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Ford's Theater
December 10, 1861 John T. Ford leases the First Baptist Church on 10th St. in Washington and turns it into a theater. Built in 1833, the church had been vacant since 1859, when the church merged with the nearby Fourth Baptist Church.
  Ford's Theater
February 28, 1862 Ford closes the theater for renovation
  Ford's Theater
March 19, 1862 Following more than $10,000 in renovations, Ford's Theater reopens for business (Ford's Athenaeum was the name at the time)
  Ford's Theater
December 30, 1862 Ford's Theater gutted by fire
  Ford's Theater
February 28, 1863 Work begins on rebuilding Ford's Theater after a fire
  Ford's Theater
August 27, 1863 Ford's Theater reopens as Ford's New Theater
  Ford's Theater
July 7, 1864 Congress appropriates $2 million for restoration of Ford's Theater
  Ford's Theater
April 14, 1865 United States President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated on Good Friday by John Wilkes Booth in Ford's Theatre, Washington, D. C.
  Ford's Theater
  Abraham Lincoln
  Washington D. C.
July 7, 1865 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton orders Union troops to stand guard at Ford's Theater to prevent it from reopening following the assasination of President Lincoln
  Ford's Theater
  Edwin Stanton
July 8, 1865 John T. Ford agrees to lease Ford's Theater to the War Department
  Ford's Theater
April 7, 1866 Congress appropriates $100,000 to buy Ford's Theater. It will house the Army Medical Museum, the Office of the Surgeon General and War Department records until 1893
  Ford's Theater
June 9, 1893 Structural failure of the top floor of Ford's Theater causes a collapse of the interior of the building kill 22 and injuring 68
  Ford's Theater
May 11, 1896 Joint commission completes its hearings on the Ford's Theater disaster
  Ford's Theater
July 1, 1928 War Department transfers Ford's Theater to the Office of Public Buildings and Public Parks
  Ford's Theater
February 12, 1932 Ford's Theater reopens as the Lincoln Museum
  Ford's Theater
August 10, 1932 Ford's Theater is transferred to the National Park Service
  Ford's Theater
January 21, 1968 Dedication of the restored Ford's Theater
  Ford's Theater
January 30, 1968 Helen Hayes welcomes guests to Ford's Theater at a gala ceremony
  Ford's Theater
February 13, 1968 Ford's Theater reopens to the public
  Ford's Theater
February 5, 1969 First performance at Ford's Theater in over a hundred years
  Ford's Theater
June 23, 1970 Ford's Theater is named a National Historic Site.
  Ford's Theater


Ford's Theater

The most famous theater in the United States is located on 10th Street in downtown Washington D. C. The original structure was a Baptist Church that vacated the building in 1859. In 1861 John Ford leased the building and began changing it into a theater. A fire in late 1862 forced Ford to raise more capital and completely rebuild the structure. When it opened in August, 1863, it was named "Ford's New Theater."

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.


Links appearing on this page:

Abraham Lincoln
Edwin Stanton
Robert E. Lee
Ulysses S. Grant
Washington D. C

Ford's Theater was last changed on - October 26, 2007
Ford's Theater was added in 2005





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