Civil War to Civil Rights
— Downtown Heritage Trail —
"My brother saw Booth as he came down the alley and turned into F Street." Henry Davis, 1901.
Twelve-year-old Henry Davis and his brother often looked out the back window of their Ninth Street home before they went to bed. They were fascinated by the comings and goings of actors and stagehands at the rear of Ford's Theatre, at the other end of the alley on 10th Street.
On the evening of April 14, 1865, Henry went to bed early, but his brother stayed up and was a witness to history. He saw a man limp from the back door of the theater, struggle onto a horse being held for him, and dash down the alley toward F Street. It was the famous actor and Confederate supporter John Wilkes Booth, the matinee idol of his day. He had just shot President Lincoln as he sat in his box, watching Our American Cousin
Booth had been trying to capture the president for months. Now the plan was to murder Mr. Lincoln, but this plan had come together only hours before. At six p.m., Booth and his co-conspirators met at the Herndon House, which once stood just steps from this alley on the corner of Ninth and F, where the Courtyard by Marriott hotel is today. There it was agreed that Booth's fellow conspirator Lewis Powell would kill Secretary of State Seward, and George Azerodt would kill Vice President Johnson. Booth took Lincoln for himself.
Azerodt's will apparently failed him. Powell severely wounded Seward. But Booth's bullet hit home. The full story is told at Ford's Theatre around the Corner on Tenth Street and in the Petersen House across the street where Lincoln died at 7:22 the next morning. Booth would be apprehended and killed in a Virginia tobacco shed 12 days later.
John Wilkes Booth escaped down the alley next to this sign after shooting President Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. (Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)
[John Wilkes Booth] (National Portrait Gallery)
[Wanted Poster] "$10,000 Reward! ... (Historical Society of Washington, D.C.)
[Engraving of Booth escaping on horseback] (Washingtoniana Collection, D.C. Public Library)
: An artist's 1880s rendering of the alley stage entrance to Ford's Theatre. (Washingtoniana Collection, D.C. Public Library)
: Ford's Theatre looms over a muddy Tenth Street as it looked the day after Lincoln's assassination. The restored theater is just around the corner on Tenth near E Street. (Library of Congress)