Posts Tagged ‘Appomattox Court House’

Robert Todd Lincoln’s Gravesite

On this day in 1926, six days before his eighty-third birthday, Robert Todd Lincoln died in his sleep at Hildene, his Vermont home.  He was the son of President Abraham Lincoln.  And his grandson, “Bud” Beckwith, who died in 1985, is the last person known to be of direct Lincoln lineage.  In observance of the anniversary of his passing, on today’s lunchtime bike ride I went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the sarcophagus, where he is buried with his wife Mary and their son Jack.

Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son and the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood. While he didn’t make quite the mark on history that his father did, he did have a pretty interesting life.  The following are some of the most interesting and unusual facts about him.

Lincoln was a witness to the assassinations of three presidents, including his father.  The younger Lincoln was there at The Petersen House, where his father was taken after being shot across the street at Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth.  Years later, while serving as Secretary of War to President James Garfield, he was with the president at the Sixth Street Train Station in D.C. when Charles Guiteau shot him.  Garfield died two months later.  Twenty years after that, Lincoln was a guest of President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when the President was shot by Leon Czolgosz. McKinley died just over a week later.  After that I imagine that future presidents were quietly glad that these events caused Lincoln to believe he was bad luck, because thereafter he refused to attend state events or accept Presidential invitations.

Lincoln’s life was once saved by Edwin Booth, a famous actor and brother of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of his father. The incident took place on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey.  On a crowded platform, Lincoln fell off into the space between the tracks and the platform.  But Booth pulled him by his collar to safety.  The exact date of when this happened is uncertain, but it is believed to have taken place before John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln.

After having her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, Lincoln had a strained relationship with his mother.  Mary Todd Lincoln is fairly widely renowned today for being mentally ill, but it wasn’t quite such an open secret when she was still alive. Lincoln, however, realized that his mother needed psychiatric help, so he had her committed following a hearing that declared her insane.  She was eventually able to gain her release.  However, by that point she felt as though she had been publicly humiliated, and never patched up her relationship with Lincoln before her death.

Lincoln was the last surviving member of the cabinets of Presidents Garfield and Arthur.  And he was part of President Grant’s junior staff at Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse to end the Civil War, and was the last surviving witness to that event.

Lincoln was also a graduate of Harvard University, on the personal staffs of three Presidents beginning with Ulysses S. Grant, a successful and eventually wealthy lawyer, peripherally involved in politics, successor to George Pullman as company president and later chairman of the board of the Pullman Palace Car Company, a dedicated amateur astronomer and golfer, and a participant in the dedication ceremonies for The Lincoln Memorial for his father.

Ford's Theatre

Ford’s Theatre

This bike ride took me to Ford’s Theatre, a building with a rich history, located at 511 10th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown Neighborhood. The site was originally a house of worship, constructed in 1833 as the second meeting house of the First Baptist Church of Washington. In 1861, after the congregation moved, John T. Ford bought the former church and renovated it into a theatre. It was destroyed by fire in 1862, but was rebuilt the following year. The new Ford’s Theatre opened in August of 1863, hosting various plays and stages performances. But its initial run as a theatre would not last long.

More than any of the plays or performances hosted there, the theatre is perhaps best known as the site where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865. Just five days after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House signaling the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, attended a performance of a play entitled “Our American Cousin” at the theatre. During the performance, actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth stepped into the Presidential Box and shot Lincoln. Booth then jumped onto the stage, and cried out “Sic semper tyrannis” before escaping through the back of the theatre. The mortally wounded President was taken across the street to The Petersen House, where he died the following day.

Strangely enough, on November 9, 1863 (151 years ago last night), two years before the assassination, Lincoln had been seated in the very same seat at Ford’s Theatre, where he watched Booth perform in the popular play, “The Marble Heart.” An avid theatre-goer, Lincoln was known to have attended at least a dozen performances at the theatre. At this performance, Lincoln was impressed with the young actor’s energy and passed along a message backstage asking if he could meet the actor. Booth, an outspoken supporter of the South, declined the request.

Then on the night on which he would be assassinated, President Lincoln told William Crook, his bodyguard, about a dream. “Crook, do you know I believe there are men who want to take my life? And I have no doubt they will do it. I know no one could do it and escape alive. But if it is to be done, it is impossible to prevent it.” Crook beseeched him not to go to Ford’s theater that night, but Lincoln demurred saying he had promised his wife they would go. Perhaps he knew he would be killed that night for when they departed for the theatre, Lincoln said “goodbye” to Crook instead of “goodnight.” He would be dead the following day.

Following the assassination, the U.S. Government appropriated the theatre, with Congress paying Ford $100,000 in compensation. And less than three years after opening as a theatre, an order was issued forever prohibiting its use as a place of public amusement.

After that, the building was used as an office building, and served as a facility for the War Department. Then in 1893, part of the building collapsed, resulting in the deaths of 22 clerks and injuring another 68. The building was repaired, but was used as a government warehouse after that.

Decades later, and more than 100 years after President Lincoln’s death, it was again renovated, and then re-opened as a theatre in 1968. During the 2000’s it was renovated yet again, opening on February 12, 2009, in commemoration of the bicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, today Ford’s Theatre is administered by the National Park Service as one of two buildings which comprise the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, the other being the Petersen House. It remains a working theatre, producing plays, musicals and other works that entertain while often examining political and social issues related to Lincoln’s legacy. And in addition to being an active theatre, it also houses world-class museum, and a learning center named the Center for Education and Leadership.

FordsTheater02     FordsTheater01a