Note: This story first appeared in the May-June, 2012 issue of the Gypsy Journal.
Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. has a long and interesting history. Most of us know it as the place where President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14th, 1865, as the president and his wife attended a performance of Our American Cousin. What many do not know is the strange number of tragedies associated with the building and the Lincoln assassination. So many that a great number of people believe that the place is cursed.
Consider this: Abraham Lincoln was carried across the street from Ford’s Theatre to the home of a tailor named William Petersen, where he succumbed to his wound. A few years after the assassination, Petersen was found on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution, dead from an overdose of laudanum, a mixture of alcohol and opium. Just four months later, his wife followed him to the grave.
Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancé, Clara Harris, were guests of the Lincolns’ that night, and Rathbone was stabbed by Booth when they struggled after the president had been shot. Severely wounded, Rathbone survived and eventually married Clara, who happened to be his stepsister (Rathbone’s widowed mother had married Harris’s widowed father.) Appointed U.S. Consul in Hanover, Germany, a few days before Christmas, 1883, Rathbone murdered Clara, then tried to kill their three children and himself. He spent the rest of his life in an asylum for the criminally insane.
Following a prolonged manhunt, John Wilkes Booth was cornered in a barn in northern Virginia. When he refused to surrender, the barn was set on fire, and a soldier named Thomas “Boston” Corbett shot him as he tried to escape. Booth died a few hours later. Corbett became a religious fanatic, castrating himself to prevent temptation from prostitutes. In the 1880s, Corbett served as assistant doorkeeper of the Kansas House of Representatives until he was dismissed for pulling a revolver and threatening to shoot someone who did not bow their head during the opening prayer. He was declared insane and sent to an asylum, which he promptly escaped from. It is rumored that he died in a fire that destroyed much of the town of Hinkley, Minnesota, his last known residence.
Mary Todd Lincoln, who not only saw her husband murdered, but also outlived all but one of her children, attempted suicide and eventually lost her mind and was committed to a psychiatric hospital.
After Lincoln was killed, the building was purchased by the United States government and housed offices for various government entities. A report says that a woman whose last name was either Smith or Smithers worked as a secretary in the building and became very depressed soon after she started her job. One morning she woke up, served her husband and their four children breakfast, then shot them as they ate, before turning the shotgun on herself.
On June 9, 1893, the building was used as the clerk’s office for the War Department when the front of the building suddenly collapsed, killing 22 people inside and seriously injuring 68 more. After the building was repaired it was used as a warehouse for many years before it reopened as a museum and theater. But there are still those who believe ghosts haunt the historic structure and recount the fates of many acquainted with Ford’s Theatre and the Lincoln assassination.
Over the years there have been reports of strange happenings and ghostly apparitions in the theater. Some have claimed to glimpse Abraham Lincoln in the booth where he was shot, or to have spotted a grief stricken Mary Todd Lincoln. Are these sightings real, or simply the result of over active imaginations? Who knows? But if the spirits of those who have gone on before us can linger in this world, I think a place that has seen as much tragedy as Ford’s Theatre would be a fitting place for them to hang out.
Today is your last chance to enter our Free Drawing for an autographed copy of John and Kathy Huggins newly updated and expanded So, You Want to be an RVer?: Celebrating the RV Lifestyle. This is the guide to RVing that every wannabe, newbie, and veteran RVer should have on their bookshelf. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn this evening.