The History of Ford's Theatre
Ford’s Theatre was originally built in 1833 as a Baptist church. In 1861, it was converted into a theater by John T. Ford, a prominent theater owner and manager. The theater quickly became one of the most popular venues in Washington, DC, attracting famous actors and politicians alike.
One of the theater’s most frequent patrons was President Abraham Lincoln, who loved the performing arts and often attended shows with his wife, Mary. On April 14, 1865, Lincoln and his wife visited Ford’s Theatre to watch a comedy called Our American Cousin. During the third act of the play, John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer and actor, entered the presidential box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. Booth then leaped onto the stage, shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (Latin for “Thus always to tyrants”), and escaped through the back door. Lincoln was carried across the street to the Petersen House, where he died the following day.
The assassination of Lincoln shocked and saddened the nation and marked a turning point in the Civil War and American history. Ford’s Theatre was closed by the government and used as an office building and a warehouse for many years. In 1932, it was reopened as a museum by the National Park Service, and in 1968, it was restored to its 1865 appearance and reopened as a working theater. Today, Ford’s Theatre is part of the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, which also includes the Petersen House, the Center for Education and Leadership, and the Lincoln Museum.