Bird's-eye view photograph of a large crowd gathered on 10th street in front of Ford's Theatre. Many people hold candles.
Photo by Gary Erskine.

A Look Inside Ford’s 150: An Interview with Patrick Pearson

4 min read

As Director of Artistic Programming at Ford’s Theatre, Patrick Pearson has been waiting for the 14th and 15th of April for a very long time. The year 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and to commemorate Ford’s Theatre is holding special events for the entirety of those two days—36 hours straight—in honor of Lincoln’s legacy. We spoke with Patrick to get more insight on what to expect and why President Lincoln is still relevant today.

“A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience”

“This is an opportunity to be a part of history,” Pearson says about the upcoming events. It has been 150 years since Booth took the life of President Lincoln on April 14, 1865. This month, people will be given the opportunity to experience what it was like to be there that fateful night.

“On the sidewalk, we will have costumed living historians presenting actual first-person accounts from 1865,” Pearson explains. “There will be ranger talks, panel discussions, performances of the play One Destiny inside the theatre, as well as opportunities to walk through the theatre.”

Performers on stage at the 150th tribute at Ford’s Theatre. Photo by James Brantley.

If that doesn’t sound sufficient, on April 14, Ford’s is also hosting a special tribute performance in honor of Lincoln at 9 p.m. and an overnight real-time candlelight vigil on Tenth Street NW. The goal, Pearson says, is to “recreate the feeling of April 14-15, 1865.” If you don’t live close to D.C., don’t feel left out. There will be a live stream of the 9 p.m. tribute performance on our website.

In greater detail, some of the events for Ford’s 150 include:

The Lincoln Tribute: This around-the-clock event will mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. During the day on April 14 and 15, visitors can choose to: explore the Ford’s Theatre Museum; hear a ranger talk, watch a performance of the one-act play One Destiny, enjoy a self-guided tour in the Theatre, or take a guided tour (times vary); hear a panel discussion about Lincoln’s legacy; or visit the Petersen House and exhibitions at the Center for Education and Leadership. Now He Belongs to the Ages: A Lincoln Commemoration: This live-streamed performance on April 14 will include readings of Lincoln’s words and stories, Civil War-era music, excerpts from Lincoln’s favorite operas, and more. The event seeks to remind us that we not only lost a president; we lost a man who treasured his family, his friends and his country with a love so strong it could hold the Union together. Candlelight Vigil: Beginning at 10:15 p.m. on April 14, Ford’s will host more than 150 Civil War living historians on Tenth Street to recreate the all-night vigil for Abraham Lincoln. Throughout the night, the historians will share first-person accounts and medical reports.

Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service will host a wreath-laying ceremony beginning at 7:22 a.m. on the steps of the Petersen House (the house where Lincoln died). The Federal City Brass Band will play “Taps” to mark the time of Lincoln’s death at 7:22 a.m., followed by a speaking program with remarks by the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, and James L. Swanson, author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. At 8 a.m., bells will toll at locations across Washington, D.C. Silent Witnesses: Artifacts of the Lincoln Assassination: This special exhibition at the Center for Education and Leadership commemorates the assassination and death of Abraham Lincoln by reuniting—for the first time since April 1865—an extraordinary collection of artifacts that were in Ford’s Theatre or carried by Lincoln the night of the assassination. It has been extended through May 29.

These special events are not the only thing that makes this anniversary so historic. “After four years of sesquicentennial Civil War commemorations, this is it—this is the last one,” Pearson adds. “The next greatest historic anniversary of the Civil War will be 50 years from now.”

Image of Abraham Lincoln courtesy Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site.

Lincoln’s Legacy

The Civil War was one of America’s darkest times. It was a time when the country, as well as families and friends, was divided. “The use of the word ’civil’ to describe the bloodiest conflict ever on American soil is a horrible oxymoron,” Pearson says.

One of the shining lights in all of this darkness was President Lincoln. His leadership drove men and women to fight for their country and stand up for their beliefs—and his leadership still inspires today. Pearson says, “The idea of a person, especially a politician, standing up for his convictions resonates with our society.”

That’s not all Lincoln is remembered for: “Lincoln is also a prime example of the American Dream—born to humble beginnings, he worked, worked and worked some more, earned everything he had, and eventually rose to the most powerful position in the country.”

To learn more about President Lincoln, his time as president or his assassination, come to Ford’s Theatre next week on April 14 and 15.

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