Restoration of Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C

By George J. Olszewski | Go to book overview

PART III -- April 14, 1865 and Its Aftermath

INTRODUCTION

Throughout the period of its existence, from August 27, 1863, to the fatal day, April 14, 1865, that was to close its doors as a center of histrionic amusement in the Capital City, Ford's Theatre presented some of the best in theatrical and musical talent that was available on the American stage. According to the final playbill of that night, Ford had staged in the theatre's two seasons 495 nightly performances.

Without a doubt much of Ford's success was due to the expense and pains he had incurred in constructing a theatre that was considered, according to contemporary accounts, to have few, if any, superiors even in the largest cities of the nation. Ford's Theatre had magnitude; it was complete; it had elegance. Its style had brought together the finest mechanical skill and artistic talent. For its size, the ventilation was said to be perfect and the supply of fresh air conveyed through the theatre made it as comfortable as a drawing room, even when playing to a capacity audience. It had complete protection against fire and accident. Ford's operation of his theatre was considered to be superior to that of his leading competitor, Leonard Grover of the National, and Ford's Theatre was the scene of many a brilliant performance which was graced by the presence of the First Family of the nation.

Up to 1865, Lincoln had attended Ford's Theatre eight times: five times in 1863, and three times in 1864. Sometimes, the First Lady attended with her own party. In 1863 the President had seen Maggie Mitchell in "Fanchon, the Cricket," on Friday, October 30; John Wilkes Booth in "The Marble Heart", on Monday, November 9; and three performances of his favorite Shakespearean actor, J. H. Hackett, in "Henry IV", on Monday, November 14; the same performance the following night, November 15; and in "The Merry Wives of Windsor", on Thursday evening, December 17, 1863. In 1864, Lincoln attended a performance by Edwin Forrest in "King Lear", on Friday, April 8; a Sacred Concert on Sunday, June 19; and a Treasury Ball and Concert on Monday, December 19. H. Clay Ford took special pains to decorate the presidential box for these gala performances. John T. Ford usually divided his time between his Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore and Ford's in Washington.


Ford'S THEATRE, APRIL 14, 1865

On April 14, 1865, Washington was enjoying an air of gaiety and excitement reigned throughout the city. The Civil War had ended and many of the 200,000 soldiers visiting the city hoped to catch a glimpse of their favorite hero, General U. S. Grant, commander of the victorious Union forces. Ford's Theatre was also the scene of anticipation for Lincoln had finally accepted an invitation from Ford to attend the performance that evening. Laura Keene, Harry Hawk, and John Dyott were winding up their two-week engagement at the theatre with Ford's stock company. The play scheduled was to be a benefit for Miss Keene of Tom Taylor's "Our American Cousin". Because of the technical nature of this Historic Structures Report on Ford's Theatre, however, only the barest details will be enumerated of the events of that fatal day to complete its scope.

A messenger arrived at the theatre from the White House about 10:30 a.m. to reserve the presidential box for the performance that evening. It was expected that the President would have as his guests General and Mrs. U. S. Grant. James Ford, with the help of H. B. Phillips, an actor of the Ford stock company, wrote the notice that appeared in the Evening Star about 2: 00 p.m. that afternoon and in the National Intelligencer. New handbills were also ordered printed. When Harry Ford returned from breakfast about 11: 30 a.m., James informed him of the President's coming. Because of the rehearsal going on at the time, however, Harry had to wait to decorate the presidential box. Later that day the notices and handbills had to be changed when it was learned that General Grant would not attend the theatre because of illness in his family. Extra play-bills and handbills, which runners of the theatre passed out on the streets, were printed to attract the attention of military personnel on leave in the city.

Sometime that afternoon, between 3: 00 and 6: 00 p.m., Harry Ford personally decorated the

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Restoration of Ford's Theatre, Washington D.C
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Preface xi
  • List of Illustrations xv
  • List of Historic American Buildings Survey Drawings xvii
  • Administrative Data 1
  • Historical Data 3
  • Part I -- Ford's Theatre Building, 1833-1862 5
  • Part II -- Ford's Theatre 1867-65 13
  • Part III -- April 14, 1865 and Its Aftermath 53
  • Architectural Data 67
  • Furnishings and Exhibition Data 101
  • Appendix A--Lincoln at Ford's Theatre 105
  • Appendix B--List of Productions at Ford's Theatre 107
  • Appendix C 123
  • Bibliography 125
  • Index 130
  • Mission 66 137
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