Mary Surratt’s Ghost – The Conspirator’s Plot, Her Boarding House, Her Spook

Posted on October 23, 2020

Photo of many Surratt

The State Capitol can be summed up in a couple of words: “good eatin’, huge landmarks, cruel summers, Lincoln assassination.” Sure, there are millions of other things that will seize your mind and attention, but Lincoln’s ill-fated trip to the theater is always going to be at the forefront of your visit. Why? Because folks are obsessed with it.  Every single cobblestone has a volume’s worth of info. “That stair over there, that’s the Exorcist Stair… That bar over there, Teddy boinged someone on the nose… Over there, Trump buys his Egg MacMuffins… That’s Clinton’s cigar store…” Ad infinitum. 

And, no matter how many tours you participate in, no matter the thematic of the tour, no matter who’s in charge of the tour… Lincoln is the main attraction. Lincoln, the Civil War, and his assassination. There are so many Lincoln sites in Washington that the man quite possibly used a teleporter to get around. AND, there are so many Lincoln would-be, possible, maybe, sure why not, conspirators in that dastardly assassination plot that you wouldn’t be wrong to believe that back in those days everyone was carrying a pistol and had a photo of Lincoln with a bullseye on their trousers. 

An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.
Photo of Lincoln. Source: wikimedia

One of those would-be conspirators was Mary E. Surratt, and today we’re going to talk about her Boarding House, her life, her sentence, her execution, and her ghost.

The Boarding House

Exterior black and white photograph of the Surratt House, in Washington D.C.
Mary’s Boarding House. Source: Wikimedia

 

The Mary E. Surratt Boarding House in Washington, D.C. is located at 604 h Street NW. It was the place of multiple meetings of the villainous cabal that would end up tossing a lone-gunman into history. At Mary E. Surratt Boarding House is where conspirators traded secret handshakes and planned to kidnap and consequently to assassinate U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. This is where Booth drank his beers and practiced his marksmanship… Maybe… no one is entirely sure; history is like that, sketchy.

The building is a three-and-one-half story tall construction. Nothing fancy, just functional. It was built by Jonathan T. Walker in 1843. It has been defined as being in the Early Republic or Federal style.

John Surratt bought the dwelling from Augustus A. Gibson on December 6, 1853. He turned the abode into a boarding house. Nine years after the purchase, John died. 

Mary, meanwhile, partly estranged from her husband was running a tavern/residence in nearby Maryland. The place was turning a profit but the real cash-cow in her financial repertoire was the Boarding House in Washington. So, Mary packs up her things and decides to move to DC, after her husband leaves this mortal coil for the great Bingo lounge in the sky.  

Here’s where history gets a bit iffy. Mary rents out her Maryland property to John M. Lloyd. Lloyd was a bricklayer, former policeman, and a huge HUGE Confederate sympathizer. Why does history get iffy at this point? Well, because up until now Mary wasn’t exactly a political paragon or a Confederate Conscriber. She was just a businesswoman wanting to turn a buck. Lloyd, on the other hand was akin to Arya from Game of Thrones; every night before bed reciting his hit list.

“Lincoln, Grant, Mary Todd, McClellan…”

So, Mary goes off to Washinton DC, and 3 years later…

“Sic Semper Tyrannis.”

John Wilkes Booth sneaks into Lincoln’s box at Ford Theater and mid-play –  Our American Cousin – fires a lone bullet. The projectile ricochets in the POTUS’ skull and causes irreparable damage. Lincoln is mortally wounded. Booth tries to escape. Lincoln’s guest Major Henry Rathbone grabbles with the assassin. Booth stabs Rathbone. Rathbone pushes Booth. All hell breaks loose. 

lide depicting John Wilkes Booth leaning forward to shoot President Abraham Lincoln as he watches Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. 14 April 1865.lide depicting John Wilkes Booth leaning forward to shoot President Abraham Lincoln as he watches Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. 14 April 1865.
Slide depicting John Wilkes Booth leaning forward to shoot President Abraham Lincoln as he watches Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. 14 April 1865. Source: Wikimedia

 

Lincoln is transported across the street to Petersen House and treated. He’s given palliative care and remains in a coma for eight hours. On April 15, at 7:22 am the city’s bells ring…

“Now he belongs to the ages.”

Lincoln’s flag-enfolded body is escorted in the rain to the White House by bareheaded Union officers. The next morning, President Johnson is sworn into office.

The Hunt

While all of this is happening, the police, the army, neighbors, and basically everyone in Washinton is hunting down Booth. Investigators start to untangle a web of intrigue. It wasn’t just a lone wolf but a pack of canine zealots. It was a conspiracy. 

Around 2 A.M. on April 15, 1865, members of the District of Columbia police visited the Surratt boarding house inquiring about John Wilkes Booth. By now the police were aware that Booth’s plan was to shoot the president while a second gunman tried to assassinate the Vice-President. The Police were also aware that it was a group effort. Aside from Booth, the police were also searching for Booth’s two friends Lewis Powell and.. drum roll, please… JOHN SURRATT JR, that’s right, Mary’s son. 

Mary, right off the bat starts lying her keister off. “John’s in Canada.” “Booth? Never heard of the fella’.” “Lewis Powell? Doesn’t ring a bell.” and so forth. 

The cops witnessing how Mary’s pants were starting to sizzle and burn, like the trouser of bare face liers are prone to do, decided to stick around. Mid-morning, the door opens and Mary’s jaw falls open… In waltz Lewis Powell. Ajaja! The crafty policemen shackle Mary and Powell and up the creek they went; into the pokey. 

Mary’s Trial

Photo of many Surratt
Mary Surratt. Wikimedia

 

In 1865, the military tribunal trying the conspirators of Lincoln’s assassination heard statements from tenants at the boarding house that Surratt had constantly met with John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln conspirators at her residence. The testimony was sketchy at best. Mary, according to the statements just met with Booth no one could verify they planned an assassination; there was no direct link between the meetings and the assassination plot… UNTIL. Tatatan!!!!

John M. Lloyd enters the scene. Lloyd is arrested and the man starts singing like a bird at the slammer looking for a plea bargain. He starts to implicate everyone, including Jesus Christ and Buda, with leading the plot. Lloyd tells the tribunal that Mary visited him in Maryland and demanded him to have “shooting irons” ready; that’s bullets in today’s vernacular. 

The trial was fast and quick and to folks full of holes. Johnson wanted to get the tragedy behind him and start his presidency. The nation was still reeling from the Civil War and was in the midst of the Reconstruction Era and couldn’t afford to be bogged down by Lincoln’s Plot. Already in the South, folks were hailing Booth as a hero and the sentiment in the Hill was that they needed to nip that in the bud. Johnson wanted a clear statement sent out of what happens to Confederate spies and rebels. 

On the 5th of July, the execution order was signed. The trial had taken less than a month. Mary? Mary in spite of the evidence and divergent facts and her constant pleas that she was innocent was sentenced to death. That very day, the gallows, while the ink was fresh, were constructed south of the Arsenal Courtyard in DC.

Two days later, Mary Surratt was hanged and later buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery

She has since been depicted in film, theater, and television. In April, 2011 her house obtained some recognition with the release of a film on her life; The Conspirator by director Robert Redford

As of 2020, Mary Surrat’s Boarding House is used as a restaurant, with karaoke rooms.

Mary was the first woman ever to be executed by the Federal Government. On the day of her execution, her daughter Anne traded the business for a slim sum of dough. 

The Ghost Of Mary Surrat

Mary Surrat’s ghost gets around. You can find her spook at the Fort she was jailed at, Fort McNair, the place she was hanged from, and her Boarding House. From the 1870s onward, inhabitants of her boarding house have insisted that Surratt’s spirit is accountable for the obscure whispers, incorporeal voices, murmurs, footfalls, stifled cries, and squeaking floorboards. Thousands of bizarre noises that have frightened tourists and visitors alike. The most haunted area in the boarding house is the second floor. 

To many, Mary was unjustly tried and, in many cases, she like most of the conspirators in Lincoln’s plot, she should have gotten a stay of execution. Many believe that, given the circumstances, the evidence, and the period, Mary deserved clemency. It is stated by fringe scientists that a soul who dies violently with an unresolved issue is tossed into a state of unrest until the truth behind their death is revealed. 

Mary Surratt ghost, investigator of the supernatural claim, remains increasingly stubborn is still certain of its innocence. Her spirit is restless searching for someone to vindicate her memory.

For more creepy tales, check out our blog.

Sources: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Surratt#Conspiracy

https://www.surrattmuseum.org

https://www.fold3.com/image/6390472

https://www.womenshistory.org/articles/first-woman-executed-us-government