The scene is often described:
On the night of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln went to Ford’s Theatre.
He and Mrs. Lincoln sat in a special box above the stage.

During the play, a man entered the box. He was a famous actor named John Wilkes Booth. Booth was upset over how the Civil War had ended. He blamed Lincoln. He aimed a gun at Lincoln and fired. What followed was chaos.

To make his escape, Booth leaped from the president’s box onto the stage. On the way down, Booth’s boot caught the edge of a decorative flag. He stumbled as he landed, breaking his leg.

Sic semper tyrannis! he shouted to the panicked audience—Latin for “Thus always to tyrants.” He fled the stage and jumped on his waiting horse outside.

More than 150 years have passed, but the events of that night remain fresh— especially for those who visit Ford’s Theatre today, in person or online. Many of the artifacts, or objects, from that night have been carefully preserved. These items are a powerful link to our past. They help us learn, and they help us remember.

Abraham Lincoln

one of the boots John Wilkes Booth wore

Preparing for Important Guests

The flag that Booth caught his foot on is one such item. That morning, a messenger from the White House had come to the theater to request tickets for the evening’s performance. The president and first lady would make important guests.

James R. Ford, brother of theater owner John T. Ford, quickly visited the Treasury Department to borrow five flags to decorate the presidential box. Four of the flags were the regular, 36‑star American flags of the day. The fifth flag sported a hand‑painted eagle emblem on dark blue silk. This flag was anchored to the middle of the box by a flag pole. As Booth fell, his spur tore the edge of the flag—a tear that remains today.

Now kept under glass at the National Park Service’s Museum Resources Center in Maryland, the flag is one of more than six million artifacts to be cared for. They are all objects of historic significance from in and around Washington, D.C. They come from such places as Ford’s Theatre or from the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Only a small number of items can be shown in museums and other sites. Some are too fragile. Others, too large. Mostly, there are just too many to display. What cannot be displayed must be carefully stored in a safe, secure, and environmentally stable way.

Booth carried this compass during his escape.

Ford's Theatre

Ford’s Theatre opened in August 1863. After the assassination, the theater was closed. Then the building was used as a warehouse and office building. In 1893, part of it collapsed.

It was renovated and reopened as a theater in 1968. However, the presidential box is never occupied. The Ford’s Theatre Museum beneath the theater has many items that are related to the assassination, including the pistol Booth used and Booth’s diary.

Booth's diary is the only record of his personal thoughts after the assassination.

Powell had his toothbrush with him when he was arrested.

The collection also includes Thomas Powell’s toothbrush. Who was he and why does the museum display his toothbrush?

Powell was a Confederate soldier. He conspired with John Wilkes Booth to harm the president and other members of Lincoln’s cabinet.

A toothbrush might seem like a strange artifact for a museum, but sometimes ordinary objects take on greater meaning when they are connected to an infamous person or event.

In this case, the toothbrush was used as evidence against Powell during his trial. Another co‑conspirator testified that Powell always carried his toothbrush with him.