’Tis the season to be jolly ... at the home of the first woman executed by the United States? Well, actually, yes, because as it turns out, there are a number of good reasons to visit the Surratt House Museum, home of Mary Surratt, during the month of December.
Through Dec. 9, this Clinton, Md., historic site invites guests to celebrate in the tasteful and subdued fashion of the Civil War era. “An Old-Fashioned Holiday” augments the regular property tour of the one-time tavern with a display of antique toys and dolls, a generous sprinkling of greens, and, true to the time, a tabletop tree. “We’re not fluffy and overdone,” said Laurie Verge, the property’s museum director. Open for view are the first-floor parlor, dining room, and kitchen, as well as upstairs rooms that include bedrooms and a sewing room, in addition to other exhibitions on the grounds.
Tired of crowded malls? Want to shop hands-on, not just online? The museum shop at the Surratt House offers thoughtful and unique holiday gifts, all in a relaxing setting. In particular, the shop’s extensive collection of books might well be the answer for your list’s history buffs, especially Civil War aficionados. Verge added that browsers are sure to discover unexpected “finds,” including stocking stuffers, made even more affordable with holiday discounts.
Finally, there are the historical reasons why the days leading up to the holidays are ideal for touring the first stop on John Wilkes Booth’s assassination escape route. Built in 1852 by John and Mary Surratt, the two-story frame farmhouse served as home to the couple and their children. It also functioned as a tavern, offering lodging, meals (50 cents bought a midday dinner), wines, and hard liquor (but no beer). The building also served as a polling place, a post office, and a safehouse for the Confederate underground network.
John Surratt’s sudden death in August 1862 left Mary in desperate straits; she rented the tavern and property, located in Prince George’s County, and moved to nearby Washington City, where she operated a boarding house. It was here that, on Dec. 23, 1864, her son, John Jr., was introduced to Booth by Dr. Samuel Mudd. (Mudd would later testify that he was in town that day to purchase a stove for his wife as a Christmas present.)
Mary was arrested April 16, 1865, the day after President Abraham Lincoln was shot, and she was tried in a military court, even though she was a civilian. She was found guilty of conspiracy, charged with leaving field glasses for Booth at the tavern and warning those present to prepare firearms for that night’s visitors. There was no appeal of the verdict, and she was hanged the following day. Devoutly religious to the end, Mary, at her confirmation, had chosen the name “Eugenia,” whose feast day, ironically, is Dec. 25.
Insider tip: Want to learn more? Visit the Dr. Samuel Mudd House Museum in nearby Waldorf, where a Victorian Christmas will be celebrated over the first weekend in December.
Looking ahead, the Surratt House Museum sponsors an annual conference. “Lincoln’s Assassination: Was
It Just One Mad Act?” is set for April 5–7. Information on this and the John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Tours are available on the Surratt House’s website.
The Surratt House Museum is owned by the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation, part of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. The museum is open 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and noon–4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.