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  • Writer's pictureMike Fowler

There you are Mrs. Surratt

When I travel around looking for the gravesites of individuals it is sometimes so frustrating that I'm on the verge of a breakdown. Well, that might be a little bit dramatic to say, but it's sort of the truth when I went to find the gravesite of Mar Surratt.

Mary Surratt was jailed and executed for her alleged role in the conspiracy to assassinate President Lincoln. From the time of her arrest to the time of her execution she maintained her innocence. To this day, there is a great deal of debate about whether she really knew anything. Some believe that she was jailed so that it would bring her son, John Surratt, home so that he could face trial, but John stayed on the run until after his mothers death.

When the movie The Conspirator came out, I convinced my school that it was worthy of a little field trip to the movies. It tells the story of Mary Surratt's court trial and I honestly thought it was pretty good. Lot's of Robin Wright looking mournful and angry.

That summer while visiting Washington D.C. I decided to find her grave. I did not anticipate what an adventure it would be though. I actually started out at Congressional Cemetery for what I thought would be a quick visit, but of course I ended up being there for over four hours. I should also mention that it was blazing July day and by the time I was departing Congressional I was parched. I stopped by the office for a quick question and they not only answered my questions but gave me a cold bottle of water.

I asked them whether it was walkable to Mount Olivet where Surratt is buried and they advised against it saying it was at least 3 miles and the heat wave would make it feel like 6. Having had a that bottle of water revive me, I was feeling like I could do it so I set out on the streets hoping that my sense of direction wouldn't fail me. It did.

After an exhausting and sweaty hike, some of which through some not so nice areas, I arrived at Mount Olivet looking like someone who had been stranded in the desert for two weeks. My face was red as a tomato and sweat was cascading out of areas I never thought possible. The people in the office showed me the bathroom and I guzzled water directly from the sink and then just sat on the floor for a good 10 minutes before splashing some more water on my face.

Having made myself somewhat more presentable I went back to the office with my list of dead people, knowing that the painful trek would be worth it. The lady at the desk pointed out a couple but when she saw Mary Surratt's name, she said that she was not allowed to reveal the location because descendants had asked them not to. My mouth fell agape and I began some heat stroke induced begging, but the lady would not budge. Sensing my disappointment, another office worker followed me outside and told me that the best advice she could give me is that Surratt was buried close to a downed tree.

I thanked her profusely for the tip, but when I started exploring the roughly 85 acres, there were many downed trees due to an epic line of storms that had swept through the area a couple of days before. I honestly cannot tell you how long I searched for her but I do remember sitting down at some point on the verge of tears, but still refusing to give up, especially after having lost half my body weight in sweat. Eventually, I found her gravesite and I distinctly recall scolding her for having hidden from me. Yeah, I was at the point of delirium at that point.

Regardless, I got my pictures and shot a long lost video about it before trying to figure out a way to get back to my hotel. Last year I visited her gravesite once again and the Mount Olivet office is still under orders not to give out the location of her plot, but it is easily found now with a quick online search.

If you are in D.C. and have a similar macabre interest in such things, I highly encourage a visit to Mount Olivet. There, a short distance from the office is buried Captain Henry Wirz who was executed for war crimes at Andersonville. There are many other notables, buried there, just don't ask about Mary Surratt. You'll be given the stink eye.

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