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—and shot him!
Booth leaped onto the stage. On the way down, his boot caught the edge of a flag. He stumbled, breaking his leg. Still, he was able to flee. He jumped on his waiting horse outside.
Many of the artifacts, or objects, from that night have been preserved. They help to link us to our past.
one of the boots John Wilkes Booth wore
Preparing for Important Guests
The flag that Booth caught his foot on is one such item. The president and first lady were important guests for Ford’s Theatre. Flags were put up around the presidential box. Four of the flags were the American flags of the day. The fifth flag had a hand‑painted eagle on blue silk. As Booth fell, his boot tore the edge of that flag. The tear remains today.
The flag is kept at the National Park Service’s Museum Resources Center in Maryland. It is one of more than six million artifacts. All have historic meaning. All come from places in and around Washington, D.C.
There are so many artifacts, few can be shown. Some are too fragile. Others, too large. Artifacts that cannot be displayed are stored.
Booth carried this compass during his escape.
Ford’s Theatre opened in August 1863. After Lincoln's death, the theater was closed. In 1968, it was renovated and reopened. But the presidential box is never occupied.
The Ford’s Theatre Museum has many items related to the night Lincoln was shot. These include the pistol Booth used, Booth’s diary, and Thomas Powell’s toothbrush. Who? What?
That’s right! Thomas Powell was a Confederate soldier. He plotted with Booth to harm the president.
Booth's diary is the only record of his personal thoughts after the assassination.
Powell had his toothbrush with him when he was arrested.
A toothbrush might seem like a strange artifact for a museum. Yet, ordinary objects can take on great meaning. Especially when they are connected to an infamous person. In this case, the toothbrush was used as evidence against Powell during his trial. He always had his toothbrush with him. A witness identified him because of that toothbrush!
Map of Washington, D.C., 1860s
The White House
United States Capitol