Now He Belongs to the Ages: Commemorating Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre

It has been (and continues to be) a busy time for me recently.  With no time to write any blog posts here, I asked Kate to be a guest author here on BoothieBarn.  I hope you enjoy her write up about our adventures last week at the Lincoln Tribute put on by Ford’s Theatre. ~ Dave

Hello fellow readers, Boothies, and Lincolnites,

Since our favorite blogger extraordinaire is busy being our favorite Twitter extraordinaire, he asked me (Kate Ramirez) to post about our experience at the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln assassination commemoration. For 36 hours the historic Washington, D. C. landmark remembered the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865. For those who couldn’t make it or simply want to hear another opinion, I have chronicled our journey below and I hope you enjoy it.

The story is well known. On April 14, 1865, rain fell from the dark evening sky like an endless shadow hovering above the Capitol City. 150 years later, the heavens once more cried for the fallen leader who led our nation through the long blood bath that was the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln.

Petersen House 4-14-15

For a moment it seemed as though the gloom had returned to cloak 10th street in a heavy mourning shroud. But as hundreds of candles broke through the dark, the procession began more and more to resemble the Illuminations that long ago lit the Capitol city.

Vigil outside Fords 4-14-15

Our night began backwards as we walked through Baptist Alley even before seeing what was happening in front of the historic Ford’s Theatre. It may sound cliché but I could swear I heard the pounding of horse hooves through the downpour. A strange and eerie chill settled over the looming brick building and it felt as though hands of time had suddenly ceased to turn.

Baptist Alley 4-14-15

Baptist Alley 2 4-14-15

Lining the barricaded 10th street were dozens of citizens celebrating the war’s end and groups of Union soldiers fortunate enough to have made it home from battle (They were costumed reenactors of course but why ruin the immerse dialogue by mentioning that).

Reenactors 4-14-15

Everyone, Dave and I included, was eager to see “Now He Belongs to the Ages: A Lincoln Commemoration.”

Inside Fords 4-14-15

The show was very well done and managed to strike just the right notes of tragic and heartbreaking but also touching and hopeful. Opening with the song “Someday” from the musical “Freedoms Song: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War” was the perfect choice. Though it features an upbeat tempo, I believe that is what Lincoln himself would have wanted. After all, it was Lincoln, lover of the theatre, who said that “a tragedy is best read at home.” From beginning to end never was there a dull moment. The Federal City Brass Band revived the music of the Civil War and the voice of Kevin McAllister rang out in the rafters as he magnificently performed “Father How Long?” From David Selby stirring the audience to laughter by telling some of Lincoln’s favorite jokes to local actors reminding us that Lincoln was a great leader not because he was perfect but because he was willing to admit when he was wrong, the night was not only a commemoration of life but a celebration of it too.

The clock struck 10:15 PM and the audience again returned outside to honor the memory of the President who never saw the sunrise with a candlelight vigil.

Vigil outside Ford's 2 4-14-15

Those who had been in the audience for “Our American Cousin” wandered the streets, regaling all who passed them with tales of how they saw Lincoln shot, witnessed John Wilkes Booth dramatically leap to the stage shouting “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” and heard Mrs. Lincoln scream for help. Throughout the night, Dr. Charles Leale updated the crowd gathered outside the Peterson Boardinghouse on the condition of the wounded President, the look of his outward appearance, and his pulse and heart rate. Briefly on the steps appeared Florence Trenchard herself, Miss Laura Keene, who, in her theatrically perfected tone, recounted how she brought water to the presidential box and was allowed to hold the head of the dying commander in her lap, his blood staining her cuff.

Laura Keene at Petersen House 4-14-15

Dr Leale at Petersen House 4-14-15

Despite the rain, candles burned through the night as the vigil continued into the small hours of the morning and the news of the first presidential assassination swept through the Washington streets. Those who were so filled with cheer mere hours before, toasting the surrender of General Robert E. Lee, now wandered through a haze of shock and grief. Who would lead the nation now?

James Swanson talked with local reporters while American Brutus author Michael Kauffman spoke with members of the crowd.

James Swanson with Us 4-14-15

Mike Kauffman and Us 4-14-15

It had grown late. The air was colder. Dave seemed oblivious to the chill in his long coat but strong gusts of wind lacerated my bones like knives of ice. The sky was darker and not one star shown in the black abyss. I had lost track of the hour when we finally departed.

We did not return until the next morning. Though the ceaseless night had finally given way to sunrise, candles still burned as over five hundred souls waited to hear the final report of Dr. Charles Leale.

Outside Fords 4-15-15

It was 7:22 AM when his words came down like a guillotine. “The President has breathed his final breath.” In that moment, I’m sure many of us could not help but think of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. “Now he belongs to the ages.”

The President is Dead 4-15-15

The lonely call of taps wafted from the boardinghouse stairs which Lincoln had been carried up just hours earlier. The Federal City Brass Band played solemnly as a National Park Ranger, accompanied by military procession, laid a wreath at the foot of the steps.

Brass Band 4-15-15

Wreath 4-15-15

Though the tolling church bells could only faintly be heard, the bagpipers stationed just outside the theatre filled the air with their haunting rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Ranger Eric Martin raised his hand in salute.

Eric Martin NPS Salute 4-15-15

Around 8 o’clock the vigil began winding down and 10th street reopened to cars. Dave and I had the chance to take a backstage tour of Ford’s Theatre with Brian Anderson, author of Images of America: Ford’s Theatre.

Brian Anderson 4-15-15

Seeing into the Presidential box and viewing the theatre from the Family Circle was an amazing experience. I would definitely recommend the tour to anyone looking to see Ford’s Theatre from a different angle. Plus, you get a free book at the end and if that isn’t motivation than I don’t know what is.

Box from the Dress Circle 4-15-15

The tour marked the end of the commemoration for us and as we walked back to our hotel I mentioned to Dave how sometimes it feels like historic events are so far away but remembering the Lincoln assassination at Ford’s Theatre brought 1865 to life again. And passing the H-Street boardinghouse that once belonged to Mary Surratt made me think how history is all around us, waiting to enthrall us with its stories. All we have to do is listen.

Us on stage at Ford's Theatre 4-15-15

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 19 Comments

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19 thoughts on “Now He Belongs to the Ages: Commemorating Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre

  1. Steve Holley

    I had a chance to visit Ford’s Theater and the Peterson House on April 14th. Very moving to see the building, the artifacts, the President’s Box, the stage; and, across the street, the front rooms, and the room where Lincoln died, but not the bed he died in.
    I was impressed by the crowds who came out, and their in dampened devotion to endure the rain as the remembered the worst day in American history. Well done to our National Park Service…the volunteers…and all who made this a special memory for me.

  2. Rich smyth

    Hi Kate! Thanks for the “you were there” blow by blow of the event!

  3. Kathy Canavan

    Thanks, Kate. It’s almost as good as being there.

  4. Paul Hancq

    Excellent article with pictures. Special thanks to Kate Ramirez.

  5. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  6. Richard Sloan

    Kate — your account of the events was beautifully written! And the photos — I assume all my Dave — were terrific — the best I have thus far seen. Everything worked so well, except that the people speaking from the stoop of the Petersen House that night were not provided with a microphone, as others were given the following morning! As a result, most folks recording it with their cameras did not get good sound pick-up unless they were right up front. Thanx to you both for an excellent report! (But I feel that the tie you wore — as much as I love it — was not a wise choice for that

    • Kate H.

      Thank you. Yes, Dave took the amazing photos. I agree with you that the people talking from the Petersen House after the commemoration should have been given microphones like those in the street. It was hard to hear them, especially if, like us, you were standing closer to the theatre. As for the tie, you’ll have to talk to Dave about that 😉 We did try covering Booth at one point but I guess he wasn’t as concealed as we thought.

  7. Russell Lewis

    Great description of the events. It truly was one of the most memorable experience I have ever had. It was a great pleasure to meet you and Dave–my favorite blogger!

    • Kate H.

      It was nice meeting you too. It certainly was a memorable night.

  8. Bill S.

    I was not able to attend, but thanks to live streaming on the 14th and CSPAN coverage the morning of the 15th provided the next best thing. Your excellent coverage of the events and the incredible photos will help preserve the memories. Thank you very much.

  9. Great article and pictures (as always). I watched most of this online. Glad this commemoration was observed properly and dutifully!

    Thanks Kate and Dave!

  10. theosfan2012

    Great review of the event. Pitty you left out the out of breath shmuck on Baptist Alley part :D.

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