 1977, ...read more

Anita Loos is born

The novelist and screenwriter Anita Loos is born on this day in Mt. Shasta, California, in 1888.Loos began writing as a child and by age 13 was already contributing stories and sketches to magazines. Her family moved to San Diego when she was a teenager, and she briefly acted in ...read more

Maria Shriver marries Arnold Schwarzenegger

Almost a decade after they met at a celebrity tennis tournament, the television news reporter Maria Shriver marries the movie actor and former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger on this day in 1986.Politically, it seemed an unlikely match: Shriver, then a co-anchor for the CBS ...read more

Nuclear explosion at Chernobyl

On this day in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear accident to date occurs at the Chernobyl nuclear plant near Kiev in Ukraine. The full toll from this disaster is still being tallied, but experts believe that thousands of people died and as many as 70,000 suffered severe poisoning. ...read more

Girl murdered in pencil factory

Thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan is found sexually molested and murdered in the basement of the Atlanta, Georgia, pencil factory where she worked. Her murder later led to one of the most disgraceful episodes of bigotry, injustice, and mob violence in American history.Next to ...read more

Geneva Conference begins

In an effort to resolve several problems in Asia, including the war between the French and Vietnamese nationalists in Indochina, representatives from the world’s powers meet in Geneva. The conference marked a turning point in the United States’ involvement in ...read more

David Hume is born

On this day in 1711 (by the old style Julian calendar, or May 7, by the new style Gregorian calendar), David Hume is born in Edinburgh, Scotland.Although Hume died on August 25, 1776, when the American Revolution was barely underway, his essay “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth” ...read more