Restoration of Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C

Restoration of Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C

Restoration of Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C

Restoration of Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C


Ford's Theatre as it stands today in the Nation's capital bears only an outward resemblance to the popular theatre of Civil War days. Launched into international prominence because of the tragedy marking the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, it is now the site of the Lincoln Museum where, yearly, thousands of visitors from all over the world pay their respects to the President who fused the Federal Union into one indissoluble chain.

Externally the west façade and north and south walls still remain of the original theatre, although they have been subject to modification, repair and remodeling over the years. The rear or east wall, site of the exit door through which the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, escaped, has been completely rebuilt. In the Lincoln Museum proper, there is little, if any, indication of the original theatre aside from markings on the museum floor indicating the extent of the forestage and the location of the presidential box. From here an outline of the assassin's footsteps, marking his escape route, complete this part of the picture. A diorama of the stage as it appeared on the night of April 14, 1865, is one of the few items showing the original interior of the theatre.

From that fateful night of Good Friday, 1865, until the hanging of the conspirators on July 7, 1865, Ford's Theatre was guarded by federal troops. On July 8, it was returned to John T. Ford, the owner. On July 10, it was seized once again by order of the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. Subsequently, the building was leased by the government and in 1866 purchased by act of Congress.

By this time the theatre had been remodeled into a three-story office building for the use of the government. Thereafter it was the home of the Army Medical Museum to 1877 and the principal office of the Adjutant General for compiling the official service records of veterans of the Civil War. Hundreds of clerks worked on this project. Tragedy struck the building once again in June 1893 when part of the overloaded interior collapsed killing twenty-two federal employees and injuring sixty-five. The structure was then closed by order of Congress and until 1932, when the present Lincoln Museum was opened in the building under the administration of the National Park Service, it was used for the storage of public documents.

Throughout these years there was little thought of restoring the theatre to its original appearance as a memorial to the Martyred President. When public interest in its restoration was first brought to the attention of Congress after World War II, the building became the subject of considerable controversy. Nevertheless, public interest continued to be manifested in the restoration of Ford's Theatre especially when Congress took the initiative and provided funds for a preliminary engineering report on the structure in 1954. In 1959 renewed interest was aroused in the full restoration of Ford's Theatre as part of the Civil War Centennial Celebration and the MISSION 66 program of the National Park Service. Opposition to the restoration now ceased as Congress voted funds for the present project.

Public Law 86-455 authorized the National Park Service to complete preliminary architectural and historical research on old Ford's Theatre building, to prepare construction drawings and to draw up plans for a modern exhibit of contemporary design to house the Lincoln Museum. This Historic Structures Report, Restoration of Ford's Theatre, was begun in September 1960 and presents information available from all known official sources and private collections. Since methods of approach to the historical and archi-

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