Ford's Theatre is the site where President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.
The campus includes the historic theatre, museum, Peterson House (the house where Lincoln died), and an education center about the Aftermath.
There are many ways to visit Ford's Theatre & Museum, this post explains the different types of Ford's Theatre tickets and explains what you can expect on a tour of Ford's Theatre.
FORD'S THEATRE HOURS
Ford’s Theater is one of the most iconic sites in Washington, D.C. Visiting the theater and retracing the final hours of Abraham Lincoln’s life is an experience you will remember forever.
This section lists the information you need to visit or take a tour.
Ford's Theatre is open DAILY.
- Box Office: 8:30 am - 5:00 pm (8:00 pm for performances)
- Historic Site Hours: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
The final entry into the museum is at 4:00 pm.
Ford’s Theatre is a working theater, so please note that occasionally the theater may be closed due to performances or rehearsals as well as private events.
To visit Ford’s Theatre you will need a ticket.
The theater is technically free and a limited number of free tickets are available each morning at the box office at 8:30 am.
Advanced Reservations are highly recommended, and you will need to pay a convenience fee to get an advanced reservation. These tickets cost $3.50 per person. Every person, regardless of age, requires a ticket to Ford's Theatre.
You can also call the theatre directly on the day of your visit to confirm about same-day tickets: 202-347-4833.
- Online Advance Tickets: Cost $3.50/ticket for individuals. We recommend this option during peak spring and summer seasons if you have limited time.
If you cannot get tickets to enter Ford's Theatre, a great alternative is our Lincoln Assassination tour. We consider a tour a companion to a visit to Ford's Theatre, following in Lincoln's footsteps from the White House to the theatre's doors on the night of April 14, 1865.
We discuss the whys, the hows, and the who else was attacked that night.
TYPES OF FORD'S THEATRE TICKETS:
There are different ticket options for visiting Ford's Theatre. When you visit the ticket schedule, you'll notice each time lists different options.
If you don't want to figure it out, we can arrange tickets for you to enter Ford's Theatre as part of a private Lincoln Assassination walking tour.
FORD'S THEATRE MUSEUM
This is a small but thorough museum about Lincoln's presidency and the story behind his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
The museum is self-guided, and most visitors spend about 30 minutes.
The most impactful exhibits on display are:
- John Wilkes Booth's Deringer: the gun that shot Lincoln is on display in a small alcove to the right of the entrance stairs.
- The piece of wood Booth used to block the door
- The bloody pillow from the bed where Lincoln died
- Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass' friendship
While most tickets will include a museum visit, not all do. Some of the Ranger Talk tickets do not allow you to access the museum.
HISTORIC FORD'S THEATRE
While nearly everything inside the main theatre is a recreation from the mid 20th century, it still has the look and feel of the historic theatre. Much will look the same as it did that fateful night.
You can see the President's Box, where Lincoln was sitting. On select days, you can walk up to the door to the box to peer inside, but most often, you'll find the only view is from the seats in the theatre - make sure you head to the left (if you're looking at the stage) side of the theatre to see the best view of the box from across the way.
Since Ford's Theatre is a working theatre with modern productions, the stage may be set up for whatever show is being performed.
There are three ticket options for access to Ford's Theatre.
NOTE: Not all tickets have theatre access - be sure to check if the time slot you want includes it!
A 30-minute play performed in the historic theatre that tells the story of the assassination from the point of view of people who worked there. These tickets are an additional $5 and are only available in Spring and Summer.
- Pros: This is a creative idea and a short play so even younger visitors can sit through it!
- Cons: It can be very confusing if you do not already know the storyline of Lincoln's Assassination. A few actors play many characters with little props, so it can be hard to follow.
A US Park Ranger will be on the stage of the theatre to discuss the events leading up to and during the assassination. This is a 15-30 minute talk. You get a short time to walk around the theatre as you go to the seats to listen.
- Pros: If you are not able to take our Lincoln Assassination tour, it's a good way to get a better understanding of why this was a pivotal event.
- Cons: The park rangers are hired for their knowledge rather than for their performance skills. We even fell asleep in the comfortable chairs after a long day of touring. It can be hit or miss depending on the ranger on duty that day. You also may not have a chance to get the good photo you want if its a crowded day.
- Many Ranger Talks are attended by school groups as a member of our Facebook Group discovered!
The theatre is open for you to walk through to look around from the balcony (the best view, anyway!) Most often, a park ranger is on duty to answer any questions.
- Pros: You can take the time and get the right view for the photos you want and are not stuck in the theatre for longer than you want.
- Cons: If you want to understand the event in depth, you might not get all the information from the museum. Though you can always take our Lincoln Assassination tour - guides are hired for knowledge AND ability to entertain while educating.
PETERSON'S BOARDING HOUSE
This is the House where Lincoln Died. Almost all tickets to Ford's Theatre will also include this.
The building is across the street, so you must exit Ford's Theatre and line up again at the stairs of Peterson's Boarding House to enter. These are not timed, so you can come back to visit Peterson's any time that day after your Ford's Theater ticket. Just note that it closes at 5 pm.
This exhibit is mostly the one room at the back of the boarding house where Lincoln took his final breath. Most items are not original, but the first-floor rooms have been recreated to look the same.
AFTERMATH EXHIBITS (Currently Closed as of Feb 2024)
This part of the Education Center is accessible from the back porch of Peterson's Boarding House, where you'll head to the top and work your way down through the days after Lincoln's assassination.
The aftermath focuses on the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and Lincoln's Funeral Train.
You'll also learn about how Lincoln's life and death impacted the world.
You can find the schedule for up to two months on Ford's Theatre's website.
Audio Guides & Tours of Ford's Theatre
Ford’s Theatre offers the chance to add a self-guided audio guide to any ticket ($5/guide).
You can purchase tickets with the audio guide when you pre-order tickets online or you can add it at the time you arrive at the theater for your entry time.
There are unique versions of the audio tour for younger visitors if you're visiting Ford's Theatre with kids.
There are no tours inside Ford's Theatre, though there are park rangers available to answer questions.
Our Lincoln Assassination tour is a great way to start or end a visit to Ford's Theatre as we discuss the events leading up to that night as well as the night of the assassination.
What to Expect
Why is Ford's Theatre important?
One of our Lincoln Assassination tour guides, Kevin Brigger, a Lincoln aficionado, explains why he thinks Ford's Theatre is important.
"Ford’s Theatre and the Peterson House are essential not only to Washington, D.C. history but U.S. history…because it was one of the first American political tragedies where the public failed to imagine the worst.
Up to that point (and for 35 years after) the President was always available to the American people. Even during the worst times of the Civil War, the general public couldn’t imagine anyone harming the president, including President Lincoln. That all changed with John Wilkes Booth pulling the trigger.
Ford’s Theatre displays this history, tells the horrific story of that evening… and Peterson House showcases the magnetic energy of those final 7 hours of Abraham Lincoln’s life."
Members of our Washington DC Travel Tips Facebook group also think its an important museum!
How long to spend at Ford's Theatre?
This is probably the most frequently asked questions about a visit to Ford's Theatre in our Facebook Group:
How much time to spend on a visit to Ford's Theatre depends on the type of ticket you have.
It also can depend on the type of visitor you are - are you looking to get the general gist and take a few photos?
...or really learn more about Lincoln's Assassination?
If you get the audio tour to use on your visit, you'll need more time.
What you'll see at Ford's Theatre Museum
If your ticket includes a visit to the basement museum, this will be the first place you go after being permitted to enter Ford's Theater campus.
The museum combines artifacts, 3-dimensional figures, and interactive exhibits to recreate Civil War in Washington, DC.
Below is a list of the exhibits covered in the museum:
- 1861 plot to assassinate President-Elect Lincoln
- Lincoln Presidential Cabinet
- Lincoln's controversial use of wartime presidential powers
- Life in the Lincoln White House
- Lincoln's relationship with Frederick Douglas
- Lincoln's love of the theater
- John Wilkes Booth and the assassination conspiracy
There are too many artifacts to list, but below are some of the museum's highlights.
The museum houses several of the artifacts found in John Wilkes Booth's possession when he was killed by the U.S. Army Calvary, including his diary, a compass, and some photographs of lady friends.
But the prized possession is the single-shot Deringer used to assassinate Lincoln.
Most people are pulled to the black coat that he was wearing when he was killed, as well as the blood-stained pillowcase from the Peterson House across the street.
The collection also comprises items owned by the other conspirators, including Dr. Samuel Mudd's medical kit used by the doctor when setting Booth's broken leg when Booth paid a visit shortly after shooting the president.
Many people are surprised to find out that Lincoln's top hat he wore that evening as well as the rocking chair he was sitting in are not at Ford's Theatre, rather they are at museums across the US.
PRO TIP: If you are purchasing a ticket for a live performance at the theater, you will likely have access to the museum after the show.
Still, the primary focus of the visitor experience to Ford's Theatre is the main theatre.
Following the assassination of Lincoln, Ford's Theater ceased operating as a theater. It was purchased by the U.S. government and turned into administrative offices until it was returned to use as a theater.
As a result, the entire main theater is a reconstruction based on the original building blueprints.
Despite not being original, the feel is still very authentic.
Inside Lincoln's Box
One experience you won't have is viewing the VIP box where Abraham Lincoln and his party enjoyed the play Our American Cousin. To preserve the box, it is closed to the public but you can view it from within the theatre.
PETERSON'S BOARDING HOUSE
As mentioned above, all tickets to Ford's Theater include access to the Peterson's Boarding House across the street from the theater itself.
Lincoln was brought here after being shot when the doctors attending to him felt that he could not survive the almost 1-mile journey to the White House on DC's muddy and bumpy roads.
Owned by William Peterson, a tailor who was contracted out by the U.S. War Department to make military uniforms.
Like other homeowners with spare rooms, Peterson rented several rooms to boarders. When one of these boarders noticed soldiers carrying a wounded man during a considerable commotion, he called for the man to be brought into the house.
Lincoln was brought to a back room, which you will see on a visit here, and laid down on a bed that was too short for Lincoln's 6' 4" (2 m) tall frame.
Those attending to him had to lay him down diagonally so that he would fit.
In a disturbing irony, this same bed had been reportedly used by Booth for a nap one month earlier when the assassin visited fellow actor and friend Charles Warwick, who was renting the room.
PRO TIP: If you are traveling during peak season and your ticket includes a ranger talk, be sure to position yourself toward the rear of the theater so that you will be among the first people to line up for entry to the Peterson's Boarding House.
This line could take up to 30 minutes to filter through, and you don't want to be standing for very long in the hot and humid DC summer.
Alternatively, you could revisit the museum and wait out the line to enter Peterson's Boarding House.
After you've visited the bottom floor of Peterson's House, you have two choices.
Take the glass door in the back and down the stairs for a quick exit. You'll exit out the front of Peterson's House underneath the stairs.
But if you have time, you can visit the continued exhibits in the Education Center. Think of it as an epilogue to the story of Lincoln's assassination.
The Center for Education & Leadership is accessible by an elevator next to the room where Lincoln died. Take it to the 4th floor to begin at the top and work your way down.
On this top floor, you will learn about what happened after Lincoln's death. John Wilkes Booth was on the run for nearly two weeks.
In this gallery, follow in his footsteps and see a replica of the wooden slats of the barn where he was killed by a Union soldier.
There is a reason visitors come from all over the world to pay respects to President Lincoln.
Learn about how he has influenced and inspired generations. Videos bring Lincoln to life with remixes and pop culture references to our 16th president.
As you walk between the floors, you'll descend a spiral staircase that wraps around one of the most unique and probably most Instagrammed features.
A 34-foot (10.3m) tall tower of books that represents 205 real titles of books written about Abraham Lincoln.
They are not real books but are made out of aluminum with the front covers of the books printed on to display 6500 "books" stacked up to the top floor of the building.
PLAYS AND PERFORMANCES AT FORD'S THEATRE
Ford’s Theatre is a working theatre and the chance to see world-class theatrical performances in a unique historical setting is one of the perks of visiting Washington, D.C.!
Be sure to check Ford’s performance schedule and consider attending a show there - and if you visit during the Christmas holidays, you must see A Christmas Carol!
Ticket prices for most plays range from $25-38 - a great deal for the quality of the shows.
During the spring and summer, Ford’s Theatre presents a special one-act play called One Destiny, which explores the key facts of the assassination through the eyes of those who witnessed it!
The play is ideal for families with children ages eight and up - it really brings history to life.
Other plays and musicals run several weeks at a time throughout the year. Ford's Theatre has a performance season similar to regular working theatres.
PRO TIP: If you want a good view of the President's Box, select seats in the Left Orchestra (but not too far back) or in the Left Balcony.
However, you will have a chance before, during intermission, and after the play to get out of your seat and get a good photo of the President's Box.
You can visit the Museum while at a play at Ford's Theatre!
The Ford's Theatre Museum is open one hour before performance time and during intermission.
Your performance ticket can also be used to visit the Petersen House before 5:00 p.m.