The Petersen House: The House Where Lincoln Died

Directly across from Ford's Theatre, at 516 10th street, sits the quaint three story Petersen house. At the time of the assassination it served as a boarding house, owned by William and Anna Peterson. William built the brick home in 1849 and soon began renting it out to boarders.

     On the night of the assassination, April 14th 1865, the Petersen house was thrust into historical significance due its proximity to Ford's Theatre. When soldiers carried the body of Abraham Lincoln out the front door's of the theatre, they scanned the street for an appropriate place to take the slain President. The streets were filled with onlookers and it buzzed with fear and excitement. But across the street,  a young boarder at the Petersen house yelled from the front door. It was Henry Safford. He called out the doctors and soldiers with Lincoln, "Bring him in here. Bring him in here."

     Lincoln's body was carried up the short steps and into far back bedroom. The bed was too small for Lincoln's height and his body had to be laid diagonally. Throughout the night visitors and investigators came and went through the house. In total, over 90 people visited that night. Outside, soldiers stood guard at the front door, verifying identity before allowing entrance. Inside, Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, set up a temporary investigation center in an inner room of the house. There he began interviewing witnesses and gathering information to start the manhunt for the assassination conspirators.

As the night progressed, Abraham Lincoln's condition worsened. Several doctors visited to assist, but they all agreed that the end was not far off. Mary Todd Lincoln waited mostly in the front parlor of the house. Her wails and sobbing could be heard incessantly through the evening and into the early morning. She would visit the President regularly in the back bedroom, exacerbating her anguish. The Lincoln's eldest son, Robert, comforted her, while young Tad waited back at the White House.

 

At 7:22 a.m., President Abraham Lincoln took his last breath. He was surrounded by family, friends, and leadership of the United States. Upon his death, Secretary of War Edwin declared, "Now he belongs to the ages." Lincoln's body was soon transferred back to the White House, where an autopsy would be performed.

 

Today the Petersen house is a historical museum and part of the National Park Service. The house remains in the state it was on April 14 1865, but in addition, what was once the back porch of the house, is now connected to an adjoining building. It's known as the Center for Education and Leadership, and includes information and galleries discussing the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination, the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, and the qualities of good leadership.

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