“ It is a live, working theatre located in downtown Washington, DC. As a living tribute to President Abraham Lincoln's love of the performing arts, Ford's Theatre produces musicals and plays that embody family values, underscore multiculturalism, and illumi „
Ford's Theatre is unusual in that it's probably the only theatre in America where they've spelt the word 'theatre' correctly. It's also culturally significant to the nation as the place where President Abraham Lincoln was shot. Nowadays, the building operates as a normal, working theatre, and is open from 9am to 5pm every day of the year (except Christmas Day) for tourists to visit. Tourists visiting Ford's Theatre can wander around the auditorium, and go down into the basement, where there is a museum. For obvious reasons, the theatre closes to tourists when rehearsals or matinees are in progress in the theatre, usually on Thursdays, Saturdays or Sundays, but at these times the basement museum remains open. HISTORY John T Ford, a successful entrepreneur, was responsible for building the theatre. When he first moved to Washington, in 1861, he leased the First Baptist Church, using the building as a music hall. However, his early success was abruptly cut short when a fire destroyed the building at the end of 1862. In 1863, Ford oversaw the construction of Ford's "New Theatre", which had its first performance on the site on August 27, 1863. The theatre was a great success, drawing great crowds, and on the evening of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln attended a performance of 'Our American Cousin'. During the performance, John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box, shot Lincoln, stabbed the President's friend Major Rathbone in he arm, and leapt to the stage. Booth hobbled across the stage, left the theatre, mounted his waiting horse in the back alley and escaped. For several months, during the investigation of the shooting and the trial of Booth and his conspirators, the theatre remained closed. When the conspirators had been sentenced and hanged, Ford was given permission to reopen the theatre, but chose not to after receiving threats that the theatre would be burned
down if it was reopened. In August 1865, the War Department began leasing the building from Ford, and began its conversion into a three-storey office building. In 1866, they bought the theatre from Ford. In 1893, the floors of the office building collapsed, and the building became used for storage. In 1932, it reopened as a Lincoln museum, eventually being converted to the working theatre and Lincoln museum you see today in 1968. THEATRE When I visited the theatre, the first floor (or, as we'd call it, ground floor) of the theatre wasn't open to the public, however the upper circle was. When you enter the upper circle from the small stair case, you almost immediately spot, on the opposite side of the theatre, the Presidential box in which Lincoln was sitting that fateful day in 1865. Or rather, a remarkably faithful recreation of it. The Presidential box has been decorated as it was thought to have been back then, with American flags draped over the rail, on either side of a central engraving of the President, which was the one that hung on the front of the box on April 14, 1865. You can walk round to the Presidential box, and look through the doorway by which Booth entered the box. The furnishings in the box are as accurate to the originals as could be achieved. The only original piece of furniture in there is the red sofa upon which Major Rathbone was sitting. It's a very interesting and slightly macabre place to visit, however, the location's historical significance is slightly depleted by the fact that this is merely an accurate Twentieth century facsimile of the theatre as it was a hundred years earlier. There's not a great deal to see in the Theatre itself though. MUSEUM The museum, however, is quite fascinating. It's relatively small, but contains a lot of information. Various panels in the museum explain the historical background to Lincoln's assassination, explainin
g his stance during the Civil War, and his struggles to preserve the Union. Glass cases are devoted to the occupants of the Presidential box, and the conspirators, surrounding a larger central glass case devoted to Lincoln himself. Further displays describe Booth's flight, and how he was eventually shot in Garrett's Farm, Virginia. The items on display are impressive in their morbidity. Lincoln's box includes the coat he was shot in, along with the sleeve that was torn from it by souvenir hunters. There's also a pillow reported to have some of Lincoln's bloodstains on it! The conspirators' boxes each include their weaponry, and the hoods that they were offered at their hanging, whether they chose to wear them or not. Apparently, some years ago, one of my friends visited the museum, and they had a life-size replica of the enormous gallows that were built to hang the conspirators. This rather macabre decoration has since been removed however, to be replaced by a life-size photographic enlargement of Lincoln, which you can stand next to. One corner of the museum provides some relief from the morbidity, and is devoted to the history of the theatre itself, displaying playbills and posters for recent performances. Nonetheless, despite the bleakness of the museum, it really is very interesting. The building's history is well told, and there are a lot of interesting things on display. CONCLUSIONS The Ford's Theatre is well worth a visit if you're in Washington DC. The museum and theatre don't take that long to tour, but there's a lot of interesting items to see, and the faithfulness of the recreated theatre is excellent. As with all museums in Washington, it's free to tour, and there's an excellent shop in the basement, with a good selection of books, postcards and reproduction posters from the "New Ford's Theatre". The Theatre is about five minu
tes walk from the Mall, just along the road from the FBI Building on 10th Street. Oh, and food, drink and gum aren't allowed in the building, so don't even think about it. Move along, nothing to see here.
It is a live, working theatre located in downtown Washington, DC. As a living tribute to President Abraham Lincoln's love of the performing arts, Ford's Theatre produces musicals and plays that embody family values, underscore multiculturalism, and illuminate the eclectic character of American life.