The gun that fired the shot that sent the nation into the biggest manhunt before OJ, along with other artifacts of April 14, 1865 will be on display at Ford’s Theatre from now to May 25th at the theatre’s campus in Washington.

The deringer, along with the blood-stained flag and other artifacts, which were left behind by Lincoln after his death and kept in family collections as well as the government and museums in Washington and Chicago.

According to Ford Museum curartor Tracy Avant, “these were real human beings that left these behind and we will never know what would have happened if Lincoln had not been shot but we know the impact he left with his life being cut short.

A new exhibition, “Silent Witnesses: Artifacts of the Lincoln Assassination,” running from next Monday to May 25 at the theater’s campus will give an unprecedented look at Lincoln’s death 150 years later. Curators will present the history of the shooting in four acts and will give historians an insight into not only a man that tried to save the union and keep it from the nightmare of a house divided, something that he loathed with a passion but also the man that was not only a murderer but a sociopath as well.

Act 1: A Night Out

Starting five blocks away from the theater at the National Museum of American History, visitors can see the black carriage that brought the president and Mary Todd Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre along with a young couple as their guests, Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris. In those days, presidents provided their own transportation (there was no Secret Service as we know it now) and this was one of the Lincolns’ three carriages.

A playbill would have greeted the Lincoln party when they arrived, announcing the final night of the comedy “Our American Cousin.” Orchestra seats were $1, while private box seats sold for $6 and $10.


Act 2: The President’s Arrival

The Lincolns arrived late to Ford’s Theatre, and the performance had already begun. Actress and theater manager Laura Keene saw the first family and stopped the show, and the orchestra played “Hail to the Chief,” drawing cheers and applause.

A rarely seen violin and drum sticks from the theater’s musicians now recall that moment. Theater goers later said that Lincoln looked happier than he had looked in years.

Lincoln and his guests took their box seats and the show resumed.


Act 3: The President is Shot

Not long after the start of Act 3, a well-known actor named John Wilkes Booth slipped into the presidential box. He carried a small Deringer pistol and fired at Lincoln’s head from just inches away.

When Rathbone tried to stop him, Booth slashed at the young Union officer with a large knife and jumped down to the stage before escaping.

A young doctor rushed to Lincoln’s aid and Keene, the lead actress, brought water. Keene kept blood-stained fragments from her dress from when she cradled the president’s head in her lap. An American flag decorating the presidential box also was folded and used as a pillow for Lincoln’s head.

An Associated Press correspondent at the time, Lawrence Gobright, recovered the pistol in the theater box and turned it over to police.


Act 4: The Vigil

The wounded president was taken across the street to Petersen House as doctors tried to save his life. Outside, the public gathered for an all-night vigil until Lincoln’s death at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865.

For the first time since that night, Lincoln’s blood-stained Brooks Brothers Great Coat is being reunited with Mary Todd Lincoln’s black velvet cloak that she wore by his side. Also on display are Lincoln’s top hat and the contents of his pockets: two pairs of glasses, cufflinks, pocket knife, leather wallet and a $5 Confederate note, perhaps from his recent trip to Richmond, Virginia.

These items tell a story. Granted, they can’t speak, they have no voice but their presence alone speaks and tells the story of a horrible night. The dress, the flag that decorated the president’s box and the gun could be considered pieces of forensic evidence today. They tell the stork of the night of murder and mayhem as a nation was trying to collect itself from a turmoil that took lives and destroyed property and cities.

A war that divided a nation, a war that pitted brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend had come to an end. It was not pretty. It was anything but pleasant. Death, war, pestilence, fear, destruction had come to an end. Unfortunately, the leader that would be the one to broker that peace would not live very long to see it. The Civil War had come to an end and president and Mrs. Lincoln had planned to go to Europe when his term came to an end. Those dreams that were dear to the both of them came crashing to a sudden and tragic end when Booth entered the Presidential Box and fired the now-famous deringer that took his life.

There was no CNN, YouTube or Facebook to report the events that took place that Good Friday evening and it was word of mouth that reported the events. Today, we see the things that link us to that day, when a war-ready nation was ready for peace and a mad man, sociopath, who lived by his own rules and thought that he was doing the South a favor instead sent the nation in further despair with Resconstruction. In the end, the states that left the union came back to the fold. We now get to see the things that were a part of that time up close and personal. It’s a shame that Booth and the men that chased him aren’t here to answer our questions. We can only look at the exhbit with an open mind and wonder what if that day never took place. It’s also sad that law enforcement proceedures were breached that night.

For openers, Ford’s Theatre should have been sealed off and no one would have gotten in or out until statements were taken first. There was an autopsy done on Lincoln and the bullet that ended his life should have been taken as well. But then again, this was 1865 and it would be several more decades before the FBI would even see the light of day. The items from a time where America finally found peace will be on display for those that view them to see, talk about and wonder.