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Historic Theaters

Patrons of the arts go to theaters to enjoy concerts, plays and musicals, but the theater itself can sometimes steal the show.

Many historic theaters have endured years of neglect, and not all have survived. Some sat vacant, more than one stared down the business end of a bulldozer, and one was even used as a dump. These historic theaters were saved from decay and demolition and, with their elaborate details and expensive decor, have become showstoppers.

Ford’s Theatre

Washington, D.C.

Walking through Ford’s Theatre to the infamous box where President Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865, “is pretty chilling,” said theater group sales manager Joshua Feldman.

“It’s where one of the most pivotal moments happened, where the country took a turn,” he said. “It’s where history was written that night, where history was changed completely.”

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination, and the theater is memorializing the occasion with special productions and programs from March through May, including “Freedom’s Song,” a musical that showcases the words of Lincoln and the stories of those who lived through the Civil War.

“Silent Witnesses: Artifacts of Lincoln” is a special exhibit at the Center for Education and Leadership, located across the street from the theater and adjacent to the Peterson House, where Lincoln died on the morning of April 15. The exhibit will unite artifacts from the night Lincoln was killed, including the top hat he bought that day and his overcoat, which has the phrase “One Country, One Destiny” embroidered in the lining.

The theater will remain open around the clock from early April 14 to the evening of April 15; about 300 costumed interpreters will be in the theater and on the street sharing first-person accounts of the war and re-enacting the events of that night, including hourly updates on Lincoln’s condition. There will also be a candlelight vigil on the street.

Tickets for performances include admission to the museum below Ford’s Theatre, the Peterson House and the Center for Education and Leadership. Groups can also buy tickets for the one-act play “One Destiny” or a 40-minute lecture from a National Park Service ranger about Civil War Washington and Lincoln’s assassination. During the History on Foot tour, a costumed guide takes visitors from the theater through downtown to the White House and re-creates the events following Lincoln’s death.