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Fordís Theatre celebrates the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln and explores the American experience through theatre and education. A working theatre, historical monument, world-class museum and learning center, Fordís Theatre is the premier destination in Washington, D.C., to explore and celebrate Lincolnís ideals and leadership principles: courage, integrity, tolerance, equality and creative expression.
Fordís Theatre History
In 1861 theatre manager John T. Ford leased out the abandoned First Baptist Church on Tenth Street to create Fordís Theatre. Over the next few years, the venue became a popular stage for theatrical and musical productions. On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln visited Fordís for his twelfth time for a performance of Our American Cousin. At this performance, Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth; he died the next morning in the Petersen House, a boarding house located across the street. Fordís Theatre remained closed for more than 100 years.
Fordís Theatre officially reopened in 1968 as a national historic site and working theatre. It is operated through a public-private partnership between Fordís Theatre Society and the National Park Service.
Fordís Theatre Today
Through its inspiring theatrical productions, live historic interpretation and engaging education programs, Fordís Theatre offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in Americaís past while revealing meaningful connections to today.
Over the last several years, Fordís has been engaged in a dramatic expansion and renovation. In 2009, Fordís reopened a restored and renovated theatre along with a re-imagined museum, illuminating the world of Civil War Washington and the years of Lincolnís presidency. In 2012, Fordís opened the new Center for Education and Leadership, expanding the pathways for connecting with Lincolnís legacy.
As a working theatre, Fordís produces renowned plays, vibrant musicals and newly commissioned works that captivate and entertain while examining political and social issues related to Lincolnís legacy. With works from the nationally acclaimed Big River to the world premieres of Meet John Doe, The Heavens Are Hung In Black, Liberty Smith and Necessary Sacrifices, Fordís Theatre is making its mark on the American theatre landscape.
With the opening of the new Center for Education and Leadership, Fordís Theatre has become a major center for learning, where people of all ages can examine Lincolnís multi-faceted Legacy through exhibits, workshops, seminars and speakers as well as community outreach programs.
The new Fordís Theatre experience will inspire audiences from around the world to become compassionate leaders in their own communities, empowering them to live out Lincolnís principles in their own lives.
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Not far from the Mall where the Smithsonian Museums are located is the Ford Theatre. We planned on touring the Ford Theatre after spending most of the day in the museums seeing all the historical exhibits and paintings. You walk through the main doors and are ushered into the theatre area where you are asked to be seated. After all the tourists are seated, a man came onto the stage and gave us a brief history of the theatre.
The building was built in 1833 and was originally a house of worship. In 1861, John T. Ford bought the place and had it renovated into a theater which was originally called FordÔŅĹs Athenaeum. Then in 1862 a fire destroyed the place, it was rebuilt, and then opened a year later, and was called FordÔŅĹs New Theatre. On April 14, 1865, just three days after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House; President Lincoln was shot while enjoying a performance with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln. President Lincoln died some hours later, across the street in an apartment. John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor in the theatre, snuck up behind Lincoln and coldly put a bullet in the back of his head at point blank range. After stabbing HenryRathbone, who was also in the box with the Lincolns along with his fiancee Clara Harris, he jumped onto the stage and shouted, "Sic sempertyrannis", but some thought he said "The South is avenged", and then escaped out the back door of the theatre. Lincoln's body was taken to the Petersen House, a boarding house across the street, and put on a bed that wasn't long enough for him. Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone escorted Mrs. Lincoln to the boarding house where Henry passed out from the blood loss of the stab wound. All through the night and early morning the physicians worked hard to save Lincoln but with no avail. At 7:22 am on April 15, 1865, Lincoln died at the age of 56 from external and internal hemorrhaging.
After the assassination, the government took over the theater and it saw many owners since then. After a lengthy restoration period, the Ford Theatre today is an active theater presenting various types of plays and musicals, and offering tours with a bit of history thrown in.
After the history lesson, we are then ushered into the basement where the historical artifacts are exhibited. On display are many items relating to the assassination, including the Derringer pistol used to kill Lincoln, BoothÔŅĹs diary, the original door to LincolnÔŅĹs theatre box, his coat (minus the bloodstain pieces), the blood stained pillow from his deathbed, statues of Lincoln, and several portraits of President Lincoln. This was truly a fascinating place to visit, and at times you feel like someone unseen might be watching you.
Is the Ford Theatre haunted? Many say it is haunted not only by LincolnÔŅĹs ghost, but Mary Todd Lincoln and John Wilkes BoothÔŅĹs ghosts as well. Many of the witnesses have seen and heard the entire tragic event played out even to this day. The sounds of disembodied footsteps rushing the balcony box can be heard, and then followed by a loud gunshot and screams. Some have seen Mary Todd LincolnÔŅĹs ghost shortly afterwards leaning over the railing, pointing towards the stage and yelling ÔŅĹHe killed the presidentÔŅĹ. Abraham LincolnÔŅĹs apparition has been seen by some in various places of the theater especially in the booth where he was killed. Others have reported seeing the ghost of Booth and feeling that he is haunting one particular part of the stage. Some of the actors that have stood on the left center of the stage have reported a cold spot, becoming nauseous, and having uncontrollable tremors causing them to shake and mess up their lines. BoothÔŅĹs ghost has been seen running across the stage on numerous occasions, perhaps the exact area that he ran to make his escape.
When President Abraham Lincoln relaxed in this upholstered rocking chair on April 14, 1865, his Washington theatre box seemed like a safe and comfortable place. To his right sat his wife Mary, leaning close and laughing at the actor onstage below. Just beyond her were their guests, Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris. At or before 10:30 p.m., the pleasant Good Friday evening turned into a nightmare when an assassin crept into the box and shot Lincoln in the head at close range.
The assassin, John Wilkes Booth, had a thorough knowledge of Ford's Theatre because of his acting career. Even when he wasn't performing he was in and out of the theatre, picking up mail and chatting with the Ford brothers and other actors. It was easy for him to slip into the unguarded presidential box and commit his shocking crime.
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The appartion of President Lincoln has been reported in various parts of the theater.
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