(October 7, 2019)
So, after the National Law Enforcement Museum and Memorial, we headed further downtown, and happened upon Ford’s Theatre (a former First Baptist Church), where President Abraham Lincoln (our 16th president) was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, on April 14, 1865, of which date also happened, in a twist of irony, to be Good Friday. Lincoln’s assassination was precipitated not only by the surrender of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his army to General Ulysses Grant on April 9, at Appomattox (essentially marking the end of the Civil War) six days prior, but also a speech Lincoln made two days after the surrender (April 11, 1865) of which Booth was present, wherein Lincoln promoted voting rights for blacks. This tipped the scale for Booth, from intent to kidnap Lincoln, to murder.
We arrived at an opportune time, in that there was no line to get in, as “normal” for this Historic Site. Normally one has to have reserved tickets on-line ($3/person, for a specific time slot), or wait in line, to get even get into Ford’s Theatre, as they closely monitor the number of people allowed entrance into the theatre portion each half-hour. Even so, we almost passed this opportunity by.
But, seeing as it was free, with no wait, and none of the rest of our family group had been to Ford’s Theatre, we ducked in. I had been here years ago while “chaperoning” my daughter’s 8th grade DC trip, and was curious what improvements/updates, if any, had occured. Since my last visit, tremendous renovations and improvements certainly had been made. There are four distinct components to this Historical Site:
The Museum (all things having to do with Lincoln, his life, presidency and assassination);
Being able to examine artifacts like the pistol (.44 cal Derringer), and a replica of the round that killed Pres. Lincoln, as well as clothing and personal belongings of Lincoln and those involved in the assassination was fascinating.
The Ranger Talk in the theatre;
I found the Ranger “talk” or rather splendid oratory and tidbital (a word have since made up) information as to the theatre’s and Booth’s history, and the events leading up to Lincoln’s assassination captivating.
The Aftermath Exhibits (the hunt for Booth and subsequent events and artifacts); and The Petersen House (across the street where Lincoln died) where even with a ticket there always seems to be a significant wait;
Things I learned from this visit, included:
- The theatre was originally the First Baptist Church, but shortly after John T. Ford bought the building and turned it into a “dance hall”, it burned down (December 1862), and was later rebuilt.
- Following the assassination of Lincoln, the theatre was closed, as attempts to reopen the theatre were met with threats to “burn it down”. As a result, the War Department leased the building from Ford (who interestingly enough, at the time of Lincoln’s assassination, was a good friend of John Wilkes Booth) . In 1866, the Federal government bought the building and turned it into offices.
- Death revisited the “theatre” (now owned by the government) once more when three interior floors collapsed, killing 22 clerks. Even before this happened, rumors had circulated that the building was “cursed”.
- In 1932 a museum to Lincoln was opened in “Ford’s Theatre”, and the year following, the museum and building became a unit of the National Parks.
- The evening of Lincoln’s assassination, Lincoln bid his driver “good bye” as opposed to his usual “good night”, which struck him as odd. It was if Lincoln knew he was going to his death.
- Live theatre has been reintroduced to Ford’s Theatre, by the Ford’s Theatre Society, as a tribute to Lincoln’s love of the theatre.
- This National Historic Site is open everyday 9am-5pm, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas day.
Following this visit, we couldn’t help but muse as to what our country would be like today, had Lincoln NOT been assassinated.