Over New Year's weekend 1956, President Eisenhower spent 10 days in Key West recovering from his heart attack the previous September. Flying back to Washington, D.C. on the Columbine III, Eisenhower asked his pilot to make a detour to the south, to fly over Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.
If you were a president who had just been reminded of your own mortality, what would be going through your mind as you inspected the former prison of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, accused of conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln?
I don't know what President Eisenhower pondered, but it didn't keep him from signing a bill nearly three years later, authorizing a marker memorializing Dr. Mudd's work during a 1869 yellow fever epidemic.
Fort Jefferson is now part of the Dry Tortugas National Park. It was originally a massive brick fort built in the 1840s. As the building sank under its own weight, and as new types of weapons made the fort's defenses obsolete, the Army halted construction. However, the fort's isolation was an asset for its role as a prison.
"Eyes on Key West" New York Times, January 1, 1956
"President Takes Detour to See Historic Fort" New York Times, January 9, 1956
"President Approves Memorial to Dr. Mudd" New York Times, September 22, 1959