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Events Preceding the Assassination

At noon, Booth walked to Ford's Theatre, where it was his custom to have his mail delivered. Several letters were handed him, and he seated himself on the doorsill to read them. After half an hour, Booth walked on. During this time he was told by Harry C. Ford that the President and General Grant would be at the theatre that evening.

Booth then went to the livery stable of James W. Pumphrey, on C Street in the rear of the National Hotel, and engaged a small bay mare which he called for at about 4 o'clock. Sometime later he put the horse in his stable in the rear of Ford's Theatre. Edman Spangler, the stage hand, and Joseph "Peanuts" Burroughs, who distributed bills and was stage doorkeeper at Ford's Theatre, were in charge of the stable.

Shortly after 9 o'clock, Booth came to the back door of the theatre and called for Spangler to hold his horse. Spangler was one of the scene-shifters and his almost continuous presence was required at his post. As soon as Booth passed inside, Spangler called for "Peanuts" Burroughs to watch the horse.

Booth crossed underneath the stage to an exit leading to Tenth Street and entered the saloon of Peter Taltavull, adjoining the theatre on the south. Instead of his customary brandy, Booth ordered whisky and a glass of water.

Booth walked out and entered the theatre lobby. He was in and out of the lobby several times and once asked the time of the doorkeeper, John Buckingham. A short time later, at 10:10 p. m., he reentered the lobby, ascended the stairs and passed around the dress circle to the vestibule door leading to the President's box.

Before reaching the door, Booth paused, took off his hat, leaned against the wall, and made a leisurely survey of the audience and stage. The play was now nearing the close of the second scene of Act 3. According to witnesses, Booth took a card from his pocket and handed it to Charles Forbes, who occupied Seat 300, the one nearest the vestibule door. He then stepped down one step, put his hand on the door of the corridor, and placed his knee against it. It opened and Booth entered, closing it behind him.

As it had no lock, Booth placed a pine bar against the door and anchored the other end in a mortise cut into the outside brick wall of the building. This precaution was taken to prevent anyone in the dress circle from following. A small hole which had been bored in the door of Box 7, directly in back of Lincoln, enabled the assassin to view the position of the President and the action on the stage. The actor had free access to the theatre at all times. It is probable that the hole in the door and the mortise in the wall were cut by Booth sometime after the rehearsal on April 14.

The actor timed his entrance into the box when only one person was on the stage. The lone figure of Harry Hawk, playing the part of Asa Trenchard, was standing at the center of the stage in front of the curtained doorway at the tragic moment. Miss Clara Harris and Major Rathbone were intent upon the play and Mrs. Lincoln laughed at the words being spoken by Harry Hawk: "Don't know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal—you sockdologizing old mantrap." These words were probably the last heard by Abraham Lincoln.


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Last Modified: Mon, Dec 2 2002 10:00:00 am PDT

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