Location: Washington D.C.
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Ford’s Theater is an historic theater used for various stage performances in Washington D.C. in the 1860s. While attending the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865, just 5 days after the surrender of General Lee thus ending the Civil War, President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. The assassination of the President was only a part of a larger plot to kill key members of the government with the belief that it would revive the Confederate cause. Powell only managed to wound Secretary of State Seward and Atzerodt lost his nerve and fled instead of attempting to kill Vice President Johnson. Booth was a well known actor and had ready access to the theater and box where President Lincoln was watching the play with his wife Mary Todd. President Lincoln was shot at point blank range, after which Booth jumped down to the stage and made his escape. President Lincoln was taken across the street to the Peterson House where he was attended by multiple doctors, the most noteworthy being Surgeon General Barnes. Mary Todd kept a vigil in the house all night, but the head wound was too serious. President Lincoln died the next morning. The National Historic Site includes Ford’s Theater, which is still used for theatrical productions following the latest renovations in 2009. Part of this renovation was the construction of the museum under the theater which houses parts of the Olroyd Collection of Lincolniana, including the Derringer pistol and Booth’s diary. The site also includes the Peterson House across the street where visitors can tour the bedroom where Lincoln died.
1) The Visitor Center is a new building to the side of Ford’s Theater and now holds the entrance to the museum that is underneath the actual theater. You have to obtain tickets to visit the museum, theater and Peterson house. The tickets are free, but they are used to regulate the number of visitors in the museum at a time. You can spend as much time as you like in the museum and theater assuming there are no productions being held at the time. After exiting the theater you then queue up to enter the Peterson house, where again they regulate the number of visitors at a time.
2) The museum is very well done giving a complete history of the Civil War from Lincoln’s perspective. You can get a real sense of his frustration with his Commanders as he goes through a number of them before settling on General Grant. Especially, since we had just finished visiting all the major Civil War battlefields in the Eastern Theater, I especially enjoyed verifying and filling in this information.
3) There is also a fair amount of information about the day that Lincoln was shot and the conspiracy inspired by John Wilkes Booth. However, if you want to learn about the aftermath you will have to wait until you visit the Peterson House.
4) When you are done with the museum, you can proceed upstairs to the theater itself. The Ford Theater is a nice, yet luxurious theater. The box where Lincoln was shot is drapped in American flags and has the distinct look of a shrine. There is a Park Service Ranger that gives a brief talk about the assassination itself and answers questions from the visitors.
5) The Peterson house has also been renovated to the time of Lincoln’s death and you first visit the room where Mary Todd spent the night before proceeding to the back room where Lincoln died. They still have the bed that he was laid in, however, the pillow with his blood is no longer available for viewing due to its age.
6) The rest of the house and the adjoining house has been converted into a second museum about the aftermath. First, you have information about the casket and train used to transport Lincoln on his long journey to Illinois. They even have the shroud that covered the casket on its journey.
7) Then there is extensive information about the search for John Wilkes Booth through the countryside until he is shot and killed 12 days later at the Garrett’s farm in Virginia. The other conspirators were all captured, tried and hung.
8) The museum ends with a great display of memorabilia including the contents of Lincoln’s pockets and the coat worn by Mary Todd. There is also a huge stack of books that is three stories high of books about Lincoln. Even though some of them are repeats, it is still an impressive stack.