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Free History For Your Report
Ford’s Theatre is a National Historic Site in Washington, D.C., at 511 10th Street. The building was originally constructed as the First Baptist Church of Washington in 1833. The church congregation abandoned the building not even thirty years after, and it was then purchased and renovated as a performing arts theatre by John T. Ford. The first version of the theatre, Ford’s Athenaeum, was gutted by fire within months of opening. It was quickly rebuilt, and reopened under the new name of Ford’s New Theatre.
Three years later, a new show, Our American Cousin, debuted at the theatre at about the same time that General Lee surrendered. Confident of a positive resolution to the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln celebrated with his family by watching a performance of Our American Cousin on the evening of April 14, 1865. One of the well-known and trusted actors, John Wilkes Booth gained access to President Lincoln’s State Box at the Theatre. In his desire to help out the losing Confederacy, he entered the door to the State Box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. Booth then stabbed another man who was watching the performance with the President, before jumping from the stage and reportedly breaking his leg (many historians believe that Booth actually broke his leg much later, while escaping on his horse). Booth was later cornered by the military at a farm and assassinated by a sergeant.
After the assassination, President Lincoln was carried across the street to Peterson’s Boarding House for medical care. One of the audience members, Dr. Charles Leale, attended to Lincoln here, as he laid unconscious through the night. Military guards patrolled the house, parting ways only for dignitaries. The next morning, at 7:22am, President Abraham Lincoln died from his wound.
A short time after the assassination, The United States Government took over Ford Theatre and used it as an office and warehouse building. Records from the War Department and the Library of the Surgeon General’s Office were there, as were the offices of the Army
Medical Museum. In 1887, the whole facility became a clerk’s office for the War Department. During this use, the building collapsed from neglect, killing 22 people and injuring many others. This led to the belief that the building was cursed. It was rebuilt and utilized from that point on as a government warehouse. In 1931, it was abandoned completely and sat vacant. Over three decades later, Congress approved funds for a complete restoration (due to the building’s historical significance in the Lincoln assassination), with the work completed in 1967. The year of 1970 saw the reopening of The Ford Theatre, as a premier Washington, D.C. landmark.
Today, visitors can come to Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, a part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, and visit the museum that is located in the basement of the theatre. On display is the original door to Lincoln’s box, the pistol used by Booth in the assassination, and Booth’s diary. The Peterson Boarding House, across the street, has preserved the room where Lincoln died as it was that day, with the exception of the bed, which is at the Chicago Historical Society. The Ford Theatre is free for admission, except during a number of shows it performs yearly, as an active venue.