This post is a visitor’s guide to tickets and tours for Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC as well as offer a preview of what’s to see in the museums, the theater itself and the Peterson House, where Abraham Lincoln died. 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 that you will remember for a lifetime.
To complement a visit to the theater, we highly recommend taking our Lincoln Assassination Tour!
Ford’s Theatre is open every day except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. The box office opens at 8:30 am and the first ticket time to tour the site is at 9:00 am. Final entry into the museum is 4:00 pm, final entry into the theater is 4:30 pm, and final entry into the Petersen House is at 5:00 pm. Ford’s Theatre is a working theater, so please note that occasionally the theater may be closed due to performance or rehearsals as well as private events.
To visit Ford’s Theatre, you will need a ticket. The theater is technically free, but you will need to pay a convenience fee to get advanced reservation. There are several options to obtain tickets
All tickets, regardless of entry time, include the following:
Depending on the time of day and Ford’s theatrical performance schedule, your ticket may or may not include access to the main museum in the theater’s basement. You can find the schedule for up to two months on Ford’s Theatre’s website. Below is an example of what a daily schedule looks like.
Ford’s Theatre offers the chance to add acoustiguides to any ticket ($10.25/ticket). There are two guides – one for younger visitors (appropriate for children ages 8 and up) and one for adults/teenagers. The guides come with a map of the site and where different audio content is available and offer an excellent supplement to a visit to the theater.
You can purchase tickets with acoustiguides when you pre-order tickets online or you can add acoustiguides at the time you arrive at the theater for your entry time.
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 Washington, DC. Below is a list of the exhibits covered in the museum, a map of the museum layout and a virtual tour video.
Highlights of the Museum Artifacts
There are too many artifacts to list, but below are some of the highlights of the museum. The museum houses several of the artifacts found on 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 Derringer used to assassination Lincoln.
The museum also houses several artifacts on Lincoln’s possession on that fateful night, including a $5 bill of Confederate States of America currency, but most people are pulled to the black coat that he was wearing when he was killed as well as the blood stained pillow case from the Peterson House across the street. The collection also comprises of 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 in the Chicago area.
Two common complaints are that the 30 minutes given to guests to explore the museum before heading up to the ranger talk in the theater is simply not enough time (and we agree). The second complaint is that, especially during the busy spring and summer months, the museum can become extremely crowded.
Still the primary focus of the visitor experience to Ford’s Theatre, the main theater is either the first thing people see (unless their ticket includes the museum) when they enter the campus. 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.
15 Minute Park Ranger Talk
If you can get tickets that include a ranger talk, we recommend this option. If not, the theater walk-thru with a question and answer session is what you will experience, which may or may not be informative enough for some. We’ve posted a video of a 15 minute talk by a U.S. park ranger. Sometimes, a Park Service volunteer gives the talk from the stage. Despite some complaints about the lack of enthusiasm of the rangers, we find that most are good at telling the assassination story. Of course, nothing beats our Lincoln Assassination Walking Tour.
Listen to Joseph H. Haselton, an eyewitness to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
Inside Lincoln’s Box
One experience you won’t have is viewing the VIP box where Abraham Lincoln and his party were enjoying Our American Cousin. Below is a video from CNN with an exclusive look inside.
As mentioned above, all tickets to Ford’s Theater include access to the Peterson 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 home owners with spare rooms, Peterson rented out several rooms to boarders. When one of these boarders noticed soldiers carrying a wounded man during a huge commotion, this boarder called for the man to be brought into the house.
Lincoln was brought to a back room, which you will see, and laid down on a bed, a bed that was too short for Lincoln’s 6′ 4″ (2 m) long 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 1 month earlier when the assassin visited fellow actor and friend Charles Warwick, who was renting the room.
Pro Tips: 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 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.
After you’ve visited the bottom floor of Peterson’s House, you have two choices. For a quick exit, take the glass door in the back and down the stairs. You’ll exit out the front of Peterson’s House underneath the stairs.
But if you have time, make good use of the continued exhibits in the Education Center. Think of it as an epilougue 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.
Aftermath Gallery – at 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.
Legacy Gallery – 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.
Leadership Gallery – As of July 2016, this special exhibit hall focuses on Lincoln through the lens of one of his most valued traits, his leadership skills. See examples of men and women who exemplify this trait from around the world.
As you walk between the floors, you’ll descend down 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 represent of 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.
Ford’s Theatre is a working theatre and the chance to see world-class theatrical performances in a unique historical settings 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!
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.
The 2016-2017 Theatre Schedule includes the new play Come From Away – catch it now because it is headed to Broadway! Ticket prices for most plays range from $25-38 – a great deal for the quality of the shows.
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, intermission, and after the play to get out of your seat and get a good photo of the President’s Box.
You can use 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 p.m.