Walt Whitman Way runs off 10th Street in downtown Washington, D.C., a few blocks toward the National Mall from Ford's Theatre, where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.
Whitman often walked through the theater's neighborhood, and revered the slain president. Whitman's "Speciman Days" gives one of the best portraits of the rough U.S. capital during the Civil War, and he wrote the impassioned elegies to Lincoln, "Captain, Oh My Captain" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed."
The past, present and future come together in the corridor, filled with museums, historic buildings, monuments, government offices and modern commercial developments.
Whitman visited wounded soldiers who lay in cots crowded into the U.S. Patent Office, now the National Portrait Gallery. He sought to raise the young men's spirits, telling them jokes and stories and bringing them pencils, paper and candy.
At Ford's Theatre, the future is represented by school groups that line up to tour the downstairs museum, with extensive exhibits on Lincoln's presidency and the Civil War.
A gallery gives an in-depth rendering of John Wilkes Booth's chilling plot to kill the president and members of his cabinet. Booth's co-conspirators are represented by ghostly statues. The single-shot derringer with which Booth killed the president gives stark witness to history.
The presidential booth, decorated with bunting as on the night of the assassination, rises above the stage where plays are still performed.
On that pleasant spring night several days after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, Lincoln and his wife, Mary, attended the theater for a performance of the comedy "Our American Cousin." Booth, a famous actor, gained entrance to the booth and shot Lincoln in the back of the head, leaping to the stage below and breaking his left leg.
Lincoln was carried to the Peterson House across 10th street, and laid diagonally in a bed because of his height. He died at 7:22 the next morning. The house where the president died remains, but has been closed to the public because of the pandemic.
On nearby H Street, Booth co-conspirator Mary Surratt, executed by hanging, ran a boarding house. The street, leading to Chinatown and the Capital One Arena, pulses with bars, hotels and restaurants.
Lincoln, a Shakespeare admirer, would be happy that plays are still performed at Ford's Theatre. Along with books on the slain president, the site's gift shop honors the theater. I was pleased to find a copy of the Penguin Classics edition of Damon Runyon's "Guys and Dolls and Other Writings."
At the Ford Museum, young students appeared enthralled by Lincoln's presidency and Civil War leadership. A salute to their teachers for bringing them to a place where history’s real.