Ford’s Theatre

Posted on October 21, 2019

Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. is one of the oldest stage theatres in the country. And today, it still hosts a number of plays for those who appreciate watching a good stage play or two. However, the theatre has a dark cloud that still looms over the confines. It was the sight of one of the nation’s most tragic moments. And to this day, it’s been said that the place that has been a frequently visited place for U.S. Presidents. But one certain President seems to be sticking around long after his untimely death. We will talk about the story of Ford’s Theatre and the stories of why it might be one of the most haunted places in the nation’s capital.

Beginnings

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At the outset, the building that housed the theatre was originally a church. It was constructed in 1833 and served as the meeting house of the First Baptist Church in Washington. It would remain as the site of the church until 1861 when it relocated to a much larger building. That same year, John T. Ford decided to purchase the building and renovate it as a stage theatre. The project was delayed due to a fire that broke out the following year. After rebuilding, Ford’s Theatre officially opened in 1863.

The Assassination Of Abraham Lincoln

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President Abraham Lincoln along with his wife Mary and two others were watching a play titled “Our American Cousin”. Lincoln and his party were sitting in the presidential box on the night of April 14, 1865. Five days prior, the Confederates surrendered to the Union thus ending the US Civil War. However, John Wilkes Booth wanted to see to it that Lincoln would pay dearly for the Confederacy’s defeat. An actor and Confederate sympathizer, Booth snuck into the President’s box and shot Lincoln in the head. Afterward, he jumped from the box and hit the stage below while shouting “Sic Semper Tyranus”.

The following day, Lincoln succumbed to his injuries as a result of Booth’s attack. It was later revealed that Booth had intended to kidnap and eventually kill Lincoln himself. Booth would do his best to lay low after the events of the assassination. As the nation mourned, Booth was on the run for his life. As he was hiding in the Maryland woods, some of the co-conspirators of the assassination were arrested. One such conspirator was Mary Surratt, who owned a boarding home that housed Booth at one point in time.

Booth eventually crossed into Virginia via the Potomac River. However, he was later tracked down by U.S. soldiers while taking refuge in a farm in Port Royal, Virginia. One of the soldiers open fired and eventually struck Booth. Booth died later from his injuries. Despite Booth’s death, the fate of the eight total co-conspirators of the assassination would soon suffer a similar fate. They were all tried and later executed by hanging.

Operation After The Assassination

Source: [https://static01.nyt.com/images/2009/02/07/arts/linc.600.jpg]

The building that housed the theatre was still in use even after the assassination of President Lincoln. The government had appropriated funds to John T. Ford as part of the compensation for what had happened at the theatre. At the same time, the theatre was no longer open for the purpose of public amusement. The United States Army had taken over the building in 1866, which was used for the purpose of storing records for the United States Department of War. The building also housed the Surgeon General’s library and the Army Medical Museum. About twenty years later, the records were relocated and was later converted into an office for the War Department clerks.

The theatre would soon experience another tragedy in 1893 when the front end of the building collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 22 War Department clerks and nearly 70 injuries. While there was no known cause, some have told stories of the possibility of the building being cursed because of the assassination. This may have been one of many stories told by paranormal enthusiasts over the years. Eventually, the building was later restored and used as a warehouse up until the early 20th century.

It was left abandoned for nearly a decade. By 1928, the War Department handed over the building to the Office of Public Buildings and Parks of the National Capital. The new tenants didn’t waste any time with their plans with the first floor of the theatre. A museum dedicated to Abraham Lincoln was opened on February 12, 1932 (which was Lincoln’s 123rd birthday).

The following year, the National Park Service took over control of the building. The renovation and restoration of the theatre were planned in the 1940s, but the project itself would take about two decades. In 1955, the first piece of legislation that paved the way for restoration was passed allowing an engineering study to ensure that the project itself was feasible. In 1964, the restoration project was approved the funds. The project was finally completed in 1968. On January 30th of that year, a gala performance was held. It was the first show of its kind since the Lincoln assassination more than a century earlier.

Nearly 40 years later, the theatre underwent another round of renovations and was re-opened in 2009. Later that year, a celebration in honor of Lincoln’s 200th birthday was held featuring a long list of celebrities and featured remarks by then-President Barack Obama.

Paranormal Happenings

According to one paranormal expert, it was said that Lincoln was having premonitions of an assassination being carried out against him. He confided to a friend that he had a dream that he was walking inside the White House and noticed that he was surrounded by a mournful scene. In the dream, he encountered a mourner and asked who had died (to which the mourner replied “the President”). However, this may not have been the only bit of paranormal activity that might have been related to the assassination. Rumor has it that Lincoln’s ghost may still be around at the theatre itself. It has been said that past occupants of the building reported seeing cold spots and even a shadowy figure walking around.

A woman who had attended the play the night of Lincoln’s assassination had recalled seeing a spirit that resembled Lincoln himself appeared on her doorstep at her upstate New York home. Another place where Lincoln’s spirt may have been sighted was inside of the White House in an around the venerable Lincoln Bedroom.

The White House sightings were said to be recounted by various occupants of the White House, with Eleanor Roosevelt being one of the first to report feeling “presences”. She also recalled seeing Fala, the family dog, barking for no apparent reason. His presence inside the White House was reportedly last seen by Maureen Reagan, the daughter of then-President Ronald Reagan at some point during the early 1980s.

One such sighting could have been one of humor and embarrassment for one such major figure who spent the night at the White House. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was staying in the Lincoln Bedroom during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. After completing a bath, Churchill left the tub without any clothes on to retrieve his cigar. While in the bedroom, he spotted what apparently was the spirit of Lincoln. With his patented wit, Churchill replied, “Good evening, Mr. President. I see you have caught me at a disadvantage.” Lincoln was said to have smiled in response before disappearing.

Conclusion

Ford’s Theatre to this day remains as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Nation’s Capital. While it will be infamous for one of America’s most tragic events, the theatre still honors America’s 16th president. But is the building still cursed today? Does Lincoln still pay a visit to the Presidential Box that has long since been vacant? It might be worth visiting the theatre to find out.

 

Sources

https://seeksghosts.blogspot.com/2013/04/haunted-fords-theatre.html

https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/06/07/henry-reed-rathbone/

https://www.liveabout.com/gallery-of-haunted-theaters-4122891