Because I love history so much, Ford’s Theatre has always been one of my favorite places to visit in DC. It’s the theatre that Abraham Lincoln was in when John Wilkes Booth shot him. Directly across the street from the theatre is the Petersen house where Lincoln was carried after he was shot and where he then died just a few hours later.
During certain months of the year (March through August), a visit to Ford’s Theatre requires advance planning. During those months, your best option is to go online and purchase tickets in advance. You should be aware that there is a charge for each ticket as well as a per-ticket service charge through Ticketmaster. Here’s the link to purchase tickets: http://www.fordstheatre.org/home/plan-your-visit/daytime-visits-fords-theatre. When I buy tickets, I always buy the ones without the audio tour (someday I’ll have to check out the audio tour), but that include the museum and the ranger talk—which are usually the tickets for the tour that starts at the top of the hour. During these busy months, there is also a certain number of free tickets reserved for people walking up, but you have to get in line early to get those. They start handing out the free tickets at 8:30 when the box office opens.
In the other months of the year (September through February), purchasing tickets ahead of time isn’t usually needed. (One year we went on President’s Day though, and I decided to buy tickets ahead of time just to be safe.) During the slower months, you can just walk into the box office and request your free tickets. That is exactly what Natalie and I did on our most recent visit on Halloween. We arrived at 9:55 and got tickets to enter the museum at 10:00. We had no wait or problem at all. I’m sure there are days, even during the slower months, when it’s not that easy to get in and you have to wait, but the National Park rangers told me that during those months you can pretty much get in without purchasing tickets in advance.
When the museum is included in your ticket, it is the first place you will go on your visit.
It is a self-guided tour through exhibits depicting Lincoln’s presidency, assassination and death. You have about 45 minutes to spend before you are ushered upstairs into the theatre. (On my first visit to the museum, 45 minutes wasn’t enough for me—I like Lincoln a lot, and much to Natalie and Kara’s dismay, I was reading everything. I asked the ranger if I could stay longer, but he wouldn’t let me. I think Natalie and Kara were relieved!)
If your ticket includes a ranger talk, then that will be the next part of your visit. You will sit in the actual theatre as a park ranger tells the story of that fateful night in April 1865 when Lincoln visited the theatre and was shot there. It’s easy to visualize the story as you sit in the theatre looking at the presidential box where Lincoln was seated,
at the stage, and at the door that Booth walked through. On our recent visit, Natalie and I sat on the balcony; I liked those seats because we were closer to the box where Lincoln was shot.
After the 20-25 minute ranger talk, your tour of the theatre is done. You can then walk across the street to the Petersen House where Lincoln died.
You need to show your ticket before entering. Visiting the Petersen House is a pretty quick visit since you only walk through three rooms—the last of which is bedroom Lincoln died in.
Upon exiting the Petersen house, you can take the elevator to the fourth floor to the Center for Education and Leadership. It’s a museum that tells the story of what happened after Lincoln died and talks about his legacy. The museum starts on the fourth floor and continues down the stairs through each floor, although each floor is pretty small.
Since this museum just opened, we had never visited it before. By the time we got there, though, Natalie had had enough for one day. She begged me to just walk straight through. Even though it killed me to do so, that’s what we did. She is always so willing to come with me on adventures, and I don’t want to make her dislike them.
After our quick walk-through tour of the Center for Education and Leadership, we next did one of our new favorite things to do in DC. We tracked down some food trucks for lunch! This time it was Tasty Kabob; Nat had a chicken pita, and I had the vegetarian platter. YUM!
(A visit to Ford’s Theatre is always a wonderful experience. For another great experience there, I suggest seeing one of their shows if you have the chance; it is actually still a working theatre. We have seen The Christmas Carol there a couple of times and loved it.)