The theatre tickets are exceedingly rare, as just a few from the fateful night of April 14, 1865, are known to survive.
In 1865, two theatregoers paid 75 cents for front-row balcony tickets to Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre. Their night at the theatre took an unexpectedly violent turn around 10:15 p.m., however, when John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln, leaped from the presidential box, and fled into infamy. Now, those tickets have sold for $262,500 at auction.
The two tickets from the night of the Lincoln assassination on April 14, 1865 are “as close as you can get to that evening,” Mark Zaid, an assassination memorabilia collector and one of the failed bidders, raved to The New York Times. He added: “The paper is an eyewitness to history.”
They are some of the only known surviving tickets from the Lincoln assassination. Others are held by Harvard University’s Houghton Library, Ford’s Theatre, the National Park Service, and the Smithsonian Institution.
It’s unknown who originally purchased the tickets for seats D41 and D42, in the theatre’s dress circle section (the first ring of seats above the ground floor). The torn green tickets are marked “Dress Circle!” alongside the row and seat numbers. They include the date of the performance and read: “Give this portion of the Ticket for entrance to the Door-keeper.”
The tickets also came with a cream-colored envelope that reads: “Front Seats, Dress Circle, Reserved, Complimentary, Fords Theatre, April 14, 1865, (Night of Assassination of President Lincoln).”
As The New York Times reports, old seating charts suggest that the ticket holders would have been sitting across from Lincoln’s private box, where the president was sitting with his wife and two friends. They almost certainly expected to see Lincoln, as his attendance at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865 had been widely publicized, but couldn’t have predicted the evening’s bloody turn.
In the play’s last act, John Wilkes Booth shot the president and leaped from Lincoln’s box crying “sic semper tyrannis,” or, “thus always to tyrants.”
The anonymous ticket holders decided to hold onto their tickets after that fateful, bloody night, but the tickets’ path is difficult to trace from there.
RR Auction of Boston explained that the seller had bought the tickets in 2002 from Christie’s. Before that, they had been owned by magazine publisher and politician Malcolm S. Forbes, who bought the tickets in 1992. It’s unknown who bought them at the most recent auction, where they sold for more than twice the amount expected, according to the Washington Post.
The tickets were sold alongside other Lincoln memorabilia, which also fetched eye-watering prices. The Washington Post reports that a first edition book signed by the president which contained his 1858 debates with Senator Stephen A. Douglas sold for $593,750, and a check for $5 that Lincoln wrote out for his Black valet William Johnson sold for $100,000.
Of these items, the theatre tickets from the night of the Lincoln assassination are certainly most evocative. As Zaid noted, they’re “eyewitnesses” to one of the most historic and tumultuous nights in American history. After Lincoln was shot, he was taken across the street to the Petersen House, where he died the next morning on April 15. Booth managed to evade capture for 12 days, but was killed on April 26.
During those chaotic and confused days, the two theatregoers from seats D41 and D42 must have gone home in a daze. At some point, they must have realized that they still had their tickets.
“These front-row seats to history allowed the original theatergoers to witness a tragic performance that changed the course of our nation,” Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction, said according to NPR.
“We’re honored to have played a part in preserving and sharing this remarkable piece of American history.”
After reading about how two Ford’s Theatre tickets from the night of the Lincoln assassination were just sold, discover the stories of some of John Wilkes Booth’s conspirators, including Mary Surratt, the first woman ever hanged by the U.S. government, and Lewis Powell, who attempted to assassinate Secretary of State William Seward.