Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC is a historical performance venue that first opened in the 1860′s, but it is most notorious for its role as the setting of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. On April 14th, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor of the day who knew Ford’s Theater well, entered the presidential box and shot and killed Abraham Lincoln, just five days after the Confederate Army had surrendered at Appomattox, ending the Civil War.
I had visited the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois four years earlier and really enjoyed learning about his personal and presidencial history. Ever since then, I’d wanted to visit the theater where he was assassinated to put a proper setting to the history of the rather morbid scene of how the 16th president’s final evening played out. During my trip to Washington DC, I finally had the opportunity to experience this chilling location.
I picked up my free ticket at the visitors center and entered the theater. The tour starts with a museum in the basement that traces the history of Lincoln’s presidency from his arrival in Washington to his fateful last day. It includes several artifacts related to the assassination including the pistol John Wilkes Booth used and the coat Lincoln was wearing. It discusses Lincoln’s tumultuous time in Washington, the fledgling state of the capital city, and it’s tenuous grasp on the still-young nation embattled in a civil war.
After visiting the museum below, I walked up a flight of stairs and entered out onto the theater balcony (visible in the header photograph, where the people are standing). From here, the majority of the theater was visible and it looked like they were busy packing up a set on the stage (Ford’s Theatre is still an active theater, with a regular performance schedule).
The next part of the tour was a bit chilling, as we were escorted into the Presidential box where Lincoln was killed. As we entered the box, we had roughly the same vantage point that Booth had when he pulled the trigger on Lincoln, leapt onto the stage and made his getaway. I’m not sure how I feel about having access to the box as part of the standard tour. It was an extremely eerie and sinister feeling standing in the footsteps of a presidential assassin. However, the event was such a critical moment in American history that perhaps it’s best to make it open to the public. Either way, it was an overwhelming experience.
After Lincoln was shot, he was brought across the street to the Peterson House where he died early the next morning. This house is open to the public as part of the Ford’s Theatre tour and only took a few minutes to visit. We were ushered through the parlor room where Mary Todd Lincoln waited between visits to her husbands bed side and into the back bedroom of the house where Lincoln died (on a bed that was much too short for his long frame).
Visiting Ford’s Theatre was a moving, sobering experience that was the perfect compliment to visiting the Lincoln Museum in Springfield. It is a must visit for anyone interested in presidential history.
Related External Links