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Lincoln Tribute

Writer Sarah Harmon participates in the Lincoln Tribute

Note: The article is Sarah Harmon’s account of the two-day Lincoln Tribute held in Washington D.C. at the Ford’s Theatre this week.

“The Lincoln Tribute was definitely unforgettable and I am so glad I was able to experience it,” Harmon said.

Sarah Harmon
EW writer Sarah Harmon in Paris

Lincoln Tribute, 150 anniversary

By Sarah Harmon

EW Emma’s Writings

“Lincoln shot! Condition considered hopeless!” Those were the headlines around America this very week 150 years ago. The night of April 14, 1865 changed the history of the United States forever when actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth jumped down onto the stage of Ford’s Theatre screaming “Sic semper tyrannus!” (Thus always to tyrants) and ran out the back of the theater after shooting President Abraham Lincoln. What should have been a time of celebration that after four long years, the Civil War was finally over immediately became a nation in mourning for one of its greatest leaders.

Lincoln Tribute
The box with the flag on the upper right of the theater picture is where Lincoln was sitting when he was shot.

The National Parks Service, Ford’s Theatre, and Civil War buffs everywhere have eagerly anticipated the commemoration of such an important turning point in American history. Museums throughout the D.C. held special exhibits in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and Lincoln assassination, and Ford’s Theatre in particular opened a special exhibit featuring artifacts that had not been all brought together under that roof since April 1865. Notable elements include the Derringer pistol Booth used as well as the bullet itself. They also show the objects that were in Lincoln’s pockets that fateful night. Perhaps most interesting of those was a Confederate five dollar bill.

Lincoln shot 1
The brick and white building is Ford’s Theatre during the vigil.

The two-day Lincoln Tribute at Ford’s Theatre began at 8 am on the fourteenth with a behind the scenes tour of the theater and concluded with the 7:30 pm performance of the play “Freedom’s Song: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War” on the fifteenth. In addition to the usual spring performances of the one-act play “One Destiny” and the Detective McDevitt walking tour, several dozen living historians were on the sidewalks of Ford’s and across the street at the Petersen House, where Lincoln died. Both days included a panel discussion of the parallels between Lincoln and his legacy in America and the life and legacy of South African president Nelson Mandela. From 9pm to 10:15, the moment  Booth fired the gun, a special performance, “Now He Belongs to the Ages,” took place on the stage at Ford’s. It was streamed live online and at the National Portrait Gallery for those unable to get tickets inside the theater.

The show began with music and an introduction by Colin Powell. Actors and historians shared words spoken by and about Lincoln including some criticism from his peers to remind us that the sixteenth president was not just the perfect marble version in the Lincoln Memorial, but was a man with faults who loved to laugh, tell stories, and be a loving father to his sons as well as his nation.

Lincoln Tribute
Crowds during the candlelight vigil on Tenth Street with Petersen House on the left and Ford’s Theatre on the right at 11:30 p.m.

The sound and emotion of 150 years of history reverberated through the theater and Portrait Gallery courtyard as the audience  joined in singing “Amazing Grace,” a song Abraham knew and loved. Following the presentation, most participated in a candlelight vigil in honor of the president’s last hours, which he spent laying diagonally on a too small bed in Petersen House.

Actors in the crowds would suddenly burst into a monologue, telling of how she saw Booth just that afternoon or how he held Lincoln’s head while the doctor examined him. It truly felt almost as if the entire block traveled back in time a century and a half. The vigil and tours of the theater continued throughout the night and culminated in a ceremonial wreath laying outside Petersen House at 7:22 am, the moment Lincoln passed from life into history.

Artifacts at the Ford's Theatre on display.
Artifacts at the Ford’s Theatre on display.

John Wilkes Booth wanted to be a hero for the Confederate cause by murdering the American President. He hoped that it would help to erase the name of the Great Emancipator from time, but in fact, his actions did more than any other single episode to make sure that the name of Abraham Lincoln would echo forever throughout the ages.

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