Don’t get mudd on your hands
The Civil War era has given rise to perhaps more legends and myths than any period of American history (apart from the country’s founding). This is not surprising, given that so many strange things happened during that time, and that emotions about the war have been running high ever since Fort Sumter was fired upon in 1861.
But is there any truth to the story that the saying, “My name is/will be mud,” or “Your name is/will be mud,” refers to the stain on Dr. Samuel Mudd’s reputation based on his relationship with John Wilkes Booth in the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865?
Here’s some background — John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln in Washington on the evening of April 14, 1865, and broke his leg while escaping. Booth fled through the Maryland countryside on his way to Virginia. He stopped at Dr. Mudd’s house at 4 a.m. on the morning of April 15th and asked for help. Mudd set Booth’s leg and allowed him to rest and sleep at his house that night. It is not clear whether Mudd knew that Booth had shot Lincoln a few hours before.
It is also not clear whether Mudd had known Booth before the assassination or the extent to which Mudd was a Maryland sympathizer or co-conspirator in the murder. That’s a very complicated story, Buzzkillers, and will have to wait for another episode. Mudd was, however, arrested and convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison. It was a widely publicized event and trial and the “Name of Mudd” was certainly on people’s mind at the time.
But the phrase, “My/your name is mud,” has nothing to do with the case of Dr. Samuel Mudd. The Oxford English Dictionary and other rock solid sources tell us that the phrase had been around since at least 1823, over forty years before Mudd set Booth’s leg. Originally, it meant what you would think it meant — your name and reputation is (or will be) dirty.
So stay clean, Buzzkillers.