Spring 2009 | Volume 59, Issue 1
The day after Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, while the actor-turned-murderer John Wilkes Booth fled into the Maryland countryside and the nation recoiled in outrage and shock, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton commissioned the famous photographer Mathew Brady to take pictures of the crime scene at Ford’s Theatre. A century later, curators used those images to mount a major reconstruction of the theater and bring it back to its exact 1865 appearance. This February, on the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, the Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service completed a second major renovation. “All historical elements of the building have been preserved,” said the Ford’s Theatre Society director, Paul Tetreault, of the $50 million project. The theater’s walls, for instance, remain oddly white, although most theaters feature dark colors.
The renovation has greatly enhanced the audience experience. Improvements include better speakers and lighting; new cushioned seats; upgraded restrooms; enhanced elevator accessibility; a 1,000-square-foot special events parlor; and a spacious lobby with a concession stand, gift shop, and box office, which will eliminate the old inconvenience of requiring ticket holders to trudge from the sales booth to the theater’s entrance outside. Between February 11 and April 14, Lincoln’s bloodstained coat will be on display in the lobby.
Patrons will still be able to view the reconstructed presidential box where Lincoln watched the performance of Our American Cousin on that fateful night. The first production scheduled for 2009 is the world premiere of James Still’s play The Heavens Are Hung in Black, starring David Selby, who will portray President Lincoln during the five months before he issued his Emancipation Proclamation.
Tetreault has organized other activities, including a free, nine-part, Monday-night lecture series “Living Lincoln,” which begins February 16 and runs through May 18, and features scholars James McPherson and Harold Holzer along with entertainers Sam Waterston and Conan O’Brien. Visitors can also sign up for tours given by actors impersonating characters from 1865, including assassination investigator James A. McDevitt and Mary Todd Lincoln’s confidante, freedwoman Elizabeth Keckley. The theater plans to reopen its renovated museum in the basement later this spring.
“I think it is thrilling that people from across the globe can come to Ford’s Theatre, a working playhouse, and see a play,” said Tetreault. “It is a fitting tribute to Lincoln’s love of the arts—especially theater.” For more information on theater productions, call (202) 347-4833 or visit www.FordsTheatre.org.