Saturday, February 6, 2016

10 interesting facts about Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre is located in downtown Washington, D.C. not too far from the National Mall. Most people recognize this site as the location where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth in 1865. Before that tragic event, it was a popular place where people gathered to be entertained.

Today that tradition continues at Ford’s Theatre. The building simultaneously operates as a museum and historic site. I thought for today’s post I’d post some other facts about this historic site.

10 interesting facts about Ford’s Theatre

1. Ford’s Theatre’s roots began in 1861 John T. Ford, a theatrical entrepreneur from Baltimore, leased the First Baptist Church on 10th Street and established a theatre. He converted the church and called it “Ford’s Athenaeum”.  Unfortunately, a fire tore through the building in 1862 and destroyed it. Not to be discouraged, Ford raised funds with plans to build a new theatre. The cornerstone for the new building was laid in February 1863.

2. Performances commenced later that year and ran consistently until April 14, 1865, the tragic night where Booth crept in and attacked the President. President and Mrs. Lincoln were attending the showing of “Our American Cousin”. About 1,700 people were in attendance that evening. Tickets for the showing ranged from 25 cents to $1. Lower and upper balcony boxes cost $10 and $6 respectively. 

The balcony seats where President, Mrs. Lincoln and their guests were sitting on the night of April 14, 1865
3. Ford was forced to close his theatre during the investigation and he made plans to reopen in July 1865. However, he received threats of arson if he were to reopen. Many people, angry over the President’s assassination, wanted to burn the theatre down. Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War at the time, placed a 24-hour watch on the building to ensure it wasn’t burned. The theatre was closed for a long time.

4. Washington’s YMCA had the idea to buy the building and rename it “The Abraham Lincoln Memorial Temple”. The project never got off the ground due to lack of financial support. Instead, the federal government made a deal with Ford to rent the building with an option to buy. In the fall of 1865, the building was converted to federal offices.

5. After the closing of Ford’s Theatre, the building housed government offices for many years. In 1867 the U.S. government purchased the building that had once been such a popular theatre. They paid Ford $100,000.

6. In June 1893 a part of the interior collapsed. Twenty-two people were killed and 68 sustained serious injury. The building was then converted into a government warehouse.

7. In 1932 the building was opened as a museum, which was and continues to be run by the National Park Service (NPS). However, it wasn’t until the 1960s when the building was restored to its 1865 appearance. The chairs are replicates of the type present in 1865.

8. In 1968 performances resumed at Ford’s Theatre and continue today. The building operates as both a historic site and working theatre.

9. In 2008 Ford’s Theatre underwent major renovations and restorations which were completed in July 2009. In addition to working on the theatre itself and adjacent museum, a new Lincoln education center was planned to be opened in 2010. Today visitors can tour the theatre (NPS rangers talks are very informative if you choose that option on your ticket), visit the education center, and the Petersen House, which is the boarding house across the street where the President was brought to after he was attacked.

The next two photos were taken at the education center. 

Looking down from the upper floors

10. Ford’s Theatre is a very popular tourist attraction. It is estimated about 1 million people visit each year. The building is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for Christmas Day. (During the rest of the year, if shows are running, tours of the theatre are suspended during those times).  

If you've visited in years prior to the 2008 renovations, you'll quickly note the procedure for touring has completely been revamped along with the renovations. Admission to visit the museum and theatre is still free, but these days it is a lot harder to get walk-in tickets unlike in years’ past. For more information about visiting Ford’s Theatre and choosing tickets, I have details on this blog post.

Ford's Theatre National Historic site is at 511 10th St., NW, the Petersen House and educational center are located directly across the street. 

Exterior shot of Ford's Theatre (2012)


  1. Great article, most of these fun facts were news to me.

  2. I am writing a history paper on this and I am wondering what makes you qualified to write about such. Are you a tourist? Or are you educated in these things.

    1. Hi Leanna, thanks for visiting. I have lived in the area a long time and I often visit the sites I write about. That being said, my writing is part experience/observation, part what I've been told by tour guides during visits and also some research - you'll see I often link out to source material in my articles.
      (If this helps - my blog's description is "This blog offers information, ideas of things to see and do, history, fun facts and observations through photos. You also might find some adventures from the eyes of a resident and frequent tourist.") Thanks! I hope this helps.

    2. I really appreciate the information, I'll be in Washington D.C. in early May. It'd be great to meet up and say hi!

    3. I had read about Ford Theatre during my School days in context with the life of President Abraham Lincon. I visited Ford Theatre in October 1991 as a tourist during my visit to Washington on a USAID GSO Training Program. I wiuld like to visit it again to see how it looks after renovation.

    4. The theatre itself still looks the same but the tours are very different and they've added many things to see in the museum and the building across the street. I hope you get to visit again sometime! Thanks for visiting my blog and for commenting.

    5. Although, I think the seating may have been replaced? I'm not 100 percent sure on that, I'd have to look it up.

  3. I visited Ford Theatre in 1991. Would like to visit again and see how it looks after renovations.