Front-row seats to President Lincoln's assassination—excessively rare tickets for Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865
Exceedingly rare pair of original front-row balcony tickets to the production of 'Our American Cousin' at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865, during which President Abraham Lincoln was shot by assassin John Wilkes Booth. Each ticket measures 4.25 x 1.75 and is stamped at the center: "Ford's Theatre, APR 14, 1865, This Night Only." The left sides of the tickets are imprinted, "Ford's Theatre., Friday., Dress Circle!," and are filled out in pencil with section ("D") and seat numbers ("41" and "42"). The right sides are clipped, evidently by the ticket-taker when presented for admission, and carry the printed signature of "Jas. R. Ford, Business Manager." Includes an envelope annotated in a contemporary hand: "Front Seats, Dress Circle, Reserved, Complimentary, Fords Theatre, April 14, 1865, (Night of Assassination of President Lincoln)." The tickets are in very good condition, with fragile central vertical folds, some light creasing, and one with a chipped lower corner.
The circular April 14th-dated stamp is an exact match to those seen on known, authentic tickets: foremost, a used ticket stub in the collection of Harvard University's Houghton Library, bequest by Evert Jansen Wendell in 1918. The Harvard stub, which consists of only the left half of the ticket—and is, to our knowledge, the only other used April 14th Ford's Theatre ticket extant—was filled out in pencil with seat assignments in a similar manner to these two; the placement of the stamp, at front center, also corresponds to these tickets. The stamp also appears on an unused, yellow 'Orchestra' level ticket held by the Shapell Manuscript Foundation, and on the backs of unused tickets published in the Restoration of Ford's Theatre Historic Structures Report.
Provenance: The Forbes Collection of American Historical Documents, Christie's, October 9, 2002.
John Wilkes Booth always wanted to be famous—and he achieved that immortal notoriety, though not in the way he originally envisioned. Though rightly notorious for assassinating Abraham Lincoln, Booth was already a well-known actor; he said that of all Shakespearean characters, his favorite role was Brutus, the slayer of a tyrant. In 1863, Booth performed for the first time at Ford's Theatre in Washington, taking the lead in The Marble Heart. Among his admiring audience was President Abraham Lincoln himself, who rapturously applauded Booth’s performance.
The scene at Ford's Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865, has been well documented through newspaper reports, eyewitness accounts, and countless tellings and re-tellings of the tragedy. The holders of these tickets, seated more or less directly across from the president's box, would have had a perfect view of the harrowing events. During the third act, Booth entered the president's box from the rear, fired a bullet into the back of his head, and vaulted over the railing onto the stage. Brandishing a dagger overhead, Booth reportedly borrowed from Brutus and shouted 'sic semper tyrannis'—'thus always to tyrants'—before making his escape. An illustration published in Harper's Weekly, April 29, 1865, features an artist's concept of the aftermath of the slaying, drawn from the "Dress Circle" level at about the same angle as these seats in "Section D."
This type of Ford's Theatre ticket for April 14, 1865, is exceedingly rare—auction records reveal no other examples offered since their original sale as part of the Forbes Collection in 2002.
For more, see "Tickets to Ford’s Theatre: The Eyewitnesses of Lincoln’s Assassination" on our blog.