John Wilkes Booth’s Compass


John Wilkes Booth’s pocket compass is more evocative of his desperate, 12-day flight from the manhunt than any other relic that survived him. This is the compass that guided him during his dangerous days on the run; that he and Confederate operative Thomas Jones cradled by candlelight as they plotted Booth’s course across the wide and black waters of the Potomac; that each day gave him hope as it pointed the way South to his final destination; that he played with on the Garrett farmhouse lawn to the children’s delight; and that the detectives plundered from his pocket as he lay dying. Today, almost a century and a half since the great chase for Lincoln’s killer began, its blued steel needle still dances on its spindle, still pointing the way South.

James L. Swanson is the author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase For Lincoln’s Killer.