Ford's Theatre Prepares to Reopen New Lincoln Museum

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 3, 2009

They dressed Mr. Lincoln again yesterday for his upcoming public appearances.

They buttoned his vest, straightened his tie and smoothed his frock coat. Four people helped pull on his pants.

Wearing white cotton gloves, they picked lint from his left shoulder, slid on his boots and reattached his left arm with a tiny wrench.

The dried blood near the knees of his pants, they could do nothing about.

This was, of course, not the real Abraham Lincoln being re-dressed in the new museum at Ford's Theatre. It was only a cloth-and-metal mannequin clad in the clothes the president wore the night of his assassination.

But curators, volunteers and technicians fussed as if they were dressing the real man, clucking over the unmatched buttons on his fly and marveling at the oil still oozing from his boots 144 years after he took the carriage to Ford's on April 14, 1865.

The dressing of the mannequin, and its installation in its new glass case, were among the last tasks before the museum reopens to the public July 15. The museum has been closed for almost two years while it and the famous theater were renovated as part of a $50 million project. The theater reopened in February.

For the past two weeks officials with the National Park Service and the Ford's Theatre Society have been installing assassination and Lincoln artifacts in the newly designed museum.

The derringer used by John Wilkes Booth to shoot the president seems to float malevolently in a case by itself, near full-size statues and giant photos of Booth and his co-conspirators.

The ornate, horn-handled dagger Booth used to stab and nearly kill Lincoln's theater companion Maj. Henry R. Rathbone is displayed in another case, along with the assassin's compass, diary and two big revolvers.

The toy sword belonging to Lincoln's son Tad is there, along with first lady Mary Todd Lincoln's opera glasses case and the door to the Lincoln theater box, still with the hole through which Booth peered before bursting in with his weapons.

The new museum, which replaces one that dated to the 1980s, is designed to tell more about Lincoln's time in Washington, along with the story of the assassination, said National Park Service curator Gloria Swift: "What was Lincoln doing in Washington? What was his presidency like? What were the things he was dealing with?"

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