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Visiting the Petersen House

In July of 2013, we traveled to Washington, D.C. and stopped at Ford's Theater and the Petersen House across the street. The Peterson House is where President Abraham Lincoln took his last breath.

On April 14, 1865, after the being shot by John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln was carried across the street to the Petersen Boarding House, because the doctors did not believe he would survive the trip back to the White House. The Petersen House is located at 516 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20004. If you would like to find out more about the tours at the house, please connect to their website for details.

Doctors including Charles Leale and Charles Sabin Taft examined Lincoln in the box before having him carried across the street to the Petersen House, where boarder Henry Safford directed them inside.

Physicians continually removed blood clots which formed over the wound and poured out the excess brain fluid and brain matter from where the bullet had entered Lincoln's head in order to relieve pressure on the brain. However, the external and internal hemorrhaging continued throughout the night.

During the night and early morning, guards patrolled outside to prevent onlookers from coming inside the house. Lincoln's Cabinet members, Generals, and various members of Congress were allowed to see the President.

Lincoln died in the following room on April 15, 1865, at 7:22 a.m., aged 56. Individuals in the room when he died included his son Robert Todd Lincoln, Senator Charles Sumner, generals Henry Wager Halleck, Richard James Oglesby and Montgomery C. Meigs, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Side note about the original bed:

One thing I would like to point out is the placard in the photographs below. It shows at the very bottom that the original bed is on exhibit in the Chicago American History Museum. We just went there and saw the bed in November of 2019.

Between visits to her husband's bedside, Mary Lincoln waited in the following parlor with her son Robert and friends of the Lincoln family.

In the following bedroom, Secretary of War Stanton held several cabinet meetings, interviewed witnesses, and ordered the pursuit of the assassins.

If you would like to find out more about the history of the house, please watch our following video.

Artist Depictions of the Death Scene

Our visit to the Petersen House was quick and brief. There are only three rooms open to be viewed and although there were many people there, the line to get through the house moves very fast. It was well worth it to go just to see the sheer size of the rooms to put things into perspective. There are many paintings that depict the death of President Lincoln such as the following by Alonzo Chappel, painted in 1868 which shows all of those who visited President while he laid dying through the night and the following morning. This is the artist rendition designed by John B. Bachelder, showing all of the visitors in the room at the same time. Lincoln’s wife, Mary, is pictured in the center, lying across the president’s body. His son Robert stands in the foreground to the right of the bed. Vice President Andrew Johnson is seated at the far left.

Once you are there at the house (or review our photographs) you can tell that it is not physically possible to fit all those people in that room around the bed at the same time.

According to the National Park Services, of the many depictions of the death scene, the following drawing is one that would be most accurate.

Photograph of the Death Scene and Bed

After the passing of the President, soldiers wrapped his naked body in an American flag and put him into a plain pine box—a rectangular military crate. Lincoln, the former rail-splitter, would not have minded so simple a coffin. After they took him home to the White House, sheets, pillows, towels and a coverlet lay on the boardinghouse bed, still wet with the president’s blood. Two Petersen House boarders, brothers Henry and Julius Ulke, one a photographer and the other an artist, set up a tripod camera and, with the morning sun flooding the hallway from the front door all the way back to the little rear room, photographed the scene.

We had an amazing time at the Fords Theater and Petersen House Museums. There is just so much amazing history there that has been restored for future generations to witness. If you have been to these locations yourself, please let us know down in the comments section. We would love to hear your experiences.

Update: 6/21/2022 - Found a pin on Pinterest with the link to William Petersen's grave on Find-A-grave. William Peterson own the house where President Abraham Lincoln passed away on April 15, 1865.

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