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I am a Denver-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Touring Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC

Outside Ford's Theatre

Outside Ford’s Theatre

I stood outside Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., the place where President Abraham Lincoln was shot in April of 1865. I had been there before, as a child, but only had vague memories, a snippet really of standing in the box where the assassination occurred and a flash of a weapon used. My feet carried me past the museum and still-active theater several times in Washington, but now, finally on my last day, was I able to return to experience it as an adult.

The theatre’s main façade and lobby had obviously been renovated since my youth. My memories didn’t reach back far enough, though, to recall what they looked like circa 1984. I didn’t pause to give it much thought, since the anticipation of being in such an historic place propelled me forward. The brief flashes of my visit 30 years ago came, but I brushed them aside, eager to see what was inside. A very kind national park ranger had to stop me in the middle of my delirium to explain, while the museum was free, I did still need to get a ticket.

Lincoln family exhibit

Lincoln family exhibit

Once inside I was amazed to see all of the various exhibits; how events came to Civil War, a small display on home life for the Lincolns, information on the seemingly endless revolving door of lead generals for the Union, and a large display on the conspirators in the assassination. It was mid-afternoon when I arrived, so there would be no way I could stop to read each piece of information. I wanted to, but it just wasn’t possible before they closed.

The Union generals

The Union generals

While the information in the front is key to understanding the events that transpired, the highlights of the Ford’s Theatre museum are in the back. Once down the stairs into the museum, go right instead of straight ahead and you’ll see the pillow Lincoln bled onto at the Petersen House across the street from the theatre, the pistol John Wilkes Booth used in the assassination, and a timeline of events of their days. If you do have the time, though, I highly recommend slowing down and going through the museum. There is a lot of interesting information and artifacts worth seeing, even if you only have time to skim it.

The gun used to assassinated President Lincoln

The gun used to assassinated President Lincoln

Up some stairs from the museum and down a long hallway I came to the balcony of Ford’s Theatre. As I said, I had been there before. But standing there at that moment, I felt a rush of memories washing back over me. A guide spoke to me about the theater, pointing out the production crew setting up on stage and how it is still an active theater, but I wasn’t really listening. I missed most of what he was saying. I was too busy taking it all in, the current scene and memories past.

The balcony in Ford's Theatre

The balcony in Ford’s Theatre

Thanking the guide I turned to the right outside of the door and stepped to the box where President Lincoln was shot. I patiently waited me turn, which didn’t take long in the winter months. A ranger across the street at the Petersen House said in the busy summer months they have a line waiting to get in hundreds, if not a thousand, people deep. For both the museum and the house I was able to simply walk in and go through it at my own pace, since I was there in the slower winter months.

The box where President Lincoln was killed in Ford's Theatre

The box where President Lincoln was killed in Ford’s Theatre

The Petersen House

The Petersen House

After taking my time looking at the presidential box, I crossed the street to the Petersen House. As I said, this is the home where President Lincoln died after being shot by Booth. Three doctors attended to Lincoln in the theatre, and more helped once he was taken to the Petersen House. But, despite their best efforts, the president died from a gunshot wound to the head on April 15, 1865.

The conspirators were captured at various periods and locations days after the assassination. A new museum, at least new since my boyhood, explaining the events of the pursuit is attached to the Petersen House. So after walking through the living room, kitchen, and dining room of the home, all of which were crazy with activity the night of the assassination, I walked into the bedroom where Lincoln died. Since it is not crowded in the winter, and no line was waiting behind me, I took my time there before continuing on to the new museum.

The bed where President Lincoln died on April 15, 1865

The bed where President Lincoln died on April 15, 1865

I learned more about the tracking and capture of John Wilkes Booth and all of his conspirators – several were enlisted to also kill the likes of Secretary of State William Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson and provide assistance in escape – and their trial. Booth was found in a barn on a farm south of the Rappannock River in Virginia and killed twelve days after President Lincoln. The barn was set afire by Union soldiers in pursuit of Booth. He refused to come out. A Union sergeant, Boston Corbett, was able to get behind Booth and shoot him in nearly the exact spot where he shot Lincoln, severing Booth’s spinal cord in the process.

The pillow used at the Petersen House for President Lincoln

The pillow used at the Petersen House for President Lincoln is on display in Ford’s Theatre

Scores of suspected accomplices were arrested and imprisoned. Some were released, others imprisoned after trial, and some hung for their involvement. Who did what when escaped me, though, at this point, as the sheer amount of information was overwhelming. I read what I could, tried to process it all, but after spending a few hours between the two museums and historical locations, it just became too much for me. I suppose that’s why, in addition to Lincoln being such a polarizing figure, so many books are written about the president, the Civil War, or the assassination; before leaving I gaped at the display at the museum in one big pile of most of the some 15,000 books written about President Lincoln…

A tower of books on President Lincoln

A tower of books on President Lincoln

Click here to learn more about President Lincoln in Washington, D.C.

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3 Comments on “Touring Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC”

  1. agnesstramp April 16, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

    Looks like a nice place to explore although I’m not the biggest fan of theaters and museums.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Five Places to See Lincoln in Washington, DC | Jason's Travels - April 15, 2013

    […] 2. Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House […]

  2. Washington DC 2012: Petersen House – where Lincoln died | MASCrapping - May 5, 2013

    […] Touring Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC (jasonstravels.com) […]

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