A photograph of memorabilia from the trail of the conspirators: locks of hair, a key and document from a military prison.
Photo by Carol Highsmith.

Trial Memorabilia

For seven weeks in May and June 1865, the nation’s attention was fixed on the third floor of Washington’s Old Arsenal Penitentiary. There, seven men and one woman were on trial for their lives.

Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlen, Lewis Powell, Edman Spangler and Mary Surratt were all placed on public trial before a U.S. government military commission for their roles in the conspiracy that led to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

After two days of deliberations, the verdicts came down. For their lesser roles in the Lincoln conspiracy, Arnold, O’Laughlin and Dr. Mudd were condemned to life imprisonment. Spangler, a stagehand at Ford’s Theatre, received a six-year sentence.

Atzerodt, Herold, Powell and Mary Surratt were all sentenced to death. On July 7, 1865, the federal government hanged them.

John Surratt was tried two years later after being apprehended in Europe. His trial ended in a hung jury, and a second trial had barely begun when he was suddenly released – the statute of limitations for his part in the crime had run out. He later embarked on a lecture tour, earning money from his infamy.

Examine the Evidence: Do you believe each conspirator was equally guilty? How would you have felt watching this trial? What is your opinion of the taking of grim souvenirs such as these?

Trial and Execution of the Conspirators

See items related to the trial and execution of the alleged conspirators in the plot to assassinate Lincoln.

Protect Our History

The night of April 14, 1865, forever changed our national history. Together, Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service partner to protect the artifacts from that night. Through these objects, we can better understand how that single event transformed our nation. Give to Ford’s Theatre to help continue sharing the stories that shaped a nation.