Civil War to Civil Rights
— Downtown Heritage Trail —
"The nest in which the egg was hatched."President Andrew Johnson, April 1865.
The building at 604 H Street, today Golo's Chinese Restaurant, is intimately connected with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater, just five blocks from here.
During the Civil War this modest brick house was occupied by a Maryland-born widow, Mary Surratt, who took in boarders. Like many in this Southern history, she was quietly sympathetic to the Confederacy, though living in the capital of the Union. She had a son in the Confederate Army. Another son, John, had become friends with the famous actor, John Wilkes Booth.
Booth, it turned out, had been plotting to capture President Lincoln for months; on April 14, 1865, the plot changed to murder. A member of a famous theatrical family, Booth was the matinee idol of his day. His dashing appearance caused women to swoon, and both men and women were taken with the handsome young man. He attracted co-conspirators, several of whom, including John Surratt, lived in this house. Booth himself visited several times. Although there was never a formal meeting here, President Andrew Johnson reflected a popular belief in calling it "the nest in which the egg was hatched."
Three days after the assassination, police came to see Mrs. Surratt. By unlucky chance, Louis Powell, already identified as part of the plot, showed up at the time. The coincidence was enough for the authorities to implicate Mrs. Surratt. She was arrested, tried and hanged with three others at Fort McNair in Southwest Washington on July 5, 1865. Booth was shot in a Virginia tobacco shed, where he died. John Surratt escaped to Canada and went free. Mary Surratt's guilt continues to be a subject of debate.