One hundred forty-nine years ago today, one of the most seminal events in the history of our republic occurred at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C.

April 14th, 1865, John Wilkes Booth sneaked into the presidential box during a performance of "Our American Cousin" and shot President Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head.

After firing his gun, Booth struggled with Major Henry Rathbone, who, along with his fiancee Clara Harris, daughter of New York Senator Ira Harris, was sitting with the president and Mrs. Lincoln for the performance. Booth slashed and stabbed Rathbone before leaping out of the presidential box onto the stage below.

After escaping from Ford's Theater, Booth made his way out of Washington and into Maryland, avoiding capture during a widespread dragnet of Union soldiers. Booth and co-conspirator David Herold finally found themselves hidden in the barn of tobacco farmer Richard Garrett (Booth had told Garrett that Booth was a wounded Confederate soldier).

The barn was eventually surrounded by Union soldiers, who demanded the two men surrender or the barn would be set on fire. Herold gave up almost immediately, but Booth declared he "would not be taken alive." Upon hearing Booth's refusal, soldiers set fire to the barn. A soldier named Boston Corbett sneaked up to the barn and shot Booth, severing his spinal cord just below the back of the head, paralyzing Booth instantly. Booth was then dragged from the barn, and died less than two hours later on the porch of the Garrett farmhouse.

Booth's body was later delivered to the Washington Navy Yard for identification and autopsy. A tattoo on his hand with the initials JWB, along with a distinctive scar on his neck were cited as proof that it was indeed Booth by at least 10 people who knew him.

Fast forward to 1995, when descendants of John Wilkes Booth asked a judge to exhume the body of Booth's older brother, Edwin, to compare his DNA to a body long believed to be that of John Wilkes Booth, lying in an unmarked grave in Baltimore. The judge denied their request, saying the exhumation of Edwin Booth would disturb the graves of three young children beneath.

From the Daily Mail story:

Joanne Hulme, 60, a Booth descendant and family historian, told the Philadelphia Inquirer: 'I'm absolutely in favour of exhuming Edwin. Let's have the truth and put this thing to rest. The first story my mother ever told me was the John Wilkes Booth was not killed in the barn.'

It seems as though the chances are slim that Booth escaped his predicament and lived out his life in freedom, there are those who think

...he escaped the barn and lived under the names John St Helen and David E George in Texas and Oklahoma. George committed suicide in 1903 and is said to have confessed to his true identity while on his deathbed.

We Americans love our conspiracy theories. For more, check this video out:

And, if you've got a bit of time: