Posts Tagged ‘The War Department’

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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The Eisenhower Executive Office Building

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Today is the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s first post as President on The White House’s Official Facebook page. Using his iPhone, he posted a famous quote from George Washington, who once said, “The thing about quotes from the Internet is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity.”  After updating his online status, I can imagine him then going for an evening walk on a cool, crisp autumn day, much like it was today. Perhaps stopping by Saint John’s Episcopal Church across the street, and maybe even going past his memorial and taking a stroll around The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall on his way home.

Actually, today is the anniversary of the beginning of Lincoln era’s communications equivalent, the first transcontinental overland telegram.  It was sent on this day in 1861, after 112 days of construction, that Western Union completed the first transcontinental telegraph.  And the first telegram was sent to President Lincoln in D.C., from California Justice Stephen J. Field in San Francisco.  In the message, Field predicted that the new communication link would help ensure the loyalty of the western states to the Union during the Civil War.

The telegraph was received at the telegraph office within the War Department, which was located in a building to the west of The White House. It was known as the Annex, and became very important during the Civil War, with President Lincoln visiting the War Office’s telegraph room for constant updates and reports and walking back and forth to the “Residence”. The original structure was replaced in 1888 by construction of a new building of French Empire design, the “State, War, and Navy Building.” The building was later renamed to honor General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and is also commonly referred to as the Old Executive Office Building.

So on for this bike ride, I chose to ride to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is located on 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C., and is situated just west of the White House between Pennsylvania Avenue and New York Avenue, and West Executive Drive.

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building was designed by Alfred B. Mullett as the supervising architect, with much of the interior designed by Richard von Ezdorf. It was built between 1871 and 1888, and is now maintained by the General Services Administration. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1971. It was vacated completely in the late 1930s, and the building was nearly demolished in 1957. Then in 1981, plans to restore it began. The building is currently occupied by various agencies that compose the President’s Executive Office, such as the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council. Many White House employees have their offices in the massive edifice. Its most public purpose is that of the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office, which is mainly used for special meetings and press conferences.

Interestingly, the building was the site of another telecommunications first. Dwight D. Eisenhower held the first televised Presidential news conference in the building’s Indian Treaty Room in January 1955

As I paused to take a few photos with my cell phone, I couldn’t help but reflect on both the differences and similarities between then and now in terms of communications, politics, and the world. The telegraph line immediately made the Pony Express obsolete, which officially ceased operations two days later. The overland telegraph line then operated until it was replaced a mere eight years later by a multi-line telegraph that had been constructed alongside the route of the newly-completed Transcontinental Railroad. Much like today, I guess technology changed fairly often even back then too.

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