An unassuming boarding house earned a spot in the history books as the place where President Abraham Lincoln spent his very last hours. The Petersen House, also known as the house where Lincoln died, is now part of the National Park Service and Ford’s Theatre Society, and visitors can step inside to experience the place where Lincoln took his final breath.
History of the Petersen House
Located at 516 10th Street NW in downtown D.C., the National Park Service recounts the story of the Petersen House, which was once owned by William and Anna Petersen. William worked as a tailor and the couple took in boarders to earn extra money. On the evening of April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln while the president was watching a performance from the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theatre.
Because of the severity of Lincoln's injury, he was carried across the street to a back bedroom in the Petersen House where he was cared for by doctors, who realized they couldn't save him. Meanwhile, a crowd gathered outside to hold a vigil for the fallen president. Lincoln was attended to by his wife Mary Lincoln and government officials. The makeshift situation required Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to turn a back parlor into an interrogation room in order to apprehend the president's murderer.
It was in the Petersen House that Lincoln passed away at 7:22 a.m., April 15, 1865.
The home eventually became a private Lincoln museum, then was purchased by the NPS in 1933. It underwent restoration several times — most recently with a renovation in 2017 to add historically accurate wallpapers and furniture and modern fire protection. The three rooms in the house today are furnished in 1865 period pieces, according to the NPS.
Highlights to See in the Petersen House
To get an in-depth feel for the history of the house, download Ford’s Theatre Society's New Voices of Petersen House TimeLooper app on your phone. It's an immersive tour to supplement your experience: you'll see interactive photographs and get first-person accounts from witnesses who were there when Lincoln was on his deathbed.
How To Visit
A visit to the Petersen House is included in Ford’s Theatre "historic site" ticket. You can reserve tickets in advance for a $3 convenience fee: click here to pick out your date and time for your visit. There are a few same-day free tickets you can pick up. Just know that Ford's Theatre is a popular tourist destination. According to the historical organization, same-day tickets often run out by 9 a.m. during the spring and summer months when tourism is at its peak. So reserving ahead could be your best bet.
The Petersen House is self-guided, and a visit usually takes 20 minutes. The line for entry gets long in the summer, but it also moves quickly. Timed-entry tickets are available from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and you can arrive 10 minutes before your entry time. The Petersen House is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Luggage and oversized bags aren't allowed.
What To See and Do Nearby
While you're at Petersen House, you'll definitely want to go across the street to Ford’s Theatre, the site of Lincoln's assassination and a current working theater in the nation's capital. The Ford's Theatre Society complex includes a Center for Education and Leadership with two floors of permanent exhibits about the aftermath of Lincoln's death and his evolving legacy. There's also a museum devoted to Lincoln's presidency with displays of artifacts related to the assassination. Click here for a photo tour of Ford's Theatre.
Petersen House and Ford’s Theatre serve as a great jumping-off point to many other tourist attractions in Washington. The Renwick Gallery is nearby, as is the National Portrait Gallery & Smithsonian American Art Museum in bustling Penn Quarter. Then of course, there's the White House, which is only about a 15-minute walk from the Petersen House. It's easy to hop in a cab or take a long walk to the National Mall and its Smithsonian museums from here as well.