Lincoln Remembered in Washington, D.C.

It’s a beautiful spring evening in Washington, D.C., way too nice to be sitting in a hotel room, but I had a marvelous two days and wanted to talk about them while they were fresh in my mind. (Apologies for the substandard photography.)

When I heard that Ford’s Theatre was planning a round-the-clock tribute from April 14 to April 15 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, I was determined to get up to Washington , as I was too young to care about the 100th anniversary and probably won’t be around for the 200th anniversary. So as my husband was kind enough to accommodate me, here I am!

I got excited as soon as I approached my hotel in the afternoon of April 14 and saw two young women in hoop skirts getting out of a taxi. The hotel, which is just a block from Ford’s Theatre, played host to many Civil War reenactors , here to depict some of the witnesses to this most tragic night in American history.

As the crowds began to fill the block of 10th Street on which the theater sits, Ford’s Theatre presented “Now He Belongs to the Ages: A Lincoln Commemoration.” I was one of the lucky ones who had tickets to this event (which was also live-streamed via the Internet). There were many wonderful moments, such as opera diva Alyson Cambridge performing a piece from Faust that Lincoln would have heard during one of his many evenings at Ford’s Theatre, the young actress Lauren Williams reading Julia Taft’s recollection of Lincoln’s relationship with his son Tad, and the cast performing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but perhaps my favorite part was singer Judy Collins blowing a kiss to the empty presidential box, then inviting the audience to join her in singing “Amazing Grace.”

In the midst of “Old Hundredth,” the Federal City Brass Band fell silent, marking the time at which Booth’s bullet struck Lincoln. We filed downstairs to find the street packed with a crowd holding candles aloft as reenactors playing figures such as actress Laura Keene and actor Harry Hawk recounted the events of the terrible night.

The vigil lasted all night, but I confess to leaving around midnight to catch a few hours’ sleep. At five in the morning, though, I was up to tour the theatre and to see its special exhibit: “Silent Witnesses: Artifacts of the Lincoln Assassination.” For the first time, objects associated with the tragic event—the contents of Lincoln’s coat pocket, his Brooks Brothers greatcoat, Mary Lincoln’s beautiful velvet cape, fragments from the gowns of Mary, her guest Clara Harris, and Laura Keene, Booth’s derringer, and more—were brought together for all to behold.

If you’ve been to Ford’s Theatre, you know that the block it sits on is thoroughly commercialized, with a souvenir store on one corner and a diner known as the Lincoln Waffle Shop. What better place to get a bite to eat after the exhibit than the waffle shop?


I then rejoined the growing crowd in the street. At 7:22 a.m., re-enactor emerged from the Petersen House, where Lincoln was taken to die, to announce the President’s death. There followed a beautiful ceremony where the National Park Service laid a wreath at the Petersen House in memory of the President. Even though this ceremony was taking place during Washington’s rush hour, with cars honking and construction machinery humming, it was if those of us on 10th Street were truly transported back in time for a little while.

With the main part of the ceremony at Ford’s over, I went to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland, which has its own collection of artifacts, including the fatal bullet that wreaked so much havoc.

Back in Washington, I went to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, where the barouche that carried President and Mrs. Lincoln is on loan from the Studebaker National Museum.

Finally, I made one last stop at the Newseum, which sits on the site of the National Hotel, where John Wilkes Booth was living at the time of the assassination. There were all the editions of the New York Herald from April 15, 1865, breaking the story of the assassination and adding details (as well as a false report of Booth’s capture) as they became available.

So there ended my Lincoln-related activities for the day. One thing that really struck me was the mix of people I saw who are passionate about Lincoln and about history, like the tattooed young woman in front of me at the theater who showed up  in a beautiful Victorian gown, the people crowding around a historian being interviewed as if he were a rock superstar, the woman who brought flowers all the way from Germany for her own tribute to the President, and the many people I saw close to tears this morning. Whatever your historical passion is, I hope that if a similar opportunity comes your way, you will seize it. You won’t regret it.

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4 Responses to Lincoln Remembered in Washington, D.C.

  1. Karen says:

    Sounds fantastic! So glad you go to be part of it.

  2. Sarah Brooks says:

    So glad you could share your visit of this historical occasion here on your blog. So helpful for those who could not attend. 🙂

  3. Astrid Essed says:

    LINCOLN REMEMBERED IN WASHINGTON DC/
    GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT/ABOLITION OF SLAVERY

    ””That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.”

    THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION
    JANUARY 1, 1863

    http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/transcript.html

    Mrs Higginbotham, thanks very much for sharing your extraordinary experience
    with your readers, for attending a vigil in remembrence of that tragic
    day in American history, the assissination of president Abraham Lincoln,
    the man who finally, after 200 years suffering, made the freedom from
    slavery legal.
    And although there must have been cheering in the south by many people
    about the murder of Lincoln [how barbaric, cheering over one’s death, whoever
    the person may be, but that aside], the ex slaves, now finally acknowledged
    in their right to humanity, must have felt real different.
    In many an ex slaves household, bitter tears were spread about the death of a man,
    who died for their right to be treated as a human being.
    A right, so bitterly fought for by all those brave real christian Quaker
    and other abolitionists,who also led the Underground
    Railroad [escaping routes of slave fugitives]
    a man like John Brown, and of course
    the slaves themselves, who raised many times against their bondage
    in many uprisings.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_Railroad

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown_(abolitionist)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nat_Turner

    Of course I am not naive and although I valuate Lincoln for his stand
    against slavery, he was not the kind of abolitionist I can totally
    admire.
    Yes, Lincoln condemned slavery as immoral, based on the Constitution
    Proclamation that ”all men are created equal”, he
    applied to black and white people, this did not mean
    he thought they would have the same political and
    social rights.
    He was for example no friend of the rights of black peeople
    to vote.
    His conception of equality was that black people had the right to
    enjoy the fruits of their labor and thus improve their social
    situation.

    http://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-lincoln-slavery-and-emancipation

    However, he did it.
    He abolished slavery.

    Also it is a misunderstanding to think that the Civil War was started
    because of the North opposing slavery morally and the South wanted
    to maintain it.
    Of course slavery WAS the issue, but it was an economic, not a moral
    fight [although morality against slavery was for many Northerns an important
    issue] between the industrialized North and the plantation economical South
    [with a mix of feodalism, slavery and of course racism, which was
    the justification for
    the abduction, owning, imprisoning, torturing and raping human beings]
    were black]

    Slavery was an economic hindrance for the pre capitalist
    industrial North, so it had to go.
    So simple was that, although there were, as always,
    also other causes, like political and power plays.

    Because wars are never fought for ”morality”, but out
    of economic and political power reasons.

    http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406400170.html

    http://teachinghistory.org/history-content/beyond-the-textbook/23912

    http://www.historycentral.com/CivilWar/AMERICA/Economics.html

    But coming to Lincoln again:

    Whether for Lincoln economical factors played a rule or even
    that he didn’t want to grant black people
    all the rights, for the ex slaves one thing counted:

    By emancipating the slaves legally, now they had a
    chance to take their lives in their own hands, start a family
    [without interfering of the white plantation ownner] and getting
    paid for their labor, however poorly.

    Mrs Higginbotham, because I think it is a pity you didn’t mention
    this great emancipation contribution of Lincoln, I have written this.
    Now some remarks about your book.

    HANGING MARY

    You will understand, reading my post about the abolition of
    slavery, that I could hardly have much sympathy for people
    like Marry Surat, who held a boarding house with many
    Confederacy sympathizers and holding slaves herself.
    John Wilkes Booth, who shot Lincoln,
    was a most extremist defender of slavery, which I find
    repulsing and since Mary Surrat knew him well,
    and was in a good terms with him, so she
    must have sympathised with his ideas.
    At least she didn’t fiercely oppose them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wilkes_Booth#Civil_War_years

    http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/surrattm.html

    But that doesn’t mean I agree with the way she and the other suspects
    of the assissination were treated.
    At first a military Court for civilians is not fair, since they are,
    simply, no soldiers and thus had deserved the protection of
    Civil Law.
    Thereby, Mary was a very sick woman and in my book you
    don’t hang a sick woman [or man], but adapt the punishment
    and when she would have been so ill that she could not recover,
    simply convict her without further punishment.

    Therefore I oppose death penalty as an inhuman punishment, which
    was no concept in those times,
    But what must have been an argument was the possibility
    to execute the wrong person
    And in the case of Mary Surrat, it might have happened.
    A horrible idea.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Surratt

    http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/lincolnconspiracy/surrattm.html

    But although not very sympathetic, writing the history of
    a woman like Mary Surrat gives an insight in a historical
    period, which marks the end of one of the greatest crimes
    in history, slavery.

    And therefore it is very interesting.

    Thanks again, Mrs Higginbotham

    King greetings
    Astrid Essed
    Amsterdam
    The Netherlands

  4. Anne Barnhill says:

    So happy you got this amazing trip! Sounds wonderful. Hope all is well.