On a Sunday in November of 1864, John Wilkes Booth first made the acquaintance of Dr. Samuel Mudd. The men discussed a horse sale, and Booth was invited to spend the night at Mudd’s home. On December 23, the two men met again, by accident, on a street in Washington, DC.
Four months later, John Wilkes Booth shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln. He broke his left leg in the process, leaping to the stage at Ford’s Theater. He and his getaway man David Harold knocked on the door of Dr. Mudd at four in the morning for assistance. Mudd set, splinted, and bandaged the broken leg. The two stayed for about 12 hours, as the doctor’s handyman made a pair of crutches.
Within days, Dr. Mudd was arrested and charged with conspiracy and with harboring Booth and Harold during their escape. Though he had met Booth on at least two prior occasions, Mudd told authorities he did not recognize him. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, one vote shy of the death penalty.
Mudd was imprisoned in Fort Jefferson, in what is today Dry Tortugas National Park, an isolated Gulf of Mexico island fort. He attempted escape but failed before an epidemic of yellow fever broke out on the island. The fort’s physician died, and Mudd took over the care of the sick. Due to his efforts, he received a full pardon from President Andrew Johnson and was released from prison a hero.
In 1936, a film was made loosely based on Mudd’s story called THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND, and then 2 years later it was adapted into a radio drama, starring Gary Cooper as part of the Lux Radio Theater. On today’s episode of America’s National Parks, we’re playing for you that program, which we’ve remastered and edited lightly.
Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode.
Dry Tortugas National Park – National Park Service Website
The Prisoner of Shark Island – Full Audio, including introduction, commercials, and a post-show discussion with the actors
Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.