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    [John Wilkes Booth]: Controversy and Speculation Survive His "Death". In the early twentieth-century, Memphis, Tennessee attorney Finis L. Bates was a leading proponent of the John Wilkes Booth escape legend. Bates published The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth in 1907 wherein he laid out his 'proof' that Booth had not died in 1865, but rather had escaped the burning barn at Garrett's Farm and fled to Texas. Bates's story was based on his claim that Granbury, Texas resident John St. Helen (who later moved to Enid, Oklahoma and lived under the name David E. George) was in fact John Wilkes Booth. David E. George came to Finis Bates's attention after George's suicide in 1903. George died from self-administered poisoning in an Enid hotel room. Newspaper accounts of the suicide carried news of George's purported claim to be John Wilkes Booth. Finis Bates traveled to Enid and pronounced George's corpse to be that of the man he had known as John St. Helen (John Wilkes Booth). Because of this notoriety, David George's embalmed corpse remained on display for several years at the William Penniman undertaking parlor in Enid. Eventually Bates was awarded custody of the body and began leasing out the mummified remains to carnival side shows. Midway entrances to the John Wilkes Booth exhibit were decorated with tantalizing signage offering a look at the murderer of Abraham Lincoln for only five cents. The four 40" x 30" oil on canvas portraits in the Dow Collection (framed to an overall size of 37" x 47") were commissioned by Finis Bates. At least three of them, and perhaps all four, were used as part of the original decoration for these traveling John Wilkes Booth carnival exhibits. A photograph of one of the exhibition entrances, taken about 1910, appears on page 144 of The Day Lincoln was Shot by Richard Bak (published 1998 by Taylor Publishing Company, Dallas, Texas). Visible in the photograph are the portraits of Abraham Lincoln, David Herold, and John Surratt. Also visible is a portrait of Mrs. Mary Surratt (painting now lost). The photograph is one of the illustrations used in an article contributed to Richard Bak's book by Michael W. Kauffman. The Kauffman article, entitled Sideshow: The Mythic Afterlife of John Wilkes Booth, appears on pages 141 through 155 and offers an analysis of the enduring nature of the Booth escape legend. The portrait of John Wilkes Booth carries a copyright date of February 16, 1898. The artist who painted the portrait is unknown but may have had the last name of "Curtis", according to Don Dow's records. The portrait is based on a circa 1870 tintype photograph that Finis Bates claimed was given to him by John St. Helen (Booth) when the two men met in Granbury, Texas. The tintype image was purportedly that of St. Helen (Booth) at age 38. The other three paintings were copyrighted by Finis Bates in 1903 and were probably produced by the same artist who painted the Booth portrait. The images of Abraham Lincoln and David Herold were clearly used to decorate the entrance of the traveling John Wilkes Booth carnival shows. The use to which Bates put the portrait of John Surratt in his Zouave uniform is not known. All four paintings (Lincoln, St. John "Booth", Herold and Surratt) have been cleaned, restored, relined and varnished as they were in poor condition (folded, soiled, torn) when first acquired in 1986. Three of the paintings were used as illustrations in the Bates book of 1907, a copy of which is included with this lot (minor tape repair to lower spine; else, a fine copy). Sold together with a 1944 booklet detailing "The Escape of John Wilkes Booth". In the "strange but true" category, Finis Bates' granddaughter is the noted film actress Kathy Bates. Donald Dow designed the frames which were produced by Newcomb Macklin of Chicago.



    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2015
    24th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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