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History can wear you out

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By W.B. Evans

It’s a given that I have a very healthy respect for boogers, hobgoblins and ordinary ghosts.

Since I’m now in southern Maryland a few days each month, I figured I oughta try to learn a little something about this place.

The town my granddaughter and her family now call home is Lexington Park.

A little bigger than Rock Hill, its name comes from the Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington, which was sunk by the Japanese in World War II during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The name fits, too, since the Patuxent Naval Air Station is about a mile away, jutting out into the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River.

I have to admit, the roar of fighter jets overhead makes this former serviceman feel safe, although some early morning sorties bring back long ago memories of a less peaceful surroundings.

Just the other day, the sun was shining for a change. Given the break in the weather, me, grandmama and the little one decided to venture out into the nearby countryside toward Waldorf, about 25 miles away.

While barreling down the highway (trying to keep pace with the government employees speeding to Washington, D.C., to work on the health care plan, no doubt), I noticed a historical marker recommending that slower drivers should take a hard right. It suggested an adventure down a narrow road to see the home of the late Dr. Samuel Mudd.

Now that’s a familiar name, I thought.

Some of you Lancaster folks should remember Mrs. George Huntley taught us about Mudd in eighth-grade history class. The good doctor had the misfortune of treating an actor for a broken left leg on April 15, 1865.

If you were awake in class (I was, by the way), Mrs. Huntley told us the actor, John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Abrahan Lincoln at the Ford Theater the day before and messed up his leg when jumping from a balcony to the stage.

Since this part of the “Old Line State” sided with the South, it was said Booth came to Mudd’s home and told the doctor his leg was stove up by his horse.

Now, you can can believe what you want to, but it didn’t hold water in court. One of those Yankee judges put Doc Mudd in a Florida military prison for about four years.

Now I love history, but not for $10 a pop, which is what it cost to see the Mudd house.

I can probably find pictures of it on the Internet, anyway. Well, enough of that. While driving past the naval air station I saw a  Point Lookout sign, which was about 20 miles away.

Right on schedule, the sun dipped under the dark clouds and raindrops started bouncing off the windshield.

Oh, well, Mary and I decided to just keep on going and see what we could. After driving down another lonesome road, we came across a marker to honor Confederate soldiers buried in a nearby cemetery.

The sun peeked through the clouds and the rain stopped as we came upon a couple of senior citizens, a man and woman. They were mowing grass and picking up beer cans around a Confederate soldier statue flanked by flags representing the states of the Confederacy.

The man, who was weed eating, had a patch over one eye. I hate to bother working folks.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Can you tell me where to find the lighthouse and cemetery?”

He gave me directions to a nearby checkpoint.

“They’ll want $6 to let you drive on down the road,” he said.

It figures, I thought.

About the time we got there, the rain started back. The toll booth was closed, so we just proceeded like the out-of-state tourists we were. Hey, it’s still easier to get forgiveness than permission.

I glad we didn’t have to cough up the $6. I was kind of disappointed. The lighthouse looked like an old-fashioned Myrtle Beach cottage with a  glassed-in lighthouse perched on top.

A sign dated it from 1835 to 1965, when it was decommissioned. The cemetery was the final resting place for about 4,000 Confederates and some local folk sympathetic to the Southern cause.

Bless Pete, we weren’t very good tourists, either. We were camera-less. I guess you’ll have to take my word about this history lesson since I don't have a single disposable photograph to verify it.

This is when the story gets a little more interesting.

Now, I’m not as young as I used to be.

After a long day of sight-seeing, I didn’t waste much time. I went to bed right after supper. This wasn’t dinner. For dinner, we have steak; for supper we have beanie weenies and homemade sweet tea.

A light, gentle rain added to the comfort of a soft bed and I was soon fast asleep.

That’s when things went awry. I started dreaming about John Wilkes Booth. 

I dreamed Booth – riding with the wind to his back – was making a beeline to Mudd’s home to patch up his throbbing leg. After that, Booth’s horse raced across the Maryland countryside and crossed the Potomac into Virginia. I felt like I was right there with him as he tried to evade the wrath of the Union Army and escape.

I awoke to realize it was only a dream and grateful there would be no capture for me as a conspirator to a president’s murder.

There is a marker on U.S. 301, near the Virginia side of U.S. Army Fort A.P. Hill that shows Booth’s route. It’s amazing the amount of rough country he covered.

You know, I learned a lot that day. I learned a lot that night, too. It’s a good idea to avoid beanie weenies before bedtime.