Ford's Theater

Historic American Places to Visit: Ford’s Theater

Ford’s Theatre is a historically significant theater located in the nation’s capital of Washington, the District of Columbia (D.C.). Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States was assassinated there just five days after the official conclusion of the American Civil War while attending a play on 14 April 1865. He was pronounced dead the following morning after receiving frantic medical attention across the street at the Peterson House. The plot to kill the president was the only successful portion of a grander scheme conceived by Confederate sympathizers to murder not only Lincoln, but other high ranking figures in his government. Lincoln, one of the more highly revered former American presidents is best known for his Emancipation Proclamation and the vital role he played while leading the Union Army to victory during the Civil War. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued on 1 January 1863, was an executive order that proclaimed the freedom of all slaves residing in the rebellious Southern Confederacy, which consisted of ten states at that time. Though the Proclamation did not end the institution of slavery itself, it did eventually lead to the freedom of more than three million slaves. Of course Southern plantation owners were not willing to release their human property based on the orders of Lincoln, whom they viewed as a foreign enemy of their fledgling nation. However, as Confederate towns and cities succumbed to devastating Union military advances, so went the bonds of slavery. Whereas George Washington is considered to be the father of the United States, Lincoln is accredited with preserving the country as one unified nation. For this, he is greatly admired by many Americans today, regardless of their political proclivities. This makes Ford’s Theatre, the Peterson House, and the Center for Education and Leadership popular tourist destinations for those seeking educational, exciting, and historically significant locations to visit.

Ford's Theater

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Abraham Lincoln Portrait

Visiting Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

Visiting the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site requires guests to obtain tickets. These tickets, available at the box office are free of charge for all those wishing to tour the site. However, there are a limited number of tickets that can be released each day. Of the total amount of tickets available daily, only twenty percent of them are available for same day tours. The remaining tickets are set aside for those wishing to reserve their visit for a later date. There is a nominal convenience charge of $2.50 for those individuals reserving advanced tickets. This fee is reduced to $2.00 for visitors that belong to groups of twenty or more people. The historic site as a whole consists of three buildings: Ford’s Theatre, The Peterson House, and the Center for Education and Leadership. The Center for Education and Leadership is a new addition to the site, opening its doors to the public in February 2012. Tickets grant entry into all three of these buildings. There exists only one ticket to the whole historic site; tickets are not available to each individual building.

Lincoln's Booth:

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Abraham Lincoln biography

Ford’s Theatre

The theater has been designated as a National Historic Site since 1932. It should be noted that Ford’s Theatre is an operational theater; therefore, it occasionally closes to the public for various rehearsals and performances. A detailed schedule of these closings is available at www.fords.org. The interior of the theater, particularly the box where Lincoln sat has been made to recreate the feel and appearance it possessed during that fateful day when the president was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. On display are several items directly related with Lincoln’s murder including the handgun used by Booth to carry out the task, Booth’s diary, and the original door which lead into Lincoln’s theater box. Upon arrival to Ford’s Theatre a visitor is greeted by a presentation outlining its historical significance delivered by a National Park Service ranger. Moreover, a play consisting of a single act is presented by the Ford’s Theatre Society. The museum housed within the theater exhibits an amazing collection of historic artifacts including Booth’s aforementioned pistol, as well as the clothing worn by Lincoln the night of his untimely death. The museum also offers a wide variety of books through its gift shop depicting the story of Lincoln’s presidency as it occurred during the years of 1861-1865. There are also affordable and beautiful pieces of artwork that show how Washington D.C. appeared during the 1860s. A complete tour of Ford’s Theatre lasts roughly 30-45 minutes.


Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theater

The Peterson House

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The Peterson House

The Peterson House is located directly across the street from Ford’s Theatre; it marks the location where Lincoln was rushed to after he sustained his fatal shooting injury. The house was purchased by the federal government in 1896 from private ownership. However, like Ford’s Theatre, it was officially designated as a historic landmark in 1932; maintenance began the following year. The house is decorated for the purpose of recreating the appearance it had during the chaotic scene of Lincoln’s death. In an effort to fund the house as a tourist destination, the federal government, shortly after buying the house sold some of its original items to the famous collector from Chicago, Charles Gunther. These items, including Lincoln’s deathbed and other bedroom articles are currently on display at the Chicago History Museum. Fortunately, exact replicas have taken the place of these sold items. The house does a remarkable job in depicting the tremendous struggle performed by doctors to save Lincoln’s life. The original pillows and their cases are presented as they were left, extremely bloody. The amount of blood stains on the pillows give wonderful insight into how the lack of medical knowledge in the 19th century may have lead to Lincoln’s death. Naturally, as an American president, Lincoln received the best medical care available at the time, given the situation. Sadly, even this high level of care wasn’t able to preserve his life. Out of desperation, the physicians resorted to bleeding their dying patient. This was for the purpose of releasing pressure on the president’s brain, an act often performed in modern times. However, Lincoln’s doctors also thought, incorrectly, that his blood was becoming toxic, thus limiting his chances for survival. The Peterson House is directly administered by the National Park Service. Therefore, the tour offered is given by an official park ranger. These rangers are quite knowledgeable and friendly while offering an educational and exciting experience. The well-informed tour places the visitor into the scene where Lincoln came in and out of consciousness before passing away on 15 April 1865.


The Center for Education and Leadership

The Center for Education and Leadership is located directly next door to the Peterson House. The Center includes the Aftermath Gallery, the Legacy Gallery, the Leadership Gallery, as well as two floors dedicated to education studios. The Aftermath Gallery lets visitors trace the immediate aftereffects of Lincoln’s assassination. Here guests can follow through words and pictures the route taken by Lincoln’s funeral train from Washington to his hometown and burial site in Springfield, Illinois. This gallery teaches about Booth’s daring escape and capture after the shooting. Booth was apprehended and killed in a barn used for curing tobacco in Virginia. There are also well written tales discussing the fates of the other conspirators involved in the plot to decapitate the union of its top leadership. The Legacy Gallery explores how Lincoln is remembered today not only Americans, but by everyone around the world. Here visitors watch a video detailing the construction and history of the Lincoln Memorial and its enduring symbolism toward freedom and the civil rights movement. Equally educational are the videos and presentations that carefully dissect the influence Lincoln had on future presidents regardless of their party affiliations. To offer a better understanding of how Lincoln is seen today, the Legacy Gallery has artifacts showing how he has become a contemporary American cultural icon. Here Lincoln’s speeches are remixed for the purpose of showing how his ideas are still pertinent in today’s America. The two floors dedicated to education studios are used as workshops for students and teachers to study further after their visits to the Center.

Conclusion

Washington D.C. is a city that offers many historical places to visit. However, the Ford’s Theatre Historic Site is a top choice for those interested in exploring the life and death of arguably the greatest president the United States has ever had. The site is ideal for anyone travelling on a budget as it offers important historical sites while at the same time being quite affordable.

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Comments 2 comments

Civil War Bob profile image

Civil War Bob 4 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

Do the tour guides ever mention that the building was originally built as First Baptist Church in 1833? The May 1995 issue of America's Civil War carried an interesting article that included that information. Good hub.


shai77 profile image

shai77 4 years ago Author

Yes, the tour guides briefly mention the fact that the theater was once the First Baptist Church built in 1833. However, they don't go into great detail about the church's short lived history. They do mention that the church lasted from 1833 until 1861 when John T. Ford, a highly successful theatrical entrepreneur purchased the building, converting it into the theater we see today. Therefore, it has been an operating theater since the early days of the American Civil War.

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