Mary Mudd McHale thought her brother Tom was “crazy” for wanting to do it, but he insisted.
Even in the heat of the early summer, McHale said, Tom Mudd insisted on honoring the anniversary of their great-grandfather’s release from prison with a family reunion. Mary and Tom are the great-grandchildren of Dr. Samuel Mudd, the Charles County physician who infamously tended to the wounds of John Wilkes Booth the night he assassinated Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1865.
On Friday afternoon — despite the somewhat-oppressive heat Mary had feared — she, Tom and dozens of other Mudds convened their joint celebration of their ancestor’s return from Fort Jefferson in Key West, Fla. The family had convened in Florida years ago to commemorate Dr. Mudd’s arrival at the prison. Although some joked that they wished they could have returned to Florida for another beach vacation, descendants of the doctor came from as far away as Washington, Michigan, Colorado and Missouri to attend the two-day celebration held on the grounds of the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House Museum in Waldorf.
Despite the high temperatures, re-enactors dressed in full period costume from hoop skirts to topcoats made it feel as if one had stepped back in time for a day. Friday’s festivities at the house — also known as St. Catharine — kicked off two full days of music, tours of the home and re-enactments, said lead docent Donna Peterson. A citation that will ultimately be displayed at the home from Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in recognition of the special day was presented by his Southern Maryland liaison Gretchen Hardman to Tom, who in turn presented it to Mary, noting her place as Dr. Mudd’s oldest living descendant.
McHale recalled visiting the “old, battered and great” farm in her youth, and said it held special memories for her.
“I never thought a day would come that the house would be so protected and so well cared for,” McHale said. “Such caring people put such time and effort into this house. I always think they’re taking care of great grandpa’s house, and I love that.”
Phil Brandenburg, president of the Dr. Mudd Society, called the doctor’s 1869 pardon by President Andrew Johnson and subsequent return from prison his “silver lining.” In his time there, Brandenburg said, Dr. Mudd survived a yellow fever outbreak that killed another doctor at the prison camp.
“Today we’re here to celebrate that lovely event of Dr. Mudd returning home to his lovely wife and children,” Brandenburg said, thanking those who carry on his “life and legacy.”
Bob Bowser, a docent who portrays Dr. Mudd at the museum, said he’s “had the privilege of telling your ancestor’s story” for the last 11 years.
“I hope you find what we do here remembers him, and promotes his memory the way you want to see it cherished,” Bowser said.
Commissioners’ President Reuben B. Collins II (D) spoke of the significant place Dr. Mudd and his family have in the community.
“So many have influenced the way we’ve evolved, and the Mudd family in particular has played a major role in that history,” Collins said. “Today the Mudd family name continues to shine as leaders in our community.”
Collins touched on the local history around the farm, noting specifically the black soldiers who enlisted and trained with Union forces in the Civil War near the farm. More than 87 black soldiers trained nearby, Collins said, “and helped us take a small but important step” toward enduring equality in the country and in the county.
Collins’ family does not have deep roots like the Mudds, he noted, but he’s proud of the county nonetheless. His family settled here 100 years after emancipation, Collins said, but segregation was alive and well: He was enrolled in county schools when desegregation began. The county has come a long way, Collins said, and he is confident progress will continue.
“I appreciate the vital role our intersecting journeys played in influencing who we are today,” Collins said. Commissioner Gilbert “B.J.” Bowling (D) called the Mudds “a good strong family,” and noted their contributions continue to be valuable, calling the home “an asset” for the county.
“I think it’s important to recognize the past and what your family contributed to our county,” Bowling said. “You have a really good family.”
McHale said she was surprised at exactly how many relatives showed up that she didn’t expect to see, including “some Mudds I didn’t know.”
“I frowned on this. I said it’s summer and you’d never be able to get anyone out here with the heat,” Mary said of Tom’s plan for the reunion, joking that “he made a liar out of me.”