Ford's Theater, Lincoln's Cottage, and more Lincoln Stuff

Aside from the Lincoln Memorial, there are four other sites in D.C. directly associated with President Lincoln.

Ford's Theater
Ford's Theater is the place President Lincoln was shot. It's around the corner from our apartment; I walked by it everyday.

One day Di Yin and I attended a ranger talk in the restored theater. (I say restored because the theater was previously gutted.) The talk was fun: an energetic and engaging narration of the action that night.

I took pictures when I visited the theater as well as when I visited the Petersen House and Ford's Center, both mentioned below.

There's a good museum on Lincoln in the basement below the theater. It made me feel like I know him. One cause of the feeling is the whole museum is populated with quotes from Lincoln. Also, one display covers his day-to-day life in the White House including his open-door policy and his frequent theater outings. He was a lover of theater. I also read some hilarious stories about how he put off job-seekers. Another exhibit describes his family. Yet more exhibits describe his presidency: his politics, the Civil War (this section was mostly about his contribution to military strategy; I ignored this because of the overwhelming detail). I was intrigued to learn that he chose his cabinet after his reelection--a divisive election--to include members from all opposing political parties.

Much of the museum is devoted to items and stories relating to Lincoln's assassination. It has the weapons used (or planned to be used) by Booth and his conspirators in the assassination plots ("plots" because they also wanted to kill the Secretary of State), plus other items of theirs such as Booth's diary. The gun used could chamber only a single shot. One of these what-I-called "items of theirs" is big: the museum has inside it the Surratt boarding house, the house where the planning took place. (Yes, they moved the house.) Finally, there are tons of details about the assassination, the planning for it, and its aftermath, including an hour-by-hour breakdown of the day leading up to the event and the days afterward. Each conspirator is described in detail, both around this time and personality-wise in general. Somehow the museum even found glamorous, professional photos of each of them!

I spent about about 45 minutes in the museum.

On Lincoln's Birthday, Ford's Theater had a number of special events. I went to one: a showing of One Destiny. This short play (40 minutes) has only two actors: one playing a man who was acting on stage the night Lincoln was shot and another playing the owner of the theater. To deal with the trauma, they discuss the events of the day that led up to the assassination. In doing so, they each take on roles of other characters, re-living/re-enacting the events to illustrate their discussion. This rapid character change is quite impressive; both the actors did a very good job. Plus, I learned a lot. For instance, Booth was a down-and-out actor from a famous acting family.

Petersen House
Petersen House is the place Lincoln was taken after being shot. It's across the street from the theater and now open for tours. It's decorated with period furnishings. Disturbingly, the room in the back with the bed Lincoln died in is called the "death room."

Ford's Center for Education & Leadership
Ford's Center for Education & Leadership, a new museum- and advocacy- place adjacent to Petersen House opened while we lived in D.C. It has exhibits on both Lincoln and leadership.

One exhibit explores what happened after Lincoln's death. It includes a quote from his mother that when he left from the last time he saw her (I think this was to return to the White House for his second term), she knew he wouldn't return home alive. Yeah, the exhibit is morbid. It covers the pursuit of Lincoln's killers as well as Lincoln's funeral and the conspirators' funerals. I learned that one conspirator who decided not to act, not to do his part of the plan, nonetheless was hung. One who was in Canada at the time went to Europe, joined the papal guard, was captured in Egypt, extradited to the United States, tried once, acquitted, and tried again. Before the second trial finished the statute of limitations for his crime expired. I guess his flight from justice delayed justice enough so that he could escape it.

Lincoln, by the way, has no living descendants.

Another exhibit examines Lincoln in popular culture (ads, movies, etc.).

A third looks at how various presidents identified with Lincoln. I found this exhibit interesting and thoughtful.

The final large exhibit is on leadership and the qualities that leaders should possess.

I spent about 45 minutes in the Center.

One more random fact before I switch to a different Lincoln destination: Lincoln is the only president with a patent.

Lincoln's Cottage
One day I took a bus for twenty-five minutes north to see Lincoln's Cottage. Lincoln lived in this cottage during the summer while he was president to escape Washington D.C.'s heat. Meanwhile, I visited it on an unseasonably warm winter day that hit 70 degrees.

I took pictures on this excursion.

The bus ride was nice; I liked passing through parts of D.C. that I'd have no other chance to see.

Lincoln's Cottage is on the Soldiers' Home ground. Established 1851, it was the first veterans retirement community. It's still an armed forces retirement home. In order to build support for the community, in the grounds' early days administrators regularly invited high-level government officials to use it as a retreat.

The one-hour tour of the cottage focused on Lincoln's life during his presidency. The stories were illustrated by readings of letters by Lincoln and documents by other people recounting their encounters with him. The readings also explored how Lincoln made his decisions, what factors came into play, and how his stays at the cottage may have influenced them. There's nothing to see in the home; the information could've easily been conveyed elsewhere.

Regardless, I found the tour quite interesting. I learned about Lincoln's priorities (maintaining the Union first, abolishing slavery a distant second), about the strategic timing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and about his occasional testiness and later regrets about it.

Near the cottage is a museum with five small rooms with informational signs and photograph reproductions. It has no artifacts. The house doesn't have artifacts either.

Some interesting stories I heard:

  • Lincoln enjoyed reading aloud, and often read Shakespeare to his secretary for hours. Personally, I think that's an unusual relationship.
  • Lincoln, when asked about the progress of the war and whether God was on his side, said, "I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky."

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