Interpreting the Lincoln Presidency: Ford’s Theater

Earlier this year I posted about my trip through Ford’s Theater on the day of the great Virginia earthquake.  At the time I lamented my visit was without camera.  A couple weeks back I was able to stop by there on the way home, with camera in hand this time. So allow me to update that post with a few photos of the exhibits.

In past visits, before renovations were complete, the museum displays seemed focused on the assassination of President Lincoln.  Indeed, I’ve got some old 35mm photos from over twenty years back that show a rather austere, by today’s standards, set of displays.  Now the museum actually provides a rather well rounded look at the Lincoln Presidency.  Of course the war receives considerable coverage among the interpretive displays.

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Revolving Door of Union Generals

And the interpretation is, in my opinion, at the proper level – not too heavily laced with the story of great battles but rather with how the Union effort evolved and proceeded at the strategic level.

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The Improvised War

Within the displays are figures (or are these mannequins?) positioned to attract the visitor’s attention.  Lifelike poses add to the narrative.  Hands on displays attract the younger visitors.

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A Swarm of Office Seekers

Not lost in the interpretation is the real focus of the war.  I lost count of the number of times slavery was mentioned.

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Freedom Road

The time line of the exhibits walks the visitor through the last years of the war, bringing the visitor to focus on 1864.

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A Year of Decisions

After explaining events of the election year, then bringing the visitor through the first months of 1865, the interpretation narrows down to the details of the assassination.

Figures depict the conspirators among exhibits explaining how they planned and plotted.

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The Conspriators

Foremost in the figures is John Wilkes Booth.

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Figure of John Wilkes Booth

And the gun he used to shoot Lincoln.

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The Gun that Shot Lincoln

Exiting the main exhibit area, the visitor walks through a hall of interpretive panels.  These trace activities of Booth (on the left) and Lincoln (on the right) on April 14, 1865.

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Events of April 14, 1865

The time line concludes with the sound of a ticking clock, and the visitor exits to the main theater.

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The President's Box

Let me say again…. even if you have visited Ford’s Theater in the past, if you have not visited since 2009 put it back on your bucket list.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

3 thoughts on “Interpreting the Lincoln Presidency: Ford’s Theater

  1. These few pictures show how different it is from my last visit just days before it was closed for renovations in 2007. I was with the Osceola HIgh School National Honor Society as a parent/chaperone.

  2. I have been here too. I really enjoyed it. My husband and I are about to open a bed and breakfast just across the river from Garrett’s Farm where John Wilkes Booth died. The property is the birthplace of James Madison. Just this week I have confirmed that the detachment that pursued Booth and Harold stopped at the property and ate and slept there.

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