Here's a potentially good piece of news for all you stragglers scrapping your typical Wednesday plans in favor of a sweaty evening with TurboTax: People who file income taxes with both the federal and DC governments have gotten an average of nearly $4,000 back in recent years, says the office of the District's chief financial officer.
The combined average refund for DC taxpayers getting refunds for the 2012 tax year was $3,923, according to the office's District, Measured blog, with $2,933 coming back from the Internal Revenue Service and the other $990 from the city. But the refund rates differ widely between income levels. Tax filers reporting between $40,001 and $80,000 of income—the second-largest bracket—got back an average of $3,084, while people reporting earnings between $80,001 and $150,000 received an average refund of $5,122. People reporting more than $1 million in income received combined federal and local refunds of $103,748.
If the numbers of tax filers on District, Measured's chart seem low, that's because they only represent people who received refunds from both the federal and District governments, not the total number of taxpayers. But most people shouldn't be too dispirited by that difference. Nearly eight in ten taxpayers get a federal refund, according to IRS data published last December.
Abraham Lincoln was murdered 150 years ago Tuesday night. Here's a selection of Lincolnia from Washingtonian's archives.
- Things to Do in DC for the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Assassination: Ford's Theatre will hold a late-night commemoration of the vigil for the President.
- The Insane Story of the Guy Who Killed the Guy Who Killed Lincoln: Read Bill Jensen's wild profile of Boston Corbett, the self-castrated hatmaker who took down John Wilkes Booth.
- One Family’s Obsession with Lincoln’s Portraits: Members of the Kunhardt family have been collecting photos of the 16th president since the mid-19th century. They're the subject of a new HBO documentary.
- President Lincoln's Cottage: This entry from the Great Washington Bucket List calls Lincoln's summer retreat "the single most fascinating look at a President’s life in Washington." (Already seen it? You may want to take our How Washingtonian Are You?quiz.)
- Is This a Real Deathbed Photograph of Abraham Lincoln? Shane Mettlen reported last year on a photo Ernestine Glessner found in a flea market. Glessner sued Surratt House Museum director Laurie Verge for defamation after she wrote "This is no more a photo of Abe Lincoln than it is of me" on the museum's website. A federal judge in West Virginia dismissed the case in December 2013.
- Mr. Lincoln’s Washington: A 2009 feature by Ernest B. Furgurson (with photos that, sadly, appear to have vanished) about places other than Ford's that figured in Lincoln's time in the capital.
- The Things He Carried: Tanya Pai's story about "Silent Witnesses: Artifacts of the Lincoln Assassination," an exhibit at Ford's. Items include the gun Booth used to shoot Lincoln and the contents of Lincoln's pockets.
A new report claims that car-hailing company Uber is nearly even with Washington's taxi industry in providing ground transportation to business travelers, a finding that further cements the role ride-booking smartphone applications are taking in the region's infrastructure.
The study, published by Certify, a Maine company that publishes expense-account-management software, states that Uber, which entered the DC market in late 2011, accounted for 49 percent of paid car rides logged as business-related expenses in the first quarter of 2015, nearly equaling the combined total of traditional cabs, limousines, and airport shuttles. Perhaps even more startling is that Uber appears to have made these gains in a relatively brief span—its share in the first quarter of 2014 was just 20 percent.
The picture is not much different nationally; Uber ate up 47 percent of the business-travel market across the United States over the first three months of the year, according to Certify's data.
The report only accounts for business expenses entered through Certify's software, but the data reinforce the speed with which Uber has established itself as a major component of the transporatation economy. Yellow Cab, the District's largest taxi operator, said last year that the rise of digital hailing services like Uber depleted its business by 30 percent. Besides its technological edges, Uber's increasing bite of the business market is surely driven by its aggressive fare-cutting. Certify measured Uber's average cost per ride at $31.24 between January and March, compared to $35.40 for traditional cabs, limos, and airport vans.
The gains in app-based ride-hailing also seem to be enjoyed by Uber and not any similar companies. Its closest competitor, Lyft, accounted for just 1 percent of the national business-travel market in the first quarter of 2015.
Only two metropolitian areas reported a higher rate of dependency on Uber for business travel than DC: Dallas, where 56 percent of expensed ground transport went through the app, and San Francisco, Uber's city of origin, with 71 percent. But it does not seem far-fetched to project that Washington will be in that tier next year, especially now that the regulatory approval offered to companies like Uber now stretches across the entire region. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan is set to sign a bill that puts Uber, Lyft, and similar outfits in their own class of transportation provider, similar to laws previously enacted in Virginia and DC.
Here's a selection, by no means definitive or complete, of some of the photos that have rolled in. Keep snapping and tagging!
There are, of course, blossoms in the lands beyond the Tidal Basin. Here are a few of those:
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will finally let the public ride its rail cars of the future Tuesday, and they are much nicer than the typical Metro car. The "7000-series" cars, finally ready for service after more than a year of testing, are far more technologically advanced than Metro's earlier models, and more appealing to ride in than the sickly carpet and cracked vinyl that passengers got used to over the transit system's first 39 years.
Among the new features are LED displays that show passengers how far they are from their destination, and video screens that display information about the upcoming station, including transfer information and—for the first time on any Metro car—whether there are nearby bike racks or car-sharing services. The 7000-series fleet is also lined with slip-resistant rubber floors, which should make them easier to keep clean once the cars endure heavy late-night use. The ride itself, as evidenced by a test run from Reagan National Airport to Arlington National Cemetery and back, is pleasantly smooth.
The 7000-series cars are intended to replace the 1000-series cars, which have been in service since Metro's founding and comprised the Red Line train involved in the 2009 crash that killed nine. But it'll still be a while until everyone can ride the new models: Only eight of the cars enter service tomorrow, on the Blue Line, and it won't be until 2018 until all 528 7000-series cars Metro has ordered hit the tracks.
Still, the limited rollout didn't prevent Metro from packing the platform with transit boses, elected officials, media, and represenatives from Kawasaki, the Japanese firm that builds the new cars at a factory in Nebraska. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe did much of the grandstanding, citing the new rail cars as components of continued economic growth in Northern Virginia.
"Virginia is all about growing our Metro, because when we grow our Metro, we grow our region," McAuliffe said. "If you're not from Virginia and you're just visiting, spend some money."
Representatives Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, and Barbara Comstock, who represent Northern Virginia, were just as sanguine about Metro's new investment. Not in the speaking program, though, were officials from the District or Maryland, both of which have leaders—in Muriel Bowser and Larry Hogan—who are taking far more abstemious approaches toward Metro, which is spending $1.46 billion on the 528-car order. But their absences didn't stop Metro Chairman Mort Downey from making a plea for more mass-transit spending anyway.
"Today, we have a limited-time option to buy more of these cars at a bargain price," Downey said. Bowser is spending today trying to sell the DC Council on her proposed 2016 budget, which does not include any funding for the additional 200-car order Metro wants to place.
The April 15 deadline to claim charitable tax deductions brings out the best in Washingtonians: Local do-gooders gave nearly $6 billion to charities in 2012, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. And why not? A sizable chunk of our donations goes to our neighbors, the top executives of charities based in the area. We rounded up total compensation for the largest such organizations, according to their most recent IRS filings.
United Way Worldwide*, Alexandria
Brian Gallagher, CEO: $1,096,721
Number of employees making more than $300,000: 8
Goodwill Industries International*, Rockville
Jim Gibbons, CEO: $639,085
Number of employees making more than $300,000: 2
American National Red Cross*, DC
Gail J. McGovern, CEO: $597,961
Number of employees making more than $300,000: 14
Marine Toys for Tots Foundation*, Triangle
Henry P. Osman, CEO: $229,377
Number of employees making more than $300,000: 0
Salvation Army World Service Office**, Alexandria
Ellen Farnham, CFO: $115,017
Number of employees making more than $300,000: 0
*Data from 2013; **Data from 2012
This article appears in our April 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
Let’s be honest: Tossing out the rules often leads to the kind of creativity that’s as useful as it is crazy. That was the thinking behind a design challenge we extended to local architecture firms. We asked them to pretend money was no object and to picture a District with no Height Act or zoning requirements—how would they reimagine the city in the year 2050? Our favorite proposals offer two very different takes on a future cityscape: one super-practical, the other a fantasy designed to provoke thoughts, not projects. Both left us feeling wild about the possibilities for our region as it grows and evolves.
The multinational firm with a K Street office in downtown DC zeroed in on the Georgetown waterfront.
“In 2050, drones may be the primary delivery agents of packages, and driverless cars may be running the roads, but cities will still serve the vital function of providing connections . . . for services, people, and nature,” the firm writes in its proposal. “The District needs more and better connections to its neighbors and across its waterfront, providing more ways for more people to flow into and out of the city.”
1. Pedestrian platforms for Key Bridge so that casual strollers can stop and take in the sights.
2. Docks for the newest shared transportation program: Paddleshare! Sign out a rowboat, canoe, or kayak and return it to any of the floating kiosks nearby, like at the Rosslyn Metro station or farther down the Potomac and Anacostia rivers.
3. A new bridge for walkers and bikers at the foot of Wisconsin Avenue connects Georgetown Waterfront Park to Roosevelt Island, which right now is accessible only from Virginia.
4. Thompson Boat Center (rendering above) gets reclad with a green roof doubling as a “land bridge” so you can go straight to the waterfront rather than detouring around the boathouse parking lot. Bonus: great Fourth of July fireworks views!
5. At the Kennedy Center, new floating terraces (rendering above) bring people closer to the water.
6. The Lincoln Memorial and the Mall are now more accessible thanks to Paddleshare and the nifty new land bridge.
7. Roosevelt Island gets some refurbishment to make the shoreline more accessible.
A small Dupont Circle firm that designs homes, restaurants, and offices rethinks two of our most quintessential spaces.
“Washington is a city of high-security buildings that are not accessible to everyday Americans,” the firm explains. “This proposal allows the public to occupy and enjoy these previously off-limits zones. Our solution is steel-frame ‘scaffold’ prototype superstructures that wrap these iconic buildings, creating usable spaces around and above them, in addition to serving as frames to emphasize the isolation of these buildings.”
1. A fountain surrounding the dome’s turret transforms into an ice-skating rink in winter.
2. The suspended digital screen facing the Ellipse is for demonstrations and outdoor movie nights. Those cubes that are a part of the scaffolding for the giant digital screen aren't there for decoration! It’s space for a range of different activities: micro-housing, shopping, park space, even urban farming.
3. Meeting rooms and public spaces.
4. A helipad makes it easy for the President to come in from a trip and greet crowds gathered around the rooftop pool and grills.
The fire in the tobacco barn was starting to rage, and inside was the most wanted man in America: John Wilkes Booth, the traitor who had shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre 12 days earlier.
Nursing a broken leg, Booth had made it 73 miles to Port Royal, Virginia, with federal troops in pursuit. Now the last of his accomplices had deserted him and he was cornered in the barn, surrounded by Union Army veterans hungry for vengeance. He had two choices: shoot his way out or surrender and face his crime.
A soldier by the name of Boston Corbett would decide the matter for him.
Corbett was watching Booth intently from his unit’s formation around the barn. Through the cracks in the wall, he could see the fugitive shift in and out of view, a gun in hand. As the flames rose, Corbett trained his pistol on the image, even though the word from Washington was clear—Booth was to be taken alive.
Corbett, you see, wasn’t the kind of soldier who followed orders easily, unless they came from God. He was a fervent Christian, and his faith had seen him through four years of battle, not to mention a punishing stint in one of the harshest Civil War prisons. He was ready for the fight to end.
He walked closer to the fire, which a comrade had lit in an attempt to shake the fugitive loose, and stopped just paces away from the barn. Then he watched as Booth appeared to make up his mind by pointing his gun outside toward the Union troops, as if to fight his way out.
That was all Corbett needed to see. He defied Washington’s orders and pulled the trigger. Booth fell to the ground, and hours later he was dead. Boston Corbett thus became Lincoln’s Avenger: the man who killed the man who killed the President.
As positions of historical prominence go, it’s a rarefied one. Three US Presidents were murdered after Lincoln, but only one of the assassinations—John F. Kennedy’s—was followed by a similar (and much more storied) reprisal. Two days after Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy in Dallas in November 1963, Jack Ruby killed Oswald with a .38 snub-nosed revolver on live television.
Ruby was a loosely mobbed-up nightclub owner who claimed he’d done it to save Jacqueline Kennedy from having to endure the pain of a long murder trial. Corbett had a less shady but still unorthodox past—he was a hat maker with a strong religious streak who claimed God had commanded him to bring Lincoln’s killer to justice. Ruby went to prison; Corbett didn’t.
But a peek at the pages of history—into old newspaper clippings, correspondence, and records held at the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka—reveals how much the assassins’ assassins had in common. Like Ruby, Corbett ended up vilified after his unilateral action denied the public the chance to learn the full truth about the plot to kill the President. And Corbett, too, became fodder for conspiracy theories that followed him to his own strange end.
• • •
Boston Corbett’s curious life began ordinarily enough. As a young man named Thomas Corbett, smallish with black hair and black eyes, he toiled in the hat trade in the Northeast, an honorable profession for a first-generation American in the mid-19th century. But the arc of Corbett’s future shifted dramatically when his wife and first child died during the girl’s birth.
Corbett became unhinged, seeking solace in the bottle. He staggered up and down New England, until one night in the late 1850s when he happened upon an animated scene on a Boston corner. A street evangelist was holding court, and Corbett was mesmerized by the message of God. He became a regular at sidewalk churches around the city, peppering street preachers’ prayers with boisterous refrains of “Glory to God!” and “Come to Christ!”
The ministers eventually encouraged him to stake out a corner of his own, not so much because the young man had potential but to keep his annoying chorus at a distance. Corbett, now 26, took the advice. He would swear off liquor and grow his beard and hair long, styling himself in the image of Jesus. He also surrendered himself to a baptism by a Methodist minister—and was born again as Boston, in recognition of the town that saved him from the drink.
His rash tendencies exhibited themselves in strange ways. One day while he was ministering in the summer of 1858, Corbett was ogled by a pair of prostitutes, and the lower half of his body responded invitingly. He went home, took a pair of scissors, snipped an incision under his scrotum, and removed his testicles, then headed out to a prayer meeting.
In the Bible, Matthew 19:12 quotes Christ as saying “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” Corbett made himself a eunuch and didn’t check himself into Massachusetts General Hospital until he’d finished his prayers, had a full dinner, and taken a light stroll through the city that evening.
• • •
Weeks after healing, the castrated hat maker moved to New York City and resumed his trade. He remained a zealot, often attending the lunchtime prayers of the YMCA’s Fulton Street meetings. Corbett’s pious impulses were also what drew him into uniform. In 1861, amid the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, Corbett enlisted in the Northern army, telling the women at his church that when he came eye to eye with his gray-suited enemies, “I will say to them, ‘God have mercy on your souls’—then pop them off.”
His Jesus locks shorn, Corbett managed to conform to the military’s uniform and grooming standards and was by most accounts a decent shot. But he never put country before God—and his religious rebelliousness was no match for even the hardest of commanders. During a drill in New York’s Franklin Square, Colonel Daniel Butterfield (famous for composing the military taps) was livid at his troops’ improper formations and gave them a tongue lashing laced with profanities. Corbett, who had yet to see a second of fighting, barked back: “Colonel, don’t you know you are breaking God’s law?”
Astonished, Butterfield sent Corbett to the guardhouse jail, where the soldier proceeded to one-up his commanding officer by singing hymns at the top of his lungs. Butterfield sent a messenger to warn the impetuous prisoner to stop it or else. Corbett kept on singing.
When Butterfield finally offered to release Corbett in exchange for an apology, Corbett responded, “No, I have only offended the colonel, while the colonel has offended God, and I shall never ask the colonel’s pardon until he himself has asked pardon of God.”
Exasperated, Butterfield sent his last order: Release Corbett from jail.
• • •
Four years of war later, as the North was celebrating the South’s surrender, a stage actor and Rebel sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth snuck into Lincoln’s box in the balcony of Ford’s Theatre in Washington. The President and his wife were watching a comedy, Our American Cousin. Booth grabbed his .44-caliber derringer pistol and shot Lincoln in the back of the head.
“Sic semper tyrannis!”—Thus ever to tyrants!—Booth shouted in Latin as he stole for the exit. After an overnight vigil, the President died early in the morning. By then, Booth had escaped into the night.
Even half crippled—he had leapt from the balcony to the stage, caught his spur on the bunting, and broken his leg—Lincoln’s killer eluded capture. Ten days after the assassination, the assailant was still nowhere to be found. To hunt the traitor, the government turned to the 16th New York Cavalry, the men who’d battled the infamous Confederate colonel John Mosby’s raiders. It was Boston Corbett’s unit.
Corbett was by now a hardened combat soldier. He had reenlisted three times, surviving traumatic events that had felled other men. Back in June 1864, while hunting Mosby’s men, Corbett had found himself cornered by the so-called Gray Ghost’s troops near Centreville, Virginia. His fellow soldiers were “nearly all compelled to surrender,” according to Harper’s Weekly, but not Corbett. He “stood out manfully, and fired his revolver and 12 shots from his breech-loading rifle before surrendering. . . . Mosby, in admiration of the bravery displayed by Corbett, ordered his men not to shoot him.” Instead, Corbett was sent to Andersonville, the most notorious Civil War prison.
Andersonville, in south-central Georgia, was built for 10,000 captives but held some 32,000 at its peak—almost a third of the men who ended up in the disease-ridden prison never made it out. When he was paroled in November of 1864, Corbett and another Union fighter were the only POWs from their unit to survive the ordeal. And barely so. Corbett left with scurvy and intermittent fever, rheumatism, and “bloody flux,” otherwise known as dysentery, a wartime ailment deadlier than combat.
Corbett spent some time recuperating at a hospital in Annapolis, then rejoined his regiment. Within a few months, the war was over. Lincoln was dead, his killer on the loose, and officials in Washington were apoplectic. During a church service several days into the dragnet, the head of the congregation asked Corbett to lead the flock in a blessing. “O Lord, lay not innocent blood to our charge,” the 33-year-old sergeant prayed, “but bring the guilty speedily to punishment.”
Not long afterward, volunteers from the 16th Cavalry regiment, led by Lieutenant Edward P. Doherty, prepared to go south into Virginia and hunt down John Wilkes Booth. Corbett was one of them.
• • •
The detachment left Washington via steamer on April 24 and headed about 50 miles down the Potomac to a landing at Belle Plain, Virginia. After a day of fruitless searching, the volunteers received a tip from a fisherman and his wife that men fitting Booth’s and his accomplice David Herold’s descriptions had crossed the Rappahannock River and were headed toward Bowling Green in Virginia’s Caroline County. The same informants suggested that the men were aided by a soldier named Willie Jett, who happened to be sweet on the daughter of a certain innkeeper in Bowling Green.
It was now midnight on April 26. After knocking on several doors there, Doherty’s men found Jett at a hotel and rousted him from bed. Jett wasn’t about to give up Booth and Herold, but Doherty informed him that he “should suffer” if he didn’t do so. Jett agreed to lead them 12 miles to land near Port Royal owned by a farmer named Richard Garrett, where Jett had left the men two days earlier.
“Arriving at Garrett’s Farm,” Corbett later wrote, “the lieutenant said to me, ‘Mr. Booth is in that house, ride through the command, and see that every man’s pistol is in readiness for use.’ ”
When Doherty asked after the fugitives, Garrett claimed they were in the woods. Doherty didn’t buy it. So, as he later told the Washington brass, he “seized this man by the collar, and pulled him out of the door and down the steps, put my revolver to his head and told him to tell me at once where the two assassins were; [Garrett] replied, ‘in the barn.’ ”
It was after 2 AM by now. Doherty’s men descended on the tobacco barn and formed a ring around it, Corbett included. From inside, Booth was trying to talk himself out of the jam. “Captain, draw off your men fifty yards!” Booth shouted, according to a soldier in the 16th Cavalry. “A cripple as I am with only one leg and cannot walk without a crutch. I would like a chance for my life.” Doherty refused.
It was dark, but there were cracks in the barn walls, and from his position, Corbett claimed to have eyes on their shifty target—he wanted to charge the barn himself. But when he asked for permission to try flushing the assassin out into the open, he was denied.
Meanwhile, the back-and-forth between Booth and Doherty continued for an hour, until Booth yelled that there was “a man here who wants to surrender awful bad.” Out came Herold, the accomplice. And Booth started talking again.
Concluding that their target was never coming out, a federal investigator named Everton Conger took a clutch of dry hay, lit it on fire, and stuck it through a crack in the barn. As the flames climbed toward the night sky, Corbett made his move toward the barn for a better look and pulled the trigger.
• • •
“What on earth did you shoot him for?” yelled Lafayette Baker, another government detective, as he rushed to yank Booth out of the burning barn.
The orders from Washington were not to take the fugitive dead or alive—the War Department wanted Booth in the flesh. His motives for killing Lincoln were still a mystery, and officials knew they had a conspiracy to root out—possibly even one orchestrated by Confederate president Jefferson Davis. They needed their target to talk.
Booth was carried to the front porch of the Garrett house and placed on a makeshift mattress. “Kill me,” he whispered later. He asked to see his hands, so one of the soldiers lifted his paralyzed limbs. “Useless, useless,” Booth muttered. He died around 7 am.
The government detectives immediately cast aspersions on Corbett, the trigger-happy sergeant who had just deprived the nation of a trial for the President’s murderer. All because, he said, “God Almighty directed me to.” Instead of the assassin, it was Corbett who was sent back to Washington to be questioned.
• • •
In the end, Corbett was spared a court martial. Rather than punishing him, War Secretary Edwin Stanton declared him a patriot. “I did not fire the ball from fear,” Corbett testified at the trial for Booth’s conspirators in May of 1865, “but because I was under the impression at the time that he had started to the door to fight his way through, and I thought he would do harm to my men if I did not.”
Corbett collected his small share— $1,653.85—of the $50,000 reward and asked to keep his horse. “He isn’t very valuable,” he told the New York Tribune. “But I’ve got so attached to him that I would like to take him home.”
Corbett became a folk hero. He was photographed by Mathew Brady, the most famous photographer of the era, and the images of him in dress fatigues were duplicated on photograph cards. He even went on a publicity tour, telling his tale at meetinghouses and Sunday schools.
But before long, the country was eager to move on. Corbett went back to ply his trade as a silk-hat finisher. Later, he worked as a lay preacher, making $250 a year. As his notoriety and income diminished, he became erratic and moody. By 1874, he was increasingly tormented by conspiracy theories that Booth was actually still alive and by rumors that Southern sympathizers wanted to kill Corbett in the assassin’s name.
In a letter appearing in the Cleveland Leader, a soldier named Private Dalzell, surmised to be a friend of Corbett’s, claimed that Corbett was “pursued by threatening letters every day” and received “no less than a dozen” along the lines of one that read: “HELL, September 1, 1874. —Boston Corbett, Nemesis is on your path. J. Wilkes Booth.”
Dalzell wrote that Corbett was “insulted wherever he appears in public. . . . [H]e is hated by one-half of the American people and despised by the other half for the only crime ever yet alleged against him—that . . . he robbed the haughty officers of a play where they would all have been star actors.”
Having spent much of his life in the hat industry, Corbett could have been succumbing to mercury poisoning. The ill effects of the mercury vapors used in finishing, Corbett’s specialty, had become public by this time, even part of folklore after Lewis Carroll introduced the country to the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865.
By 1878, Corbett had had enough. He hitched a black pony to a wagon and headed west. Along the way, he stayed with a soldier from Company L, who later wrote that “wherever [Corbett] goes he says Nemesis pursues him, and the troubled spirits of revenge will not let him rest. He is in constant fear of assassins.”
Corbett, then in his mid-forties, finally settled 1,500 miles from home, in Cloud County, Kansas, and homesteaded 80 acres. He built a one-room hovel with a wooden floor and rocked walls. Suspicious of anyone who ventured near his dugout—fearing that someone, perhaps Booth’s avenger, was out to get him—Corbett presented his pistol to most who approached. He even shot at children who got too close.
On Sundays, he rode into town to attend church astride his only friend, a pony named Billy. At the end of the sermon, he’d tell the preacher, “The Lord wants me to say a few words.” Then he’d remove a pistol from each boot, place the guns on either side of the Bible, and hold forth.
• • •
Corbett was deteriorating. “I have been very bad for the last six years,” he stated in 1882, pleading for more disability benefits he thought he was owed for serving in uniform: “I don’t think I have been able to earn $20.00 during the whole time from 1877 to 1882 by manual labor.” At one point, he actually dug his own grave and told a neighbor that when he died, he should be buried in a new Army blanket.
In 1886, a veterans’ organization took pity on the old codger and offered him the assistant doorkeeper’s post at the Kansas State Legislature in Topeka. The job didn’t last long. One day, after some kind of dispute—accounts of the day vary wildly—Corbett brandished his gun inside the statehouse. That was it. Kansas officials shut him away in a mental asylum in Topeka.
But that wasn’t the end of Boston Corbett. On May 26, 1888, as the inmates were exercising, Corbett spied a delivery boy tethering his horse in front of the asylum. He broke away from the group, jumped on the horse, and took off.
Corbett rode to Neodesha, Kansas, to the home of fellow Andersonville inmate Richard Thatcher. There he tied a note to his “borrowed” horse, explaining who its rightful owner was, and set it free. Then a relative of Thatcher’s took him to Brooks station, a train stop on the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway. He said he was going to Mexico, but no witnesses remembered anyone matching Corbett’s description boarding the train.
He was never heard from again.
Still, rumors trickled in: Corbett drowned in the Kansas River. One theory had him targeted by ruffians still bitter over the Bloody Kansas battles. Another had him moving to Hinckley, Minnesota, and later perishing in the Great Hinckley Fire of September 1, 1894. The best evidence of that hypothesis came from a survivor named Frank Haney, who in 1954 wrote an account of the conflagration and recalled an older Boston man named Tom Corbett, who was good with a rifle and was hired to hunt game for the crew at Gus Sexton’s Minnesota logging camp in 1890. In this version of his demise, the real Corbett wasn’t able to keep up with the younger men who escaped the flames by foot.
In the early 1900s, the federal pension bureau heard about a Boston Corbett who claimed he was alive and well and wanted his pension checks. But an investigation shed some doubt on the claim. The weathered old fellow, who went by the nickname Old Trapper, gave only vague details about Booth’s killing, professing he couldn’t think straight. It was also noted that the new Corbett stood six feet tall—a full eight inches taller than the original. The imposter, a onetime patent-medicine salesman named John Corbett, was jailed.
And that was the last news of the mysterious Boston Corbett. As his friend Private Dalzell wrote to the Cleveland newspaper: “In Greece and Rome, even in England and France, the avengers of their sovereign’s death were loaded with gifts and public honors. Not so Corbett. He is reviled as a lunatic and laughed at as a rash religious fool.”
In fact, there is one memorial to Lincoln’s avenger. A ramshackle fenced-in pen about 3½ miles from Concordia, Kansas, marks the man’s last home. In 1958, a Boy Scout troop erected a stone plaque there to point out the “Boston Corbett Dugout.” Above the words are the sunken outlines of two revolvers: six-shooters embedded in the rock by the Scouts. Sometime between then and now, the guns were stolen by thieves.
This article appears in our April 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
Serial fans shouldn’t count on Undisclosed being more of the same. The new podcast, which debuts on Monday, April 13, follows Adnan Syed's appeal of his 2000 conviction in the murder of Hae Min Lee.
“Serial is amazing, it’s an incredibly well-done production that changed podcasting for the better forever," says Susan Simpson, one of the lawyers co-hosting Undisclosed. "We can’t compete with that, and we’re not trying,”
Though Simpson says the show won't be "Serial 2.0," there are connections. One of Simpson's co-hosts is Rabia Chaudry, who appeared throughout Serial and whose contact with host Sarah Koenig got that podcast rolling. And like Serial, each episode will discuss juicy tidbits about the case.
But unlike its predecessor, Undisclosed doesn't have a set end date. It will appear biweekly and will also share new evidence Simpson and Chaudry, who both live in the DC area, and University of South Carolina School of Law professor Colin Miller have dug up.
Both Simpson and Miller have devoted exhaustive blogs to the case. Many Serial fans, though, don’t have the time to wade through the virtual piles of documents and analysis. According to Simpson, a main goal of the new podcast is making this work more accessible.
“The original podcast is such a good way of conveying information, we thought that we might try and make it available to people who are more casual listeners,” she said. “There’s a very diehard contingent that has very closely followed every aspect of the case ... I’d like to make it available in a way that’s easy for them to listen to.”
The three will discuss a new theme each episode. On Monday the three focus on Syed's disputed schedule on the day of Lee’s murder. Was he in the library? Was he at Best Buy? Does Asia McLean know anything?
The hosts will approach the case from the perspective of lawyers, not journalists. “Colin has focused a lot on the actual appeal and the ineffectiveness of council as well as issues related to the medical evidence. ... I’ve been focusing more on general factual research,” Simpson said. “Rabia, of course, has personal knowledge of the events and knows Adnan, knows people involved, and saw it all unfold.”
The Nationals' new season is only three games old, and even though the opening series against the New York Mets was a disappointment, one thing the team did not lack for was fans. Even on a wet, chilly Wednesday, Nationals Park still managed to be 63 percent full.
That's good for the team, and not just in terms of morale. Nationals home games are the seventh-most expensive team in Major League Baseball for a family of four to attend, according to the Team Marketing Report, an annual guide to the costs of fandom across professional sports. An average night at the ballpark—measured as four tickets, two beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking, and two adjustable caps—costs $232.08. The MLB average, by comparison is $211.68.
District, Measured, a blog by the office of DC Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWitt, analyzed the costs of each component. While the Nationals are in the middle of the pack for beer and hot dogs and the cheap end for parking, their average ticket cost of $36.02 is the fifth-highest in all of baseball, trailing only the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, and Phillies. The league average is $28.94.
But Nationals fans might be used to the current sting at the gate—ticket prices in Washington only increased 2.2 percent over 2014, compared to a 3.3 percent league-wide increase. (The Kansas City Royals, no doubt bouyed by a run to last year's World Series, mugged their fans the most with a 20.3 percent hike.) But even at No. 5 on the ticket-price chart, the Nationals are closer to the bottom-scraping Cincinnati Reds than they are to the Red Sox.
Other components of the clinically defined family outing are a bit more elastic, though, especially beer. While Team Marketing Report quotes the Nationals' beer price as $6.50, putting them in a three-way tie for ninth-highest, that figure refers to a small domestic draft. Most Nationals Park beer offerings, from full-pint pours to premium offerings like the local brews at the District Draft stations, go for more than $9. The report also only factors in the cheapest souvenir cap available, usually a flimsy adjustable thing. A fitted New Era cap like those worn by the players on the field will set you back $34.99 before tax.
Still, it might not be that bad that the Nationals are in the top tier of fan expenses. Opening-week jitters aside, the Nationals are safe bets to go far this season. The top two teams—the Red Sox and the Yankees, both of whom soak their fans for more than $300 a family outing—are in a race to the bottom of the American League East. Just wait until the Nationals actually get to the World Series for them to pull a move like the Kansas City Royals.