Posts Tagged ‘Ford’s Theatre’

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The Grave of Charles Forbes

On this lunchtime bike ride I returned to Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP) on Capitol Hill, one of my favorite lunchtime biking destinations. I like it because even after numerous rides there, there is still so much more history within the cemetery to be discovered and learned. This time I visited the grave of Charles Forbes, who I often think about whenever I make a mistake at work. Let me explain why.

Forbes was born in Ireland around 1835 and at the age of 26 started working at the White House in 1861, shortly after President Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration. He was one of several house servants assigned to President Lincoln. Quickly becoming a favorite with both the President and Mrs. Lincoln, Forbes became the personal attendant to the President, a position he held for approximately four years. He also occasionally watched out for Mary Todd Lincoln and Thomas “Tad” Lincoln III, as well.

And it was during this time working for the President that Forbes made one of the biggest mistakes on the job that anyone has ever made. Forbes accompanied the Lincolns to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, the night that Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. That night Booth approached Forbes, who was seated outside of Lincoln’s box, and gave him his calling card. Forbes then allowed Booth to enter the door to the private box. Moments later the President was mortally wounded.

Forbes remains a mysterious figure in the events of that night. He never gave a witness statement nor did he ever leave a written or verbal account of the assassination of the President. But Mrs. Lincoln remained fond of Forbes, bore him no ill will for the evening’s events, and later presented him with the suit of clothes that Lincoln wore that night.

After Lincoln’s death, Forbes became a messenger for the U.S. Treasury Department and later for the Adjutant General’s office. He died October 10, 1885, at his home at 1711 G Street in northwest D.C., leaving his wife Margaret and a daughter, Mary. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Congressional Cemetery until 1984 when The Lincoln Group, a historical society, placed a marker on his grave.

So it was this mistake on the job of Forbes’ that makes me glad that the mistakes I make at work never result in the consequences his mistake did. Even the worst mistakes I could possibly make don’t result in altering the course of history, as his mistake did. So when I mess up, I just think of him and this bike ride, and I feel a little better.

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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.

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