Did Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth spend the last years of his life hiding out in a house in Guntown, MS? Did Thomas Edison visit the same area to promote the use of his improved telegraph machine, and did Jesse James use the local hotel as a hideout before robbing a nearby bank? These are just a few of the historical mysteries surrounding the community of Guntown in northern Lee County.
After the war ended and wounded soldiers left Guntown, another injured man with a much more sinister past may have moved in. John Wilkes Booth, who broke his leg leaping from a box in Ford's Theatre after firing the shot that killed President Abraham Lincoln, supposedly perished in a Virginia barn fire only 12 days after the assassination. But many local residents still believe today that the body found in those ashes belonged to another man and that Booth actually fled south to spend the remaining years of his life living quietly among their ancestors.
As the legend goes, Guntown resident Dr. John Fletcher Booth hosted a mysterious family visitor in his home in the years after Lincoln's assassination. Emily Epting Pressey, Dr. Booth's granddaughter, told local newspapers in the 1970s and '80s that she had some possible evidence that the houseguest was her grandfather's cousin, John Wilkes Booth.
Further backing up the Guntown story, Booth's presumed death in Virginia has been disputed by a faction of historians who say federal officials may have acted to cover up the truth--that they lost track of the country's most wanted man. And for good measure, here's another plot-thickener: Booth may have had another tie to Mississippi in the form of a wealthy Pontotoc County plantation owner who might have met the murderer in Canada and was "at least knowledgeable of, if not involved in, the plot against Lincoln," according to a 1985 Daily Journal article.
The presence of an unmarked grave in the local Booth family cemetery, now part of a privately owned pasture, has only fueled the flame of this legend. In 1990, an anonymous person added a marker to the site that reads "John Wilkes Booth, Born 1838, Died Unknown, Rest in Peace."
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