Lincoln’s Murder Is Often Re-enacted, but Not at Ford’s Theater

Since Ford’s Theater reopened as an active theater in 1968, no one has staged a dramatic re-enactment of Abraham Lincoln being shot to death there on April 14, 1865.

“Manhunt,” the Apple TV+ series, said it recently asked for permission and was turned down. Robert Redford considered it at one point but was dissuaded, an executive at the theater said.

The theater’s website explains the reasoning.

In a posting titled, “Why Ford’s Theatre Doesn’t Stage Assassination Re-enactments,” the historian David McKenzie, who worked at the theater for nine years, wrote in 2021:

“For us at Ford’s, in the place where the tragedy actually happened, a re-enactment of the Lincoln assassination would take attention from the gravity of the event and its impact on our society at large,” adding that “it would focus attention instead on the macabre details of one night. It could prove kitschy, downplaying the event’s significance. It would also give John Wilkes Booth the prominence he desired in his quest to topple the United States government and preserve a system of white racial superiority.”

Paul Tetreault, the Washington theater’s veteran director, said that, despite the resolute tone of McKenzie’s posting, the rationale against such a re-enactment is not a formal policy, but more a matter of “common sense.”

“So the reality is,” he said, “there is nothing written that says no re-enactments. It’s just that it’s just respectful. You know, at Ford’s we have an obligation. We have an obligation to the facts. We have an obligation to truth, we have an obligation to, you know, be respectful and be reverential. This is a memorial site. It’s a national historical site.”

Tetreault said Robert Redford considered using the theater in his 2010 film “The Conspirator,” and even toured the space to mark camera angles.

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