You might think we'd start the tour at Ford's Theater, but no, we actually started in Lafayette Park, just across the street from the White House.
That's where we saw the location of the house where Lewis Powell nearly assassinated Secretary of State William Seward a few minutes before Booth shot Lincoln. (The location doesn't look a bit like this now.) Fortunately for Seward, he'd injured himself by falling out of his carriage a day or so earlier, and was wearing a neck brace. When Powell attacked Seward in his bed, the brace deflected the knife, saving the Secretary's life, but leaving him with a severe facial scar which he carried for the remainder of his days.
Then we rode our bus over to Ford's Theater, which looks much as it did in Lincoln's day. The structure to the left of the theater houses a very nice new Lincoln museum. If you've never seen it, it's worth a trip.
Ford's is of course still a working theater. Here's a docent in period dress telling us all about the assassination. I thought she did a nice job of conveying a sense of what it was like there on April 14, 1865. She even re-created some of the play OUR AMERICAN COUSIN, the production Lincoln was viewing when he was killed. Booth timed his shot to coincide with the funniest line in the show, a moment when the crowd would be roaring with enough laughter to drown out the pop of a derringer.
"Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap."
Well, our senses of humor may have changed a bit since 1865.
In the picture above, the stage is set for the theater's current production of FLY, "a thrilling story based on the Tuskeegee Airmen."
The President's box where Lincoln was shot. Nobody uses it now, not even sitting Presidents. Makes sense to me.
Here's the Petersen House, across the street from Ford's. It's "The House Where Lincoln Died." We didn't have time to tour it.
And here's the back of Ford's Theater.
There have been lots of changes back here since Lincoln's day. See all the former windows bricked up? But the layout of the alley hasn't changed. This is where a poor schmuck named "Peanuts" Burroughs stood holding Booth's horse when he came charging out of that little door on the right. In his desperation to get away quickly, Booth struck Burroughs in the head with the butt-end of his knife, mounted the frightened horse, and rode away into the night.
Our guide for the day was Ed Bearss, author and editor of more than 18 books and numerous articles on American history and the Civil War. He's a retired Chief Historian with the National Park Service. He's also former US Marine who served during World War II in the South Pacific. And...he's a GREAT storyteller.
The gentleman resting behind him is Patrick Rohan, our Smithsonian Associates representative who handled logistics for the day. They both did a great job.