Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site | PARK AT A GLANCE

Reconstructed box seats that Lincoln sat in on April 14, 1865

Reconstructed box seats that Lincoln sat in on April 14, 1865


Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site preserves the location where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. Keep in mind that this is not the actual theater where he was killed, only the building. Unlike today when a theater owner would be charging admission the day after the assassination in order to make a buck, back in 1865 such capitalistic ideas did not exist. Owner John Ford, who operated many theaters up and down the east coast, wanted to reopen the theater for performances, but public opinion was highly against it. In fact, the local people wanted it torn down. Ford ended up selling the building to the U. S. Government. It was then gutted and turned into an office building for the War Department and the Surgeon General.

In 1893, a floor in the building collapsed, killing 22 federal employees. After it was repaired, the building was used as a government warehouse until 1911, after which time it remained empty for a few years. In 1928, it was turned over to the Office of Public Buildings and Parks of the National Capital, and the bottom floor was converted into a Lincoln museum. In 1933, the National Park Service acquired the building.

Interest in restoring the theater to its original appearance came about in the late 1940s. A bill was passed by Congress in 1955 to study the matter, and in 1964 it approved funding for the reconstruction. There were no actual architectural drawings of the original interior, so photos, illustrated playbills, written descriptions, and styles of similar theaters of the time where used as the model for the reconstruction. However, the box where Lincoln was sitting when he was shot had been photographed after the assassination, so while much of the theater design was left to speculation, the reconstruction of the box is very accurate, even down to its decoration. Thus, while the three dimensional space in which Lincoln was shot can be pinpointed, he never set foot in the theater box that you see today.

The only original artifacts from April 14th that are on display in Ford’s Theatre are the chair used by Mary Todd Lincoln and a sofa used by the Lincolns’ guests, Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris. The chair Lincoln sat in is now at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. In its place is an exact replica of the original.

The finished theater opened in 1968 as a working theater and a National Historic Site. It is operated by the Ford’s Theatre Society in conjunction with the National Park Service. Theatrical performances, concerts, and other shows are held throughout the year.

In addition to the theater, the National Historic Site includes the Ford’s Theatre Museum, which is located on the bottom floor of the theater building, the Peterson House located across the street, and the museum at the Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership, which is adjacent to the Peterson House. One ticket grants access to all four venues.

Ford’s Theatre was renovated during the mid-2000s and reopened in 2009. Modifications were made to bring it up to date technically with modern theaters, not to step it back in time to the 1800s. A new lighting system, updated heating and air, and elevators to comply with accessibility laws are just some of the new upgrades.


Ford’s Theatre operates as a working theater and as a National Historic Site. The following times pertain to the National Historic Site only. See the Ford’s Theatre website for a schedule of performances.

Except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, self-guided tours of Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, which includes the actual theater, the Peterson House, and two museums, are offered daily starting at 9 AM. During times of heavy visitation—usually March through July—groups are let in every 30 minutes until 4:30 PM. Tours of the theater must end by 5 PM, but the Peterson House remains open until 5:30 PM. Tickets are required to enter any of the venues.

On any given day, certain times may be blocked out or certain venues may be closed due to performances, rehearsals, or other scheduled events. This information is available on the Ford’s Theatre website. If you plan to get a ticket at the box office, which opens at 8:30 AM, it is still advisable to check the website for the current schedule.

On days when visitation is low, you may be able to enter the National Historic Site without waiting, even if you obtained an online ticket with a scheduled entry time, though this is up to the theater’s management. The exception is for those who have a ticket that includes a National Park Ranger Talk. Obviously, you must show up at the scheduled time to hear the talk.


A ticket is required to enter Ford’s Theatre and the other venues of Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site. These can be obtained online for a small service charge, or free at the box office on the day of the tour. Twenty percent of the tickets are held for walk-up visitors, plus any online tickets that did not sell. The box office opens at 8:30 AM, and on busy days the walk-up tickets are gone within 30 minutes. The peak season is from March through June due to school groups, but the rest of the summer through Labor Day can be equally busy.

An audio tour device called an Acoustiguide can be rented for a small fee ($5 at the time of this writing). I highly recommend getting one for your tour.

From mid-March through early July the one-act play One Destiny is performed at select times. This can be added to your tour for a small fee ($5 at the time of this writing).

For the latest fees, operating hours, and schedules, see the Ford’s Theatre Historic Site web page.


The tour of Ford’s Theatre includes the Ford’s Theatre Museum, the actual theater, the Peterson House where Lincoln was carried after being shot and later died, and a museum at the Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership. Expect to spend at least two hours for the tour and up to five hours if you want to read all of the information in the museums. Seeing the actual theater involves nothing more than walking in, taking a look, and leaving. It is the museums that take up most of your time.

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Last updated on April 26, 2020
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