Day 5, Sunday, November 12, 2017
My last day in Washington D.C., I was going to be heading to someplace that has been on my bucket list for a very long time, and I was really excited. Hopefully you don’t think this is too morbid though, because I was going to visit Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen Boarding House. The sites in Washington, DC where Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth and where he died. I think anybody who truly admires Lincoln probably wants to see these two sites with their own eyes, so I’m sticking with that…
Admission is free, and you don’t have to have advance tickets, but they are recommended, because the spaces fill up quickly. The days I was there, they only did the tours (I used the word tour loosely) until about 11 am, because there were rehearsals for a play after that. Advance tickets only cost $3, which is basically a processing fee for buying them online. It is worth the small price to have the guaranteed slot!
It is strange to see it up close and in person. Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen Boarding House have been preserved, but the entire rest of the area around them has been built up with modern buildings. It is a little like seeing the tiny little house in the animated movie UP, dwarfed by the skyscrapers all around. After waiting in line for a bit (outside, so be prepared for weather), I was in!
The tour takes you up the back stairs into the upper balcony seating area of the theatre, where you have a great view of the stage, and the Presidential Box. Only Mary’s chair is original in the box, but the theatre has been restored to the way it looked at the time of Lincoln’s assassination with period replicas. One day, I would love to see a play there.
When I say I use the term tour loosely, I mean that the docent basically just answered questions – there wasn’t really any information she presented to the group. Which is fine for me, since I have read about the assassination and know the players and how it all went down. If you didn’t know the story, you weren’t going to get it there though. It was interesting to see where Booth jumped from the box to the stage, and where he exited the stage after breaking his leg. I was a little disappointed, because the “tour” was supposed to be longer, but they were kind of trying to rush us out of the theatre section because of the upcoming rehearsal. I hung back and waited for everybody to file out and was able to get some good photos after most of the people had gone. The docents didn’t bother me, even though I was one of the last ones there.
Down in the basement of the theatre, there is a great museum. It includes artifacts pertaining to Lincoln’s life and family in the aftermath of the assassination, the assassination itself, and the conspirators and the hunt to find them and convict them afterwards. The museum has the Deringer pistol that Booth used to shoot Lincoln on display. It was so small – it is hard to imagine such a small implement doing so much damage. The museum has a lot of good information, so I spend a while there taking it all in.
My last stop was the Petersen House. There isn’t a timed entry here or an issue with rehearsals, so you can visit any time after your theatre tour. You might have to wait outside for a little while, if there is a line, because the house is very narrow and doesn’t fit that many people. Like the theatre, not much inside is original, as the originals were sold off as souvenirs after Lincoln’s death. The original bed that Lincoln died in is now housed in the Chicago History Museum (note to self: visit Chicago History Museum).
The Ranger did point out where Mary Todd Lincoln sat in the sitting room when she was too upset to stay with Lincoln, and where the men discussed what to do outside of the room. The small back bedroom is where Lincoln lay, diagonally across the bed, because he was too tall for the bed. He died there at 7:22 am the next day. The original bloodstained pillows are in the room.
The Petersen house also houses an extensive Lincoln archive; you can tour that too if you are so inclined (I opted not to, as I was getting pretty hungry at that point). There is a very cool tower of books written about Lincoln in the front room of the archive building. Floor to ceiling Lincoln books, 34 feet in all– this nerd was in heaven! I was pretty proud of myself, because I had read at least half a dozen of the books included in the tower. I stared at the tower for a bit, thinking to myself, “I’ve read that one, and that one and that one…”
On my walk back to the car, I stopped in at Capitol City Brewing Company. I had a crab cake sandwich and a beer; so good! You even get a homemade soft pretzel as a starter…
All in all, I had a really good trip – it was a great long weekend with a good mix of relaxing and sightseeing. Sadly, it was time to head home, so I made my way back to the Baltimore airport to check in for my flight home. On the way, I checked out a bit more of D.C. from the car, and saw a bit of Baltimore. I will have to get back and explore more at some point! But for now, I boarded the plane and made my way home… Another wonderful trip had come to an end.