April 14, 1865: President Lincoln is shot at Ford’s Theatre

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·Christy Karras
In this article:
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  • John T. Ford
    American theatre manager

Today, Ford’s Theatre stands as a memorial to the president who was shot there in 1865. But for decades, only government workers were allowed inside the historic building. And even though the public can wander through it again now, some believe the building is cursed.

The redbrick structure on 10th Street in Washington, DC, was originally a church. When the congregation moved out in 1861, John T. Ford renovated it as a theater. Remodeled with plush fittings and decorative woodwork after a fire in 1862, Ford’s Theater was considered one of the city’s finest theaters when President Abraham Lincoln took his box seat to watch “Our American Cousin” on the fateful night of April 14, 1865.

After Lincoln’s assassination, the U.S. government took over the building, using it for storage and administrative work and expressly prohibiting its use as an entertainment venue. When part of the building collapsed in 1892, killing 22 workers, some saw the accident as additional evidence that the building was cursed.

With almost nothing of the original interior remaining, the building stood mostly empty for decades, until Congress passed a bill to renovate it as a historic site and approved funding in 1964.

Now the theater and the Petersen House across the street, where the president died the day after his shooting, are preserved in the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site. Visitors can tour the theater and visit the Ford's Theater Museum, which displays Lincoln-related items including the pistol used in the assassination, in its basement. Another museum, the Center for Education and Leadership, opened next to the Petersen House in 2012.

Despite the long-ago government edict against using the theater for entertainment, Ford’s Theatre once again hosts performances — including a regularly scheduled play that recounts the tragic events of April 14, 1865.