150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln became the first U.S. president to be assassinated. On the evening of April 12, 1865, Lincoln attended a play at Ford’s Theater titled Our American Cousin with his wife, Mary Todd, Union army officer Henry Rathbone, and Rathbone’s fiance, Clara Harris, the daughter of New York Senator Ira Harris. While they enjoyed the play from the presidential box, actor and Southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, sneaked into the box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. The president was taken across the street to William Petersen’s Boarding House, where he lay dying for several hours. He expired at 7:22 a.m.on April 13.
Booth escaped Washington with accomplice David Herold. The two men traveled through southern Maryland until they were cornered in a barn in Virginia on April 26. Herold surrendered, but Booth refused and was shot to death. Conspirators of the assassination were arrested, including Mary Surratt, who owned the boarding house where Booth frequented. She later became the first woman in American history to be hung by the Federal government for treason.
The traumatic event left an incredible impact. Mary Todd, who claimed to communicate with her dead husband through seances, was eventually committed to an insane asylum by her oldest son. Henry Rathbone married Clara Harris, and later, murdered her. Rumors abounded for years that John Wilkes Booth had actually escaped and had gone West or to Mexico. The train Lincoln’s body was transported on from Washington to Illinois was seen for many years as a spectral ghost. And the spirit of Mary Surratt haunted the Old Capitol Prison where she was hung until the building was razed in 1929.