The Man Who Shot John Wilkes Booth Castrated Himself

Boston Corbett was born in London, England. His family emigrated to New York City. He became a hatter in Troy, New York. It has been suggested that the fumes of mercury used in the hatter’s trade caused Corbett’s later mental problems.

Missing a few pages...?

Missing a few pages…?

Thomas “Boston” Corbett married, but his wife died in childbirth. Following her death, he moved to Boston, and continued working as a hatter. He joined the Methodist Episcopal Church and changed his name to Boston, the name of the city where he was converted. In an attempt to imitate Jesus, he began to wear his hair very long. On July 16, 1858, in order to avoid the temptation of prostitutes, Corbett castrated himself with a pair of scissors. He then ate a meal and went to a prayer meeting, before going for medical treatment.

In 1887, because of his fame as Booth’s killer, Corbett was appointed assistant doorkeeper of the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka. One day he overheard a conversation in which the legislature’s opening prayer was mocked. He jumped to his feet and brandished a revolver. No one was hurt, but Corbett was arrested and sent to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane. On May 26, 1888, he escaped from the asylum. He went to Neodesha, Kansas, and stayed briefly with Richard Thatcher, whom he had met when they were both prisoners of war. When he left, he told Thatcher he was going to Mexico. His “madness” may have been the result of exposure to mercury, an element commonly used in hat manufacturing. It is so well known for this side effect that it has given rise to the expression “mad as a hatter“.

Presumed fate

Rather than going to Mexico, Corbett is believed to have settled in a cabin he built in the forests near Hinckley, Minnesota. He is thought to have died in the Great Hinckley Fire of September 1, 1894. Although there is no proof, the name “Thomas Corbett” does appear on the list of dead and missing.

More on Corbett from the Art of Bleeding web site:

Folded shamefully away in the quilt of American history is a bloody pair of scissors used by union cavalryman. Why? Well, turns out self-castration is unbecoming in an American hero.

Just as Jack Ruby snuffed Lee Harvey Oswald before we had answers, Lincoln’s assassin was prematurely “executed” by a gunman with his own rogue sense of justice.   Though Corbett defied orders from his commanding officer, no disciplinary actions were taken, and he was initially hailed as a hero.

But then he started talking about God whispering in his ear and signing autographs “the agent of His swift retribution on the assassin of our beloved President, Abraham Lincoln.”

His fans began to worry.

When some of his fans turned to sending hate mail, Corbett’s natural paranoia blossomed.  He started reacting to requests for autographs with a drawn pistol.

“Natural” is perhaps the wrong word in this case, as Corbett’s paranoia was likely connected to his earlier work as a hatter, the mercury used in that trade and the madness associated with it and certain Lewis Carroll characters.

Whatever the cause, Corbett’s exposure to religion didn’t help.  The notion of following Christ’s example he took to mean growing his hair in long and stringy imitation of the Savior.  For years he refused to cut it.  With the genitals, it was a different story…

In 1858, upon finding himself inflamed by the sight of prostitutes walking the streets, he took matters in hand, slicing open his scrotum, stretching out the testes, and snipping his cords.  Immediately after, he rewarded himself with a prayer meeting, a long walk, and a hearty meal.  Good things were going to happen.  The assassin assassination was still years in his future.

After his moment in the national spotlight, Corbett was granted the position of doorkeeper at the Kansas State Legislature but ended that by waving around a gun and getting himself thrown in the state insane asylum.   Escaping from there, he become a reclusive farmer, living in a hole in the ground (euphemistically a “dugout”) and only occasionally emerging to wave a pistol at children playing ball on the Sabbath.   After being driven from his burrow by angry neighbors, Corbett’s history becomes fuzzy and he begins to fade into a sort of mythic figure.

It’s speculated that he died in a vast fire that claimed the town of Hinckley, Minnesota in 1894, though this is unconfirmed.  Also unconfirmed are stories this long-haired bogeyman had taken up residence in the nearby woods where he presumably continued to threaten errant children with guns, the Bible, or perhaps… scissors.

Further Reading:


The Art of Bleeding.