The Ghosts of Haunted Ford’s Theatre

511 10th St NW, Washington, DC

Meet the most popular poltergeist in American history.

Did You Know?

  • Site of the Lincoln Assassination
  • Partially Collapsed in 1893
  • 22 Deaths on Location

Is Ford’s Theatre Haunted?

As one of the oldest stage theatres in the nation, Ford’s Theatre is as illustrious as it is iconic. It's hosted politicians, presidents, and public officials.

Yet, the eeriest inhabitant of Ford’s Theatre is an all-American poltergeist. This legendary specter materializes in the presidential box, prowling the site of his former assassination.

The Ghost of Abraham Lincoln

Spectators experience cold spots, disembodied footsteps, and partial apparitions. Visitors hear the ghastly trace of gunshots, followed faintly by screams. Some even spot shadowy specters in stovepipe hats, no doubt tied to Lincoln's infamous assassination.

Do his residual energies stain this star-crossed stage?

Other Specters of Ford’s Theatre

This phantom president may not lurk Ford’s Theatre alone. The Ghost of Mary Todd Lincoln is also sighted on the property. Witnesses allege that she leans over her box, pointing towards the platform. Some even say she tries to warn of Lincoln's imminent death.

Even John Booth's specter has been witnessed sprinting across the stage.

Cave Entrace
John Wilkes Booth fleeing Ford's Theater

The Brief History of Ford’s Theatre

Built in 1833, Ford’s Theatre was once the meeting house for the First Baptist Church of Obadiah Bruen Brown. Yet the congregation soon outgrew the building, and the establishment passed into the hands of theatre producer John T. Ford.

Fire at Ford’s Theatre

While Ford had early theatrical aspirations for the building, the establishment caught fire in 1861. Renovations were considerably delayed, preventing Ford from completing the establishment for another two years. Ford's Theatre was opened to the public in 1863.

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

On April 14 of 1865, President Abraham Lincoln joined his wife Mary at Ford’s Theatre for a production of Our American Cousin. The Civil War had ended five days before, and the Confederate Army had surrendered to the Union.

Lincoln and his party occupied the Theatre's presidential box, undoubtedly relieved that the American war would no longer take American lives. Nevertheless, Lincoln had become increasingly paranoid about his own death.

Lincoln Dreams About His Death

Despite the Union's success, Lincoln was plagued by superstitions towards his imminent assassination.

He had seen his death in a dream, where he witnessed the subdued sobs of mourners. He'd even witnessed his corpse on a catafalque in the White House East Room.

When Lincoln asked a soldier standing guard who had died, the guard informed Lincoln that the president had been assassinated. Lincoln then woke up from the dream, but the sequence haunted Lincoln until his end.

Cave Entrace
Replica Philadelphia Deringer of the type used by John Wilkes Booth to Kill President Abraham Lincoln

The Confederate Conspiracy

Not everyone celebrated the Union's victory, most notably actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Booth, along with his co-conspirators, sought revenge for the Confederacy's defeat.

He and his conspiratorial band had plotted to kidnap and kill three members of the United States Government. They believed this would facilitate a Confederate insurrection, perhaps leading to the Union's ultimate defeat. President Abraham Lincoln was just one target of their attack.

Abraham Lincoln is Shot

Outside of Lincoln's assassination, their plot was chiefly unsuccessful. Even Booth's attack took a detour. Originally instructed to kidnap Lincoln from the presidential box, Booth chickened out at the last minute.

In either panic or reconsideration, Booth shot the president instead.

Cave Entrace
John Wilkes Booth assassinating President Lincoln

I Bring Death to Tyrants

After the attack, Booth vaulted to the stage below, shouting Sic Semper Tyranus. This was a shortened version of the Latin Sic semper evello mortem tyrannis, or Thus always I bring death to tyrants.

Booth, who broke his leg in the fall, managed to escape through the Theatre's back alley.

The Twelve-Day Manhunt

Booth was pursued for twelve days, yet the manhunt came to an end after he was found visiting co-conspirator Marry Surrat in Virginia. Booth had taken refuge in Richard Garrett's barn in Bowling Green.

Cave Entrace
The death of John Wilkes Booth on April 26, 1865

A shootout ensued after soldiers arrived on the scene, and the barn was set on fire. Soldiers dragged his burning body from the rubble, though no one could tell if he had died from the building's collapse or gunshot wound.

The fire disfigured his corpse to the point that it was unidentifiable. Booth died shortly from his injuries.

His fellow co-conspirators were either shot or executed by hanging.

The Death of President Lincoln

After the attack, Lincoln was removed from the Theatre. He was brought to the nearby boarding home of William Peterson, where he was laid diagonally across the first-floor bedroom. (It was the only way that Lincoln's six-foot-four frame could fit within the room.)

Lincoln, who never regained consciousness, died the following day.

Cave Entrace
Details of Lincoln’s death outside Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre is Closed

While Ford’s Theatre remained, no showings were ever held at the establishment again. Luckily, the U.S. government compensated John T. Ford for the financial losses he acquired after the assassination.

Later Uses for Ford’s Theatre

In 1866, the United States Army repurposed Ford’s Theatre as a storage facility for the United States Department of War. Alongside these records, the building also housed the Army Medical Museum and the Surgeon General's Library.

Ford’s Theatre was later occupied by the War Department clerks. They, too, would meet unprecedented tragedy.

The Curse of Ford’s Theatre

While Lincoln's Assassination is the Theatre's most notable tragedy, it wasn't the last. In 1893, the front end of the Theatre collapsed, killing twenty-two clerks of the War Department. Another seventy were injured.

Do their spirits linger about this ominous property?

Since there was no known cause for the building's collapse, some alleged that the building was cursed. After all, it had seen the first presidential assassination in American history. Now, another twenty-two had met their end.

Cave Entrace
Entrance to Ford's Theatre

Creating the Museum

Ford’s Theatre was abandoned for nearly a decade before the Office of Public Building and Parks of the National Capital acquired the building.

This organization decided to repurpose the building as a museum dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, which they opened on February 12, 1932.

Ford’s Theatre Today

The building was renovated and restored throughout the next two decades, only reaching completion in 1968. Forty years later, the Theatre underwent further renovations. It was reopened in 2009 in celebration of Lincoln's 200th birthday.

Visiting Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre is one of the most popular attractions in the nation. Let us know if you spot any phantom presidents!

Visiting Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre is one of the most popular attractions in the nation. Let us know if you spot any phantom presidents!

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