Monday, December 17, 2012

Ford’s Theatre: What a sham!

Continuing with the assassination theme, I always wanted to go to Ford’s Theatre. I’ve been to Washington, DC a few times and have visited most of the sites, but I’ve never been to Ford’s Theatre. Now, I don’t think I want to go, and here’s why.

The Ford’s Theatre building contains nothing of the original theater building, save for maybe the exterior bricks. In 1865, when Lincoln was assassinated, the building had recently been rebuilt in 1863 following a fire. After Lincoln’s assassination the building was altered in several ways:

Alteration #1: After Lincoln’s assassination, the government bought the building and converted it into an office building, thus removing all the theater-interior. It served this purpose until…
Alteration #2: In 1893, the theater building interior collapsed, killing 44 government workers. Only a majority of the brick fa├žade stood. It was gutted during the clean-up and investigation.
Alteration #3: The interior was rebuilt around the turn of the last century, but again as a storage/office building, not as a theater.
Alteration #4: In the 1950s, the government decided to return the interior to a theater, completing the construction in 1968.
Alteration #5: The interior was again becoming dated, so it was again nearly completely renovated in 2008.

So the interior you are going to see is basically a brand-new representation of what the theater looked like in 1865. But don’t expect to see the actual location of the assassination.

Morbidly, the museum has on display the blood-stained black Brooks Brothers overcoat Lincoln was wearing that evening…probably the only interesting actual artifact tying the location to the assassination. They claim they also have on display Booth’s gun he used to shoot Lincoln. The chair in which Lincoln was sitting is floating around out there somewhere.


Maybe I’ll pass by Ford’s Theater if I’m in DC next, but I can’t promise I’ll be dropping the entrance fee to see a Disney-like recreation.

For more on this, check out this Washington Post article:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Where was President Garfield shot?

You might know that President James A. Garfield was assassinated, but do you know where he was shot? I mean really know where? Apparently, no one does.

First, let's review the other presidential assassination sites and how they are remembered/delineated:
Lincoln: Ford's Theater: National Historic Site, reconstructed interior, presidential booth
McKinley: Temple of Music (demolished), plaque on rock on site
Kennedy: "X" marks the spot on the roadway; plaque; museum in Dealey Plaza, Dallas
Garfield: Nada

So where was Garfield shot? The Baltimore & Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C., and it has since been demolished. It stood at the corner of Constitution Avenue and 6th Street NW on The Mall. OK, that was easy. But do we know where exactly? I set out to answer that question...

You can use the handy diagrams I drew to follow along (not to scale, but you get the idea):

The railroad station was situated at the southwest corner of North B Street (now Constitution Avenue NW) and 6th Street NW from 1877-1908. There were two entrances to the station—one on North B Street and one on 6th Street NW. On the day he was shot, Garfield entered through the North B Street entrance, which was in the middle of the North B Street facade. That facade of the building measured 137 feet, so the mid-point of the entrance was at about the 68.5-foot mark on the building, plus approximately 15 feet to the right (if facing the building) to account for how far the building sat away from the 6th Street NW curb on the left. (It appears from photos of the exterior that the entrance on that street sat about 15 feet or so from the curb.)

So the first axis to get to our assassination point would be a total of 83.5 feet to the west from the 6th Street NW curb. Also, eyewitness accounts say the assassin (Charles Guiteau) was standing inside to the left of the door that Garfield entered through, if facing it outward. Garfield was shot in the back from his right, consistent with the eyewitness accounts of from where Guiteau approached Garfield.

Getting the point on the other axis was a bit trickier. When Garfield entered from North B Street, he entered into the Ladies' Waiting Room and walked south through it, toward the General Waiting Room, presumably toward the train platforms that were on the south side of the building. The Ladies’ Waiting room measured 23 feet deep from the entrance from North B Street to the wall that had the door just to the left of the resulting plaque and star imbedded into the floor pictured in a photo taken of the room after the assassination. (The room was 23 feet by 43 feet, with the North B Street entrance and the two entrances to the General Waiting Room being on the shorter 23-foot side).

So, given the photo of the star on the floor and the room dimensions, the star appears to be about three feet into the room from the wall, or 20 feet into the room from North B Street. Given the symmetry of the building’s design, I calculated that the building sat about 15 feet from the curb on North B Street as well, for a total measurement of 35 feet south from the North B Street curb.

But where exactly did the North B Street curb lie in 1881? Turn out Constitution Avenue was widened. Constitution Avenue was once a canal for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal company and the old lock house for the canal sat at the edge of the canal. When the canal was deemed unsanitary, it was filled and made a road, B Street. Then, Constitution Avenue was widened in the 1930s. Turns out the old canal lock house was moved south 10 feet, so it can be assumed that Constitution Avenue was widened to the south by 10 feet. The lock house is still there today on The Mall by The White House.

Assuming it was widened its entire length from where the lock house is to 6th Street NW, in looking at old photos, it would appear that the original curb (before Constitution Avenue was widened) would have been about where the painted line is that separates the farthest two right lanes from the left lanes when travelling east on Constitution Avenue. It can be assumed that, given the buildings along 6th Street NW date from the era, that 6th Street NW was not widened into where the station would have stood.

So, it is my conclusion, to find the most-accurate point where Garfield was shot, measure 83.5 feet west from 6th Street NW and 35 feet south from the lane line separating the two far right lanes with the next lane over to the left, if looking east along Constitution Avenue. If done, the approximate point is at the end of the shrubby line just north of the flagpole to the right (west) of the main entrance to the National Gallery of Art.

So there you go.

Garfield didn’t die there, though. He was taken first to The White House, then to the Jersey shore to recuperate. He ended up dying there of infection. Oops.