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What is Ford's Theater?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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While Ford's Theater was a fully functioning playhouse for many decades, it is best known as the site of United States President Abraham Lincoln's assassination. The theater, located in Washington, D.C., has undergone many incarnations as a theater, office space, warehouse, and again as a theater, as it is today. Ford's Theater is preserved as Ford's Theater National Historic site, along with the Petersen House across the street, where Abraham Lincoln died after being rushed from the theater.

Originally a Baptist church, Ford's Theater was born after John T. Ford bought the building in 1861 and renovated it into a theater space. The building eventually burned down and was renovated, and the space was well known as a wonderful place to see a theater production. Shortly after the assassination, the United States Government paid Ford $100,000 U.S. Dollars (USD) to take control of the theater so the building would not be used for public entertainment after the assassination.

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Some of the details regarding the assassination are debated still, but the general course of events are undisputed. Shortly after the surrender of the Confederate Army, on 14 April 1865, Abraham Lincoln and his wife went to Ford's Theater to see a production of Our American Cousin. They sat in a theater box above the stage. Actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth had been planning an attack not only on Lincoln, but also on Secretary of State William Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson. The larger plot failed, as Booth's conspirators were unsuccessful, but Booth managed to find his way into the president's box at Ford's Theater and shoot the president in the back of the head with a Derringer pistol.

President Lincoln was rushed from the theater and taken to the Petersen House across the street, which is also part of the Ford's Theater National Historic Site. Lincoln struggled through the night and died the next day in the Petersen House. For several decades after, the theater sat unused and falling into disrepair. The U.S. Government eventually began using the space as an office building for various departments of the government. After part of the building collapsed, killing several clerks, the building was used simply as a storage warehouse for several decades.

Several restoration efforts revived the theater, and during the early 2000s, another restoration of the space took place. The theater now houses performances again, and it also contains items pertaining to Lincoln's life and death, including Booth's pistol, Lincoln's coat, and the pillow on which Lincoln rested his head as he died.

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momothree
Post 4

@Wesley91: Many people came to believe that it wasn’t Booth that was killed because of the way the Union Soldiers treated the body following Booth’s death. They covered it in a rolled blanket, so no one could see his face. Booth’s corpse was rushed back to the Washington area to be buried. His body was placed in a white pined casket and buried under a warehouse floor. Then, everyone involved in the burial was sworn by a sacred oath to never disclose what they had seen or done.

In 1866, one of Booth’s nieces told a newspaper that Booth met with his mother in San Francisco several times after the assassination.

In 1903, a man who had claimed to be Booth killed himself. Later, his mummified remains were on exhibit in a circus for years. I guess it will always remain a mystery.

wesley91
Post 3

I saw somewhere that they shot the wrong person in Garrett's barn and they tried to cover it up and say it was John Wilkes Booth. Is there any truth to this story?

DinoLeash
Post 2

@OceanSwimmer: John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln at point blank range in the back of the head on April 14, 1865. The President was mortally wounded by a bullet entering just behind his left ear and the left side of his brain.

His body was then carried across the street to the Peterson House. He was then placed on a bed in the room of a War Department Clerk. There were several surgeons present and they all agreed he was dead to all intents, but could live three hours or more. He never regained consciousness.

Mrs. Lincoln would come and sit by her dying husband every hour or so. She was an emotional wreck and couldn’t be consoled. His respirations were heavy at first and then began to slow. He passed away at 7:22 am on April 15, 1865.

OceanSwimmer
Post 1

How long did it take for Abraham Lincoln to die after being shot?

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