Seeing history in action: Ford’s Theatre

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Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C.

Ford’s Theatre is much more than the infamous site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. It’s also a museum, and an operating theater with regular shows.

The Museum

Once you arrive, head downstairs to the newly restored museum. You might be surprised at its scope: The assassination of Lincoln is covered in one small exhibit, and the majority of the museum focuses on Civil War history, with particular emphasis on the role played by Washington, D.C., and its elected representatives. Life-size models are dotted about the museum representing citizens and dignitaries during Civil War times.

The museum tells the story of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, from his arrival in Washington in 1861 to the legacy he left. It features a remarkable collection of historic artifacts, including the deringer that John Wilkes Booth used, as well as a replica of the coat that President Lincoln wore the night he was shot. Of particular interest will be the timeline for April 14, 1865, the day and evening of Lincoln’s assassination. As I read the text of the day’s events, I couldn’t help but think of a CSI crime scene timeline.

Ford’s Theatre is open daily with tours scheduled from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. The tours are free, but tickets are required. Since Ford’s is a working theater, there are times when the museum is open, but the theater is closed. Check Ford’s Theatre website for details.

The Theater

Those visiting Ford’s Theatre during the day in the fall and spring, or in the evening in the summer, can watch One Destiny, a 30-minute one-act play depicting the events of April 14, 1865, through the eyes of Harry Hawk and Harry Ford, two men who were there. One Destiny is suitable for children eight and up.

The famous balcony where Lincoln was assassinated is draped with an American flag. I watched a recent production of Sabrina Fair at the theater that involved an elaborate set designed to be the patio and terrace of an enormous mansion in the Hamptons. The balconies on either side of the stage are set so close as to be part of the scenery for whatever production is playing. This small theater has two levels — Orchestra and Balcony. Avoid the seats to the left and right of the columns as you can miss a bit of the action on stage.

The 2010-2011 season will feature the following shows:

  • Sabrina Fair through October 24, 2010
  • Christmas Carol, November 20, 2010, through January 2, 2011
  • The Carpetbagger’s Children, January 21-February 13, 2011
  • Liberty Smith, March 23 through May 21, 2011

If you plan to attend a show at Ford’s Theatre arrive early. The curtain rises at 7:30 p.m for an evening performance or 2:30 p.m. for a matinee.

Need a room close to Ford’s Theatre? The Grand Hyatt Washington D.C. is a 10-minute walk from the White House and steps from the Metro Center stop. For those interested in a boutique hotel, the Hotel Washington D.C. is located in the Penn Quarter district in D.C.

–Jill Berry of Musings from Me

[Photo Credit: Flickr/ wallyg]

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