Monday, July 6, 2015

The Poignancy of a Feathered Fan at Ford's Theater

When leaving the National Archives, I got the idea that we might have time to see Ford's Theater. I was rather certain that it was more or less around the corner, and it was indeed quite close. We got timed tickets, all free, and waited in line while looking at the architectural details. Although this is a restored structure, the original building was the First Baptist Church, which had opened in 1834. In 1861 John Ford rented the building for the performance of plays and later purchased it. In 1862 he remodeled the building and offered plays that ranged in genre from Shakespeare to variety shows. However there was a fire that year so Ford again remodeled the building, this time more beautifully than before. One of the plays presented in 1863 was "The Marble Heart." John Wilkes Booth was one of the actors. President Abraham Lincoln was part of the audience. 


Our first stop was under the theater in a great museum all about Lincoln and the events of that fateful night. There were many new and interesting things to learn. While there, I was even able to collect some period clothing and quilting details! My favorite was a beautifully feathered fan that belonged to Mary Lincoln which I then sadly realized was tinged with blood from that horrible evening. We finally made our way up the stairs to enter the famed theater. Walking through the doors was a step back to April 14, 1865, two days after the Civil War ended because everything we see today is just as it was on that dreadful night.





In preparation of the president's arrival that evening to see "Our American Cousin," special bunting was displayed where the president and his wife would be sitting.

The picture in between the bunting is of Lincoln's favorite president, George Washington.





In great mourning and out of respect to President Lincoln, the theater shut down. There were no more plays performed for 103 years. The public was torn in that they neither wanted the theater to be in operation anymore, nor did they want it memorialized. After receiving a threat, Ford sold the theater to the War Department, who gutted the beautiful interior for more practical purposes. By 1932 the theater where Lincoln was shot and the house where Lincoln died became the property of the National Park Service. However there wasn't enough interest to maintain a museum.  By 1940 more artifacts started arriving at the museum, including Booth's deringer pistol that he used to shoot the president. In 1965 Ford's Theater underwent a renovation process to restore it to its 1865 grandeur. With the arrival of more artifacts, the museum was moved to underneath the theater. Also the Ford's Theater Society was organized to revive the performance of plays. As a result, plays can still be seen at Ford's Theater today. In 1970 Ford's Theater Society hosted a gala attended by First Lady Pat Nixon, former first lady Mamie Eisenhower and Ethel Kennedy. These annual galas honor Lincoln's love of the theater. (All of my research came from this great slide show called History of Ford's Theater full of pictures and a chance to explore the theater. Link here.

Also be sure to explore the Ford's Theater website.


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