There is something eerie about being in the spot where an assassination took place. Even though I realize intellectually that such an event is highly unlikely to repeat itself, a part of me is still hyper-aware, expecting something dramatic to happen at any moment.
I’d never expected to see a play in the theater where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, but on my last trip to Washington DC, I found myself taking a seat in Ford’s Theater for a matinee performance. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee had come highly recommended to me, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to see the historic theater.
Although Ford’s Theater looks different than it did in 1865, it is still at the same site, and the balcony on which Abraham Lincoln sat when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth has been preserved as a memorial inside the theater.
Across the street is the Petersen House, which is where Lincoln was taken after being shot and died several hours later. Both the theater and the Petersen House have been preserved by the US National Park Service as part of Ford’s Theater National Historic Site.
After Lincoln’s assassination, the US Congress purchased the theater and issued an order forbidding it from being used again as a place of public amusement. Ford’s Theater was used as a military office for several years, until it collapsed in 1893. It remained unused for many years and then was renovated and re-opened in 1968 as a theater. After undergoing another renovation in the last decade, it was opened as the theater that exists today.
There is still very much a sense of living history in Ford’s Theater. There is a museum attached to the theater, which explains the history of Lincoln’s presidency and the Civil War, leading up to Lincoln’s assassination. Entry to the museum was free with the purchase of a ticket to the show, so I spent a half hour before the start of the show looking around the museum. It had a good review of pre-Civil War history, which I am ashamed to say I didn’t remember very well. The museum wasn’t particularly extensive, so a quick
Although it would have been easy to simply demolish Ford’s Theater and erase the memory of Lincoln’s assassination, I think it is important that it has been preserved. The issue of slavery and many of the issues of contention in the Civil War are not a bright point in American history, but it is essential that future generations learn about this period of history so we can avoid repeating it. In preserving history, I think it is vital that the bad be preserved along with the good. I am glad that Ford’s Theater has been preserved, and I am especially glad that it is operating as a theater once more. It is a symbol of resilience and an interesting place to learn about the nation’s history.
As a side note, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was hilarious, and I enjoyed my afternoon at the theater immensely.
What do you think about preserving the bad moments of history?