Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Ford Theatre and Lincoln's Ghost

Not far from the Mall where the Smithsonian Museums are located is the Ford Theatre. We planned on touring the Ford Theatre after spending most of the day in the museums seeing all the historical exhibits and paintings. You walk through the main doors and are ushered into the theatre area where you are asked to be seated. After all the tourists are seated, a man came onto the stage and gave us a brief history of the theatre.

The building was built in 1833 and was originally a house of worship. In 1861, John T. Ford bought the place and had it renovated into a theater which was originally called Ford’s Athenaeum. Then in 1862 a fire destroyed the place, it was rebuilt, and then opened a year later, and was called Ford’s New Theatre. On April 14, 1865, just three days after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House; President Lincoln was shot while enjoying a performance with his wife Mary Todd Lincoln.  President Lincoln died some hours later, across the street in an apartment.  John Wilkes Booth, a famous actor in the theatre, snuck up behind Lincoln and coldly put a bullet in the back of his head at point blank range. After stabbing Henry Rathbone, who was also in the box with the Lincolns along with his fiancee Clara Harris, he jumped onto the stage and shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis”, but some thought he said “The South is avenged”, and then escaped out the back door of the theatre. Lincoln’s body was taken to the Petersen House, a boarding house across the street, and put on a bed that wasn’t long enough for him. Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone escorted Mrs. Lincoln to the boarding house where Henry passed out from the blood loss of the stab wound. All through the night and early morning the physicians worked hard to save Lincoln but with no avail. At 7:22 am on April 15, 1865, Lincoln died at the age of 56 from external and internal hemorrhaging. Aft
er the assassination, the government took over the theater and it saw many owners since then. After a lengthy restoration period, the Ford Theatre today is an active theater presenting various types of plays and musicals, and offering tours with a bit of history thrown in.

After the history lesson, we are then ushered into the basement where the historical artifacts are exhibited. On display are many items relating to the assassination, including the Derringer pistol used to kill Lincoln, Booth’s diary, the original door to Lincoln’s theatre box, his coat (minus the bloodstain pieces), the blood stained pillow from his deathbed, statues of Lincoln, and several portraits of President Lincoln. This was truly a fascinating place to visit, and at times you feel like someone unseen might be watching you.
Is the Ford Theatre haunted? Many say it is haunted not only by Lincoln’s ghost, but Mary Todd Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth’s ghosts as well. Many of the witnesses have seen and heard the entire tragic event played out even to this day. The sounds of disembodied footsteps rushing the balcony box can be heard, and then followed by a loud gunshot and screams. Some have seen Mary Todd Lincoln’s ghost shortly afterwards leaning over the railing, pointing towards the stage and yelling “He killed the president”. Abraham Lincoln’s apparition has been seen by some in various places of the theater especially in the booth where he was killed. Others have reported seeing the ghost of Booth and feeling that he is haunting one particular part of the stage. Some of the actors that have stood on the left center of the stage have reported a cold spot, becoming nauseous, and having uncontrollable tremors causing them to shake and mess up their lines. Booth’s ghost has been seen running across the stage on numerous occasions, perhaps the exact area that he ran to make his escape.

The Petersen House has seen its fair share of paranormal activity too. Strange noises, voices, footsteps can be heard along with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln himself. His spirit has also been seen at his grave site in Springfield, Illinois and on many occasions, at the White House. Some say the Lincoln reported having a frightening vision of seeing his body, lying in state at the White House, ten days before he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre. Maybe that is why Lincoln’s spirit has been witnessed by many hanging around the White House. It's too bad that we didn’t have the time to tour the Petersen House because it would have been a nice finish to the incredible tour.


  1. Yes! It's terribly haunted. I must admit, going there as a kid with my mother one time, I got separated from her. I didn't realize she'd moved on to another room and I was standing there studying a case filled with stuff when I heard a woman talking to me. I assumed it was my mother. I answered her before I even turned to see there was no one in the room anymore, they'd all moved on. I looked at the corner of the room where the voice was and the curtains were ruffling. I went over and looked behind them, but no one was there. I looked out the window for a minute (cause kids have all the time in the world to putter around) and as I was looking out at the street, I heard the woman's voice again. I couldn't make out her words, but the tones sounded like my mother's who had a very subtle soft Southern accent. I swung around and no one was there still. I left and told my mom about it and she said she thought it was Mary. As a kid, I remember not knowing the words she said but feeling like she was instructing me in a mommy's voice that I need to move on. By not listening to her, she spoke again. Intriguing. I love that building. It feels kind of melancholy, huh?

  2. Yes it did feel a bit gloomy especially down in the exhibit area. What a cool experience you had. I bet it was Mary Todd Lincoln watching over and guiding you back to your Mother. Her spirit has been seen there. I didn't see any spirits while there but you do get a sense that they are around.

  3. Mike and Julie-I was trying to go round web to tell bloggers who i think might be interested about a Terrance Mckenna video that Christopher has up at The Secret Sun blog (about UFOs but it says a lot more) still feeling rather awful-will come back to this article very soon hopefully-Lincoln and the events around his presidency have always interested me -all the best!!

  4. I didn't see or hear anything for that matter when I was in the Ford's Theater. But, I must say that as soon as I walked in the theater, it felt like someone was looking at me untill the moment I walked out. It was increadlby spooky!!

  5. Hi - I came across your blog after a visit to Ford's Theatre tonight. I'm a "developing" medium, and am still refining my abilities, but I've had quite a number of experiences with earth-bound ghosts and spirits (who have crossed over).
    I encountered John Wilkes Booth's ghost when I was in the gift shop today. I reached for a "map of Booth's Escape Trail" and a chill raced through my body. I "heard" him confirm who he was, and that he still returns to the theatre from time to time.
    During the performance I attended, I heard a female tell me her name was "Marcia" or Marsha, Marcy, something with an "M." She showed me the backstage dressing room area where she was sitting at a mirror. She had long, brown curly hair, and was dressed in an off-white lacy dress, with a high frilly collar. She also showed me that she watched as President Lincoln's body was driven through the city of Washington, DC on a horse-drawn dark carriage, with a flag or cloth draped over his coffin. Obviously, she must've been at the theatre performing when Lincoln was killed. Either she's an actress, or it was Mary Todd Lincoln, showing me part of the play she was watching. I'm unsure.
    Finally, a male form (I didn't get a name or description) kept coming to me in the 2nd floor balcony where we were sitting. I asked him to leave me alone (I kept getting chills) and after I did, he didn't return. I'm unsure who he was.
    Yes, Ford's Theatre is definitely haunted.

  6. Rob thank you for your comments about your experience in the Ford Theatre. It was nice to hear that the place is definately haunted. I can't wait to make a return visit.

    1. Visting with my family today. Felt a deep shiver when three times at different locations in the theather. I was guided to seat D14. Took pictures of the places I felt the shivers. The shivers I call, people on the other side scratching at my soul to let me know they are still here.

      Any stories on why seat D14?
      thanks C

  7. Omg we went there as a school trip & at the end of a play it got all dark & we saw Abe Lincolns ghost we were 10 & 11 year olds so we got tot scared. We also got chills and they have statues of ppl and I took a pic with Booths statue. And I heard a ghostly laugh.

  8. In March 2012, I went there on a trip with my school & toured the building. I had taken several pictures of the booth where Lincoln was shot. I had about two to three pictures of orbs in different places of the photo. As I took more they mysteriously disappeared. There was no glare or reflection for these orbs to be made from. After taking these pictures, I definitly do believe the Fords Theater is infact haunted.

  9. I was there recently and took a photo of President Lincoln's booth and hot a picture of a man with dark hair and a thick dark mustache - pretty sure it is J.W.B.