Next week, America will commemorate the assassination and death of one of the country’s greatest presidents. A man who, after winning a second term and a bloody war, was shot down in his political prime: William McKinley. Just kidding! We’re talking about Abraham Lincoln, who died 36 years before McKinley, has been given a prime seat on the National Mall and, according to at least one historical film, hunted vampires. D.C. will mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s April 14, 1865, shooting and April 15 death with a flurry of commemorative events and re-enactments.
How will you remember his death?
1. Salute Lincoln on his last commute
To escape the distractions of the White House and the heat, Lincoln spent many nights on a bucolic hillside a few miles up the road. To commemorate his last commute home, a retinue of men on horseback will accompany one riderless horse from the White House to President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home. View the riders anywhere along the route. Mon., noon-3:30 p.m.
2. Enjoy a quiet evening at home
On display at President Lincoln’s Cottage is a wine goblet from which the president drank on his last night at home. While you’re there, visit a special exhibit on Lincoln’s security detail — or lack thereof, “Not an American Practice: Lincoln’s Life at Risk.” It explores the growing concern over the president’s safety, which he generally ignored — even after a would-be assassin shot a bullet through his hat one night while he was riding home alone. 140 Rock Creek Church Road NW; Mon.-Sat., 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Sun., 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., $5-$15.
3. Head to the theater
On April 14, General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife bailed on theater plans with the Lincolns. Mary Todd Lincoln floated the idea of not going either, but the president insisted they honor their commitment and try to enjoy themselves. And they did, until John Wilkes Booth showed up. The exhibit “Silent Witnesses: Artifacts of the Lincoln Assassination” at the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site reunites, for the first time, items from that fateful night, including Lincoln’s coat, his wife’s cloak and the contents of Lincoln’s pockets. Also on view: the tiny pistol Booth fired, then dropped, before leaping from the balcony onto the stage and disappearing into the night. 511 10th St. NW; open daily, advance tickets $2.50 at the box office, through May 25.
President Lincoln has been shot! Do you want to:
4a. Wait for the bad news
At about 10:20 p.m., Lincoln was rushed across the street to a boarding house (Petersen House, part of the Ford’s Theatre campus tour). Theatergoers flowed out onto the street and began a candlelight vigil that lasted nine hours, until the president’s last breath. From Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning, costumed interpreters will re-enact the vigil and, in a bit of creative anachronism, the Ford’s staff will be live-tweeting the events of 150 years ago. At 7:22 a.m. on Wednesday, the National Park Service will lay a wreath at Petersen House, and church bells will toll around the city. Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, 511 10th St. NW; Tue. & Wed., free.
4b. He had one job
When Booth crept up the staircase to Lincoln’s box, he passed an empty chair where Metropolitan Police Officer John Parker was supposed to be sitting. Parker had gotten bored, headed downstairs to get a better view of the stage, then went to the Star Saloon next door to get drinks with Lincoln’s carriage driver. (Amazingly, Parker kept his job and was later assigned to guard Lincoln’s widow.) The saloon is long closed, but you can sneak away from your job and get a poorly timed drink at Hard Rock Cafe, next door. 999 E St. NW.
4c. Flee to a tavern
After killing the president, Booth made his getaway on horseback, eventually stopping around midnight at Mary Surratt’s tavern, now the Surratt House Museum. Booth, along with accomplice David Herold, gulped down whiskey and picked up field glasses (aka binoculars) that Mary Surratt had delivered earlier that day, plus a rifle and ammunition. Take a tour of the little red house and chat with costumed docents about whether Surratt deserved to be hanged for her role in the assassination. 9118 Brandywine Road, Clinton, Md.; Wed.-Fri. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Sat.-Sun., noon-4 p.m., $3.
5c. Get medical attention
Booth and Herold’s next stop was the home of physician Samuel Mudd, who attended to Booth’s broken leg and made him crutches. Whether he knew he was helping an assassin is up for debate, but he ended up getting sent to prison for it. On April 18 and 19, the grounds around The Dr. Mudd House Museum will teem with costumed interpreters and Civil War re-enactors, and the Port Tobacco Players will present a short play, “The Assassins Doctor.” 3725 Dr. Samuel Mudd Road, Waldorf, Md.; Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; $5 per car admission to event, $8 per adult for house tour.
6c. Hide in a thicket
Booth and Herold ditched their horses and hid in the woods for several days near Rich Hill, a farm owned by Confederate sympathizer Samuel Cox, who sent the fugitives provisions. This weekend only, local historians will be at Rich Hill Farm House sharing stories about Cox’s role in the assassination, as well as information about the people who worked and lived on the farm. Archaeologists will also stage an educational excavation in which children can participate. Rich Hill Farm Road, Bel Alton, Md., Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-3 p.m., free.
7c. Get caught anyway
Booth and Herold met up with some Confederate sympathizers, got new horses and made their way to Port Royal, Va., where they stayed at Richard Garrett’s farm and slept in a tobacco barn. Early on the morning of April 26, a federal cavalry caught up with them and surrounded the barn. Herold surrendered, but Booth refused. He was shot in the neck, and died. The barn has been demolished, but there’s a new historic marker along northbound U.S. 301, about two miles south of Port Royal. If you stop to read it, watch out for traffic, or you could be the Civil War’s last casualty.