Theatre To Die For
Unit #3 / 412 - Ford's Theatre National Historic Site
I tried hard to come up with a summarizing phrase other than "theatre to die for," but it's difficult to find a more fitting saying to describe Ford's Theatre. It was death, after all, that thrust this otherwise ordinary theatre into the spotlight after the events of April 14, 1865. But the air of murder surrounding this national park isn't just for tourists of today. It was also known to Abraham Lincoln in his own lifetime. The ever present risk of assassination was so great that even after winning the Presidency of the United States, Lincoln had to walk the streets of Washington in disguise.
Like the threat to his life, Lincoln was acutely aware of the peril the union faced. Fractured from the Civil War, he felt great responsibility to not only hold the union together, but make it a place of equality for everyone who lived in its reunited borders.
And such is the point that the National Park Service is able to share with visitors to Ford's Theatre National Historic Site.
Far more than just a venue of tragedy, Ford's Theatre and the nearby Petersen House--where Lincoln passed away at 7:22am on April 15--remind us of Lincoln's legacy.
And that is something Ford's works tirelessly to preserve: Lincoln's legacy. Not only through daily tours of the theatre, a Museum sitting a level underneath its seats, the Center for Education and Leadership, and the preservation of the Petersen House, but through a multi-faceted approach that makes this park more than just a memorial of death.
In fact, it's quite the opposite.
Beginning with the multiple productions Ford's stages each year, this national park stays constant to its mission by presenting shows which reflect the modern iterations of Lincoln's push for equality. Plays like Ragtime, The Laramie Project, and Driving Miss Daisy allow contemporary audiences to engage with the injustices of our time through the powerful medium of live theatre.
Across the street from this working professional theatre, a number of exhibits invite visitors to reflect more directly on Lincoln's relation to these modern fights for equality.
Watching a film about the civil rights struggles that have come since Lincoln's day, I was shocked at the events which were once controversial--like denying the African American singer Marian Anderson from performing in DAR Constitution Hall. And yet, I was shocked even more by the way my nation continues to push against equality for women, racial minorities and LGBT citizens even after viewing situations such as Ms. Anderson's. As if we've learned nothing from the past.
Keeping transgender citizens from using the restroom, making it more difficult to vote, and continued gun violence are issues Matthew Sheperd, Eric Garner, the children of Sandy Hook, or Abraham Lincoln might be just as likely to be murdered for today.
But just as Marian Anderson's concert was moved to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial--drawing awareness to the Lincoln-inspired need for equality, perhaps our country needs these "focusing events" to help us realize the way we've denied others the "Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness" heralded in the Declaration of Independence. Like the horrors of apartheid led South Africa to be the first African country to legalize same-sex marriage--as a push to advance beyond the exclusionary reputation of their past--so too do I think Lincoln's death helped the United States come together over the shared grief of their communal loss.
Perhaps Lincoln would find comfort in this. That the monumental task he was handed--of keeping the union together--was perhaps ensured due to his death. His goal was realized, even if he paid the ultimate price to do so.
It's sacrifices like this that help me realize why Lincoln is so revered. Like Nelson Mandela, it is a difficult task to lead a war-torn nation in a way that allows both sides to feel as though they are part of the future.
As my own nation envisions our future, I hope we take Lincoln's example and apply it to contemporary issues: honoring Lincoln by completing his work; not stalling it.
And just as there is a tower of over 15,000 books adorning the stairwell of the Center for Education and Leadership at Ford's, I hope we can take the many lessons from Lincoln's life and use them to do the work he'd be doing if he were here today.
In this way, we can take a murder that was meant to quell equality, and use it to propel us toward it. Allowing Lincoln's martyrdom to prove that there really is such a thing as "theatre to die for."
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5 Ford's Theatre Highlights (You Can Do)
1. See a Show!
Ford's is a working professional theatre which stages multiple productions a year using primarily actors local to the DC area! Their shows have some sort of angle toward preserving Lincoln's legacy, and rotate annually, but a perennial favorite is Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
2. Take The Tour
Seeing 110 In The Shade was full of its own revelations (we're all beautiful if we believe in ourselves), but the deepest thoughts from my Ford's experience came from the Museum, Petersen House and Center for Education and Leadership. These are part of the FREE tour, but you should reserve a ticket online ahead of time to guarantee a spot for this popular event. Get yours at Fords.org
3. Take Some Time to Reflect
The Center for Education and Leadership has a number of exhibits that allow you to slowly reflect on Lincoln's legacy. Take some time with them (my favorite was the History Channel video) and see where it takes you.
In the Museum you can see the actual pistol John Wilkes Booth used in the assassination. And also learn about his fellow conspirators, along with the events that led to Lincoln's murder.
Nope: Museum exhibit!
5. Feel History
You can walk up the stairs, through the living room, and into the actual bedroom where Lincoln passed, all preserved in the Petersen House.
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Click here to read about each of the other 400+ parks.
10 Upcoming Units (COMMENT with recommendations please! What should I do at each park? Local interesting detours? Food stops?)
(Plus a Bonus 6 -- these are the remaining units in DC proper)
-Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
-Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
-Korean War Veterans Memorial
-Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac
-Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
-Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site
-Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site (JUST NORTH OF MALL)
-Rock Creek Park
-Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial (Closed till late summer 2016)
-Vietnam Veterans Memorial
-White House, The
-(National) World War II Memorial
-National Capital Parks