ENID — One hundred and ten years ago, an itinerant, penniless house painter committed suicide in the former Grand Avenue Hotel, current site of Garfield Furniture.
This would have been an unremarkable episode in Enid’s history had the man not claimed on his deathbed to be John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.
David E. George’s dying claim to the assassin’s identity sparked controversy, launched an alternative to the officially recognized history of Booth’s demise and fueled a bit of local lore that survives to this day.
History tells us John Wilkes Booth died at Garrett Farm in northern Virginia on April 26, 1865, 12 days after he shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington.
Elements of the 16th New York Cavalry tracked Booth and an accomplice to a barn at Garrett Farm, where Sgt. Boston Corbett shot Booth in the back of the head through a crack in the wall, in violation of orders to take Booth alive.
It did not take long after the death of Booth, or “the man in the barn,” for conflicting accounts to arise and for speculation to circulate that Booth had not died in the barn and that another man had died in his place while Booth escaped.
Some accounts posit the man killed was a Garrett farm hand by the name of Ruddy, who had been sent by Booth to collect some of his papers and personal belongings. Conflicting eyewitness accounts either positively identify the body taken from the barn as being John Wilkes Booth or stated the body looked nothing like Booth.
The body was identified as Booth during an autopsy performed on the monitor Montauk at the Washington Navy Yard and subsequently was held in federal custody until 1869. A family dentist identified the corpse as Booth’s based on dental records.