If you hadn't heard of Baptist Alley in downtown Washington, don't despair, because Metro Scene hadn't either, until last Saturday. Along with about 75 other history-hungry folk, we found out about it after joining Civil War buff Edward Steers Jr. on a walking tour of downtown sites associated with John Wilkes Booth, who fatally shot President Lincoln 120 years ago next month.
Baptist Alley -- that, according to Steers, is still its name -- is the path behind Ford's Theatre, in the middle of the block bounded by Ninth, 10th, E and F streets NW. Ford's, where Booth shot Lincoln, fronts on 10th, and is operated by National Capital Parks, the tour's sponsor.
Okay, so how come the name? Because, Steers told his tour group, Ford's Theatre was originally built in 1833 as a church, by what was then called the First Baptist Society of Washington. A merger with a church on 13th Street led to the vacating of the 10th Street site; it was converted into the theater in 1862.
Ford's closed after the assassination, was used for years as government office space, and was finally restored and reopened in the 1960s.
From 10th Street, the congregation moved to 13th Street and then, in 1890, to 16th and O, where it continues as First Baptist Church.
Baptist Alley remains. The back door of Ford's, through which Booth fled, is covered with ugly graffiti. Standing in the alley, one doesn't feel a sense of history. One gets a sense of grim desolation.