Anthony Berger “Herolds” Forth a Lincoln Conspirator

14 Apr

Fifty-six year old President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by the misguided and murderous thespian, John Wilkes Booth, at Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865. Lincoln died the next morning at 7:22 a.m. in the Peterson House across the street from the theatre. Charles Leale, a young army surgeon who attended to Lincoln at the theatre remained by Lincoln’s side to the bitter end and “held his hand firmly to let him know, in his blindness, that he had a friend.”

As soon as the Chief Magistrate was pronounced dead, Secretary of State Stanton said either “now he belongs to the ages” or “now he belongs to the angels.” The exact wording is not important because both versions are equally poignant. Edwin M. Stanton walked away from Lincoln’s deathbed to oversee a massive manhunt for Booth and his co-conspirators during which others suspected of aiding and abetting either the plot or Booth’s attempted getaway also were rounded up.

Because photoengraving technology did not then exist, sketch artists and woodcut engravers were utilized in order to recreate photographic images on the pages of newspapers and journals. Few American dailies made regular use of those artists in April of 1865 probably because of the crush of time and the expense of doing so. The Philadelphia Inquirer, however, managed to print a relatively crude woodcut image of Booth on the front page of its April 17th edition (below). That drawing appears to have been based upon a horizontally flipped version of a Booth photo represented in the Library of Congress collection (also below):

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On April 26, 1865, John Wilkes Booth — who also had masterminded Lewis Powell’s nearly fatal attack on Secretary of State Seward and George Atzerodt’s aborted scheme to murder Vice President Johnson — was hunted down and killed by Federal cavalrymen on Richard H. Garrett’s farm near Port Royal, VA. Before he was shot dead, Booth would have been displeased to learn that members of the 22nd U.S. Colored Regiment were part of his manhunt.

At that same time and place, Booth’s sole get-away compatriot, David E. Herold, surrendered to the Federal posse. While on the run after the assassination of Lincoln, Booth wrote a rambling entry in his small calendar day book under the date of April 21, apparently averring that the 22 year-old Herold was a pious “brave boy:”

after being hunted like a dog … [while] wet cold and starving … every man’s hand [was] against me [and] I am here in despair … A country that groaned beneath [Lincoln’s] tyranny and prayed for this end and yet now behold the cold hand they extend to me … And it is with [God] to damn or bless me [a]nd this brave boy with me who often prays (yes before and since) with a true and sincere heart ….

Some accounts suggest that by the time Herold surrendered to the military posse, Booth considered Herold a coward.

How Newsworthy Images Were Then Seen: The Illustrated Weekly Newspaper

The most widely circulated journal during the Civil War was Harper’s Weekly at 100,000 copies a week.  It was the primary medium by which many Americans viewed “images” of that war. In the words of J. Henry Harper, “what the dailies told Harper’s Weekly pictured.” Moreover, “after the Civil War began, its [conciliatory tone towards slavery] changed and Harper’s Weekly became wholeheartedly Northern and pro-Lincoln.” (Peter Hutchinson, “A Publishers History of American Magazines: Major Publishers Enter the Magazine Market” (2011), at pp. 1-2 ).

The magnificent illustrated art work which filled the pages of Harper’s Weekly, created by the likes of Winslow Homer and Thomas Nast, took time to create and get into print. Consequently,  neither Harper’s nor its main weekly competitor, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, was able to publish either stories about Lincoln’s assassination or relevant images when each went to press for its April 15 and April 22 publications.

Even with a team of engravers working on individual square sections of an illustration, it took Leslie’s and Harper’s two weeks to picture the news. Consequently, April 22, 1865 came too soon to permit coverage of the assassination, so the feature 2-page illustration which appeared in that edition of Harper’s was (by our standards) a very much dated rendition of Richmond falling to the Union army on April 3rd.

1865-04-22 Harper's Weekly 2 page

Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper finally printed images of Booth and stories of the assassination in their April 29 editions (Leslie’s, below left, & Harper’s illustration and opening text, below right):


The Leslie’s engraving was based upon the photo below, left, and Harper’s probably utilized some variant of the photo below, right (both courtesy of the Library of Congress). The 26 year-old Booth had posed for many photographs during his lifetime in several different cities.

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The illustrations in Harper’s also included an artist’s rendering of Lincoln’s shooting and a two-page Thomas Nast sketch meant to symbolize the mourning of a grieving nation:

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Frank Leslie’s printed its own illustrations of the shooting as well as Lincoln’s death bed scene:

1865-04-29_Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper_071865-04-29_Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper_08

One of Anthony Berger’s Photographs of Lincoln is Immortalized

To honor and memorialize the loss of “Father Abraham,” the cover of Harper’s next edition on May 6, 1865 featured a large engraving of a bespectacled Lincoln seated in a chair with his youngest son, Tad, standing directly by his side.


This paternalistic image was derived from a photograph taken by Anthony Berger on February 9, 1864 when Berger managed Mathew Brady’s Washington, D.C. gallery. An 1865 copyrighted version by Berger reveals that he supplied to Harper’s a retouched photo to make it appear (a) as if it had been taken at the White House rather than Brady’s studio and (b) that the President was reading Bible passages to his youngest son. The “book” perched on Lincoln’s crossed leg actually was a photograph album handed to Lincoln in the studio in order to grab Tad’s rapt attention. Even the chair was modified by the placement of fringe dangling from its arm and some sort of fabric draped on its slightly straightened back.

1865-05-06 Harper's Weekly 00b

Harper’s Weekly likely received a copy of Anthony Berger’s photograph of Lincoln within a few days after Lincoln’s death in order to have the necessary two week lead time required for an engraving of it to appear on its May 6th cover. But Harper’s erroneously credited “Brady” as the photographer in the caption beneath the image (see above). This misattribution was corrected by a short notice buried in the back pages of the May 13, 1865 issue which explained that the Harper’s portrait actually was “copied from the admirable photograph of Mr. A. Berger, 285 Fulton Street, Brooklyn.”

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On May 9, 1865, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced that “Mr. A. Berger will conduct” a photographic business at 285 Fulton Street in Brooklyn, NY:

1865-05-09 Brooklyn Eagle-Anthony Berger-Lincoln engraving

It is possible that prior sales of albumin prints of an unretouched version of the Lincoln photo with the “Brady & Co.” label created editorial confusion at Harper’s Weekly. But another possible explanation for Harper’s misattribution of Berger’s Lincoln and son portrait is that Anthony Berger might not have ceased working for Brady until sometime shortly before or immediately after Lincoln’s assassination so that at least one of Harper’s editors still assumed that any images purchased from Berger constituted transactions done on behalf of (and warranting credit to) Brady.

Berger must have cultivated a good working relationship with Harper’s staff over the course of his tenure managing Brady’s gallery in Washington, D.C., probably submitting a number of earlier “Brady” photos for use by Harper’s Weekly. After printing a “Brady” photograph of Secretary of the Interior Harlan (below) in its March 25, 1865 edition (possibly submitted by Berger), Harper’s didn’t publish any illustrations credited to Brady until the aforementioned erroneous attribution in its May 6th edition.


“I’ll Have another Berger, Please”

But Harper’s wasn’t quite finished yet in utilizing Anthony Berger’s photographs as a source for its illustrations in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination. The very first image of Booth’s get-away companion, David E. Herold, that was printed on the pages of Harper’s Weekly appeared in its June 10, 1865 edition as an engraving based upon a picture “Photographed by A. Berger, Brooklyn, N.Y.” (below, courtesy of the Library of Congress). That image accompanied Harper’s first feature story on Herold (erroneously identified as “David C. Harold”) which pointed out that Herold had confessed to playing a role in Booth’s escape when captured.

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The Harper’s Weekly illustration of David E. Herold derived from Anthony Berger’s photograph raises a multitude of questions. When and where was Herold photographed by Berger? Was the picture taken before or after Herold’s capture? If after, how was Berger able to gain access to him? If before, was Berger still working for Brady or was he on his own? Where  was it taken? Why did Harper’s Weekly select Berger’s photo as its first published illustration of Booth’s youthful get away companion? Did Berger actually photograph David E. Herold or someone mistaken for him?

Did Berger Photograph Herold After Lincoln’s Murder?

There is no tangible proof to support that Anthony Berger somehow received permission to photograph Herold following his capture. Even the famous “Brady of Broadway” apparently lacked the pull to secure such a sitting as no M.B. Brady attributed photos of Booth’s imprisoned co-conspirators have ever come to light. It seems farfetched that Berger photographed Herold  (but none of the other conspirators) in captivity on behalf of Brady after Herold was captured on April 26, quit Brady shortly thereafter, moved to Brooklyn with the only negative plate of Herold in his possession, opened his own business prior to the 9th of May, and then sold the image to Harper’s.

Alexander Gardner, whom D. Mark Katz says then was still in the employ of the U.S. Secret Service, took  “mug” shots of David Herold and several other suspected Lincoln/Seward co-conspirators onboard the monitors Montauk and Saugus on the morning following Booth’s autopsy performed on the Montauk on April 26, 1865. The Washington Evening Star on April 28th reported on David Herold’s April 27 photographic session:


The photo described in the Evening Star article probably refers to the following image of David Herold taken by Alexander Gardner on April 27 only several hours after Herold was captured (courtesy of the Library of Congress):

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For some reason, more than a month passed before engravings derived from the Alexander Gardner photographs — including Herold’s — were printed on the pages of the July 1, 1865 edition of Harper’s Weekly.  The  Gardner photo of Herold eventually selected for reproduction appears below, right (courtesy of the Library of Congress), next to the July 1, 1865 Harper’s engraving (below, left, courtesy of the University of Michigan Library):

mugshot-Gardner-Harpers July 1 1865

Why did it take so long to publish engravings of the Gardner photos? Why did the June 10, 1865 edition of Harper’s Weekly feature an image based upon Berger’s rather than Gardner’s photographs?

The best explanation seems to be that Secretary of War Stanton and bureaucratic red-tape probably held up the dissemination of select Gardner mug-shots, forcing Harper’s Weekly to look for other sources. Because Herold and the other accused conspirators were tried before a military tribunal in proceedings beginning on May 12, photographers were kept at a distance (although accounts indicate that at least one sketch artist for Harper’s Weekly was present in the courtroom during the tribunal proceedings).

In a later Harper’s publication on July 22, 1865, some of the execution photos of four of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, including Herold, were published as engravings. The only photographers authorized to attend and memorialize the executions conducted behind the high walls of the Washington Arsenal — in front of people who were given special passes by General Hancock — were Alexander Gardner and his assistant Timothy O’Sullivan. Detail from one of the Gardner/O’Sullivan photos, below, shows Herold only minutes before he was hung.


All of this cumulatively points to the conclusion that it is unlikely that Berger sought, let alone received, photojournalistic access to the imprisoned David Herold before he was hung.

Did Berger Photograph Herold Before Lincoln’s Murder?

It certainly is possible that the photograph from which the David Herold engraving was based was shot when Berger managed Brady’s studio in Washington, D.C. simply because some of Berger’s time in Washington overlapped Herold’s residency there.

After attending pharmacy school at Georgetown, Herold is said to have been employed at Thompson’s Pharmacy in D.C. when he first met John Wilkes Booth in 1863 (it is even believed by some that Herold delivered a bottle of castor oil to the White House in 1863, possibly handing it directly to Abraham Lincoln; see, e.g., William Thompson’s pharmacy was located at 15th Street on the west corner of New York Avenue, a short distance from the White House.

In a statement Herold gave to Special Judge Advocate John A. Bingham on April 27, 1865, he said that he lived and worked with the druggist F.S. Ward in Washington, D.C. for 11 months prior to the early fall of 1864. After that, he claimed to have tramped through Maryland shooting partridges and hunting for game over the course of two or three months before returning to his mother’s residence on Eighth Street between L & M Streets in Washington near the Navy Yard. Much testimony was submitted concerning his presence at his mother’s home in early and mid-February 1865. The press reported that by early 1865, Herold “had been cut out of employment for some time past.” The media reports also indicated that no one was entirely sure where Herold had been over much of the year and a half time period after his father died, speculating that he spent much of his time on the back roads of Maryland punctuated by short visits to his mother’s home in D.C.

We don’t know when Anthony Berger’s employment with Brady in Washington, D.C. ceased. It is reasonable to assume that it didn’t occur any earlier than September 7, 1864 when a presumably cash-strapped Mathew Brady sold a 50 percent stake in his Washington, D.C. gallery to James F. Gibson, quite likely leading to Berger’s eventual removal as that gallery’s manager. Assuming that Berger took Herold’s picture in Washington, D.C., it is fair to posit that he did so while working for Brady.

It has to be considered highly unlikely that Berger would have left Brady’s employ with a negative plate (or even a print) of someone mired in the lowest depths of obscurity and historical irrelevance. If Berger happened to photograph Herold at Brady’s in D.C. when Herold was publicly anonymous, then by the time Berger bid adieu to Brady, David Herold must have been notorious as there otherwise would have been no reason for Berger to depart with any photographic representation of Herold. This line of reasoning would place Berger’s departure from Brady somewhere in the time frame just after the news first broke that Herold was involved in Lincoln’s death.

The general public first came to learn of Mr. Herold when he was erroneously described as “David C. Harold” in a WANTED broadside poster released by Secretary of War Stanton on April 20, 1865 (see below, courtesy of the Library of Congress).


In what is believed to be a first for WANTED posters, prints of available photographs of the fugitives were pasted onto some but not all of the posters. A carte de visite image of a youthful looking David Herold had been turned over by Herold’s mother to investigators on the evening of April 15. Mrs. Herold’s identification of her son in the photo was authenticated by a man named Louis J. Weichmann who knew Herold and the Surratts by sight. Alexander Gardner photographed the Herold portrait and created multiple prints of it for the posters (see detail from the broadside poster below (right) and the corresponding studio photo (left), courtesy of the Library of Congress).


For some reason the $100,000 Reward! poster released on April 20th identified David E. Herold as “David C. Harold.” This occurred despite the fact that newspapers like The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) correctly reported on April 20, 1865 that a “heavy reward” was offered by the War Department for the apprehension of Lincoln’s murder accomplices, including “David Herold” who “until recently was a clerk in a drug store in the Sixth Ward” and “known as a sympathizer with the South.” How the press got the spelling right and the War Department’s printer got it wrong is a bit of a mystery. A greater mystery is why, nearly two months later, the June 10, 1865 Harper’s Weekly editors elected to use the same erroneous spelling from the WANTED poster.

Presumably, the carte de visite procured by Officer McDevitt from Herold’s mother for use by the War Department in the WANTED posters never was made available to Harper’s even after David Herold was in custody. But the Philadelphia Inquirer on May 19, 1865 clearly “borrowed” this photo from a WANTED poster in creating the following:

herold-phila May 19, 1865

To read more about Philadelphia Inquirer illustrations involving the assassination, see It should also be noted that a book published in 1865, Trial of the Assassins and Conspirators for the Murder of Abraham Lincoln, contains Philadelphia Inquirer stories about and illustrations relating to the trial of the accused conspirators and perpetrators. See

Did Herold Really Pose for Anthony Berger?

Whether the engraving of “David C. Harold” in the June 10, 1865 Harper’s Weekly Illustrated publication was based on a photograph of David E. Herold or some other man mistaken for him is not immediately clear after a visual comparison of the engraving with Herold’s known photographs (see, below left, the engraving of Berger’s photo laid next to several Library of Congress and National Archives photo images of David E. Herold).


It can be said that a number of the facial features of the man portrayed in the sketch appear to be at least similar to the same in the photos: the nose, distinctive eyebrows, a relatively long face, and a soft chin.

However, the presence of a moustache, wispy facial hair, and the location of his hair part in the engraving stand out as differences, along with what looks to be a more elongated face. Whether these were embellishments added by the engraver to make Herold look older or visible features in the photograph is unknown. Efforts to locate the original photograph have gone unrewarded.

It is instructive to note that Herold’s appearance on the day his death warrant was read to him in court was described in a July 7, 1865 Brooklyn Daily Eagle story as follows:

 “He was a lad of nineteen [sic; actually 22]; draped in a faded blue suit, in height about five feet four inches, black hair, lively dark hazel eyes, slight tuft of beard along the chin and jaws and faintly surrounding the mouth; rather round face; full but not prominent nose; full lips; a foolish, weak, confiding countenance indicating but little intelligence and not the faintest trace of ferocity [bolding added].”

Previously, the June 12, 1865 Washington Evening Star reported that Herold’s “mustaches have been shaved off clean since Saturday [June 10].” The National Police Gazette issue of July 15, 1865 included a sketch of Herold sporting facial hair (below, left). The suit and bow tie worn by Herold in that image also bear a general resemblance to the outfit seen on Herold in the engraving derived from Anthony Berger’s photograph in Harper’s (below, right).


General Lew Wallace, who was a member of the military commission which tried the Booth conspiracy defendants, also sketched an image of David E. Herold (below, right) sporting a light beard and moustache (from the collection of the Indiana Historical Society, via David Taylor’s July 4, 2014 article, “General Lew Wallace Study & Museum,”

Sketch of David Herold drawn by military commission member lew Wallace-Indiana Historical Society

There are other instances of photographs of notorious people (rather than just engravings derived from photos) which have proven initially baffling even for the experts to conclusively identify. For example, a story by John Wilkes Booth photo collector Steven G. Miller in the Winter/Spring 2005 edition of the Lincoln Rail Splitter, details how a Booth photograph auctioned on eBay threw him and other Booth photo experts for a bit of a loop because “the man in [that] photo is unkempt … like someone who doesn’t care much about appearances,” whereas known photographs of Booth show him “dressed in the height of fashion … brushed, unwrinkled and very together looking … there is [always] something elegant looking about him.” The hair on the man in the auctioned photo also looked unlike Booth’s, as it was “piled up on his head” in an uncharacteristic manner. The Miller article, titled “Discovering an Unpublished, International Photograph of John Wilkes Booth,” also detailed that the photo had been taken by a photographer in London, Ontario, Canada named J.H. Griffiths, an award winning painter, probably on November 10, 1861. This story illustrates that identifying someone in a previously unpublished and unknown photo can be a challenging task; doing so based upon an engraving derived from an unknown photograph is even more daunting.

All of this conceivably revives the possibility that Anthony Berger somehow obtained access to the prisoner David Herold and photographed him at Washington’s Old Penitentiary at some point of time prior to June 10, 1865, however odd that possibility may seem. Otherwise, this cumulatively suggests that Herold may have sported  a “slight tuft of beard along the chin and jaws and faintly surrounding the mouth” from time-to-time in the months prior to his incarceration.

The Strange Case of the Indian Herb Doctor in Brooklyn

If Anthony Berger photographed someone he believed to be David E. Herold in a case of mistaken identity, there is a fascinating story to explain how THAT scenario could have happened.

As previously noted, Anthony Berger likely was relieved of his position as manager of his Washington, D.C. gallery sometime after September 7, 1864 when Mathew Brady sold a 50 percent stake in his Washington, D.C. gallery to James F. Gibson (according to Josephine Cobb).  After becoming an equal partner in the D.C. gallery, Gibson — a former Brady photographer who worked for Alexander Gardner after leaving Brady — surely took control over day-to-day operations, thereby displacing Berger as the gallery’s manager. According to Josephine Cobb, Brady had brought Berger in as the D.C. manager to oversee Gibson sometime in 1863. In September 1864, Gibson was given the opportunity to return the favor in a reversal of fortunes.

Was Berger then demoted to a position under Gibson in D.C., reassigned back to New York, fired, or simply packed his bags and quit? We just don’t know. Assuming that Anthony Berger left Brady as early as the fall of 1864, it sets up the possibility that David Herold was photographed by Berger in Brooklyn some time before Lincoln’s assassination.

To put this into its proper context, in the days immediately following Lincoln’s assassination, the press reported that several hundred people were rounded up and incarcerated for several days in Washington, D.C. as potential suspects in a conspiracy of a then unknown size and scale. Rumors abounded. Theories that the conspiracy was masterminded or aided and abetted by characters ranging from Jefferson Davis to shady Confederate spies residing in Canada were vetted (especially after the secret “Sanford Conover” testimony before the Commission — later shown to have been perjured — was leaked to the press).

After nearly 20 days had passed, the media reported that 17 suspects remained confined in isolation from one another in Washington, D.C.’s Old Penitentiary building adjoining the Arsenal. At the direction of Secretary of War Stanton, great pressure was exerted to swiftly investigate, apprehend, question, adjudicate, and then mete out punishment to everyone involved in the crime.

It is possible that Harper’s reached out to Anthony Berger or was contacted by him because of a story which first ran under the following headline in the May 4, 1865 Brooklyn Daily Eagle (later republished in part in the New York Evening Express on May 4 and Washington’s Daily National Republican on May 5):


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle story began by describing an unnamed boy (an approximately 15 year-old pick pocket, according to later reports) who “was in the habit of being a good deal of his time with Booth, being employed by him as a sort of errand boy, carrying letters. etc.” Think of him as sort of  an “Artful Dodger” character from Oliver Twist. The day after the assassination of Lincoln, that boy went missing. Investigators learned that “a boy answering in every particular, the description of the boy whom the police were in search had taken passage on a train from Washington to Baltimore.” The police followed his trail first to Baltimore and then to New York. The boy was “caught” by government officers on Court Street in Brooklyn and held at a local police precinct station. It was there he told one of the officers that “[David] Harold had lived in Brooklyn for several months prior to the formation of the plot to assassinate the President and the Cabinet, and was well known in this city.”

About a year or two earlier a man known as the “Indian Herb Doctor” arrived in Brooklyn and began hawking “astounding cures” along Brooklyn’s Fulton Street — a lengthy commercial thoroughfare on which Berger’s gallery came to be located at least by early May of 1865. Referring to himself at times as Dr. Blackburn, the “medicine man’s” real name was Dr. Francis Tumblety.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle also reported that Tumblety let three rooms on Fulton near Nassau Street. This placed him about 4-5 blocks from where Anthony Berger opened his Brooklyn gallery. There he was said to have lived with a man whom he treated “as a sort of confidential valet” and another who tended to their horses.” Dr. Tumblety alleged in 1866 that he had cured John Mott, 226 Fulton St. in Brooklyn, of  “affection of the lungs, dyspepsia, costiveness, etc.” Its possible he had a patient by that name because a tailor named “John Mott” was listed at 296 Fulton in the 1864 Brooklyn City Directory.

Everybody who has been in the habit of traveling in Fulton street during the past year, will have a distinct recollection of the doctor and his valet … [who] was none other than THE NOTORIOUS HAROLD … now awaiting the just punishment of his horrible crime.”  The author of this May 4th Brooklyn Eagle article theorized  that the sycophantic Herold “had attached himself to the Indian Herb Doctor in the same manner in which he subsequently attached himself to Booth in a womanish sort of admiration for his supposed cleverness.” Whatever that means.

Washington’s Daily National Republican reported on May 5, 1865 that “the citizens of Brooklyn will feel astonished when they learn that Harold, the companion of Booth’s flight, has resided [there] for nearly two years.”  That report claimed that it was in Washington, D.C. that David Herold — who “had some experience in the compounding of drugs” — met Dr. Tumblety and was employed as his assistant, removing with the doctor to Fulton St. in Brooklyn. Although the 15 year old boy who originally told this story did not know “for certain whether [Tumblety] was connected with Booth in the assassination plot,” he did assert that “Booth and this doctor were on very intimate terms.”

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle chronicled Tumblety’s presence in Brooklyn for just under a year prior to Lincoln’s assassination. Tumblety had appeared in a Brooklyn criminal court to answer to assault charges filed by an asthmatic patient whom the doctor allegedly kicked down a flight of stairs after the patient, Mr. Scully, demanded his money back. According to a story in the May 10, 1864 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Tumblety was acquitted of the charges after producing “two witnesses, who magnanimously swore that the Doctor never touched Scully, that the latter was disorderly in his behavior, drove several patients out of the office, and that the Doctor, after politely requesting him to leave, took him by the arm and led him out.” Reporting on the Scully incident, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on May 6, 1864 described the flamboyant, circus-like appearing Tumblety as:

“an  unusually elongated young man, with a [large, handle-bar like] mustache that has excited the admiration of young ladies, the envy of young men, and the astonishment of everybody else. Whether this remarkable hirsute appendage is a product of “simple herbs,” or somebody’s onguent [sic], is a secret only known to the Indian Doctor himself. To add further to these characteristics which distinguish him from ordinary human beings the Doctor wears a butternut-colored suit, the unusual width of his pantaloons being counter balanced by the brevity of his coat tails. A pork-pie cap and a stout yellow cane complete the outfit of this singular personage. He is generally accompanied by a large [greyhound] …. The Doctor is a mystery; his presence being too awe inspiring to permit anybody to inquire into his history. He is supposed, however, to be as genuine an Indian as most of the Indians exhibited in this latitude. It is given out that he was a great medicine man of the Saltz-an-Sennah tribe, who, instead of placing himself in the Museum of the L. I. Historical Society, as a curiosity, concluded to make a living and bless his fellowmen by practising the healing art.”

Twenty-three years later, the December 15, 1888 edition of the Atchison Daily Globe expanded a bit upon this story (see

“[Tumblety’s] companion when in Brooklyn was young Herold, who was implicated in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and who formed one of the quartet that subsequently swung from the gallows tree. Tumblety, at that time, had an office on Fulton Street, where he sold herbs for removing pimples from the face. Herold – who was a pale faced, large eyed, poetical looking boy – was with Tumblety constantly. He seemed a compromise between friend, companion and servant to the doctor. Tumblety had a large following in Brooklyn at this time, but played himself out after a time, and went across the river to New York.”

As a consequence of the boy’s tale told in a Brooklyn police station, Tumblety, who had mysteriously “gone missing” with the alleged Herold from Brooklyn about “six months” earlier, was arrested by orders of the War Department on May 6 in St. Louis and “charged with complicity with Harold in the assassination and conspiracy.” The Chicago Tribune on May 5, 1865 wrote that Tumblety “was at Mr. Lincoln’s funeral at Springfield [Illinois] yesterday, and today is in the Military Prison.”

Tumblety eventually was released from confinement. The Government never went on the record explaining why Tumblety was incarcerated, what charges against him had been considered, what if anything the Intelligence Service knew of him before his arrest, or why he was released from custody.  The New York Times on June 10, 1865 printed a triumphant letter to the editor penned by Tumblety, which stated in part:

“After three weeks’ imprisonment in the Old Capitol Prison in this city, I have been unconditionally and honorably released from confinement by direction of the Honorable Secretary of War, there being no evidence whatever to connect me with the yellow fever or assassination plot with which some of the Northern journals charged me of having some knowledge … While in imprisonment I noticed in some of the New-York and other Northern papers, a paragraph setting forth that the villain Herrold, who now stands charged with being one of the leading conspirators in the assassination plot, was at one time in my employ. This, too, is false in every particular, and I am at a loss to see how it originated, or to trace it to its origin. For the past five years I have had but one man in my employment, and he is yet with me, his character being beyond reproach. I never saw Herrold [sic], to my knowledge, and I have no desire to see him. Another paper has gone so far as to inform the public that I was an intimate acquaintance of Booth’s; but this, too, is news to me, as I never spoke to Booth in my life, or any of his family.”

Tumblety put his huge ego, chutzpah, southern sympathies, and financial resources on full display by writing and privately publishing in 1866 a short book titled A Few Passages in the Life of Dr. Francis Tumblety: The Indian Herb Doctor. An engraving from that book appears below.

Kidnaping of Dr Tumblety

In a rambling work covering 82 pages, he laid out tiny bits of his purported life’s story and reproduced letters of introduction, patient testimonials, and lists of people whom he had cured (of afflictions such as pimples, rheumatism, scurvy, consumption, tape worm, paralysis, blindness, typhus, heart palpitations, various tumors, and cancer).

Relative to his time spent in Washington, D.C. circa 1861 – 1862, Tumblety boasted that he had so inserted himself within the upper echelons of high society, “that no person was better personally known in and around Washington than myself … Nay, not only in Washington, but in every city throughout the United States, as well as the British Provinces, I am recognized …” Of all of his claims, this one may best represent his penchant for incredible puffery if not outright lying. In short, the book revealed just how highly Tumblety regarded himself and how much he despised Secretary of War Stanton and Col. Lafayette C. Baker, the head of the Intelligence Service who had been charged with rounding up Booth and the other Lincoln conspiracy suspects.

Commenting on his confinement by the Government first in St. Louis (for 2 days) and then in Washington (for 3 weeks), Dr. Tumblety claimed he never was interrogated — “no examination whatsoever having been made of the case.” How odd that no one ever took the time to ask him any questions! Nevertheless, Tumblety asserted that he had gotten his hands on several New York and other northern city newspaper articles during his solitary confinement which revealed “that beside being charged as … Dr. Blackburn, of yellow-fever-plot notoriety, I was also accused of complicity in the assassination of the President.”

The doctor’s defenses against selected accusations listed in several newspapers can be summarized as follows:

1.  His professional standing and personal reputation was so unassailable as to render those charges impossible;

2.  How could anyone who claimed to have inquired about volunteering to serve as a surgeon in the Army of the Potomac (until his health “declined”) and was willing to give up his lucrative private practice which netted $30,000 during his time in Washington, possibly be anything other than a loyal supporter of the Union cause?;

3.  How could anyone who was given a pass by General McClellan “to go and come where and when [he] pleased” to mix with the Union troops, be suspected of violating that trust?;

 4. How could anyone who admired and frequently hobnobbed with President Lincoln at the White House, “was a constant attendant at the President’s levees,”  received from Lincoln a letter of introduction to the American Minister at the Court of St. James, and attended Lincoln’s funeral service in Springfield, IL the day before his arrest, have plotted to kill him?;

5.  He neither was acquainted with nor ever saw “the fiend in human form named Dr. Blackburn” who was tied to a “hellish yellow-fever plot;”

6.  Even though he claimed to have never met Dr. Blackburn, he asserted that he looked nothing like “the notorious Dr. Blackburn;”

7.  To his knowledge he had never seen David Herold and over “the past five years … had but one man in my employment, and he is with me yet, his character being beyond reproach;” and

8.  He “never spoke to [Booth] in [his] life, or any of his family.”

Tumblety’s public defense of the accusations leveled against him in several newspapers focused most heavily upon the assertion that he went by the name “Dr. Blackburn” in Brooklyn. Tumblety never specifically denied ever passing himself off as a “Dr. Blackburn,” let alone being involved in a plot to infect blankets with yellow fever or cholera. In his letter to The New York Times editor, he merely asserted that he had been released from confinement because “there [existed] no evidence whatever to connect me with the yellow fever … plot.” Instead, he chose to specifically deny only being acquainted with or seeing “the fiend … Dr. Blackburn.” These words reveal that he understood or presumed that a Dr. Blackburn actually existed in Brooklyn.  Despite claiming never to have laid his eyes on Dr. Blackburn, Tumblety vehemently asserted that he looked nothing like Blackburn — a curious statement given that he cited no press accounts describing the real Dr. Blackburn’s appearance. Essentially his argument was “how could this Dr. Blackburn fellow be mistaken for remarkable looking me, or vice-versa?:”

“[Dr. Blackburn’s] person is the antipodes of [a] description of [me] embodied in a military pass I obtained during the memorable period of martial law, in 1865: Age, thirty-two; height, six feet; eyes, blue; complexion, fair; hair dark; occupation, physician. I will venture to assert that the only part of resemblance between myself and [Dr. Blackburn] is in the last item; otherwise, I am rejoiced to state , we have no nearer likeness than ‘I to Hercules.'”

Interestingly, the Brooklyn City Directory covering the period running from May 1, 1864 to May 1, 1865 lists a physician named M.A. Blackburn at 181 Fulton St., Brooklyn. That address was located at the corner of Fulton and Nassau Streets, exactly where the Brooklyn Daily Eagle claimed that Tumblety ran his place of business in the name of Blackburn. To have appeared in that publication, “M. A. Blackburn” must have provided his listing information sometime prior to May 1, 1864.

From the published list of Brooklyn patients he claimed to have cured, it can be inferred that Tumblety spent at least several months living in Brooklyn. The May 10, 1864 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article establishes that he had a physical office in a multi-level building somewhere in Brooklyn at that time. But of even greater interest is the fact that no listing for a physician named “Blackburn” appears in the Brooklyn City Directories for May 1862 to May 1863, May 1863 to May 1864, or May 1865 to May 1866. Thus, the only listing for a Dr. Blackburn in Brooklyn in the 1862-1866 time frame appears to coincide with the general time period that Tumblety apparently was in Brooklyn.  Moreover, there are no listings for a Francis Tumblety (or variations thereof) in that same period. Is this a mere coincidence or circumstantial evidence in support of the position that Tumblety did on occasion pose in Brooklyn not only as the Indian Herb Doctor, but as Dr. Blackburn, or that one of his two assistants really was named Blackburn?

Tumblety briefly addressed the claim that he employed David Herold in Brooklyn by asserting he could not recall ever seeing Herold and that he “had but one man in [his] employment” between 1861 to 1866 and that man was not Herold. This contradicts the 15 year old boy’s story that Tumblety had two men working for him in Brooklyn. Could it be that by the time he ended up in Cincinnati in 1866 where he published his book, Tumblety had “lost” one of his two men? Perhaps to the gallows? Tumblety’s denials of employing or associating with David Herold are not definitive proof that Herold never worked for him in Brooklyn.

Tumblety wrote two more books about himself, the first of which, published in 1872, was titled Narrative of Dr. Tumblety: How He was Kidnapped during the American War, His Incarceration and Discharge. A Veritable Reign of Terror… [etc.] That book restated nearly verbatim much of the text of his first publication. But it also included a section captioned “Supplementary to the Life of Francis Tumblety, M.D.,” in which he again hurled invectives at former Secretary of War William Stanton for incarcerating him in 1865 and claimed to have sent “pamphlets” about his false imprisonment to luminaries such as General William T. Sherman and Robert E. Lee. Tumblety closed his tirade by describing how he had lobbied a Commission established to settle claims by and among citizens of Great Britain and the United States against each other’s governments.

Having apparently been born in Ireland, rendering him a British citizen, Tumblety filed a claim of “illegal imprisonment” against the United States under an 1871 U.S. and Great Britain Treaty. He sought $100,000 for his imprisonment and confiscation of personal property. His claim, however, was disallowed on January 23, 1873 (see Stephen P. Ryder’s research on the Papers Relating to the Treaty of Washington. Volume VI.–Washington Arbitration and General Appendix. Containing the Report of Robert S. Hale, Agent and Counsel of the United States Before the Commission on Claims of Citizens of the United States Against Great Britain, and of Subjects of Her Britannic Majesty Against the United States, Under the Twelfth Article of the Treaty of May 8, 1871, Between the United States and Great Britain; And General Appendix to Papers Relating to the Treaty of Washington. Washington, D.C. (1874) at

Tumblety the Ripper?

Tumblety was no stranger to criminal courts during his lifetime, including an arrest in Boston for accidentally killing a patient. For the War Department to jump to the conclusion that the “good doctor” had something to do with the killing of Lincoln was made all too easy by Tumblety’s highly checkered past. Ironically, the same logic made Tumblety a potential suspect in the Jack the Ripper slayings in London in 1888, as reported in the New York World Herald.

“Another arrest was a man who gave the name of Dr Kumblety of New York. The police could not hold him on suspicion of the Whitechapel crimes, but he will be committed for trial at the Central Criminal Court under the special law passed soon after the Modern Babylon exposures. The police say this is the man’s right name, as proved by letters in his possession; that he is from New York, and that he has been in the habit of crossing the ocean twice a year for several years.”  *** “Dr Kumblety is well known in this city. His name however is Twomblety, not Kumblety. Twenty-four years ago he made his advent in this city and was since then known only as ‘Dr Twomblety’ a most eccentric character.”

After Tumblety was detained in London for questioning, he jumped bail and boarded a ship back to New York City on December 2, 1888. This inspired many new stories in the American press which played upon fears that the Ripper might be on the prowl in American cities. For example, the New York Times reported in a story on December 4, 1888 entitled “Watching Dr Tumblety” that:

 “Dr” Francis Tumblety, who left his bondsmen in London in the lurch, arrived by La Bretagne of the Transatlantic Line Sunday. Chief Inspector Byrnes had no charge whatever against him, but he had him followed so as to secure his temporary address, and will keep him in view as a matter of ordinary police precaution. Mr. Byrnes does not believe that he will have to interfere with Tumblety for anything he may have done in Europe, and laughs at the suggestion that he was the Whitechapel murderer or his abettor or accomplice. The man who is supposed to be Tumblety came over on the steamship as “Frank Townsend,” and kept in his stateroom, under the plea of sickness.

Tumblety yet again published defenses which didn’t address the charges laid at this feet, relying instead upon bombast. In an 1889 publication, he made a “grandiose and megalomaniacal comparison [between his own his arrest in London and] tawdry escape and the ordeals of the Irish Home Rule parliamentarian Charles Stewart Parnell.” See R.J. Palmer in

Comments made in 1903 by London’s former Chief Inspector John Littlechild, who had been Head of the Special Branch at the time of the Whitechapel murders, that the Tumblety ‘dossier’ was large and that Francis Tumblety was “a very likely suspect” have helped to keep the Tumblety mystery alive and kicking to this very day.

Did Berger Photograph Herold or one of Tumblety’s Accomplices?

The fantastic tale of the amazing and well-traveled Dr. Tumblety, including his time spent in Brooklyn, raises the possibility that one of his assistants wandered into Anthony Berger’s photographic studio on Fulton Street and posed for his picture before Berger’s camera.

If Tumblety’s presence on Brooklyn’s Fulton Street overlapped at all with Berger’s presence at that same place, surely Berger would have seen the Indian Herb Doctor decked out in one of in his resplendent costumes accompanied by his assistants and known who they were. The May 10, 1865 Brooklyn Eagle reported:

Often would [Tumblety] be seen down [Fulton Street], mounted upon a spotted circus horse, richly accoutred, and displaying fine horsemanship, or at other times would appear upon the promenade followed by a fine looking mulatto and a mouse-colored hound, which he still retain[s] … His eccentricities of dress and business ingenuity have been subjects of comment for some time. His offices have been crowded with applicants for medical relief, and the daily papers have been filled with notices of his “wonderful cures.” It is said that when he first opened his office on Olive street, he hired a newsboy to perambulate the streets, with his face painted red like an Indian boy, and his head adorned with long feathers. This boy would stand at the foot of the stairs, and deal out to passers programmes and “dodgers.” Most of our readers will doubtless remember the arrest of the doctor some time ago by the Provost Guard for appearing in the street in military clothing.

This is what Tumblety is supposed to have looked like:


francis tumblety-bigWhen Berger first read the May 4, 1865 Brooklyn Daily Eagle story that Herold WAS one of Tumblety’s assistants in Brooklyn, he might have concluded without the least bit of doubt that he had photographed none other than David Herold. On May 8, 1865, that Brooklyn paper printed the following account:

“On Thursday last, the EAGLE published from what it knew to be a reliable source, an account of the strange fact, that the notorious Harold, the accomplice of Booth in his infamous crimes, and his partner in his subsequent fatal flight, was a personage well known in this city from his connection with the “Indian Herb Doctor,” with whom he came here about a year ago, in the role of valet, and his appearance, as well as his master, created considerable remark among the denizens of Fulton street, particularly the tailors, milliners and dressmakers, by the boldness with which they defied public opinion in the original cut and color of the habiliments in which they arrayed themselves, and the regularity with which two or three times a day they promenaded Fulton street, in company with a huge greyhound … The following telegram confirms the truth of the intelligence which was published in the EAGLE four days in advance of all its co[n]temporaries:

St. Louis, Saturday, May 6.

J. H. Blackburn, alias Dr. Tumblety, charged with complicity with Harold in the assassination and conspiracy, was arrested here to-day in accordance with orders from the War Department.”

That Herold was ever in Brooklyn and had plied his pharmacological skills there as a chemist for the Indian Herb Doctor seems unlikely but cannot be definitively ruled out in light of the confusion over his whereabouts for long stretches of time between the fall of 1864 and his capture on April 26, 1865.

There are accounts that after Tumblety’s death on May 28, 1903, a Mark Blackburn received a bequest under Tumblety’s will. Perhaps he was “M.A. Blackburn,” the man who lived with and assisted Tumblety in Brooklyn and elsewhere, and is the same fellow whom Anthony Berger photographed.

After Tumblety was released from confinement in Washington, D.C., he wrote a letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle which was published on June 19, 1865. At the end of that letter, an editor added the following:

“We give the above card from Mr. Tumblety that he may have the full benefit of his statements where this is known. When the Doctor was in Brooklyn the young man who was with him, and who was since identified with Harold, gave his name indifferently as Farrell and Blackburn, and the Doctor used the latter name at one time in his business. However, as the Doctor has been discharged it is fair to suppose that he is innocent of any offence against the government.”

But was he?

So for now, the mystery of whether Anthony Berger really did photograph David Herold and where he took that portrait cannot be unraveled with any certainty. Likewise, the questions of whether Tumblety actually was involved in a Confederate plot to distribute yellow fever or cholera infected blankets in New York City or Washington, D.C. under the pseudonym of Dr. Blackburn, let alone played any sort of role in the Jack the Ripper murders, are still being debated.

Some good mysteries simply go unsolved.

Craig Heberton, April 14 , 2015, on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination


April 20, 2015 supplement:

Listening to Harold Holzer speak to an audience at the National Archives recently, I was made aware of what Mr. Holzer described as a “turgid novel” of fact and fiction by newspaper reporter  George Alfred Townsend, published 30 years after the Booth assassination — Katy of Cacoctin or the Chain Breakers; a National Romance (1895) Townsend had served as a war correspondent for The New York Herald and The New York World during the Civil War and claimed to have had contact with Lincoln, Booth, and other key figures in the national tragedy. He wrote several news stories during the month following the assassination and compiled those stories into a book entitled The Life, Crime, and Capture of John Wilkes Booth (1865).

In 1886, Townsend described his novel Katy of Cacoctin as a tale of “a romance [based] upon the conspiracy of Booth” which had been planted in his mind “from the hour that the author had stood by the dead face of Abraham Lincoln in the Executive Mansion.” In a footnote on the bottom of page 490, Townsend wrote that he spoke with Charles Stone — whom David E. Herold chose as legal counsel for his trial — and Stone had revealed to Townsend exactly what J.W. Booth said to Herold when Booth resolved to kill Lincoln. Townsend also claimed that Herold’s career as a wage earner had been “as high as hospital assistant and as low as a monkey of a quack doctor who practiced upon the vices of the town.” Thus, a few decades removed from Lincoln’s murder,  George Alfred Townsend embraced the story that Herold had worked for the Indian Herb Doctor, Francis Tumbelty, even though his news letters from April to May 1865 republished in The Life, Crime, and Capture of John Wilkes Booth never made mention of the same.

— Craig Heberton


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