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Abraham Lincoln - Petersen House

Museums, Galleries and Archives (National Museums and Smithsonian Affiliates)

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The Petersen House, known as “The House Where Abraham Lincoln Died,” is a National Historic Site and part of the Ford’s Theatre complex. After being mortally wounded, President Lincoln was moved from Ford’s Theatre across the street to the Petersen House where he died the next morning.

Lincoln marker on the Petersen House, "The House Where Lincoln Died."
Front View of the Petersen House from across the street, near Ford's Theatre. Lincoln was removed from Ford's Theatre and taken to the nearest place for medical care. Doctor's tried to treat Lincoln's wound but could do nothing.

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The Petersen House was built by a German immigrant and tailor, William A. Peterson, where he lived with his immigrant wife and 10 children.  While built as a private home, the extra rooms in the house were rented out for boarding.  As many as 21 persons had resided there at a given time.  During the Civil War, Petersen had built up a fortune by tailoring uniforms for military officers.

On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was attending nearby Ford’s Theatre when the famous actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth shot him in the head and escaped.  Believing Lincoln would not survive a trip back to the White House, and not wanting the president to die in a theater box, Dr. Leale and other patrons carried the president’s body outside Ford’s Theater.  One of the group asked “Where can we take him?”  Petersen house boarder Henry Stafford heard the commotion, leaned out his window, and yelled, “Bring him in here!”  Lincoln was carried to a back room too small for his mourners with a bed too short for his 6’4” body.  Mrs. Lincoln followed, as boarder George Francis wrote, “She was perfectly frantic ‘Where is my husband!’ ‘Where is my husband!’ .... she approached his bedside...bent over him, kissing him again and again, exclaiming ‘How can it be so? Do speak to me!’ " 

Visitors came and went all night long.  Some ninety people came and went.  Cabinet members, generals, congressmen, and Vice President Andrew Johnson were allowed inside.  Guards were posted to keep others out. As expected by doctors, Lincoln never gained consciousness.  His breathing and blood pressure declined throughout the night.  James Tanner, a government clerk who lived next door, was in the room taking notes. Among the sorrow and dread, he noted “the utmost silence pervaded, broken only by the sounds of strong men’s tears.”  Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th President, expired at 7:22 a.m. on April 15.  A doctor placed silver half-dollars on Lincoln’s eyelids.  A pastor said a prayer.  Secretary Stanton saluted and said ‘Now he belongs to the angels” (or “ages,” witnesses differ).  After 9 a.m., Lincoln’s remains were put into a temporary coffin and transported to the White House.  Minutes later, boarder Julius Ulke took a photograph of the president’s death bed.  About that time, chaos broke out in the house.

William Petersen, absent during the president’s vigil, returned to find his house overrun by souvenir hunters.  Angry at the trespassers, Petersen began charging them admission to be there.  His son cut the president’s shirt, towels, and sheets into pieces and handed them out.  Soon, hundreds of people were arriving daily to see boarder William Clark’s room. According to Clark,  “whoever comes in has to be closely watched for fear they will steal something.”  Those not satisfied with mementos from the Petersen House also began tearing pieces away from Ford’s Theatre.

The Petersens continued to live in the house and rent rooms up until their death in 1870.  In 1878, the building was bought by attorney Louis but the growing number of unwelcome visitors grew tiresome and he leased or sold the house to the Memorial Association of D.C. in 1896.  

The memorial group gave permission to Osborn Oldroyd—Civil War veteran and Lincoln collector—to move into the building and run his own Lincoln museum until he died in 1930.  Notable artifacts included the Lincoln Family bible, Lincoln’s White House chair, and an alleged log from the Lincoln home.  In 1926, Oldroyd’s collection was purchased by the government and many items were moved next door to the Lincoln Museum in Ford’s Theate.  From 1932 to 1959, five women’s patriotic organizations and the Department of Interior worked to renovate the Peterson House, restoring it to its 1865 appearance.  In 2007 the building was purchased by the Ford’s Theatre Society, incorporating the Peterson House into a larger historical site and tourist attraction.

Sources

"Abraham Lindoln's Assassination." History.com. 2009. Accessed August 12, 2016. http://www.history.com/topics/abraham-lincoln-assassination. Miller, Richard E. "Abraham Lincoln." Historical Marker Database. June 16, 2016. Accessed August 12, 2016. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=28502. "Petersen House." Ford's Theatre. Accessed August 12, 2016. http://www.fords.org/home/plan-your-visit/daytime-visits-fords-theatre/petersen-house. "Return to the Scene of the Crime." Chicago Historical Society. Accessed August 12, 2016. http://chicagohistory.org/wetwithblood/return/petersen3.htm. "The Petersen House." National Park Service. Accessed August 12, 2016. https://www.nps.gov/foth/the-petersen-house.htm. "Petersen House." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. July 29, 2016. Accessed August 12, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petersen_House.

Address
516 10th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Phone Number
(202) 347-4833
Hours
9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas
Tags
  • Cultural History
  • Historic Homes
  • Political and Diplomatic History
  • State Historical Societies and Museums
This location was created on 2015-12-01 by Alexandria Cook, Marshall University; Instructed by David J. Trowbridge.   It was last updated on 2016-08-12 by Daniel Preece .

This entry has been viewed 292 times within the past year


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