In this photo (¿daguerreotype?):

    Booth with a stiff rod

John Wilkes Booth is posing with some kind of hooked rod. It does not seem to be a pipe, cane, umbrella, or writing instrument.

What is it?

Here are 2 more pics with the same thing (may be from the same session):

    same thing, pic 2 same thing, pic 3

  • 1
    It may not even be an item belonging to Booth but instead a prop of the photographer's. At the time camera exposures were many seconds long and sitters were required to sit very still. To keep from capturing motion blur of fidgety fingers they had to either be balled into fists or gripping something. (subjects also had to sit stiffly, not smile etc which is why old photos seem so very stern).
    – AllInOne
    Apr 30, 2019 at 19:11
  • @AllInOne, possible. ("Thy rod and thy staff, they still my hand"?) Too bad the Napoleon pose was no longer in vogue; it would have been extra fun in retrospect. Apr 30, 2019 at 19:23
  • You folks are all knocking yourselves out. It was Booth's. Dan Bryant of Bryant's Minstrels, gave it to him and it's inscribed on the other side from him to Booth. Check George Bryan's book, "The Great American Myth," and you can see a photo of it close-up, with, as I recall, the engraving. I have held it in my hand, posing it it for a photo just as Booth posed with it in his seated photo. I was asked by the present owner not to reveal who that is. Jun 2, 2020 at 21:54

4 Answers 4


Wanted to second Brock Adams's answer.

It's a Victorian Turf Cane -Ca. 1860 with shaped horse leg and hoof silver plated handle. They cost $400-$600 today from an antique dealer or online at action. Collecting such Turf Canes or Walking Sticks is a popular past-time today.

They are most closely associated with a walking stick, but too delicate to really serve in that purpose. Too delicate to actually take one's weight or support one as a walking cane might help someone who was old or infirm. They were carried as a social status symbol and fashion accessory.

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Some sites have a different term for the item Booth is carrying, a riding crop. The website Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History shows a thumbnail of Booth with the same item, description is

John Wilkes Booth seated view holding riding crop between his legs

The wiki page for Booth has a link on the bottom to another image, the description here is

Rare shot of Booth probably by J. A. Keenan, the same Philadelphia photographer who photographed him in this attire including riding crop

A riding crop makes more sense to me than a pipe, or a cane. The item is too thin to bear any weight on to be used as a cane or walking stick. Another factor which may lead credence to the riding crop theory, is that the strange shape on the end of the item, appears to be the shape of a horse's leg:

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Apparently this shape is a recurring theme on riding crops or whips. An item for sale on a commercial site: enter image description here

Concerning the form of a 19th century riding crop, here is a description from a publication in 1895, Lloyd's Encyclopædic dictionary, Volume 2, by Robert Hunter

9 A riding whip having a short stick with a crooked handle and a loop for the attachment of a thong

Of course historical evidence placing Booth in possession of a riding crop would be preferred, and incidentally, we have the following from a description of the scene after a failed kidnapping attempt on Lincoln:

...John H Surratt re appeared rushing in a state of frenzy into the room in his mother's house armed declaring he shoot whoever came into the room and proclaiming that his prospects were blasted his hopes gone that soon Payne came into same room also armed and under great excitement and was immediately followed by Booth with his riding whip in his hand who walked rapidly across the floor from side to side much excited that for some time he did not notice the presence of the witness Weichmann tho parties then withdrew upon suggestion from Booth to an upper room there had a private interview From all that

This is from testimony by Louis Weichmann from the conspiricy trial and appears in the 1865 book The Assassination of President Lincoln: And the Trial of the Conspirators ...By Benn Pitman. A more recent retelling of this event cant be found at History News Network,

According to Surratt’s friend and roommate, Louis Weichmann, a frightened Surratt burst into their room at Mrs. Surratt’s around half past six that night, booted and spurred and armed with a Sharp’s four-barreled revolver. “Weichmann, my prospects are gone; my hopes blasted,” he said. Ten minutes later Powell rushed into the room, his face flushed with excitement. When Powell pulled up his waistcoat, Weichmann noticed a large revolver on his hip. Booth came in next, and marched about the room two or three times flicking the riding crop in his hand. At a signal from Booth, the three men went up to the attic to confer. Then they left the house.

This relates the same event with the more familiar term riding crop. The above is listed as

Adapted from Michael Schein’s forthcoming book, John Surratt: The Lincoln Assassin Who Got Away (History Publishing Co., release April 14, 2015

So, historical evidence-actual testimony- seems to place Booth in possession of a riding whip or riding crop (the terms seem fairly interchangeable). (all above emphasis mine).

  • Riding crops usually have a flattened business end to reduce the likelihood of serious injury to the animal. Then again, that end is not super clear in the pics seen so far. It could still be a walking stick, or perhaps both. Such sticks were not always functional. Apr 28, 2019 at 5:39
  • 1
    Yes,riding crops today have such protections, but would items owned by members of a culture from the mid 1800s which thought nothing of whipping human beings, who were also livestock in their eyes. Doing some more research today, have found several references to 19th century riding crops having crooked ends, no protective pads however.
    – justCal
    Apr 28, 2019 at 13:47

The picture is in the collection of the US Library of Congress (LC-DIG-ppmsca-19233)

The description reads:

Photograph showing portrait of John Wilkes Booth, seated, holding pipe.

  • (my emphasis)

However, in this image, the object appears to be a decorated walking cane:

Booth with walking cane

  • I understand that someone at the LoC labeled that a pipe, but how could it be one? That end is neither a mouthpiece nor a bowl. Pipes look like this don't they? Apr 28, 2019 at 3:11
  • 1
    @BrockAdams They could come in almost any shape. Long-stemmed pipes were called 'churchwardens'. Many were made from clay. Some copied Native American designs. I don't know enough about American styles to be more specific, but presumably whoever catalogued the photo for the LoC did. Apr 28, 2019 at 3:30
  • @BrockAdams However, I've found another image which shows the object more clearly. It looks more likely to be a walking cane. Apr 28, 2019 at 4:28
  • Note that I had already posted that as another answer. Apr 28, 2019 at 4:30
  • @BrockAdams Hmm. I can still only see this answer. Looks like the SE Android app is still playing up. Apr 28, 2019 at 4:34

Finally found another picture (at Alamy) that appears to show the same thing:

    same thing

If so, then it looks like a walking stick -- used as a fashion accessory.

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