Address: Petersen House 516 10th St. NW, Washington AT E Street. Tel: 202/426-6830.
There's something shockingly blunt about the fact that 453 (or rather, as it now is, 516) Tenth Street is popularly known as 'The House where Lincoln died', which confers a feeling of gloom that pervades the house. When President Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre on the 14th April 1865, his unconscious body was carried across the street to this house, where he was declared dead at 7.22am the following morning. Back in 1865, the house was owned by the Petersen family, who lived on the second floor of the building. The first floor was occupied by boarder, Henry Safford, who volunteered his apartment for the President to rest in. Efforts have been made by the National Park Service to redecorate the house in much the same state in which it would have been when Lincoln's body was resting there, though very few of the original furnishings are still on display. THE TOUR When you enter the house through the second floor entrance, up an external set of stairs, you immediately find yourself in a small, dingy corridor with a set of stairs in front of you, and a surly-looking ranger who immediately greets you with a semi-enthusiastic and clearly much-repeated "WelcometotheHousewhereLincolndied... ifyouhaveanyquestionspleaseaskme." From this corridor, you are directed into the front parlor. The front parlor is where Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, spent much of the night while her husband was treated by doctors in the back bedroom. She was joined by her eldest son, who came from the White House when he heard the news about his father being shot. None of the furniture in the room is original, but efforts have been made to decorate the room in the style of the time. From here you pass through a doorway into the back parlor. The back parlor was where the then Secretary of War, Edwin McMasters Stanton, began his investigations into the events surrounding the President's Assassination. He
questioned eyewitnesses, sent out orders for the arrest of John Wilkes Booth, and passed on news of the events to the rest of the country from this room. From the back parlor, you pass back into the first floor corridor, and through to the back bedroom. The back bedroom was the room within which Lincoln died. The room itself is very small and cramped, very different from the etchings and drawings that you usually see of people visiting Lincoln. The bed on display in the room is not the original bed, but is identical to it. The bed was very short, and Lincoln had to be laid diagonally across it. Doctor Charles Augustus Leale, a 23-year-old doctor, who was the first man to enter the presidential box in Ford's Theatre after the shooting, stayed in this room with Lincoln, holding his hand through the night. At one time, the back bedroom displayed a bloodstained pillow from the bed on which Lincoln died, but this has been removed indefinitely to try to find ways to preserve it. From the back bedroom, you go out the back door of the building, walk down to the back garden, which has been planted with flowers popular in gardens in the 1860s, before heading back into the basement. The only part of the basement that is open to tourists is a corridor back through the house, which leads back onto Tenth Street. FINAL THOUGHTS The décor of the house is very drab throughout, and the lighting is generally minimal, giving the whole building a very depressing feel. It takes only about ten to fifteen minutes to tour the House where Lincoln died. You only visit the three rooms, the upper floors being closed to the public. Each of the rooms has plaques explaining what happened in that room back in 1865, along with portraits of the people who visited each room. It's refreshing to visit a historical location, especially in America, where so little has been done to glamorise the attraction. This is history presented purely and simply, with n
o frills or audio-visual aids. Probably the most touching part of the visit is looking at the tree growing in the pavement in front of the house. Visitors have pressed one-cent coins into chewing gum stuck to the bark of tree, with the side of the coin bearing Lincoln's profile on the outside.