DC: Remember History at Ford’s Theatre

I always thought Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC was just a theatre—the type where plays were held. Boy, was I wrong. There is so much more to the historic site where President Lincoln was shot than meets the eye. In fact, it hosts more than 650,000 visitors each year!

Lincoln statue
Lincoln statue in Ford’s Theatre [photo credit: Linda Barrett]

See a Play at Ford’s Theatre

During a play performance in the Ford’s Theatre, you will be surprised by how small and intimate the theatre is…it has only 665 seats. But that means there isn’t a bad seat in the house. You’ll also be awed by the President’s Box just to the right of the stage. Draped in bunting, it sits vacant as if awaiting the president’s return.

I saw a beautiful interpretation of Mary Lincoln’s days in the White House following her husband’s assassination, however, a full range of entertainment is available including modern plays, musicals and holiday presentations. Performance prices start at $28-$34, but check the website for discounts!

Visit the calendar for upcoming events and performances.

Put the 35-minute One Destiny play on your calendar for the spring and summer. This is when costumed actors presenting two historical figures present the scenario of the night of Lincoln’s assassination.

Ford's Theatre interior
Ford’s Theatre, Washington, DC [photo credit: fords.org]

Tour The Ford’s Theatre Museum

I didn’t know that the site hosted the Ford’s Theatre Museum where rare artifacts are kept. Here, you can see the single-shot derringer that actor John Wilkes Booth used that fateful night, along with some of the clothing Lincoln was wearing, and eerie life masks of his face and hands made before and after the Civil War. Other exhibits include Lincoln’s top hat, the blood-stained pillow, and a soaring tower of books written about Lincoln.

Just across the street from Ford’s Theatre is the Petersen House where Lincoln was carried and died the next morning. View the bed where Lincoln lay, and the room where Mary Lincoln waited through the night.

The museum is inexpensive ($3), but visitors must acquire a ticket, and there is timed entry every half hour. A limited number of free first-come, first-serve, same-day tickets are also available beginning at 8:30 AM at the theatre’s box office.

March through July is the busiest time (free tickets are gone by 9 AM). To ensure your entry time, reserve your ticket in advance online. Allow up to two hours for your museum tour that includes the museum, a tour and Ranger Talk in the theatre (30-45 minutes), a tour of the Petersen House and the exhibits themselves (30 minutes). Note when reserving that not everything is available during each time slot. Timed entries are scheduled between 9:00 AM and 4:30 PM.

Sadly, if you’re a real Civil War buff and want to go in costume, that is not allowed on site. Leave the costumes at home. There is also a list of disallowed items on the website. You might want to check it before you arrive.

If you can’t go in person, take a Virtual Tour!

Lincon's life masks
Lincoln’s life masks [photo credit: fords.org]

Take an Audio Guided Tour

For a complete self-guided tour, rent an Acoustiguide audio tour ($5). It’s available in both youth and adult versions and offers character voices, sound effects and historic photographs.

Petersen House
Peterson House where Lincoln died [photo credit: fords.org]

Join a Walking Tour

Join an interpretive actor who portrays Detective James McDevitt, an officer who was on duty at the Washington Metropolitan Police Headquarters on April 14, 1865. He takes visitors on a 1.6-mile walking tour from Ford’s Theatre to the White House, with 8 stops in between to revisit important sites and examine clues from the investigation into the Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy. (The Walking Tour does not include Ford’s Theatre.) This tour is recommended for ages 8 and above ($18).

Ford's Theatre
Ford’s Theatre [photo credit: fords.org]

National Park Service Historic Site

Ford’s Theatre is a National Historic Site under the US National Park Service, a unit of the National Mall and Memorial Parks. It operates in partnership with the Ford’s Theatre Society. As part of the National Park system, Park rangers and volunteers hold a variety of programs including a Ranger Program, Living History and Informal Interpretive programs.

Ford’s Theatre is accessible from the Metro Center and Gallery Place/Chinatown metro stations. If you are driving, you can park in an independent garage called One Parking located directly next door to the theatre where an elevator offers direct access into the building, or at nearby Colonial Parking or QuikPark locations. No parking validation.

Ford’s Theatre
511 10th St. NW
Washington, DC 20004

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