Ford’s Theatre After Lincoln’s Assassination

After President Lincoln was killed, the government shut down Ford’s Theatre and imprisoned owner John T. Ford for over a month. By the time he was released, arsonists had tried at least twice to burn the building down. When Ford announced plans to reopen the theater, he received so many threats that the government took over again, in the name of public safety, and decreed that it would never be a playhouse again.

Ford's Theatre in April 1865, after Lincoln's assassination. Note the guards at the entrance and the crepe draped from the windows.
Ford’s Theatre in April 1865, after Lincoln’s assassination. Note the guards at the entrance and the crepe draped from the windows.

The building was gutted on the government’s orders and all the furnishings carted away. James L. Swanson, in “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer,” wrote:

By late November 1865, a little more than seven months after the assassination, the once beautiful theater had been defaced beyond recognition and relegated to a drab, three-floor office building.

Swanson said the government finally bought the theater from Ford, and in true bureaucratic fashion, “the excessive load of tons of documents and office equipment caused all the floors to collapse [in June 1893], crushing twenty-two clerks to death and crippling or injuring sixty-eight more.”

Ford’s Theatre was restored in the 1960s and is a working playhouse again—and a museum to both the assassination and the assassin. It’s well worth a trip if you’re ever in Washington.

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