April 14, 1865 was Good Friday, six days since General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his troops at Appomatox Courthouse in Virginia. Washington was in a state of jubilation. President and Mrs. Lincoln were to attend the theater that night at Ford's, seeing the popular play Our American Cousin.
Not everyone was celebrating, however. One such was the actor and southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Booth had often acted at Ford's, and was well-known there. Shortly after 10:00 pm he stole into the presidential box and stood in the dark listening to the lines on the stage, waiting for one of the biggest laugh-lines of the show. When it came, and the audience burst out in hilarity, Booth stepped into the presidential box and fired a single shot from his .44 caliber Derringer into the head of Abraham Lincoln. Booth leaped to the stage and shouted, "Sic semper tyrannis!" ("Thus always to tyrants!"). He fled from the stage, and from the city of Washington.
The events of that tragic night are among the most important in American history, and at the newly renovated Ford's Theatre, the Ford's Theatre Museum, and the nearby Petersen House Museum, which preserves the room where the President died, the memories and artifacts of that night are preserved.
Ford's Theatre presents a regular season of four plays, as well as hosting special events throughout the year. The plays performed usually have an historical bent, though not necessarily Civil War-related. Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a perennial favorite. The company also presents programming for day visitors, including presentations by National Park Service rangers, and a one-act play called One Destiny, performed by two actors portraying eyewitnesses to the assassination. The museum presents the history of the Lincoln administration and the culture of Washington, D.C. during Lincoln's time in office. It contains items of historical interest including the pistol used by John Wilkes Booth, the clothing Lincoln wore the night of the assassination, Booth's diary, and the original door to the presidential box. The Petersen House is maintained as a museum and recreates the room as it appeared on the night of the assassination.
- Theatre: Ford's Theatre National Historic Site is open for tours from 9am to 5pm daily
- Museum: The museum reopened on July 15, 2009. It is open from 9am to 5pm for visits. The final entry is at 4pm.
- The Petersen House: The Petersen House is open 9:30am to 5:30pm
- Tickets vary by seat and performance, please call 202-397-SEAT for more information or visit: www.fordstheatre.org/home/plan-your-visit/tickets
- Admission into the Theatre, Museum and Petersen House is free, but a ticket is required.
- Metro Stop:
- Blueline, Orangeline or Redline to the Metro Center Station
- Location: 511 10th Street NW Washington DC
- Phone: 202-233-0701
- Website: www.fordstheatre.org