April 14, 1865, began as a good day for President Abraham Lincoln. Five days earlier, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant. The war wasn’t over, officially, but it certainly must have felt like it.
“It was one of his happiest days,” says Harry R. Rubenstein, chairman of the National Museum of American History’s politics division. “Lincoln was celebrating his victory. His son is back from Appomattox, telling the family what it was like watching Lee surrender to Grant. He goes on this well-known carriage ride around the city with Mary, and they talked about what they would do after he left office. The ride from the White House to Ford’s Theatre was a ride of celebration.”
Within hours, Lincoln would be dead, killed by a single bullet fired by actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth.
Four years ago, the country began celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, marking 150 years since the bloodiest conflict in American history. Now, as the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination approaches, the commemorations will wind down. It seems appropriate to mark the end of the war by celebrating the life of the man who held the Union together.
One of the largest Civil War sesquicentennial events in Washington will take place on Tuesday, with hundreds of costumed reenactors and volunteers flooding 10th Street NW in front of Ford’s Theatre for an all-night tribute to Lincoln. Ford’s Theatre, its museum and the Petersen House — also known as the House Where Lincoln Died — will remain open around the clock.
But Ford’s Theatre isn’t the only place to remember the Great Emancipator this week. Museums around the area allow visitors to trace Lincoln’s final horseback commute through Washington, see the bullet that ended the president’s life and follow in the assassins’ footsteps.
Silent Witnesses: Artifacts
of the Lincoln Assassination
Through May 25.
Center for Education and Leadership,
514 10th St. NW. 202-347-4833. www.fords.org.
Advance tickets required.
The centerpiece of Ford’s Theatre’s commemorations is an exhibition of items that were in the theater on April 14, 1865, from instruments played by the orchestra to Lincoln’s signature top hat. “These artifacts have been scattered across the country for 150 years,” Ford’s Theatre director Paul Tetreault says. “This is the first time everything has been back to 10th Street since 1865. . . . Mary Lincoln’s cape is reunited with Abraham Lincoln’s great coat, which is reunited with Lincoln’s top hat. It’s slightly eerie.”
Putting the exhibition together involved negotiations with a number of museums, including the Chicago History Museum, which owns Mary Lincoln’s cloak, the Smithsonian, which possesses Lincoln’s hat, and Ford’s Theatre, which owns Abraham Lincoln’s custom-made Brooks Brothers great coat. (That last artifact, notes curator Tracey Avant, is so fragile that “this will probably be the last time we see it on display for many, many years.”)
The fascinating display humanizes a great man; the mundane items in Lincoln’s pockets the night of his death included two pairs of eyeglasses, a lens polisher, a leather wallet, a pocket knife and a Confederate $5 bill that he had probably picked up in Richmond a few days earlier. But it also reinforces the idea that a murder took place: You can see the blood stains on Maj. Henry Rathbone’s gloves, Laura Keene’s cuffs, Mary Lincoln’s dress and, faintly, on Lincoln’s coat.
The Lincoln Tribute
10th Street between E and F streets NW. 202-347-4833. www.fords.org.
Free, tickets required for some events.
As the site of Lincoln’s shooting and his subsequent death, 10th Street between E and F streets NW is the epicenter for tributes to the 16th president. While Ford’s Theatre will premiere a new work honoring Lincoln, the highlight is undoubtedly an overnight vigil on 10th Street, which will be closed to traffic. Beginning at approximately 10:15 p.m., the public is invited to mingle with more than 150 reenactors during a candlelight vigil, as the living historians discuss what it was like to be inside the theater the moment the president was shot, or what Washington was like at the end of the Civil War. Ford’s Theatre, the Petersen House and the “Silent Witnesses” exhibition will remain open throughout the night, although admission requires free tickets, which are available from the Ford’s Theatre Web site.
The second part of the tribute begins Wednesday at 7:15 a.m., when the Federal City Brass Band performs Civil War music at the Petersen House. At 7:22 a.m., the moment Lincoln died, the band will play “Taps,” and a ceremony will feature a wreath laying, speeches and a reading of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” At 8 a.m., bells of churches across the city will begin to toll, as they did on April 15, 1865. Tours of the museum and National Park Service ranger talks will continue throughout the day on Wednesday.
Now He Belongs to the Ages:
A Lincoln Commemoration
Tuesday, 9 p.m.
Ford’s Theatre’s tribute to Lincoln is an original production that includes performances of Lincoln’s writings and Civil War-era music. Tickets are sold out, but the show will be simulcast on large screens a few blocks away in the National Portrait Gallery’s Kogod Courtyard. (For those who can’t get enough of the Great Emancipator, the gallery will show the 2012 film “Lincoln,” beginning at 6 p.m.)
History on Foot:
Detective James McDevitt
Through October. Dates and times of departures vary.
The tour leaves from Ford’s Theatre. $17. Advance tickets are required.
This interactive walking tour features an actor playing D.C. detective James McDevitt — a real historical figure — and leads participants to sites associated with the assassination, from Ford’s Theatre to the White House. (The walk covers 1.6 miles and takes approximately two hours, so be prepared to keep up.)
Through May 25.
National Museum of American History, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. www.americanhistory.si.edu.
One item associated with Lincoln’s fateful visit to Ford’s Theatre is too large for the “Silent Witnesses” exhibit: the carriage the Lincolns, Maj. Rathbone and his fiancee, Clara Harris, took from the White House that night. The carriage, which is on loan from the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Ind., is on display on the museum’s first floor, near the Constitution Avenue NW entrance.
Several other objects relating to the assassination, including wrist irons that held the conspirators and a drum played in Lincoln’s funeral procession, are exhibited upstairs in “The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden.”
Not an American Practice: Lincoln’s Life at Risk
Lincoln’s Cottage, Upshur Street at Rock Creek Church Road NW. 202-829-0436. www.lincolncottage.org. $15; children ages 6 to 12 $5.
A simple cottage near the Soldiers’ Home served as Lincoln’s frequent retreat from Washington’s heat, both literal and figurative. What’s not so well known, says curator Callie Hawkins, is how vulnerable Lincoln was when he rode his horse the roughly four miles from the White House to the Soldiers’ Home. On at least one occasion, shots were fired at the president as he rode. After that, he was assigned a cavalry escort for the commute, but it didn’t matter: “Lincoln would get up early, have breakfast and set out to the White House before the cavalry escort even got here,” Hawkins says.
The days before heavily armed Secret Service agents and armored cars inspired the Cottage’s exhibit, “Not an American Practice: Lincoln’s Life at Risk,” which looks at how the Army attempted to protect Lincoln and how the assassination forever changed the way people interacted with the president. “Lincoln was accessible out here, greeting foreign dignitaries, welcoming soldiers,” Hawkins says. “We have records of people just showing up” to chat, and Lincoln was known to stop and talk to people during his daily horseback rides.
From April 18 through April 30, the cottage will be draped in black cambric, as it was after the assassination.
Lincoln’s Last Ride
Monday from noon to 3 p.m.
The ride begins near the White House and ends at Lincoln’s Cottage. www.lincolncottage.org. Free.
On Monday, Lincoln’s Cottage will mark the anniversary of Lincoln’s last visit to the grounds by having a group of equestrians, including the ceremonial Fort Myer Caisson Platoon, ride from the White House to the cottage. (See map for the exact route.)
The procession will ride in the middle of the street, so it can be observed from sidewalks or from two special vantage points, the Howard University Plaza and the Shaw Library Plaza, where there will be poetry readings and other interactive events. The horses leave the White House at noon; they will arrive at the Soldiers’ Home at about 3 p.m., where there will be a ceremony including music, poetry and a wreath-laying by sailors from the USS Abraham Lincoln.
His Wound Is Mortal:
The Final Hours of President Abraham Lincoln
Ongoing, through December. Special events on Tuesday and Wednesday.
National Museum of Health and Medicine, 2500 Linden Lane, Silver Spring. 301-319-3300. www.medicalmuseum.mil. Free.
Forget the gun or the top hat; the National Museum of Health and Medicine has always held the most singular artifacts from the Lincoln assassination: the bullet that killed the president, removed during his autopsy; bone fragments from his skull; locks of his hair; and, as a macabre postscript, the vertebrae of John Wilkes Booth, through which passed the bullet that killed him a few weeks later.
For the anniversary of the assassination, the museum has unveiled an updated Lincoln exhibit, “His Wound Is Mortal: The Final Hours of President Abraham Lincoln.” It explores the medical care Lincoln received in the hours after he was shot and the autopsy that followed his death. But the most intriguing item is the bullet, which Dr. Edward Curtis removed during the autopsy. He referred to it, sagely, as “a little black mass no bigger than the end of my finger — dull, motionless and harmless, yet the cause of such mighty changes in the world’s history as we may perhaps never realize.”
On Tuesday, the museum will stay open until 10:30 p.m. for a special Lincoln Anniversary Open House. A family program runs from 5 to 7 p.m. The following morning, the museum will open at 7 a.m. and observe a moment of silence for the fallen president, followed by a brief talk. A lecture called “The Search Is Satisfied,” covering the autopsy, starts at noon. No RSVP is necessary for any of these special events.
Maryland, the Suratts and
the Crime of the Century
Through Dec. 13.
Surratt House Museum, 9118 Brandywine Rd., Clinton, Md. 301-868-1121.
www.surrattmuseum.org. $3, 60 and older $2 age, 5 to 18 $1, younger free.
Mary Surratt owned the boarding house at Fifth and H streets NW where the assassination plot was hatched as well as the Surrattsville — now Clinton — tavern where John Wilkes Booth and David Herold fled after the assassination to acquire rifles, binoculars and whiskey before heading to Dr. Samuel Mudd’s house.
John Lloyd, who was renting the tavern from Surratt at the time, testified that Surratt told him to have the “shooting irons” ready for pickup on the night of April 14. Despite this, some historians still question how deeply Surratt was involved in the conspiracy for which she was executed — a sentiment you’ll hear at the Surratt House Museum, where docents in hoop skirts lead visitors through a reconstruction of the Surratt home, which served as a tavern, post office and lodging house.
To coincide with the anniversary, the museum created a one-room exhibition called “Maryland, the Surratts and the Crime of the Century,” which looks at attitudes toward slavery in Maryland, its status as a border state and the role these feelings played in the assassination. (John Wilkes Booth was born in Maryland, as were convicted conspirators Surratt and David Herold. Conspirator Lewis Powell lived in Baltimore after deserting the Confederate army, and conspirator George Atzerodt was born in Germany but lived in Port Tobacco as an adult.)
Remembering the Lincoln Assassination: Tours at Congressional Cemetery
Saturday, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Congressional Cemetery, 1801 E St. SE
(Entrance on Potomac Avenue SE).
After the Lincoln conspirators were executed on July 7, 1865, they were buried in shallow graves near the gallows at the Washington Arsenal (now called Fort McNair). In 1869, the remains of the conspirators, including John Wilkes Booth and David Herold, were released to their families. Herold, who had accompanied Booth on his escape from Washington but surrendered at the Virginia farm where Booth was killed, was taken to Congressional Cemetery, where he was buried next to his father in an unmarked grave. His sister, Elizabeth, was buried in the same plot in 1903.
Congressional Cemetery is the resting place of a number of characters related to the assassination, including Peter Taltavull, who owned the saloon next to Ford’s Theatre where Booth had a drink that night, and two of the doctors who tried to save Lincoln’s life. On Saturday, the historic cemetery will hold two assassination-related tours, at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and a general tour of Civil War gravesites at 1 p.m. Tours are free, though donations are accepted.
The Final Journey to Baltimore
B&O Railroad Museum, 901 W. Pratt St., Baltimore. 410-752-2490. www.borail.org. $18; 60 and older $16; 2 to 12 $12.
After Lincoln’s funeral and lying in state at the U.S. Capitol, his body was placed aboard a special funeral train to begin the 13-day journey to his final resting place in Springfield, Ill. Along the way, the train stopped for public viewings in a number of cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Chicago.
A commemoration of the funeral cortege takes place April 18-19 at Baltimore’s B&O Railroad Museum. It features Civil War-era funeral music performed by the Federal City Brass Band, reenactors portraying mourners and soldiers, a reproduction of Lincoln’s casket and an 1863 locomotive decorated like the funeral train. Historian and author Daniel Carroll Toomey will discuss the funeral and the Civil War in Maryland on April 18 (11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.) and April 19 (11:30 a.m.). Toomey was the guest curator for the museum’s Civil War exhibit, “The War Came by Train.”
President Lincoln Is Dead:
The New York Herald Reports
Through Jan. 10. Special event on Sunday.
The Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-292-6100. www.newseum.org. $21.95; $17.95 age 65 and older; $12.95 ages 7 to 18; free age 6 and younger.
In the Civil War era, breaking news was much more complicated than sending a tweet. Once a story was written and edited, the copy was taken to a printer, where metal type was arranged and ink was pressed to paper before the broadsheet was delivered to newsboys to sell on street corners. When necessary, a story could be updated and reprinted multiple times with breaking developments throughout the day.
Such was the case surrounding Lincoln’s assassination. The New York Herald, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, printed seven “Extra” editions, beginning at 2 a.m., with one of the first announcements of the shooting, and continuing through 3:30 p.m. the next day, including the 8:45 a.m. edition that reported the president’s death. For the first time, the Newseum has all seven editions on display next to each other, so visitors can see how the news and headlines unfolded.
On Sunday, historian James Swanson, the author of “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer,” will discuss the crime and its aftermath in the museum’s Knight TV Studio. It’s free to attend with the usual Newseum admission.