Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

You probably are aware that Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. is the place where President Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. It was here that he was shot and our nation was thrown into chaos. But have you ever considered all of the other people who were affected? 

President’s Box at Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre Production

When we visited Ford’s Theatre, we were fortunate enough to have been able to purchase advanced tickets to a theatre production “One Destiny”. This one act play about Lincoln’s assassination was a two man show – an actor who had been on stage at the moment of the assassination and the theatre owner Mr. Ford. The play depicted the activities at the theatre on that fateful day and some of the seemingly minor encounters people had had with John Wilkes Booth on the days prior. 

Ford’s Theatre Stage

It was not at all unusual for them to see John Wilkes Booth around the theatre because he was an actor, part of an acting family. No one even thought of it being odd on the day of the assassination to see him in the back alley with a horse (his getaway vehicle). It wasn’t until he came bounding across the stage that people were aware something was amiss.

Presidential box at right of stage

But what we thought was interesting was the aftermath – the actors were questioned, the theatre owner was jailed and the theatre was shut down. This was an aspect of the assassination we had never considered.

Ford’s Theatre Museum 

Even if you are unable to secure tickets to a theatre production, it is worth a visit to Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House across the street. This tiny home was where Lincoln was taken after he was shot and you can visit the bedroom where he died.  Next door is a bookstore where all the books written about Lincoln are piled up, over 2 stories high!

Inside the theatre building, there is an excellent museum. It displays a timeline of what happened that day for both John Wilkes Booth and President Lincoln, detailing their activities. Something we hadn’t realized was that General Grant and his wife were originally scheduled to attend that performance, but at the last minute could not attend.

The museum also talked about the other people who had been involved in the plot, originally planned as a kidnapping of Lincoln to exchange for some Confederate prisoners. The kidnapping almost happened earlier in March that year, but at the last minute Lincoln changed his plans. 

When John Wilkes Booth heard that Lincoln was attending the play at Ford’s Theatre in April, he took matters into his own hands, changing from kidnapping to assassination.  The museum does a great job at walking you through the lead up and the events of the day. 

Ford’s Theatre History

Along with the history surrounding Lincoln’s assassination, we also learned some interesting facts about Ford’s Theatre itself. This was a premier theatre destination during the civil war, purchased and refurbished by Mr. Ford in 1862. Clad in black curtains of mourning, the theatre never reopened after the assassination. Many wanted to burn it down, but the government needed space so they turned it into a federal office building in 1866.

Although not highlighted in the museum, this building has its own tale to tell. The government added floors to accommodate offices, but in 1893 the third floor collapsed, killing 22 workers and injuring another 68. But even after that it remained a federal records building until 1932. In 1933 the building and collections were entrusted to the National Park Service.

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

In 1964 the National Park Service restored the property. It finally reopened to the public in 1968 as Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, memorializing Lincoln and celebrating his love of the theatre by creating both a historic site and working theatre. 

Today more than 650,000 people visit Ford’s Theatre each year, including lots and lots of school groups! It was great to see them all there, learning about our history and celebrating Lincoln’s legacy.

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