Frequently Asked Questions: Ford's Theatre

What were the prices of tickets at the theatre when Lincoln was assassinated?

There were three prices for tickets that evening, as printed on the playbill:
· Orchestra Level (lower, main level, toward the stage) – 1 dollar
· Dress Circle (Balcony level) and Parquette (back of the Orchestra)– 75 cents
· Family Circle (Upper Balcony Level) – 25 cents
With the exception of the State Box, where the President and his guests were seated, the boxes were not in use that evening. Those tickets were much pricier and sold by the box, rather than by the individual- $10 for an upper box and $6 for the lower boxes.

Other than the private boxes, the ticket prices were reasonably affordable. According to Thomas Bogar’s Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination, the $1 for the Orchestra seats would have bought a 5 pound sack of sugar, or five haircuts, or ten shots of liquor, or a third the cost of a night in a respectable hotel in 1865 Washington D.C.

Why is there a wallpapered partition leaning inside and against the presidential state box wall?

The partition that is leaning on the far left side of the box was placed there at the direction of John T. Ford. The purpose of the partition was to transform the box area into two separate boxes and rent them separately. It was placed against the wall so as to make the area one larger, more spacious box for the benefit of the presidential party. The partition is in place on the opposite side of the stage, separating the two upper boxes.

Is the wallpaper within the presidential state theatre box the original?

No, the wallpaper that you see inside the state box is identical to the original. There is, however, an original wall paper sample in the Ford’s Theatre Museum. It is located inside one of the glass cases near the stairwell leading up into the theatre.

Does anyone ever seat in or use the state presidential box during plays or shows?

No, no one ever occupies the state box during plays or other theatre events.

Are these the original chairs in the theatre?

No, these chairs have been designed to look similar to the type of chairs used in theatres towards the end of the 19th century. The original 1865 chairs were strictly cane-bottomed wooden chairs and many more of them would have been situated both within the orchestra section and the theatre balcony level. Some of the chairs were secured to the floor back then but if they wanted to, they would fill the aisles with loose chairs as there were no laws or fire code restrictions requiring a theater to maintain an aisle between rows of seats. In 1968, the restored Ford’s Theatre opened with replicas of the original chairs, but audiences found them very uncomfortable, and the current seats were installed in 1986.

Are the furnishings in the Presidential State Box the original items?

No, the furnishings in the box are not original. The Presidential box at Ford’s Theatre is decorated with exact replicas that were commissioned by the government for President Lincoln’s box when the theater was restored in 1968. The replicas were built by the Carlton McLendon Furniture Company of Montgomery, Alabama.

The original rocking chair that Lincoln was seated on is currently on display in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The chair was the personal property of theatre treasurer Henry C. Ford, known as Harry and no relation of the famous automobile industrialist Henry Ford. Immediately following the murder, the chair was seized along with other items in the box, in case they were needed as evidence for use in the trial. After the trial concluded, the War Department kept the chair. In 1866, the War Department gave the chair to the Smithsonian where it was put into storage. In 1921, Harry Ford’s Widow, Blanche Chapman Ford, petitioned the Federal Government for custody of the chair, claiming it as personal property.

In 1929, the government returned the rocker to Mrs. Ford. She then had it sold at auction in New York City where it was purchased by one of Henry Ford’s agents for $2,400. This was the famous Henry Ford of the Ford Motor Car Company. This transaction was conducted with an agreement that the chair would be put on public display there within his own museum in Michigan. This was just a few years before the National Park Service acquired the historic Ford’s Theatre building in 1933. The original love sofa from the box, the one upon which Henry Rathbone was seated that night, is owned by the National Park Service and in the Ford’s Theatre Collection. However, it is currently not on display.

In 2005, a Virginia family donated a carved back wooden, cane-bottomed parlor chair to Ford’s Theatre. The chair had been in the family’s possession for 140 years, and family lore holds that it is the chair that Mary was sitting that night. The age, materials, and style of the chair are all consistent with the chair that Mrs. Lincoln would have used, and it is the chair in the box today, but there is not enough documentation to verify its authenticity with certainty.

Why is there a picture of George Washington on the State Box?

The state box has been decorated to accurately portray how the box was decorated the night of the assassination. Matthew Brady’s photography company sent an employee over to Ford’s Theatre the morning after the assassination and took a photo of the box from the orchestra level. The National Park Service has tried to decorate the box based on that photograph. The original framed image of Washington, called a lithograph, is owned by Ford’s Theatre but is not currently being displayed. The lithograph was the personal possession of the manager of the theater, Harry Ford. Mr. Ford removed the lithograph from his living quarters above the next-door Star Saloon the afternoon of the assassination and placed it on the outside of the box to make it look “presidential.” He did so in preparation for the president’s visit to the theater that evening. Today, we might use the presidential seal to mark such an event, but back then the presidential seal was not used in that manner. In Lincoln’s time, the presidential seal was used to emboss the wax that sealed an envelope addressed by the President to Congress, thereby making that document official. The presidential seal did not gain its more generalized use as a symbol of the presidency until much later, possibly in the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in the 1870s. Because the presidential seal was not in common use as a symbol at this time, George Washington’s very recognizable picture was frequently used as an allusion to the presidency.

What happened to the Ford’s Theatre building after the assassination?

In July of 1865, theatre owner John T. Ford was ready to resume performances, but emotions ran high against the reopening. Fearing threats from city residents, and the unseemliness of resuming theatrical productions, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered the theatre closed and posted a military guard to ensure the closure. One possible new use emerged as Washington’s YMCA announced its intention to purchase the building and to reopen as “The Abraham Lincoln Memorial Temple,” setting the box aside as a kind of shrine to the president and hosting lectures and programs in the theatre. Within a few weeks this plan faded away due to lack of financial support.

The federal government negotiated a deal with Ford to rent the building with an option to buy. In the fall of 1866, a Brooklyn firm removed the entire interior of the building and converted it into a federal office building for $28,000. There were very few alterations that were made to the façade, the roof and attic, but three floors of office and storage space were created inside. The government purchased the structure for $100,000 in 1867. This new office building briefly was intended to store the captured records of the Confederacy, and was instead used to meet a storage need for Army medical records.

By April of 1867, the former Ford’s Theatre was fully reopened as a government office building. On the first floor were offices for the Army Surgeon General’s Record and Pension Division. The second floor was occupied by the National Library of Medicine and on the third floor was the Army Medical Museum (now located in Silver Spring, Maryland). The National Library of Medicine and the Army Medical Museum moved out of the building in 1887. By January of 1890, the clerks at Ford’s worked in the records and pension office, an independent government bureau reporting directly to the Secretary of War.

On June 9, 1893, the interior of the historic building collapsed. Twenty-two government clerks died in the tragedy and sixty-eight others were seriously injured. Within a year, the damage was repaired, and the former theatre was remodeled into a government warehouse, with more alterations to the interior.

The building remained in this form until 1931 when workers returned to modify the first floor. It was converted into a museum dedicated to displaying artifacts of the life of our sixteenth president. Many of the museum’s artifacts were from the Osborn Oldroyd collection which had previously been displayed in the Petersen House and had been purchased by the U.S. government for $50,000 in 1927.

During the 1950s a bill was introduced in Congress by Senator Milton R. Young of North Dakota to fund the restoration of Ford’s Theatre to its 1865 appearance. In 1964, Congress appropriated the funds and in 1968, the fully restored Ford’s Theatre reopened as a working theatre, 103 years after the assassination of President Lincoln. Also, in 1968, the Ford’s Theatre Society became a partner with the national park service.

The site was designated as the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site in 1970, and today is co-managed by the National Park Service and the Ford’s Theatre Society as a part of the National Mall & Memorial Parks.

How much of the Theatre is original?

Almost all of the interior structure of the theatre was removed when it was converted to a fireproof warehouse in 1866. More modifications were made in the 1890s following the building collapse, and again in the 1920s with the creation of the Lincoln Museum. Today, the only original parts of the theatre building include the front façade, structural elements in the roof framing and attic, and some smaller portions of the exterior brick walls on the north and south sides. On the front of the theatre facing 10th Street, several window openings were altered (evident from the change in brick color), leaving the southernmost set of windows as the only ones that are completely original. Some repair work was also done to repair the bowing front façade in the 1866 renovation.

Is Ford’s a working theatre? (Do they still have shows?)

Yes, Ford’s Theatre reopened in 1968 as a living memorial to Lincoln. The site is a national historic site as well as an active working theatre that shows plays four times each year. For more information about the productions, visit www.fords.org.

How can I get tickets to visit and/or see a play at the Ford’s Theatre?

Call the Ford’s Theatre box office at (202) 347-4833 or visit www.fords.org for information on shows and tickets.

Last updated: August 15, 2020

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