Tag Archives: DC Activities with Children

Ford’s Theatre Puts the Spotlight on the Death (& Life) of Abraham Lincoln

The box where Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth as he watch a performance of ‘My American Cousin’

Most of us parents — and many of our kids, for that matter — know the basic story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre. On April 14, 1865, the 16th President of the United States was shot by John Wilkes Booth as he was watching a play at what would become a National Historic Site as a result of the tragedy that took place there that evening.

It’s all of the fascinating details of that fateful night, the circumstances leading up to it, and the course of events to follow, that aren’t as well known by the masses. Unless, perhaps, you have a keen interest in presidential assassinations, have seen the film Lincoln, watched the (hilarious) Drunk History episode about it, or have read Sarah Vowel’s Assassination Vacation. I can claim the latter two, most recently having finally read the book, which was what inspired an outing with the kids and friends a few weeks ago to Ford’s Theatre.

I had actually been there several times before to see shows, but had never taken a proper tour or visited the museum portion. That probably worked out well, since Owen (11) and Sasha (8) are now at good ages to take it all in. Younger children certainly could go, but I think older kids would understand and get more out of the experience.

We visited this past Columbus Day when both kids were off from school. Timed entry tickets are free at the Box Office, or you can reserve them in advance online for $3. This gets you admission to: the museum, the theatre for a walk-through and presentation, Petersen House across the street where Lincoln died, and exhibits about the aftermath of the assassination.

I checked online in the morning and saw that tickets were still available throughout the day, so we opted to get them at the Box Office, figuring we’d get the next available time slot and hang out around the area if there was a wait. It turned out our entry time was just 15 minutes after picking up tickets, so we lined up with other guests, then began our self-guided tour almost right away.

Learning about Lincoln’s cabinet in a cabinet (so clever!)

The Museum
This is where the visit begins. The Museum essentially is one large room divided into many sections. It’s filled with a variety of displays, videos, and interactive installations that provide background on Abraham Lincoln’s political career and presidency, describe the social and political climate during that time, offer a profile of John Wilkes Booth, and illustrate the story of the assassination.

It was pretty crowded and a bit chaotic when we were there — I’m guessing the holiday brought more people than usual on a Monday — so it was difficult to spend a lot of time reading everything. The kids enjoyed viewing the larger installations, such as a sculpture of political figures, one about Lincoln’s cabinet (which was an actual cabinet), and real items associated with the assassination on view in glass cases. The most intriguing was the Deringer pistol Booth used to shoot Lincoln. Oddly, it’s practically hidden in the museum, located in small corner area, where we had to wait to get a good look; I would have thought it would be more prominently displayed. Nearby, there is a replica of the gun that you can touch to get a feel for what it would be like to hold. And more of Booth’s possessions, like his journal and medical kit, are also on view.

The Theatre
Walk-throughs of the theatre and a presentation by a reenactor playing a man who was there on the night of President Lincoln’s death are often part of the self-guided tour. (Be sure to check that it is happening if you want to see it, which I do recommend, as the theatre portion is occasionally unavailable.) You can see the Presidential Box where Lincoln sat with his wife, Mary, as they watched An American Cousin, and Park Rangers are on hand to answer questions. The performance is great, as the reenactor talks about the fateful evening from his point of view, describing events of that day, the Lincolns’ late arrival to the theatre, the production on stage, and John Wilkes Booth’s movements as he executed his assassination plan. All of us, kids and adults, found this part of the tour very interesting and entertaining.

Chatting with a park ranger about the history of the theatre

Petersen House
Also a National Historic Site, the House Where Lincoln Died is located right across the street from Ford’s Theatre, and is included in the tour (hold on to your ticket!). After he was shot, Lincoln was carried across the street to what was then a boarding house, and he passed away the next morning. Now visitors can walk through and see the house recreated to look just as it did in 1865 and even view the bedroom where Lincoln spent his final hours. The bed is a replica — the real one is on display at the Chicago History Museum — but the pillow and pillow cases stained with blood are the real deal.

Aftermath Exhibits
Just beyond the site of Lincoln’s death is an elevator that takes you to another exhibit area, designed to look like an old street in Washington, DC, that illustrates the course of events after the assassination. You can learn about Lincoln’s multi-stop funeral journey back to Springfield, IL; find out what happened to John Wilkes Booth after he fled as a fugitive; and discover the outcomes of the trials of the co-conspirators. There is a lot of reading here, but also some photos and items on display to keep it visually interesting for younger kids. It all culminates with a three-story tower of books, every single one of them about Abraham Lincoln. It’s seriously impressive, kind of like a second memorial to Abe.

Our entire visit to Ford’s Theatre and Petersen House lasted almost two hours. It easily could be longer if your kids (and/or you) wanted to spend more time reading all of the displays and watching all of the videos. There are also guided tours on select Sundays at 5pm — go here for upcoming dates.

Keep in mind, too, that the actual theatre is still in operation with several productions a year, including One Destiny, a 35-minute play about Lincoln’s assassination that is performed in spring and summer. Next up is the annual holiday show, A Christmas Carol, that will run November 16 – December 31, 2017.

Counting stars on a flag from 1865

Ford’s Theatre is open for self-guided tours of the historic site daily from 9am – 4:30pm. As mentioned, tickets can be reserved online in advance for $3, or they are available for free at the Box Office, which is open 8:30am – 5pm (8pm for performances). It’s located at 511 10th Street NW.

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Filed under DC, Educational, Exhibit, Free, Live Entertainment, Museums, Theatre, Weekdays, Weekend

Where to Celebrate Independence Day Around DC

Fireworks in the neighborhood park last year

What better place to celebrate Independence Day than in our nation’s capital? This is where the actual Declaration of Independence is housed (and will be read!), and celebrations take place among some of the country’s most iconic landmarks. But the excitement doesn’t stop there. From fireworks on the National Mall and concerts at the Capitol to special events at George Washington’s house to neighborhood parades and ballpark fun, there are loads of ways to revel on July 4th and the days leading up to it. Here are details on a bunch of them. Happy Independence Day!

Family Independence Day Funfest
Where: Tudor Place | Georgetown, DC
When: Saturday, 10am – 12pm
Admission: $7-10/child $5/adult, free/veterans & military families

Celebrate Independence Day with the family at the home of Martha Washington’s granddaughter and five generations that followed. Salute our nation’s service members! Also play traditional American outdoor games, tour verdant garden “rooms,” make patriotic crafts like a traditional whirligig toy, and of course, savor patriotic sweets. All ages welcome.

National Independence Day Parade
Where: Constitution Avenue NW, 7th-17th Streets | DC
When: July 4, 11:45am
Admission: Free

Many national holidays get a parade in DC, and July 4th is no exception. Scores of spectators are expected to line the Constitution Avenue sidewalks to watch the procession celebrating Independence Day make its way from 7th to 17th Streets. Marching bands, floats, giant balloons, equestrian groups, drill teams, and military units will be among the pageantry. Stake out your spot along the route early, as this event attracts hundreds of thousands of viewers every year.

Independence Day Celebration on the Mall
Where: National Mall, DC
When: July 4, all day (and evening)
Admission: Free

After the parade (even earlier for some), the National Mall will begin filling up for a day of July 4th festivities — the Smithsonian Folklife Festival from 7th to 12th Streets, Junior Ranger activities, concerts, and more. And the grand finale of it all: At 9:09pm, the sky above will explode with color when the amazing iconic fireworks display. Fireworks will be launched from the Reflecting Pool area, so plan accordingly. *If you want to view the fireworks without having to head to the Mall, see these suggestions from WTOP in other vantage points to view the display.

A Capitol Fourth
Where: West Lawn on the Capitol | Capitol Hill, DC
When: July 4, 8pm; gates open at 3pm
Admission: Free

Down past the other end of the Mall, A Capitol Fourth, the annual Independence Day concert that airs live on PBS, will feature even more musical pageantry. This year’s show, hosted by John Stamps, will include performances by The Beach Boys, The Four Tops, Kellie Pickler, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, the U.S. Army Ceremonial Band, and many more exciting acts. (KFDC tip: Enjoy the show with less crowds at the dress rehearsal on July 3 – same time and place!)

An American Celebration
Where: Mount Vernon | Mount Vernon, VA
When: July 4, 9am – 5pm
Admission: $20/adults, $10/ages 6-11, free for ages 5 and under.

The home of George Washington salutes the first commander-in-chief with a dazzling display of made-for-daytime fireworks during its annual Independence Day event. Visitors will be treated to spectacular smoke fireworks in patriotic colors fired over the Potomac River. The event also includes an inspirational naturalization ceremony for 100 new citizens, military reenactments, a special wreathlaying ceremony, and a visit from the “first” first couple, “General and Mrs. Washington.” See the full schedule of events here.

Fourth of July at the National Archives
Where: National Archives | National Mall, DC
When: July 4, 8am – 4pm
Admission: Free

Celebrate July 4th at the National Archives Building with a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence. There will also be historical guests, patriotic music, and family activities from 11am – 4pm. The full schedule of events is available on the National Archives website.

America’s Pastime
Where: Nationals Park | Capitol Riverfront, DC
When: July 3, 6:05pm & July 4, 11:05am
Admission: Ticket prices vary

A day at the ballpark is about as all-American as it gets when it comes to sports, and you can experience it and celebrate the holiday at Nationals Park. Kick off Independence Day on July 3rd, when the Nats play the Mets and enjoy a freedom fireworks show after. The July 4th game against the Mets will also include an aerial appearance by the Golden Knights Parachute Team and a performance by The Rockettes! Before you go, be sure to check this post for tips to save on a Nats game.

Neighborhood Parades
Where: Throughout the DMV
When: Most on July 4, times vary
Admission: Free

Keep it close to home at a community celebration. You likely are aware of July 4th events taking place in your neighborhood or nearby, but if you’re still looking for a hyperlocal fête, check out this list of parades around town. (Note that the list is from 2016, but the information is largely the same, and all of the links lead to this year’s events.)

July 4th Climb & Celebration
Where: Adventure Park at Sandy Spring | Sandy Spring, MD
When: July 4
Admission: $42-55

Spend the holiday in the tree and enjoy a day of climbing, zip lining, and American spirit From 10am – 2pm, they’ll have an All-American playlist to keep you in the patriotic mood. Don’t forget to wear your red, white and blue!

Falls Church 4th of July Celebration
Where: George Mason High School | Fairfax, VA
When: July 4, 7pm
Admission: Free

The City of Falls Church Recreation and Parks Department will present its annual free July 4th Celebration at George Mason High School (7124 Leesburg Pike). Musical entertainment begins at 7pm with a live performance, with fireworks following at 9:20pm. Blankets and flat-based chairs are allowed for seating on the field. Food and drinks will be sold on site.

Star-Spangled Spectacular
Where: Oregon Ridge State Park | Cockeysville, MD
When: July 3
Admission: $9-20

For something a little different than the usual DC July 4th festivities, head north to Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville, MD, on Monday. You can spread out a blanket or set up chairs on the sloping green lawn amidst a gorgeous setting as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performs their Star-Spangled Spectacular, culminating with a magnificent fireworks display. The starbursts in the sky as a live symphony plays is truly magical. The park opens at 5pm, and the show begins at 8pm both days. Be sure to note these parking instructions, as on–site parking is $15, but you can park off site and take a shuttle for free.

July 4th @ Long Bridge Park
Where: Long Bridge Park | Arlington, VA
When: July 4, 5-10pm
Admission: Free

Celebrate Independence Day at Arlington’s sixth annual July 4th Celebration @ Long Bridge Park! Join in the patriotic spirit with food trucks, live music featuring Jeff From Accounting, sports and games for all ages, moon bounces (weather permitting), face painting, and great views of the DC fireworks display. Free shuttles from Pentagon City and Crystal City metro stations.

McLean 4th of July Fireworks
Where: Churchill Road Elementary School | McLean, VA
When: July 4
Admission: Free

McLean’s annual Independence Day Celebration returns to Churchill Road Elementary School. The fireworks show begins at sunset, approximately 9:15pm. In addition to the large fireworks display, patrons can come early to enjoy musical entertainment by a local disc jockey, as well as food trucks selling a variety of entrees and snacks.

Picnic Baskets to Celebrate
Where: Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken | DC & VA
When: Pick Up July 4
Cost: $50

More like a how to celebrate than a where, Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken is offering a special summer picnic basket at their DC and Virginia locations. The basket includes 8 pieces of their signature fried chicken, 4 biscuits, 1 large cole slaw, and a half dozen doughnuts, and feeds up to four people. It will be available for pick up on July 4 from 7:30am – 5:30pm at G Street and from 7:30am -8pm at Falls Church. Pre-orders must be placed by end of day July 3 at 202.809.5565 or info@astrodoughnuts.com. Limited quantities of baskets will be available for walk-ins.

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Filed under 2017, All ages, Annual, DC, Educational, Exhibit, Festival, Free, Holidays, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Monuments & Memorials, Museums, Outdoor, Parade, Seasonal, Special Event, Summer, Virginia