The theatre was a Baptist church before theatre entrepreneur John T. Ford leased the church in 1861. He converted the church to a music hall, an extremely successful hot spot in town until it was destroyed by a fire in 1862. Ford immediately started construction and was able to reopen just a year later in August 1863. The theatre is most well known for Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865 by actor John Wilkes Booth, just five days after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.
The Confederate capitol was in Union hands at this point, so literally there would be no place to take the president if Booth was able to successfully capture him, as he originally planned. Sometime between March 17 (the date of the attempt to kidnap Lincoln on the way to the play at the Soldier’s Hospital) and April 14, Booth came up with an alternate plan. Instead of kidnapping the president, Booth reasoned that the best way he could help the dying Confederacy would be by throwing the Union government into turmoil. His hatred for Lincoln and all that Lincoln stood for made killing the president seem to Booth like a patriotic, honorable thing to do. He would be killing a tyrant, just like Brutus had done to Julius Caesar, and providing the essential spark that would resurrect the dying southern nation.
The plan called for a four pronged attack against the key figures of the US government. He and his allies would kill the president, vice president, secretary of state and possibly even General Grant. Booth learned that Lincoln planned on attending a play at Ford’s Theater the night of April 14, Good Friday. Grant was to be his guest. Booth himself would kill Lincoln and Grant; meanwhile Lewis Powell would kill Secretary of State William Seward and George Atzerodt would kill Vice President Andrew Johnson. If successful, Booth reasoned that this would throw the US government into a constitutional crisis, hopefully paralyzing the government and the Union armies across the South.
Booth began his day preparing for the assassination by meeting with Powell and Atzerodt and David Herold and discussing last minute preparations. The plan called for Herold to lead Powell to Seward’s home and then after Powell had killed the secretary of state, Herold would lead him to a rendezvous point outside of the city in southern Maryland. Atzerodt was to kill Johnson, he had rented a room in Johnson’s hotel that was directly above Johnson’s suite. Booth would kill Lincoln and Grant and then make his way to meet up with the others across the river in Maryland. The group then planned on stopping by the Surratt Tavern to pick up the supplies (pistols, binoculars, etc) left by Mary Surratt and then make their escape south to Virginia.
Around 8:30PM, the Lincolns and Rathbones arrived at Ford’s Theater and proceeded to take their seats in the presidential box that had been prepared for them. When the president entered the box, the actors stopped and the band played “hail to the chief” as the crowd applauded. The comedy then resumed as scheduled.
Booth had visited Ford’s Theater earlier in the day and had prepared for his murderous business. It’s believed that he bored a small hole in the door leading into the presidential box so he would be able to find Lincoln’s location before opening the door. He also left a wooden brace he could use to wedge the outer door to the box shut, blocking entrance to the box after he had secured entrance. Booth knew the theater well, having acted there many times. He knew the staff and had complete access to all sections of the building.
The plan called for the three attacks to occur simultaneously at 10:00pm. Powell and Herold were successful in wounding the Secretary of State Seward, but the wounds did not kill him. Just down the road, on Pennsylvania Ave, the Kirkwood House Hotel was home to Vice President Andrew Johnson. George Atzerodt, the man instructed to kill the vice president, was drinking nervously at the hotel bar. He got liquored up instead of committing the murder. He would flee the city in fear, but would take his place on the gallows with the other conspirators, once captured.
Booth arrived at Ford’s Theater that evening about 9:00. He knocked on the back door and it was answered by Ned Spangler, a friend of Booth’s. Booth asks Spangler to hold his horse, but he was busy so he had a stage-hand, Joseph Burroughs, hold the horse. Booth then made his way under the stage across the building to make his final preparations. Next, he exited the theater once more, went into the tavern next to the theater and ordered a whiskey. While there he was recognized by a saloon patron who said to him “I know you, you’re John Wilkes Booth, the famous actor. You are NEVER going to be as popular as your grandfather” (also an actor). Booth, insulted, responded saying “that may be true as an actor, but after this evening, I’ll be the most famous person in the world.” After having a few drinks, Booth entered the front lobby of the theater about 10:07 pm.
He walked up the stairs and made his way to the outer door of the presidential box. He handed a card to Lincoln’s footman Charles Forbes and entered the outer chamber of the box. He then used the leg of a music stand to bar the door shut. Booth looked through a small hole in the inner door and saw where Lincoln was sitting. He quietly opened the door and aimed the small derringer pistol loaded with a .44-caliber lead ball at the back of the president’s head. Booth planned the shot to coincide with the funniest line in the play, so many in the theater didn’t hear the blast over the laughter. Soon, the line was delivered: “you sockdologizing old mantrap!” Booth pulls the trigger and hits Lincoln in the head. Realizing the crowd’s laughter was not enough to mask the gunshot; he draws his knife looking to make a daring escape. Major Rathbone quickly rises to his feet to prevent the assassin from escaping. Booth, now wild-eyed with adrenaline and rage, brought his knife down on Rathbone, slashing his arm. Escaping Rathbone’s grasp, Booth shouts one word… Freedom. He then leaps onto the stage in an attempt at a dramatic exit. However, as he leaps, he catches his spur on some bunting hanging over the side of the Presidential box. Still, he lands imperfectly on the stage, breaking his leg as he lands.
Gazing menacingly at the sunned crowd, Booth recognized for an instant that this is his last performance on the American stage. Now is not the time to blow his lines. He pauses for a moment, thrusts his bloody dagger into the air and yells “Sic Semper tyrannis” (Virginia’s state motto: Thus always to tyrants). Before Booth leaves the stage, he raises his voice again and says “The South is avenged.” Booth then hobbles off the stage, and flees into the night.
Several doctors in the audience immediately responded and began attending to the president. In one of the more bizarre events in history lead actress Laura Keene pushes her way to the box and attempted to comfort the president, holding his head in her lap. As the years past Laura kept onto the blood stained dress and even went so far as to model it at times.
Meanwhile, doctors determined to move Lincoln from the chaos of Ford’s Theater to a quieter place for the President’s last hours. A group of soldiers carried him outside, where a crowd was forming. Pushing their way through the crowd, with Lincoln’s lifeless countenance exposed to the shocked masses, the soldiers brought the dying President to the boarding house across the street: Peterson’s Boarding House.
Lincoln was brought inside the house and was laid diagonally across a bed that was too short for his long body. The doctors attending to the president soon realized that the head wound was mortal so they tried to make him as comfortable as possible. Messengers were sent to the key cabinet officers in Washington and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton soon arrived at the Petersen House. Mary Todd Lincoln was in such a hysterical state that she was taken out of the room occupied by the president and his doctors. Stanton set up a make-shift office in the Petersen House and quickly took control of the situation. He immediately began to interview witnesses of the events at Ford’s Theater and quickly learned that Booth was the man who shot Lincoln. A massive manhunt began as Stanton and other government officials worked to piece together what happened and who was responsible. Stanton’s quick, and possibly extra-constitutional actions, minimized the chaos and governmental disruption that Booth had hoped to cause.
The president died of his wounds nine hours after being shot, at 7:22 am the morning of Saturday April 15. The president’s body was taken to the White House and an autopsy was performed in one of the guest rooms on the second floor of the west section of the building. Doctor’s even went so far as to measure the size of Lincoln’s brain, to see if it was any bigger than a normal brain. A funeral service was held on Wednesday April 19 in the East Room of the White House and was presided over by Rev. Gurley.
After the assassination, the government seized the theatre (paying Ford $100,000) and prohibited the space to be used for public amusement. The space was converted into a public building during the war. On June 9, 1893, the front of the building collapsed killing 22 clerks and injuring 68 others. Everyone then believed the building was cursed, so the space was then used as a government warehouse. Finally, in 1954, Congress approved funds to restore the theatre – it reopened in 1968 with John Brown’s Body. The theatre is currently under restoration, but is typically an active theatre with a museum dedicated to Lincoln’s assassination in the lower level.
J Edgar Hoover FBI Building
We are now in front of what people call the ugliest building in DC, the FBI building. The building is named after J. Edgar Hoover, the founder and director of the FBI for 48 years until his death. Mr. Hoover hated the architectural design of the building and refused permission for the building to be named after him, so it remained nameless until two days after his death when President Nixon signed the public law. Mr. Hoover was a very interesting man – he was rumored to be a homosexual and/or cross-dresser, and after his death it’s been rumored that women’s clothing was found in his closets. Mr. Hoover was a very powerful man and had “dirt” on just about everyone, which is why no one was willing to question his close relationship with his longtime associate, Clyde Tolson. Because of Hoover’s controversial legacy, there have been several proposals to rename the FBI building, most recently in 2001.
The FBI was created in 1908, but did not receive the $60,000,000 for its own space until 1961. By the time it was actually finished in 1974, the building cost $126,108,000 – over $100,000,000 over budget because of the war, design changes, and rising construction costs. The building can hold a little over 7,000 employees and has a large courtyard or central core that the offices surround. The original design for the building was to have shops in the lower level, like a CVS or Potbelly’s, but the idea was rejected because of security reasons. The holes you see on the exterior of the building were actually part of the architectural design. Because of the economy, architects decided to create pourable concrete from crushed limestone, a major contrast to the marble and granite we’re used to seeing along Pennsylvania Avenue. The holes come from the removal of the metal tie molds after the concrete was poured. On the south side of the building you’ll find the row of flags. There are several representations of the US flag over several years (the fifth flag from 7th Street is the Bicentennial).
Old Post Office Pavilion
The Old Post Office Pavilion was actually the first skyscraper in Washington, DC. It was built to house the US Post Office along with the DC Post Office, making it the largest and tallest government building at the time. It was also the first building to have its own electric power plant, but was considered dated only 15 years later. It now houses the Bells of Congress, a gift from England on our Nation’s Bicentennial. You can ride an elevator to the top of the tower for a beautiful view of the city.
The United States Navy Memorial
As you look at the Memorial you’ll see the single statue named “The Lone Sailor” representing all people who ever served, are serving now, or who are yet to serve in the Navy and other sea services. He is over-looking a 100-foot diameter of the world, depicted using different colored stones on the ground. The ceremonial plaza is surrounded by sculptural panels depicting historical achievements of the Navy. You can actually have a flag flown in someone’s honor or on a date that’s important to you here at this flag-pole. The US Navy Band also performs here every Tuesday at 8pm (between Memorial and Labor Day).
The National Archives
The National Archives houses the nation’s important documents on the south side of the building, like the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Louisiana Purchase, etc. The building also has exhibit and research rooms that house things like census records, historical photographs, and maps and charts – all open to the public. This is also where National Treasure with Nicholas Cage was filmed – we’re standing exactly where the van was waiting for him when he stole the Declaration of Independence!
The National Archives was designed by John Russell Pope, a very well-known architect in DC. It’s actually standing over what used to be Tiber Creek. Over 8500 concrete piles were driven into the earth to support the massive structure of the building. In 1933, President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone of the building. Construction continued for two administrations and staff moved in November 1935.
There are two statues: the man reminds us to “Study the Past” and the woman reminds us “What is Past is Prologue,” a quote from Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.”
On the Northwest side of the building, there is a memorial to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While in office, FDR told his friend Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter that he didn’t want a large memorial, but something simple and the size of his desk in the green plot of grass in front of the Archives building. And so, that was FDR’s first memorial in DC.
National Archives Metro Station Stop
Just across the street in front of the Starbucks on December 9, 1969, ground was broken for the Metro subway system. Several officials symbolically shoveled dirt and smiled for cameras. The next day, bulldozers filled the ceremonial hole and work started here.
The Temperance Fountain and the National Council of Negro Women Building
During the 1870s, Dr. Henry Cogswell and several prohibitionists put statues like this across the nation. The fountain was designed to commemorate the Temperance Movement – it provided clean drinking water, hoping to deter citizens from drinking alcohol.
The Sears House has served many purposes over the years; it was a bank, a liquor store, a drug store, and is the National Council of Negro Women building today. At one time, Matthew Brady’s photography studio was here. Brady photographed several famous people and later became a key recorder of the Civil War. Brady captured Lincoln’s photograph more than 30 times – one of the portraits is the one that was eventually used on the $5 bill and the penny.
National Gallery of Art – West Wing
The National Gallery of Art houses 12th through 20th Century American and European art and is well-known for having a Leonardo daVinci, the Ginevra de’Benci (or, Portrait of a Woman). In the 1920s Andrew Mellon pushed for a common spot for the public to view art and ultimately created and helped finance construction of the gallery. Like the archives, this was also designed by John Russell Pope. If you look closely, the dome is similar to the Jefferson Memorial, also designed by Pope. The building also has no windows, designed specifically to protect the art from damaging UV rays.
Before the gallery, this is the site of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad where our 20th president, James Garfield (from Ohio) was assassinated. Just four months after taking office in 1881, Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau, upset because he wasn’t appointed the US consul in Paris. Garfield was walking through the station when he was shot at close range by Guiteau. Doctors operated several times, looking for the bullet they thought was lodged in his spine. When they couldn’t find the bullet, Alexander Graham Bell created a metal detector for the purpose of finding the bullet – the detector indicated metal, so the doctors continued to operate. Garfield was bed-ridden in the White House with fevers and extreme pain for several months as his health deteriorated. Eighty days after being shot, Garfield died of a massive heart attack in September, exactly two months before his 50th birthday. When doctors removed him from his bed, they realized he was on one of the first metal bed frames, which was what was causing the metal detector to go off. Historians now believe that the bullet was launched in Garfield’s lung and that he could have lived if he were cared for by more capable doctors.
The Newseum is the world’s most interactive museum. Its new $450 million, seven-level museum opened on April 11th 2008 and has 14 major galleries, 15 theatres, 2 broadcast studios, and a 4-D time-travel experience. Its goal is to create a unique experience combining five centuries of news history with up-to-the-date technologies and innovation. On the front of building, you see the 74 foot-high marble engraving of the First Amendment, the museums “mission statement.” They say that the museum is dedicated to freedom of speech and freedom of press; just the rights guaranteed to us in the First Amendment.
Here you can also find the largest chunk of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany on display. In addition, there is a 3 story German Guard Tower taken from about a mile away from Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany.
The Canadian Embassy
The Embassy of Canada is the only embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol. Most embassies are north of Dupont Circle. Notice the rotunda that has twelve columns, indicating the number of provinces and territories in Canada when the embassy was built (now there are thirteen with the addition of Nunavut). You can also see a waterfall below the columns that is meant to symbolize Niagara falls. The columns just past the rotunda indicate the number of time-zones in Canada.
National Gallery of Art – East Wing
The east wing of the National Gallery of Art houses modern and contemporary pieces. It was added in the 1970s and designed by modern architect I.M. Pei (also designed the Louvre Pyramid in Paris). As you look at the courtyard in between the two wings, you’ll see a much smaller scale of the glass pyramids.
7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
On June 1, 1889, the Potomac River flooded the streets of DC. The same flood had just washed through Jamestown the day before, killing more than 2,000 people. DC residents were so fascinated by everything that happened to Jamestown they weren’t prepared for the water. Reporters said the streets imitated Venice and people navigated boats down Pennsylvania for several days.
Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a Frenchman and aide to Washington, was the original designer of the city. In his original plan, he called for Pennsylvania Avenue to be 160 feet wide – 80 feet for the roadway and 40 feet on each side for the sidewalks. Today, the roadway is 107.5 feet wide; the south sidewalks are narrow to accommodate the federal buildings, while the north sidewalks are wide with shops, restaurants, and offices, giving Pennsylvania Avenue a more majestic frame as L’Enfant envisioned.
Harvey’s Restaurant sat at 11th and Pennsylvania for many years – it was an established oyster house that brought clams and oysters in by the cartload for soldiers to line up and buy them. It is said that Lincoln saw the lines and became so interested that he arranged for a visit to Harvey’s. Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Burroughs, Walt Whitman, Andrew Johnson, and General Grant also frequented the restaurant.
The Federal Trade Commission was the last addition to Federal Triangle. The east and west sides of the building are flanked by a pair of statues by Michael Lantz (unveiled in 1942). The statues symbolize “Man Controlling Trade” – (the powerful, muscular men taming wild rearing stallions).
4th and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
We’re now in front of the federal courthouse, but this was actually the first site of DC’s Chinatown. In 1935 the government started buying out the surrounding pieces of land, so Chinatown packed up and moved as a whole to the H Street area.
Department of Labor
The Department of Labor is named after the first-ever female cabinet member, Frances Perkins. She served as the Secretary of Labor under Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1944).
Civil War Sailors Statue
The white marble Peace Monument was erected in 1877-1878 to commemorate the naval deaths at sea during the Civil War. The 44-foot-high monument was designed by Franklin Simmons, a man known for creating many statues in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol.
At the top of the monument, facing west, stand two classically robed female figures. Grief holds her covered face against the shoulder of History and weeps in mourning. History holds a stylus and a tablet that was inscribed "They died that their country might live." Below Grief and History, another life-size classical female figure represents Victory, holding high a laurel wreath and carrying an oak branch, signifying strength. Below her are the infant Mars, the god of war, and the infant Neptune, god of the sea. Facing the Capitol is Peace, a classical figure draped from the waist down and holding an olive sprig. Below her are symbols of peace and industry.
Inscribed in the memorial is the line:"In memory of the officers, seamen and marines of the United States Navy who fell in defense of the Union and liberty of their country, 1861-1865," this sculptural group has also been called the Naval Monument.
The Sumner House
(The Summer House, a red brick structure set into the sloping hillside of the West Front lawn among the paths that lead from Pennsylvania Avenue to the Senate side of the Capitol, has offered rest and shelter to travelers for over a century.) The Summer House was begun in 1879 and completed in late 1880 or early 1881 by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. He included the Summer House in response to complaints that visitors to the Capitol could find no water nor any place to rest on their journey. In addition, he designed it as a setting for decorative vegetation.
Olmsted devoted much thought to the Summer House. He was concerned that the structure not intrude upon the landscape, but he was also careful to ensure that it was sufficiently public to prevent its use for improper purposes.
Senate Office Buildings
As we begin our way up Capitol Hill, we are going to be passing the offices of the Senate. These buildings house the actual offices where Senators and their staff work day-to-day. Many of these offices were built around the turn of the century as Washington, DC was become more crowded every day. Previously, Senators and Representatives would rent or borrow space to work.
The first of these office buildings is this Russell Senate Office Building. Built between 1903 and 1908 it is the oldest of the Senate buildings. It is now connected, like many of the other offices on the Hill, to the Capitol by underground passages. The Russell, in particular has its own Subway designed by Disney Imagineers! It was originally called the Old Senate Office Building until 1972, just after Senator Richard Russell (D-GA) retired after 40 years of service. The building was also home to the offices of five would-be presidents: Warren Harding, Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon.
Next, there is Dirksen Senate Office Building, the second of three office buildings constructed for the United States Senate. It was built for the television era, featuring larger public committee rooms to accommodate the new TV journalists. First known, creatively, as the new Senate office building, it was renamed in 1972 to honor Illinois Republican Everett Dirksen. Known for his great oratory, Dirksen actually served in the house for 18 years even winning a Grammy award for an album of his speeches.
Finally, we have the Hart Senate Office Building, built in 1982. Its named after Senator Phillip Hart (a Michigan Democrat). He was known by his colleagues so much for his political integrity; they named this building after him before died of a terminal illness. Above its main entrance, it reads: “A man of incorruptible integrity and personal courage strengthened by inner grace and outer gentleness…. He advanced the cause of human justice, promoted the welfare of the common man and improved the quality of life…. His humility and ethics earned him his place as the conscience of the Senate.”
The Capitol Building
The Capitol Building is the 2nd oldest public building in Washington, DC. The cornerstone was laid in 1793 by George Washington, but because of on-going construction and renovations historians don’t actually know where the original cornerstone is. Construction spanned for almost 43 years and through one war. It houses the chambers of the House of Representatives (south wing) and the Senate (north wing). There was a competition to find the chief architect and the winning design was submitted late by Dr. William Thornton.
During the War of 1812, British troops set fire to the Capitol on August 24, 1814. Thanks to a major rainstorm, the structure of the building was saved and construction continued. Because the nation was rapidly expanding, the two wings were added in the 1850s for the Senate and the House. At that time the capitol had a shallow dome made of wood and copper - in 1856, the old dome was replaced by a cast-iron dome and topped with the Statue of Freedom in 1863.
The bronze statue stands at 19 ½ feet, the tallest statue in DC weighing approximately 15,000 pounds. Thomas Crawford designed the model of the statue in Rome – it was shipped to the US in six crates, but because of the crates weight, the ships began to leak, causing the model to be stored for almost a year before proper transportation could be arranged. The model arrived in 1859 and was cast by a local bronze foundry.
You can take guided tours of the Capitol (Monday through Saturday) by getting tickets from the Visitors Center on the East Side of the building. The tour will take you through the decorated Rotunda, Statuary Hall, and original Supreme Court chambers.
Extra Info on the Capitol:
On September 18, 1793, George Washington laid the U.S. Capitol cornerstone at the southeast corner of its foundation to mark the building of the nation's most symbolically important and architecturally impressive building. It was laid with great pomp and celebration in a Masonic ceremony.
The Capitol is the home of the U.S. Congress—the House of Representatives and the Senate. The competition for its design was won by Dr. William Thornton, a gifted amateur architect who had studied medicine but rarely practiced as a doctor. Thornton placed a central shallow domed rotunda between the Senate (north) and House (south) wings.
The construction preceded slowly under a succession of architects, including Stephen Hallet (1793), George Hadfield (1795-1798) and James Hoban (1798-1802), architect of the White House, who completed the Senate wing in 1800. Benjamin Henry Latrobe was hired in 1803; by 1811 he had renovated the Senate wing and completed the House wing. In 1814, British troops set fire to the Capitol as well as the White House and other District buildings during the War of 1812. Fortunately, a rainstorm prevented the Capitol’s complete destruction, and in the following year Latrobe began its reconstruction and redesign. Charles Bulfinch, the brilliant Boston architect who succeeded Latrobe in 1818, completed the building in 1826 with only slight modifications of Latrobe's interior plan.