The Morning He Died

Two physicians, who were in the audience at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, attended Abraham Lincoln after he was shot.  The wound, they determined, was mortal, and there was nothing to do but try to make Lincoln comfortable while he died.  Getting him back to the White House would have been rough going, so they moved him to a house across the street.  I wondered why, among all the houses in the area, the boarding house owned by tailor William Peterson and his wife, Anna, was chosen. I couldn’t find anything online so if anyone knows, please tell me.

Ford's Theatre 006a

Cold and grumpy after the non-event at Ford’s Theater, I was on the fence about doing anything else.  Why not hole up in a bar and have a nice hot toddy, I thought.  Patricia, I was sure, wouldn’t say no to a hot toddy either.  But I had never been to the Peterson House and this was the April 14, 2015. I could have a hot toddy any old day but to see the house 150 years to the day that Lincoln lay in it, dying, had too much of a pull.  We went to stand in another long, long line.

Ford's Theatre 017a

The house, the sign on it said, had belonged to the US government since 1896. It has been a museum, run by the National Park Service, since 1933.  A self-guided tour takes visitors through the first floor: the front parlor where Mary Lincoln sat with her family (above), a bedroom where officials conducted business (below), and the back bedroom where Abraham Lincoln died at 7:22 on the morning of April 15.

Ford's Theatre 019a

I’d always imagined Abraham Lincoln lying in a bedroom upstairs which, once I got into the house, I saw would have been oh-so inconvenient given the narrow stairs. He was laid (diagonally, because he didn’t fit on the bed otherwise) in a back bedroom on the first floor, in a room rented by a man who had gone out for the evening.

Most of the furniture in the house is 1865 period, but not original to the house. The originals were auctioned off after the Petersons’ deaths. The bed in the room where Lincoln died is a reproduction, the original being in the Chicago Museum of History. Someone bought it at auction for $80. Chicago collector Charles Gunther bought it from the someone – along with lots of Civil War related artifacts – and when he died, left it to the Chicago museum.

Ford's Theatre 021a

After shuffling through the first floor, our line moved into the adjoining building, which now houses the Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership. There are a couple of floors of permanent exhibits, and one special exhibits gallery.  For the 150thanniversary, the special exhibit was “Silent Witness,” a collection of items on or around Abraham Lincoln during the assassination. Blood stained clothing, including Lincoln’s overcoat, a flag used to wrap him in, the pistol used to shoot him: they were all there.

But so were what seemed to be hundreds of people, pressed into the small gallery.  As much as I wanted to see the items, it was just too much. A cursory run by the objects and I was out of there.  The exhibit runs to the end of this month, so I’m hoping to have a chance to go back again, when the rest of the world isn’t there.

By the time we got back out, the street, too, had become packed with people.  I am not a fan of crowds, so Patricia and I made a beeline out of there and to one of our favorite restaurants, about two blocks away.  It’s called Coco Sala and almost every dish contains cocoa.  No hot toddies but a cup of hot dark chocolate with orangerie whiskey was there to warm us right up.

If you’re into the fascinating but morbid, unlikely places hold other Lincoln assassination objects. The bullet that killed him, bits of his skull and the blood stained cuffs of a doctor’s shirt sleeves are on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland.  A spur that John Wilkes Booth lost when it tangled with a flag on his leap out of the presidential box is a the United States Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis.  And a piece of John Wilkes Booth’s cervical vertebrae is at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

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10 Responses to The Morning He Died

  1. I’ve heard about that Mutter Museum. Ever been? I, too, would have made a bee line for the Coco Sala. Surely the crowds will diminish soon and you can have a proper look-round. I’ve always wondered whether his wound would have been fatal today.

    • Yes, I’ve been to the Mutter. Rather like an old-fashioned curiosities exhibit. For me, it was fine for one visit, but not something I’d go out of my way to do again.

      Interesting question about whether the wound would be fatal. I’m sure there’s been writings about it. I’ll have to look it up.

  2. Fascinating that the Mutter Museum would have a piece of back bone as an exhibit, I wonder what happened to the rest of him.
    Crowds can be a real problem in small spaces. In Amsterdam it is crucial to get the timing right to visit the Anne Frank house.

    • Booth is buried in a cemetery in Baltimore. Now that you mention it, I wonder how a piece of his bone was available to be on exhibit.

      I’ve been to Anne Frank house. We must have been there at the right time because I remember it being slightly more crowded than the usual tourist site, but not too bad.

  3. Interesting place! I have always wanted to see it – but unfortunate about the crowds. Jon really isn’t into lines… I have always wanted to go to the Mutter Museum too – I’m all about the morbid stuff.

    • I’m with Jon. That’s why I’d never seen it – I didn’t want to stand in the lines.
      I was at the Mutter for the first time a few months ago. It was interesting for once — its a display of medical anomalies — but I’m not sure if I’ll do it again anytime soon. Some of it was pretty depressing.

  4. nerdtrips says:

    It can be challenging to appreciate some places when they are so crowded. I tend to get impatient. I will have to check this out when it’s not so crowded

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