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Ford's Theatre tickets from the night Lincoln was assassinated sell for $262,500

An auction house sold two tickets to the play at Ford's Theatre from the night that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
RR Auction
An auction house sold two tickets to the play at Ford's Theatre from the night that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

One hundred and fifty-eight years is a long time to hold on to a couple of ticket stubs. But the tickets in question were to one of the most notorious theater events of all time: the performance of the play "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., on the night that Abraham Lincoln was shot.

Two tickets to the show that night hit the auction block this past weekend. The paper tickets are green, creased in the center and clipped in the corner, likely by the a doorperson. In pencil is scrawled the seat numbers: D 41 and 42.

They were expected to sell for somewhere north of $100,000. They ended up selling for considerably more — $262,500 — to an anonymous buyer.

The two tickets join one in a collection at Harvard that the auction house RR Auction believes to be the only three extant used tickets from that evening at Ford's. These tickets and the Harvard ticket all bear the faint print of a stamp reading: "Ford's Theatre, APR 14, 1865, This Night Only."

It's not known who the tickets belonged to, though an envelope containing them says they were complimentary.

A seating chart for the theater shows that the two tickets – in the front row of the theater's dress circle – were at the same level as the private box that Lincoln, his wife and his guests were seated in.

The tickets come with an envelope that held them, annotated by a contemporary hand: "Front Seats, Dress Circle, Reserved, Complimentary, Fords Theatre, April 14, 1865, (Night of Assassination of President Lincoln)."
/ RR Auction
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RR Auction
The tickets come with an envelope that held them, annotated by a contemporary hand: "Front Seats, Dress Circle, Reserved, Complimentary, Fords Theatre, April 14, 1865, (Night of Assassination of President Lincoln)."

It's unlikely those seated with these tickets would have been able to see John Wilkes Booth actually shoot Lincoln in the back of the head. But they would have seen Booth leap from the box onto the stage as he fled.

"These front-row seats to history allowed the original theatergoers to witness a tragic performance that changed the course of our nation. We're honored to have played a part in preserving and sharing this remarkable piece of American history," said Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.

The tickets were last sold from a collection of American historical documents gathered by Malcolm Forbes, the late publisher of Forbes magazine. In that 2002 auction, the tickets fetched $83,650.

The tickets were not the piece of Lincoln memorabilia that garnered the highest price at the Boston-based auction house this past weekend. That distinction goes to a first edition book of the 1858 debates between Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, signed in ink by Lincoln himself for his former law apprentice. The winning bid? $593,750.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.