Walk Through History With Ford’s Theatre

Posted April 20, 2010 at 4:26pm

Ford’s Theatre has devised a fun way for Washingtonians to explore their city through the lens of history. Now that the ground has thawed, the theater will be offering walking tours that take patrons back to the 1860s.

The theater offers two tours, each led by a costumed actor who delivers a scripted performance. Both tours begin at Ford’s Theatre and cover 1.5 to two miles of the D.C. cityscape.

The original walking tour, “Investigation: Detective McDevitt,” was written by Richard Hellesen and launched in 2008. The two-hour tour takes visitors back to April 1865, just after President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre.

“It’s structured as if the assassination has just occurred, so those who are on the tour are involved in an interactive hunt for Booth and the conspirators,” says Matthew McGloin, one of three actors who play McDevitt.

The tour is essentially a two-mile stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest that concludes at the White House. Along the way, the guide shares firsthand accounts of what happened on the night of the assassination as well as photos from the time.

Last year, Ford’s Theatre debuted a second walking tour, “A Free Black Woman: Elizabeth Keckly,” which also has Lincoln ties. This tour is led by actress Danielle Drakes, who portrays Keckly, a slave who purchased her freedom and eventually became Mary Todd Lincoln’s seamstress and confidant. This walking tour is set in 1868 and shows D.C. through the eyes of a black woman.

“I talk about how K Street was the unofficial city boundary during that time,” Drakes says. “South of K, it wasn’t safe. You’d be harassed as a black person walking around downtown.”

“A Free Black Woman” is based on a memoir published by Keckly in the 19th century that contained information about her time with the Lincolns. The book was controversial at the time because many people did not believe a black woman could read and write.

“People thought the book was made up by the Lincoln people,” Drakes says, adding that many people didn’t believe Keckly ever existed.

“Investigation” leaves from Ford’s Theatre at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursdays in April and also at 10:15 a.m. on Saturdays. “A Free Black Woman” leaves the theater at 11:15 a.m. on Saturdays. Both tours cost $12 per person. Tickets for both tours can be purchased through the Ford’s Theatre Web site.