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Ford's Theatre, Petersen House
Ford's Theatre (left), Petersen House (right)


In downtown Washington, almost midway between the Capitol and the White House, two historic structures, Ford's Theatre and the House Where Lincoln Died, have been preserved as memorials to Abraham Lincoln. These buildings are associated with one of the most tragic and dramatic episodes in American history. In Ford's Theatre, on the evening of April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a member of a prominent theatrical family and brother of the great actor Edwin Booth. Early the next morning the President died in the Petersen House, directly across the street from the theatre.

When President Lincoln entered the theatre box that fateful night, prospects for the Nation's future appeared bright. The War Between the States was virtually at an end. In the Confederate States the people were returning to the weary task of reconstruction, and many Northerners were willing to forget the past in the solemn rejoicing of victory. Both in the North and in the South the personality of Lincoln was seen as the guiding hand in binding up the Nation's wounds. The trials and agonies of the "tragic era" which followed the conflict might have been spared the South had the Nation heeded the sublime spirit embodied in the words of his Second Inaugural Address which spoke of a peace "with malice toward none, with charity for all." With the smoke of the assassin's pistol, the mounting hopes of an early reconciliation vanished. The mild peace advocated by President Lincoln gave way to the outcry of the Northern radicals for vengeance.

In his death, as in his life, Abraham Lincoln has entered deeply into the folklore and history of our country. He has become an eternal symbol, to us and to the world, of the heights to which a common man can aspire under a democratic way of life. Ford's Theatre portrays his homely greatness and the tragedy of his death. At no place can the work of Lincoln as a national leader and as President be more appropriately commemorated than at the site where this work was brought to an abrupt conclusion. The Petersen House, preserved as of that period, carries you to the days of the Civil War and to one of that war's saddest nights.


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Last Modified: Mon, Dec 2 2002 10:00:00 am PDT

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