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The most famous theater in the United States is located on 10th Street in downtown
The theater was abuzz with activity on Thursday, April 13, when Ford received the official request for a box for President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant, who accepted the surrender of Robert E. Lee the Sunday before. They would be attending Our American Cousin, a farce about the introduction of an American to his English uncles.
The news hit the streets of Washington quickly and drew the interest of an out-of-work actor, John Wilkes Booth, when he found out about the visit Friday morning. Henry Clay Ford, son of John Ford, told Booth about the pending Presidential visit and showed Booth the State Box in the dress circle, which was being renamed the Presidential Box for the evening.
Grant was unable to make the show. Speaker of the House of Representatives Schuyler Colfax also rejected an invitation, as did reporter Noah Brooks. Son Robert Todd, a staff officer to Grant said no when he found out Grant would not be there. Lincoln also invited a French attorney who did not want to attend a play on Good Friday.
As a result of the cancellations, only Henry Rathbone and his fiancé were sitting with Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln when John Wilkes Booth entered the Presidential box at 10:07pm. From this point on multiple stories exist, but it is commonly accepted that Booth placed a derringer near the left side of Lincoln's head and fired a single shot. Major Rathbone confronted the assassin and Booth stabbed Rathbone repeatedly. When John Wilkes Booth vaulted from Lincoln's box he became the most famous actor ever to appear on stage.
Lincoln died the following morning at Peterson's Boarding House the next morning. Ford closed the theater following the assassination and Edwin Stanton ordered armed guards to protect the building from looters. In July, 1865 an attempt to reopen the theater was "thwarted" by Stanton. Congress authorized $100,000 to compensate Ford for his loss and began using the building for various military purposes.
On June 9, 1893 workmen removed a portion of Ford's Theater foundation. The building facade and portions of the interior collapsed while 490 clerks of the Record and Pension Division of the War Department were working, killing 20 and seriously injuring 68 others. That December the Senate appointed a select committee to investigate the collapse and determine if the federal government should compensate victims and surviving family members.
In August, 1894, the select committee members were joined by five Members of the House. The commission was to report on "...whether in equity and justice the Government should compensate the sufferers of that disaster for the injuries sustained by them." The commission was also charged with investigating individual cases to determine the amount that should be paid.
After wrapping up testimony in May, 1896 the joint commission issued its final report 1897, allocating funds to the injured parties. When the National Park Service was formed on August 10, 1932, Ford's Theater was among the first properties added to the Service's inventory, on August 12. Although the theater did suffer from neglect, it was completely refurbished and in 1968 the theater was opened for special events. The general public was invited in 1969 and today the theater produces three to five plays per year.
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Ford's Theater was last changed on - October 26, 2007
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