It was the evening of April 14, 1865. The weather was thick and heavy, with a thin layer of fog spread across the city like a sheet stretched over a mattress. I figured that the play would start soon, so I made my way up to the lighting and sound booth, at the top of the auditorium, where I normally sat through shows alongside my co-workers at Ford’s Theatre. I took a seat towards the end as not to be in anyone’s way, my legs dangling off the edge of the platform, my arms resting on a bar running across the middle. I kept track of the people who came in and took their seats, until the auditorium was mostly full. From watching the audience, I knew that I was not the only one who kept throwing anxious glances towards the President’s Box. However it wasn’t long until the grandfather clock rang at 8 o’clock. There was a shift of dismay in the crowd as the curtain rose for the first act. The Lincoln’s were still not present.
It was approximately 30 minutes into the performance when there was a hush and the show was paused. The Lincolns stood in the box, accompanied not by the Grants, but by a young couple I would later find out to be Henry Rathbone and his fiancee Clara Harris. The President was dressed in a black suit and white gloves as well as a black overcoat, while the First Lady wore black and white striped dress, most likely made of silk, and a matching bonnet. The entire audience stood as the orchestra led “Hail to the Chief.” whispers murmured and small conversations began, but were hushed when all were seated and the play resumed.
The play held my interest, with its main character, Asa Trenchard, playing a stereotypical rash American, standing out from the formal English family. The play was in its third and final act, and Asa was having a conversation with Mrs. Mountchessington. After confessing that the inheritance was not left to him, Augusta had been dismissed to go to her room, and Asa was being confronted by her mother.
“I am aware, Mr. Trenchard, you are not used to the manners of good society, and that, alone, will excuse the impertinence of which you have been guilty.” said Mrs. Mountchessington, addressing how Asa had spoken to her daughter.
“Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal--you sockdologizing old man-trap-” Asa begin to reply, pausing as the audience burst into an explosion of laughter. The laughter faded and instead a scream pierced through the auditorium. Everyone looked to the President’s Box. Even from my poor seating by the lights I could see Mrs. Lincoln holding her husband, screaming. Blood running down her dress, staining the white portion of her dress. The entire audience at that point was screaming and gasping in shock. Still in the box, Mr. Rathbone was fighting someone. The shooter. A sound that resembled stepping in half melted snow echoed throughout the building, along with a deep groan. The man who had shot the President jumped from the box to the stage, yelling words that were incoherent over the crowd’s gasps and screams. He then ran out the exit, a trail of blood following him.
The entire audience was in tears, many holding one another, muffling the sobs. The President’s Box was a mess of emotion, and trying to revive their husband, friend, and leader. As for me I was in a state of shock, like an abandoned building covered in dust, frozen in the moment.Authorities arrived shortly after the shooting, shouting orders and rolling like a thunderstorm, shaking me to consciousness. After retrieving the President they exited, the storm passing into a soft rumble. My friend William walked onto the stage, avoiding the blood spills.
“Excuse me ladies a gentleman-” Will announced, his voice trembling and his complexion paler than normal. “I am here to inform you all that our show for this evening has been canceled. I apologize greatly on behalf of myself as well as the theatre. I am also here to update you of the night’s events. Our late President, Mr. Lincoln, was shot, and his guest Mr.Rathbone was stabbed. We do not know who the culprit was however, we have been notified that police are looking for him, and any accomplices. It is believed that the injuries our President received are fatal, and Mr. Rathbone should survive, however both are being cared for at the Petersen House across the street. I advise frequenting in reading the daily paper for any advancements in this case. If you all would follow me in an orderly fashion, I will take you out the back door as not to-tamper with any evidence.”
Small whispers of conversation bubbled across the audience as they rose to their feet and followed Will behind the stage and out the back door. However, I couldn’t move. I was frozen in place. I sat there staring at the Box unblinking until my eyes felt like a dessert. I don’t know how long I stayed like that but I was shaken from hypnotic state when Will yelled my name.
“Yeah?” I let out a weak response.
“Boss man said that you could go home for the night,” Will said. His face still had a ghostly cast. I merely nodded my head, muttering for him not to wait up for me. I took my time crawling out of my rafter seat, as well as descending down the flights of stairs. There were a million thoughts racing through my mind, however I couldn’t comprehend any of them. I decided to take the back door, not wanting to see the aftermath across the street. I locked the door behind me and began on my way home, the screams of Mary Lincoln following me all the way.