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A national treasure for all Americans, Ford's Theater is a 19th century structure located on 10th street in Washington, D. It is a living tribute to President Abraham Lincoln's love of the performing arts.The active, legitimate theater is a national historic and cultural site welcoming visitors from across the nation. It produces musicals and plays, which embody family values, underscore multiculturalism, and illuminate the eclectic character of American life.The building was founded in 1833 as the First Baptist Church of Washington. Ford, an extremely successful theatrical entrepreneur from Baltimore.He converted the church into a music hall called “Ford's Athenaeum." But, a fire destroyed the building in 1862.It was reconstructed in the following year as "Ford's New Theater." The first performance in the new venue took place on August 27, 1863.This was the site where Lincoln was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth, during a performance of Our American Cousin, on April 14, 1865. The theater and the Petersen House (located across the street), where he died the next morning, are preserved together as Ford's Theater National Historic Site.Misfortune struck again in 1893 when all three floors collapsed killing 22 workers and injuring 68. From then until 1931, the building was used as a government warehouse.The Federal Government bought the building from Ford in 1866. During 1866-1887, the building served as the home of the War Department records on first floor, the National Library of Medicine on second floor, and the Army Medical Museum.In February 1968, the restored theater opened its doors to public. Since then it has been both an active theater and a historic site.The Lincoln Museum, built in 1932, located in the basement-level, contains portions of the Olroyd Collection of Lincolniana. It displays objects associated with Lincoln’s early years, public career, and the presidential years.The collection also includes the clothes he wore that fateful night, the pistol that ended his life, and the flag that draped his coffin.Through education and community outreach programs, Ford's Theater now serves a large, diverse population with differing backgrounds, ages, and economic means.Programs range from interactive workshops for inner-city students, to teacher and student guides, to performances complemented by American Sign Language or audio description.Since 1977, Ford's Theater subsidized ticket program, The Discovery, a vital part of community outreach, has introduced more than 100,000 economically disadvantaged young people to what is for many, their first theatrical performance.The "Opening Act" program, an innovative series led by professional theater instructors, combines exercises, discussion, and improvisation as learning tools for the younger generation.
Ford`s Theater - History
Abraham Lincoln on April 10, 1865. One of the last portraits.
April 14, 1865, was a day of celebration and thanksgiving in the Northern States. After four long years of war General Lee had surrendered, and the capitulation of Johnston's forces was expected soon. President Lincoln had chosen this day as a fitting occasion for again raising the shell-torn flag above Fort Sumter, on the fourth anniversary of its fall into Southern hands.
As a temporary escape from his arduous duties, Lincoln had arranged to attend the play at Ford's Theatre that evening. In the morning he breakfasted with his family and Robert Lincoln, a captain on Grant's staff who had arrived the day before from City Point, Va., entertained with accounts of life at the front. President Lincoln met with his Cabinet at 11 a.m., the session lasting until 1:30 p.m. The main topic of discussion was the restoration of the Southern States into the Union. During the afternoon the President took a long carriage ride with Mrs. Lincoln and Tad. The drive carried Lincoln to the Navy Yard where he visited the monitor Montauk. Returning to the White House, he spent a pleasant hour with Governor Oglesby and General Haynie, two of his old Illinois friends. After dinner Lincoln visited the War Department and then prepared to go to the theatre. Several people were interviewed from 7:30 to 8 p.m., including Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the House, who called by appointment. A congressman from Massachusetts, George Ashmun, called on the President regarding the claim of a client. It was after 8 o'clock and time to go to the theatre. So that Ashmun would be admitted early the next morning, Lincoln wrote on a card "Allow Mr. Ashmun & friend to come in at 9 A.M. tomorrow. A Lincoln. April 14, 1865." This was the last writing from the hand of Abraham Lincoln.
The Play / "Our American Cousin"
Tom Taylor's celebrated comedy, "Our American Cousin," was presented at Ford's Theatre on the evening of April 14, 1865. The distinguished actress, Laura Keene, was in the role of Florence Trenchard, a character she had enacted more than 1,000 times. It was announced in the afternoon newspapers that General Grant would accompany President and Mrs. Lincoln to the theatre. Although Lincoln was a familiar figure at Ford's Theatre, Grant was almost a total stranger, and Washingtonians were anxious for a glimpse of him. In the hope of seeing General Grant, many persons purchased tickets for the play, and a crowded house was anticipated.
A messenger from the Executive Mansion had come to the box office at Ford's Theatre at 10:30 on the morning of April 14th and reserved the state box for the Presidential party. Earlier in the morning, General and Mrs. Grant had accepted an invitation from the President to accompany him and Mrs. Lincoln to the theatre.
Preparations for the Presidential Party
In preparation for the occasion the acting manager, Harry Clay Ford, supervised the decorations of the President's box, situated on the south side of the stage. The partition between the two upper boxes was removed by Edman Spangler, the stagehand, converting it into a single box for the convenience of the Presidential party. Two American flags, each on a staff, were placed at either side of the box and two others were draped on the balustrades. The blue regimental flag of the U.S. Treasury Guards was suspended at the center pillar on a staff. An engraving of George Washington was hung in front of the pillar as an added touch to the decorative scheme.
During the afternoon General Grant informed the President that he and Mrs. Grant would be unable to go to the theatre. Late in the day they left by train for Philadelphia on the way to visit their children at Burlington, N.J. Lincoln then asked several other persons to join the theatre party, but all, including Robert Lincoln, declined. At the last moment Miss Clara Harris, daughter of Senator Ira T. Harris of New York, and her fiance, Maj. Henry R. Rathbone, accepted the invitation.
It was close to 8:15 p.m. when the Lincoln carriage left the White House grounds and drove toward the residence of Senator Harris, at 15th and H Streets NW. It was about 8:30 p.m. when the carriage drew up in front of Ford's Theatre. The performance had begun at 7:45 p. m. The house was filled, except for the boxes. Only the state box was reserved that evening.
There were five doorways opening into Ford's Theatre. The stairway leading to the family circle (gallery) was reached by the doorway on the extreme south. The doorway next on the north was the main entrance. The box office, with windows on the north and south, was located between these two doors. The other three doorways on the north were used as exits.
Entering the lobby of the theatre by the main entrance, the Presidential party ascended the stairway at the north end to the dress circle. Charles Forbes, the footman, and John Parker, a special guard waiting at the theatre, were in the party. Passing in back of the dress circle seats, they proceeded down the aisle to the vestibule leading to the double box.
The door to box 7, on the left side of the vestibule, was closed. The party entered through the open door to box 8, at the far end of the passage. In the afternoon, a sofa, a high-backed chair, and a black walnut rocking chair upholstered in red damask had been placed in the box. The rockers of the rocking chair fitted into the angle of box 7, behind the closed door, and nearest to the audience.
The President took this chair with Mrs. Lincoln on his right, toward the center pillar of the double box. Miss Harris was seated in the right-hand corner of box 8 and Maj. Rathbone at her left on the sofa.
When the President entered the theatre, William Withers, Jr., the leader of the orchestra, signaled for 'Hail to the Chief." The audience then caught sight of the President and, rising as a body, cheered again and again. In acknowledgment, the President came to the front of the box and smilingly bowed to the audience. After the Presidential party was seated, the play was resumed.
Events Preceding the Assassination
At noon, Booth walked to Ford's Theatre, where it was his custom to have his mail delivered. Several letters were handed him, and he seated himself on the doorsill to read them. After half an hour, Booth walked on. He was told by Harry Ford that the President and General Grant would be at the theatre that evening.
Booth then went to the livery stable of James W. Pumphrey, on C Street in the rear of the National Hotel, and engaged a small bay mare which he called for at about 4 o'clock. Sometime later he put the horse in his stable in the rear of Ford's Theatre. Edman Spangler, the stagehand, and Joseph 'Peanuts" Burroughs, who distributed bills and was stage doorkeeper at Ford's Theatre, were in charge of the stable.
Shortly after 9 o'clock, Booth came to the back door of the theatre and called for Spangler to hold his horse. Spangler was one of the sceneshifters and his almost continuous presence was required at his post. As soon as Booth passed inside, Spangler called for "Peanuts" Burroughs to watch the horse.
Booth crossed underneath the stage to an exit leading to 10th Street and entered the saloon of Peter Taltavull, adjoining the theatre on the south. Instead of his customary brandy, Booth ordered whisky and a glass of water.
Booth walked out and entered the theatre lobby. He was in and out of the lobby several times and once asked the time of the doorkeeper, John Buckingham. A short time later, at 10:10 p.m., he reentered the lobby, ascended the stairs and passed around the dress circle to the vestibule door leading to the President's box. Before reaching the door, Booth paused, took off his hat, leaned against the wall, and made a survey of the audience and stage. The play was now nearing the close of the second scene of Act 3. According to witnesses, Booth took a card from his pocket and handed it to Charles Forbes who occupied seat 300, the one nearest the vestibule door. He then stepped down one step, put his hand on the door of the corridor, and placed his knee against it. It opened and Booth entered, closing it behind him.
As it had no lock, Booth placed a pine bar against the door and anchored the other end in a mortise cut into the outside brick wall of the building. This precaution was taken to prevent anyone in the dress circle from following. A small hole which had been bored in the door of box 7, directly in back of Lincoln, enabled the assassin to view the position of the President. The actor had free access to the theatre at all times. It is probable that the mortise in the wall was cut by Booth sometime after the rehearsal on April 14. Notwithstanding the general belief that Booth also bored the hole in the door to the President's box, Frank Ford, the son of Harry Clay Ford, later said that his father had the hole cut so the guard could look in on the Presidential party without having to open the door.
The actor timed his entrance into the box when only one person was on the stage. The lone figure of Harry Hawk, playing the part of Asa Trenchard, was standing at the center of the stage in front of the curtained doorway at the tragic moment. Miss Clara Harris and Major Rathbone were intent upon the play and Mrs. Lincoln laughed at the words being spoken by Harry Hawk: "Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old galyou sockdologizing old mantrap." These words were probably the last heard by Abraham Lincoln.
Ford`s Theater - History
John T. Ford, about 1865, from an original daguerreotpye.
The First Baptist Church of Washington in 1833-34 erected a house of worship upon the spot where Ford's Theatre now stands. Services were held in the building until 1859, when the congregation united with another church, retaining the name of the First Baptist Church but abandoning the 10th Street building.
John T. Ford, an enterprising theatrical manager of Baltimore and Philadelphia, purchased the First Baptist Church in 1861 and converted it into a theatre. After extensive alterations it was inaugurated on November 19, 1861. Early in 1862, the building was closed to make renovations necessary for the presentation of theatrical instead of musical plays. Reopened under the name of "Ford's Athenaeum," the playhouse proved to be a profitable business venture for Ford. On the evening of December 30, 1862, however, the theatre caught fire and, although several fire companies responded, the building was soon a smouldering ruin.
Ford, not discouraged by this misfortune, made plans for the construction of a larger and more modern structure. The cornerstone of the new edifice was laid on the morning of February 28, 1863, by James J. Gifford, the architect and builder. A substantial brick structure of imposing architectural proportions, it was one of the finest theatres in the country. The auditorium seated nearly 1,700, including 421 in the dress circle (first balcony). The orchestra, parquet, and dress circle, sloping downward toward the stage, were equipped with cane-bottomed chairs. There were eight private boxes, two upper and two lower, located on either side of the stage.
The new Ford's Theatre was completed and opened to the public on the night of August 27, 1863, when the dramatic pageant "The Naiad Queen" was presented to a capacity audience. From that date until it was closed by the Government in April 1865, Ford's Theatre was one of the most successful amusement places in Washington. Ford endeavored to provide his patrons with the best entertainment possible and a galaxy of famous actors and actresses appeared there in some of the outstanding productions of the period.
About Ford's Theatre
Ford’s 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, Ford’s Theatre is the premier destination in Washington, D.C., to explore and celebrate Lincoln’s ideals and leadership principles: courage, integrity, tolerance, equality and creative expression.
Ford’s Theatre History
In 1861 theatre manager John T. Ford leased out the abandoned First Baptist Church on Tenth Street to create Ford’s Theatre. Over the next few years, the venue became a popular stage for theatrical and musical productions. On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln visited Ford’s 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. Ford’s Theatre remained closed for more than 100 years.
Ford’s Theatre officially reopened in 1968 as a national historic site and working theatre. It is operated through a public-private partnership between Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service.
Ford’s Theatre Today
Through its inspiring theatrical productions, live historic interpretation and engaging education programs, Ford’s Theatre offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in America’s past while revealing meaningful connections to today.
Over the last several years, Ford’s has been engaged in a dramatic expansion and renovation. In 2009, Ford’s reopened a restored and renovated theatre along with a re-imagined museum, illuminating the world of Civil War Washington and the years of Lincoln’s presidency. In 2012, Ford’s opened the new Center for Education and Leadership, expanding the pathways for connecting with Lincoln’s legacy.
As a working theatre, Ford’s produces renowned plays, vibrant musicals and newly commissioned works that captivate and entertain while examining political and social issues related to Lincoln’s 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, Necessary Sacrifices and The Widow Lincoln, Ford’s Theatre is making its mark on the American theatre landscape.
With the opening of the Center for Education and Leadership, Ford’s Theatre has become a major center for learning, where people of all ages can examine Lincoln’s multi-faceted legacy through exhibits, workshops, seminars and speakers as well as community outreach programs.
The Ford’s Theatre experience will inspire audiences from around the world to become compassionate leaders in their own communities, empowering them to live out Lincoln’s principles in their own lives.
A History of Ford’s Theatre
Where Lincoln’s Legacy Lives: A History of Ford’s Theatre When the site of Ford’s Theatre first started being used for theatrical performances in 1861, it was never expected to leave such a huge mark on American history. The location for the Ford’s Theatre has had a very diverse history. This location has a well-known history dating back to 1833 when it was built as the First Baptist Church of Washington, also known as the Tenth Street Baptist Church. The reason for the two names was common in that area to differentiate it from other local churches. This First Baptist Church was fairly large and merged with the Fourth Baptist church in 1859 to grow to an even larger congregation. At this point, the location became empty for two years. In 1861, this location started its history at a theatre when it was bought by John T. Ford who was a theatre manager from Baltimore. Ford was married to Edith Branch Andrew Ford who was mother to his eleven children, many of whom became actively involved in the theatre. He started off as a clerk in a tobacco warehouse before quickly deciding that it wasn’t the job for him. He became a bookseller in Richmond for many years before starting writing. Ford had written Richmond As It is which led to him working for a minstrel company and really began his interest in theatre.
He managed theatre in various cities including Alexandria, Charleston, and Philadelphia. He became quite a prominent figure in the theatrical community (“The Obituary Record”). When Ford first obtained the vacant First Baptist Church, he leased out the building on a five year contract with an option to buy it at the end of that period. After he acquired the building, he right away turned around and rented it out to George Christy to perform with a group of minstrels. As it was still unnamed at this point in time, it was simply promoted as “The George Christy Opera House.” During his time there, Christy left the building the same so it just appeared as a church, both on the interior and exterior. The seating also remains the same during this time, with the church pews and the single balcony. On February 28 of 1862, Ford closes the theatre for a little under a month to remodel the interior of the building so that it can better hold theatrical and musical productions. He spent more than $10,000 to improve the building for theatrical purposes. When it opens back up on March 19, Ford names it “Ford’s Athenaeum.”
The athenaeum quickly becomes very popular and has a consistent customer basis, quickly bringing in proceeds. On December 30 of the same year, the original church’s exterior is destroyed by a fire due to a defective gas meter. No one was injured but it caused $20,000 worth of damage to the building. Due to the damages, in 1863 John T. Ford goes ahead and builds a new theatre. This theatre was called “Ford’s New Theatre.” The grand opening for this building took place on August 27, 1863 with a sold-out performance of The Naiad Queen. (“Ford’s Theatre” NPS) This new building once again rapidly becomes very popular. In November, President Abraham Lincoln attended a performance of The Marble Heart at Ford’s New Theatre. In this show of The Marble Heart, John Wilkes Booth starred playing the role of Raphael, the villain. Lincoln actually attended the theatre another seven times over the next couple of years. Throughout 1864, Ford continued to restore the building, especially over the summer, to bring the theatre back to some of the former glory of the intricate structure. Over the year, he worked to hire a crew and respectable actors full time as he managed the property.
The theatre became more of an official theatre throughout all of these processes and rebuilding. During this time, the theatre constantly stayed busy and produced a high amount of income from the shows. The shows that brought in the most proceeds were shows that held highly known actors of the time, such as John Wilkes Booth. Booth was a well-loved actor of the time with an absolutely fantastic career and skill. Though Booth only performed at Ford’s New Theatre one other time, he was well-known by the owner and other theatre members due to his work in other theatres. By some coincidence, Lincoln happened to see Booth perform in New York as he was still running for president. At this point, Booth was playing Duke Pescara in The Apostate at the Gayety Theatre. This is the same role that Booth played in the last appearance of his career which took place at Ford’s Theatre on March 18, 1865. A little under a month later on April 14, President Lincoln, his wife Mary, and their guests attended the Ford’s Theatre to see a performance of Our American Cousin. James Ford – John’s brother – was in charge of theatre for this night while John was out of town. During intermission of this show, Lincoln’s bodyguard left momentarily and didn’t return for Act 3.
Before the start of the third act, John Wilkes Booth entered Lincoln’s box to wait. Since Booth knew the play well, he waited for a line that normally brought about a lot of laughter to muffle the shot. At the beginning of Act 3 Scene 2, Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head a wound that Lincoln ends up succumbing to the next morning. (“Ford’s Theatre” NPS) After the assassination, John T. Ford was pulled into question for conspiracy against Abraham Lincoln. He was thrown into jail over this time while the questioning was completed and law enforcement could figure out what had really happened. During this time, his theatre was put into the possession of the federal government and Ford had to obtain official permission to re-open the theatre once again, after the hanging of the conspirators on July 7. During this time, troops were consistently placed around the building to avoid any problems. The theatre was set to re-open and premiere The Octoroon on July 10, 1965 – that day Ford received a letter threatening to burn the theatre if he attempted to start running productions again. The theatre was forced to shut down.
Soon afterwards, the building was taken over by the government and turned into an office building. Until they could work through a settlement, the government paid a lease to Ford every month for use of the building. In July of 1866, Congress paid John T. Ford $88,000 for the purchase of the structure. After Congress took control of the building, it was converted into an office building for use by the government. The building held the Army Medical Museum, the Office of the Surgeon General, and the War Department. On June 9, 1893, the building faced yet another disaster. A section of the building simply collapsed killing twenty-two government employees and injuring another sixty-five. The cause of the collapse came from the building being overloaded from the office materials. It did not help that the contractor wad excavating with improper support. It was soon decided that the building was incapable of being used as offices due to the weight of the materials. The location then stayed closed for many years due to the damage and lack of funds to fix the building. It remained in use as a place of storage until 1931when it was turned over to the Department of the Interior.
They took care of the building and restored as much of the original structure as possible. At this point, it was designed to become the “Lincoln Museum” and between 1931 and 1933 the first floor of the building was open to the public. As much information and material as possible on the Lincoln assassination was provided for the museum. On June 10, 1933, the building was transferred to the National Park Service, which it remains associated with today. In January of 1968, Ford’s Theatre was officially reopened as a working theatre and a National Historic Site. The building continued to be known as Ford’s Theatre and as much of the building as possible was restored. A dedication ceremony was presented at this point to honor this historic landmark this ceremony and following gala was attended by a number of well-known celebrities. A month later, the theatre was opened to the general public. In April, they performed a production of She Stoops to Conquer, marking the first show in this theatre in over a hundred years. The theatre continued to be open as a working theatre until 2007 when it closed for renovations and restoration.
These renovations took approximately a year and a half to complete. These new renovations to the theatre made improvements to the heating and air, as well as modern lighting and sound systems for the theatre. At this point, they also upgraded the museum with more artifacts and information about Lincoln, his life, and his assassination. The renovations also covered a new lobby, new restrooms, and an addition of an elevator to make the building more accessible. These renovations were completed in February of 2009 and the theatre was once more re-opened. At this point, Ford’s Theatre held a gala for the opening that was once again attended by numerous celebrities as well as President Obama. In July, the Ford’s Theatre Museum opened to the public. The renovations on the museum included new seats, modern sound and lighting systems, renovated restrooms, and enhanced accessibility with elevators. A new lobby with a concession stand and a board room for special events were also built. In honor of the Lincoln Bicentennial, Ford’s Theatre produced the world premiere of The Heavens Are Hung in Black, a play by James Still that chronicled Abraham Lincoln’s presidency during a time of personal and professional crisis. In February 2012, Ford’s Theatre opened the new Center for Education and Leadership, where visitors can discover the lasting effects of Lincoln’s presidency.
Two floors of the exhibit address the immediate aftermath of the assassination it also features funeral artifacts that have never before been displayed for public viewing. A distance-learning lab allows Ford’s to engage students and teachers nation wide through the use of state-of-the-art technology. A Leadership Gallery floor is used as a short-term exhibit, lecture, and reception space. This short-term exhibit space will house exhibits pertaining to history and to Lincoln. The opening of the Center completed the Ford’s Theatre expansion project to give visitors an enhanced experience on Lincoln’s life and legacy.
The productions that fill the Ford Theatre today may echo with drama or laughter, but it will forever be associated with the events of April 14, 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by actor John Wilkes Booth. This location has become well-known and respected because of one event that defines its history. It started off as a widely attended church and grew to become this theatre that John T. Ford built up from the ground and made it extremely successful for the time. This theatre has become a tribute to Lincoln and his history. It has become a dedication to the assassination and a museum for the surrounding details rather than become an actual theatre again. The Ford’s Theatre has a rich history of its own that has become overwhelmed by a single gunshot.
Originally named Ford’s New Theatre, Ford’s was built by Baltimore theater entrepreneur John T. Ford on the site of the First Baptist Church. Built in 1833, the church had been abandoned in 1859, and Ford had converted the building into Ford’s Atheneum in 1862, but the Atheneum had burned later that year.
Construction on the site as it is today began in 1863 overseen by James J. Gifford. It was modeled after the design of Baltimore’s Holliday Street Theatre.
A Confederate sympathiser and spy, Booth had originally planned to kidnap Lincoln, but instead shot the President in the back of the head as he watched Ford’s Theatre’s production of “Our American Cousin” from the state box (box seven). President Lincoln was the first American President to be assassinated.
Following Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Ford briefly considered continuing to use the building as a theatre, but outcry from the American public forced him to abandon the idea. The still-unfinished building was seized in July of 1865 by order of the Secretary of War, and its interior was torn out in August of 1865.
The building was subsequently converted into a three-story office building housing the Army Medical Museum and Surgeon General. Rather than being recognized for its historical significance, the building was used for a variety of government purposes over the course of several decades. In 1893, a section of the interior collapsed, killing 22 people, and alterations to the building, including the facade, followed in 1894.
After many years of serving as storage space, Ford’s Theatre was transferred to the ownership of the National Park Service in 1931, and in 1967, the building was restored to its 1865 appearance. Currently, the building continues to stage plays and operate as a theatre, in addition to hosting a museum relating to the Lincoln assassination.
Since its reopening in 1968, Ford’s Theatre has produced plays and musicals celebrating the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and exploring the American experience.
Rocking Chair Used by Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater the Night of His Assassination, April 14, 1865
President Abraham Lincoln was sitting in this rocking chair during a production of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC when he was assassinated on April 14, 1865. Henry Ford purchased the chair in 1929 for the Museum, where it remains one of the most revered objects associated with the "man who saved the Union." &hellip
President Abraham Lincoln was sitting in this rocking chair during a production of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC when he was assassinated on April 14, 1865. Henry Ford purchased the chair in 1929 for the Museum, where it remains one of the most revered objects associated with the "man who saved the Union."
The Lincoln Assassination Chair History 29.1451.1
Originally purchased as part of a parlor suite, the rocking chair was intended for use in a reception room in Ford's Theatre, which opened in 1863. The parlor suite was purchased by Harry Clay Ford (no relation to Henry Ford) manager of the Theatre. However, the comfortable rocking chair began to be used by ushers during their "down" time and the fabric became soiled by their hair oil. This stain is still visible on the back. Sometime in 1864, Harry Ford had the chair moved to his apartment across the alley from the Theatre in a belated attempt to keep it clean.
Beginning with the Theatre's opening in 1863, President Lincoln became a frequent visitor. At some point, Mr. Ford began to supply the president and his party with comfortable seating furniture. Apparently, the president preferred this rocking chair, perhaps, due to his height. On the afternoon of April 14th, the chair was brought to the president's box along with a matching sofa and side chair. After the assassination, the Theatre and its contents was seized by the Federal government.
After its seizure, the chair remained in the private office of the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton. In 1867, the chair was transferred to the Department of the Interior and then sent to the Smithsonian Institution and placed in storage. For all practical purposes, the chair vanished from the public for half a century. Documentation at the Smithsonian indicates that it was catalogued into the collection in 1902.
An unrelated Civil War event brought the red rocker back into the public eye. In the last year of the War, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, was captured and his personal belongings were seized by the government. In 1913, the Davis heirs challenged the validity of this action. Their contention was upheld by the United States Attorney General as there had been no legal proceedings to acquire title to Davis's possessions--they remained the property of the heirs. President Woodrow Wilson returned the items by executive order.
In 1927 Mrs. Blanche Chapman Ford, widow of Harry Clay Ford, the man who supplied the rocking chair for the president's box learned of the Davis case. As his widow and heir, she applied for return of her chair in November of that year. The precedent of the Davis disposition was recalled and by order of the War Department (where it had originally been accessioned as a deposit) the chair was ordered returned to its rightful owner, Blanche Ford. In the spring of 1929 the Curator of History at the Smithsonian delivered the rocker to her son.
Mrs. Ford sold the chair at auction through the Anderson Galleries in New York on December 17, 1929. The purchaser was Israel Sack, the dean of antique American furniture dealers, and an agent of Henry Ford. Sack had observed that Ford delighted in furniture that had association with American historical figures. Sack, in turn, offered the chair to Mr. Ford, who purchased it and carefully documented its arrival in Greenfield Village in early 1930. There, the chair resided in the Logan County, Illinois Court House where Lincoln practiced law as a circuit rider in the 1840s. Mr. Ford had moved the Court House to Greenfield Village in 1929--the chair became the centerpiece of his Lincoln collection. In 1979, as part of the institution's fiftieth anniversary, the chair moved from the Court House to the Museum, where it remains today.
By the early 1990s, conservators recognized that the fragile silk upholstery was degrading, even though the chair was always displayed in an exhibit case, requiring action. In preparation for conservation, eleven fabric samples were analyzed to determine the composition of both the fabric and the stains on the upholstery. The results aided conservators and curators in determining which stains should be preserved and which could be removed to minimize damage to the upholstery.
Microscopic analysis determined that calcium sulfate commonly known as plaster of Paris was present in many of the samples, including a large area on the base of the chair back and seat. This stain is consistent with documentation that suggests the chair was stored in a basement after the assassination and prior to its purchase by Mr. Ford.
A preliminary test for blood using the reagent Benzidine yielded positive results in two areas--the front of the seat and near the upper portion of the back. More extensive testing would be required to provide additional information regarding its origin. Given the chair's well-documented history and a lack of available samples of the President's blood and DNA, The Henry Ford has decided not to pursue further testing.
In 1996, following testing, museum conservators carefully cleaned the delicate silk fabric and removed some plaster stains using a tiny spatula. The upholstery was then covered with a thin polyester fabric attached with adhesive and tiny stitches in order to hold the fragile fragments of the fabric together. After treatment the newly conserved chair returned to exhibit in the Museum. In 2006, the chair became a key artifact in a major exhibit on American freedom titled "With Liberty and Justice for All," where it may be seen today.
For decades, visitors to The Henry Ford have sought out the so-called Lincoln Rocker. They are drawn to it not simply because of its role at the center of a tragedy, but as symbol of a beloved president. There is a unique sense of awe and reverence that the chair provides. As such, this rocking chair personifies the sacrifice made by Abraham Lincoln in fashioning a more perfect Union.
History & Culture
Where History Happened
Fords Theatre National Historic Site preserves the sites of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865, the Star Saloon, and the Petersen House (the House Where Lincoln Died).
Learn about the Places of Ford's Theatre National Historic Site.
Library of Congress Photo.
Abraham Lincoln and John WIlkes Booth paths crossed several times before their tragic moment in history.
Learn about the People of Ford's Theatre National Historic Site.
The Museum Collection
The basis of the museum collection at Ford's Theatre National Historic Site is the Osborn H. Oldroyd Lincoln Collection, which Mr. Oldroyd set up in the Petersen House in 1892. The collection contained over 3,000 items and was augmented by those artifacts related to the assassination used as state's evidence in the trial of the conspirators. Oldroyd maintained his collection in the Petersen House after the purchase of the house by the federal government in 1896. The government purchased the collection itself from Oldroyd in 1926 for the sum of $50,000. Museum items include Lincoln's overcoat, Booth's derringer, Major Rathbone's gloves and the contents of Lincoln's pockets when he was killed.
Ford was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and was the son of Elias and Anna (née Greanor) Ford. His ancestors were early Maryland settlers and some of them took part in the American Revolution. For a few years he attended public school in Baltimore and then became a clerk in his uncle's tobacco factory in Richmond, Virginia. Not caring for this work, he became a bookseller.
Working as a bookseller in Richmond, Ford then wrote a farce dealing with contemporary life. The farce was entitled Richmond As It Is, and was produced by a minstrel company called the Nightingale Serenaders. This farce was fairly successful, and George Kunkel, the owner and manager of the Serenaders, offered Ford a position with the organization. He accepted, and for several seasons traveled as business manager of this company throughout the United States and Canada.
In 1854, Ford assumed control of the Holliday Street Theater, Baltimore, which he managed for twenty-five years.  Later, he built the Grand Opera House in that city in 1871.
Ford also was responsible for creating three theaters in Washington, D.C. He opened his first theatre on Tenth Street in 1861. After it was destroyed by fire the following year, he rebuilt the structure on the same site and called it Ford's Theatre.
In 1858, Mr. Ford was elected President of the City Council of Baltimore, and by a force of circumstance was acting mayor for two years. He also was in the position of City Director, for one term, of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
He was a Commissioner of the McDonough Fund on part of the city, and managed the old Washington theatre for a season. 
Ford was the manager of this highly successful theatre at the time of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. He was a good friend of Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor. Ford drew further suspicion upon himself by being in Richmond, Virginia, at the time of the assassination on 14 April 1865. Until April 2, 1865, Richmond had been the capital of the Confederate States of America and a center of anti-Lincoln conspiracies.
An order was issued for Ford's arrest and on April 18, he was arrested at his Baltimore home. His brothers James and Harry Clay Ford were thrown into prison along with him. John Ford complained of the effect that his incarceration would have on his business and family, and he offered to help with the investigation, but Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton made no reply to his two letters. After 39 days, the brothers were finally fully exonerated and set free since there was no evidence of their complicity in the crime. 
The theater was seized by the government, and Ford was paid $88,000 for it by Congress. The treatment accorded to him following the assassination made him remain bitter toward the US government for decades.
During his career, Ford also managed theaters in Alexandria, Virginia Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Charleston, South Carolina and Richmond. It was at Richmond's Marshall Theatre, then under Ford's management, that in November, 1856, Edwin Booth first met Mary Devlin (playing Juliet to his Romeo), whom he later married. Joseph Jefferson was then the stage manager and a member of the company of this theater, as was Dion Boucicault. Ford also managed a great number of travelling as well as resident companies, which included the greatest stars, and actors of his generation. He had a reputation for being honest and honorable in his numerous business dealings. For instance, during the H.M.S. Pinafore craze of the late 1870s, he was the only American manager who paid Gilbert and Sullivan a royalty on the opera. This action prompted the authors and their manager, Richard D'Oyly Carte, to allow Ford to produce their next opera in America and to entrust their American business affairs to him and he leased the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City, for the production of The Pirates of Penzance in 1879-1880 and other Carte productions thereafter.
For a period of forty years, Ford was an active and prominent figure in Baltimore's civic life. He was connected with many banking and financial concerns, and his business advice was sought and relied on. He was president of the Union Railroad Company, member of the Board of Directors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, vice president of the West Baltimore Improvement Association, and trustee of numerous philanthropic institutions. In 1858, while serving as President of the City Council, he was made acting mayor of the city of Baltimore, and he filled this position with marked ability. His winning and gracious personality won him a host of friends.
In early 1894, Ford's health declined. His death at his Baltimore home of a heart attack during a bout of influenza came suddenly. He left a widow, Edith Branch Andrew Ford, who was the mother of eleven children. Ten of these were still living when he died: Charles, then manager of Ford's Opera House George, a treasurer John Jr, an advertising agent Harry Mattie, an actor James, and the unmarried daughters Lizzie, May, Lucy, and Saile. (Named after his father Elias, Saile is Elias in reverse) Two days after his death, a funeral was held at his house and officiated by two clergymen from the Central Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, and he was buried in Loudon Park Cemetery.
Ford's Theatre as seen today.
The Ford's Theatre building was first constructed in 1833 as the First Baptist Church. In 1859, the structure was abandoned as a place of worship. John T. Ford, a theatre entrepreneur from Baltimore, leased the building in 1861. A church board member predicted a dire fate would fall anyone who turned the former house of worship into a theatre. In 1862, Ford renovated the theatre and performances began, setting in motion events to follow that would shake America to its core.
The Petersen House.
The Petersen House (The House Where Lincoln Died)
After President Abraham Lincoln was shot he was carried across the street to the home of William A. Petersen, a German tailor. He lay dying diagonally across William T. Clark's bed in a room in the back of the house. Originally built in 1849, the house was expanded in 1858 to accommodate its use as a boarding house. The night of Lincoln's assassination, over 90 people streamed through the small house to pay their respects to the dying President.
The Star Saloon in 1865.
The Star Saloon
John Wilkes Booth entered the Star Saloon, located next to Fords Theatre, and had a drink of whiskey and water. Soon after, he entered the Theatre to assassinate the President. Built in 1863, the Star Saloon closed after the assassination. It was later used as a tailor shop, typewriter company and a factory before it was torn down in 1930.