National Geographic : 1970 Mar
carpet of the same red-and-white design, between walls covered by dark-red Victorian paper. Here stands the original red-damask sofa, with a copy of Mrs. Lincoln's chair and other guest furniture. In place is a replica of the carved walnut rocker where Lincoln slumped silently (page 396). "They maneuvered his long body into this cramped hallway," said Park Service His torian John Lissimore, as we followed the same route. "They took him up this aisle, holding back the frenzied crowd, then down these side steps and across to the Petersen House [right]. He died there at 7:22 the next morning, without regaining consciousness." The War Department closed John Ford's theater the night of the assassination; public outcry prevented its reopening. The Govern ment first leased, then bought the property, remodeling it for storage and office use. Another catastrophe blackened the build ing's history in 1893. Overloaded floors col lapsed and fell 30 feet, killing 22 Government employees and injuring 65. For the next four decades the old theater was used only for storage. Then its ground floor was turned into the Lincoln Museum that so charmed a generation of visitors like myself. It was thus a logical and happy conclusion when in 1954 Congress began to vote funds ultimately more than three million dollars that would restore to the American people this charming 19th-century theater. Brady Photographs Aided Reconstruction "We had all kinds of building problems," said William M. Haussmann, the project's design and construction chief, as we stood on the restored stage looking down on sightseers moving up and down the aisles. "The whole interior had to be gutted. We dug a new basement and rebuilt a complete theater inside walls that would have crum bled into the hole without special shoring. "Because we could never find the original plans, scholars had to track down details from old records, pictures, and sketches of this and other theaters of the time. Our best informa tion came from photographs made by the great Civil War photographer Mathew Brady right after the assassination. "A few modern changes were necessary," Mr. Haussmann added. "People are bigger now, so the cane-bottom chairs for the audi ence had to be bigger. The present theater seats only about 700. Ford squeezed in more than twice that many. We also had to provide 400 NTO A BACK BEDROOM of the Petersen House, across from Ford's, men carried the unconscious Lincoln. Death came nine hours later as his son Robert stood by. Mrs. Lincoln, inconsolable, lay in the front par lor. This recent painting shows a newsboy hawking accounts of the murder; the poster at right announces Ford's play at the time. EOPENED January 21, 1968, after a three million-dollar restoration, Ford's The atre brings Washington a needed new stage. Though the builder's plans have nev er been found, researchers gleaned essential details from old pictures and documents. Today's box office, next door at right, was the Star Saloon, where Booth downed a last drink before invading the President's box. electricity instead of gas in footlights and wall globes. But Ford and Lincoln would both recognize this theater as you see it." When I walked into the large circular hall created below for the new Lincoln Museum, I felt that the man from Illinois would also recognize much on display. Long, curved cases hold copies of works young Lincoln read-Pilgrim'sProgress and Parson Weems's Life of George Washington. You see the cradle in which his children slept, and models of his inventions to improve wagon steering and to refloat grounded boats. Lawbooks and campaign cartoons recall his legal and political careers.