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Finishing a late night of work I found myself inexorably pulled from my route home, captured in a historic tractor beam. Deviating from Pennsylvania Avenue I took the turn up 11th and then E until I was standing between Ford’s Theater and the Peterson House…the place where 150 years ago, at that moment, Abraham Lincoln lay dying.

Gaslamp Ford's Theater
Looking down 10th Street in the middle of the night.

Even at 2am dozens were in the street, still more touring the crime scene. Performers and historians in period costumes roamed the scene as apparitions under a gaslit section of street. The red and blue lights of the DC police squad cars blocking traffic off tenth street flashed of modernity; but, standing there it was a chance to relish the past. To strip away the asphalt and the electric streetlights. To turn off the neon open sign of the waffle shop next door. To let the steel and the glass facades of the visitor center recede into antebellum origins.

I imagined the panic and the fear that must have gripped this block. The rumors and reports of other assassination attempts on members of the cabinet. The weather couldn’t have been too dissimilar, on the cusp of chilly with hints of summer. Washington turning the corner for warmth and sunshine from a cold winter of war now, instead, facing the darkest day yet.

Anniversaries of historic events are funny things. We’ve been in lock step with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War for four years now. When you really think about it, it’s an awkward thing to celebrate…the anniversary of our deadliest war. But it is important. And these memorials and reflections and commemorations and dedications each offer a chance to add another dimension to an age lost to the daguerreotype. Being in the midst of the moment as it happens lends a new understanding to the uncertainty that must have run rampant through the streets of what would eventually become the locus of world power thanks to that man who lay dying.

 

I would have killed to be in the field for this story, instead I was in studio. But I still watched the livestream of Ford’s Theater “Now He Belongs to the Ages: A Lincoln Commemoration”. I watched as David Selby brought Lincoln to life on the date of his death in a program opened by Colin Powell. All of the dignitaries, musicians and stage actors bowing to an empty flag-draped box that seemingly floats above the infamous stage. And as the lights dimmed, hundreds took to 10th street in candlelight vigil for a president dead 150 years ago. If only John Wilkes Booth could see such a moment…to see how he epically failed in his mission. To see how his attempt to breath new life into the Confederacy instead cemented a Union, turning a president into a hero for the ages.

This is why I love living in Washington, for moments and opportunities like these. To be woken up to the tolling of bells at the moment Lincoln would draw his final breath. To walk the streets that throbbed with police executing the largest manhunt in American history. And being able catch a historical seam offering a glimmer into one of the most transformative events of this republic’s history.

 

Tags : American HistoryCivil WarDCFord's TheaterHistoryLincolntravel
Kris Ankarlo

The author Kris Ankarlo

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