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Washington DC: Ford's Theatre

Ford's Theatre, at 511 10th Street NW, which had been used for various stage performances beginning in the 1860's, is most famous for being the site of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. After being shot, the fatally wounded President was carried across the street to the Petersen House, where he died the next morning. The theatre and house are preserved together as Ford's Theatre National Historic Site.


The site was originally a house of worship, constructed in 1833 as the First Baptist Church of Washington. In 1861, after the congregation relocated to a newly built structure, John T. Ford bought the former church and renovated it into a theatre. He first called it Ford's Athenaeum. It was destroyed by fire in 1862, and was rebuilt, opening the following year as Ford's New Theatre.


Just five days after General Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Lincoln sat in the "State Box" watching Our American Cousin. A well-known actor, John Wilkes Booth, desperate to aid the dying Confederacy, stepped into the box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. He then jumped onto the stage, and cried out "Sic semper tyrannis" just before escaping through the alley.


Following Lincoln’s death, the public demanded the closure of the Theatre. The United States Government seized the building, with Congress paying Ford $100,000 in compensation, and an order was issued forever prohibiting its use as a place of public amusement. The theatre was eventually taken over by the U.S. military and served as the home of the War Department records on the first floor, the Library of the Surgeon General's Office on the second floor, and the Army Medical Museum, during the period 1866-1887. In 1887 the medical uses were eliminated and it became a War Department clerk's office. The front part of the building collapsed on June 9, 1893, and killed 22 of those clerks, injuring another 68. The building was repaired and used as a government warehouse until 1931.


Along with the Peterson House, it was transferred from the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks of the National Capital to the National Park Service in 1933 and sat unused until 1954, when Congress approved funds for restoration, which was completed in 1968. Since then, Ford's Theatre has been both an active theatre presenting plays and musicals and a museum containing portions of the Olroyd Collection of Lincolniana. On display are multiple items related to the assassination, including the Derringer pistol used to carry out the shooting, Booth's diary, Lincoln's coat and blood-stained pillow, and the original door to Lincoln's theatre box.


National Register #66000034 (1966)

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Taken on June 6, 2009