The Presidential Box
On the night of April 14, 1865 the Presidential box that Abraham Lincoln and his guests sat in was prepared specially for the occasion. The large box was normally two separate suite boxes, known as box 7 and box 8. Each of which sat four to six persons normally. However, the wall between box 7 and box 8 was movable and could easily be set against the back wall to create one larger suite. The partition was seven feet high and three inches thick. It was normal procedure to create a bigger area for large parties or important guests such as President Lincoln and General Grant.
Even though the separation wall was removed there were still two doors to enter the box from outside vestibule or hallway. This hallway, four feet wide and ten feet long, was itself separated from the outer theater by another door. It's this door that John Wilkes Booth first entered on the night of the assassination. He then entered the dark hallway to wait for his cue. Which door he accessed once he was in the vestibule is less clear. Most historians agree that Booth most likely entered the President's box through door 8. It was the normal entrance for parties into the combined suite and it also gave Booth the best angle and view of Lincoln upon entering. Box 7 would have placed him more further to the left of Lincoln.
Upon hearing at 10:30 a.m. that President Lincoln and General Grant were attending Our American Cousin, James Ford and H.B. Phillips promptly wrote an advertisement for the Evening Star announcing it to the city. After afternoon rehearsal, around 3:00 p.m., Harry Ford began decorating the box. Three velvet-covered armchairs, a velvet sofa, and six cane chairs were placed in the large box. In addition, Ford asked "Peanuts" Burroughs to bring down a walnut rocking chair from the third floor. This was the chair that President Lincoln sat in. It was placed in the middle of the door 7 and 8.
In front of the box, two American flags were placed on the sides of the box, both on staffs. Then along the box balustrades, an American flag was draped over the edge of box 7 and 8, with a third flag, Treasury, placed in between. With one last touch, the decorations were complete. A portrait of George Washington, in the middle of everything, facing the audience.
The Decor of the
Ford's Theatre Presidential Box
Door 7 was completely untouched however, and later it was discovered that a hole had been bored near the keyhole, straight through the door, giving sight to the inside of the box. Many assume that John Wilkes Booth or an associate bored the hole to spy on the President before attack. The hole is often thought to have been created the same time that a wooden bar was left in the box. Booth used this wooden bar jam against the door and he opposite wall, preventing anyone from coming in behind him. He planned on leaping to the stage and didn't need to exit the way he came in.
Who actually drilled the hole is unclear. Later Frank Ford stated that "the hole was bored my father, Harry Clay Ford, or rather on his orders, and was bored for the very simple reason it would allow the guard, one Parker, easy opportunity whenever he so desired to look into the box rather than to open the inner door to check on the presidential party."
Despite who actually drilled the hole, it's assumed that Booth used it to his advantage to locate Abraham Lincoln before bursting in to the box.
View of the Presidential box, from the direction of the stage.
Source: Library of Congress
The rocking chair Abraham Lincoln rested in when he was assassinated.
Source: Library of Congress
The sofa used by Major Henry Rathbone on the night of the assassination.