Groups looking to explore President Abraham Lincoln's legacy and assassination in 1865 and the impact it had on the nation can now take advantage of a free artistic offering from Ford's Theatre Society.
Ford's Theatre Society has announced the release of its free, on-demand video version of the popular stage play One Destiny by Richard Hellesen, directed by Mark Ramont. The play is available for streaming through June 13, 2021.
The 40-minute video production revisits the events of April 14, 1865, with a cast of historical characters who were present, including Ford's Theatre co-owner Harry Ford and stage actor Harry Hawk. As they reconstruct the sequence of events, they grapple with the question: Could John Wilkes Booth have been stopped from assassinating President Abraham Lincoln?
Initially created as a transportable production with two actors, costumes and a simple trunk of props, One Destiny boasts more than 1,400 on-stage performances with actors Michael Bunce and Stephen F. Schmidt since its 2006 debut, plus additional performances at D.C.-area schools and an event at the White House in April 2008. One Destiny On Demand was recorded on the Ford's Theatre stage with COVID-19 safety protocols in November 2020 by Chiet Productions.
"One Destiny has captured the imaginations of tens of thousands who have experienced it at Ford's," said Paul R. Tetreault, Director, Ford's Theatre. "Not only does the story explore the key facts of the Lincoln assassination, but it captures the emotions of that fateful night."
Through the eyes of the play's characters, Tetreault says, audiences come to better understand the impact of John Wilkes Booth's hateful and treasonous act, while also realizing that he did not prevail.
"Democracy in America persevered, as does Lincoln's vision for union and equality and the status of Ford's Theatre as a haven for the performing arts."
"One Country, One Destiny" and Lincoln's Great Coat
Playwright Richard Hellesen drew the play's title from the hand-embroidered silk lining of President Abraham Lincoln's woolen Brooks Brother's Great Coat (overcoat), which features an eagle carrying a banner that reads "One Country, One Destiny." The phrase comes from an 1837 speech given by one of Lincoln's role models, Senator Daniel Webster. Daniel Webster's quotation can also be found within the elaborate murals on the first floor of the U.S. Capitol's House chamber.
Lincoln's Great Coat was made specially for his second inaugural on March 4, 1865, and its unified message spoke to the president's hopes for union. Abraham Lincoln also wore the coat to Ford's Theatre on the night of his assassination. After Lincoln's assassination, Mary Lincoln bequeathed the coat to the Lincolns' favorite doorman, Alphonse Donn. The Donn family held the coat for over a century, allowing curious visitors to cut swatches of the bloodstained lining. Eventually souvenir seekers did so much damage that the sleeve separated from the body of the coat.
The coat came into the collection of the National Park Service at Ford's Theatre in 1967, as the site prepared to open as a museum in 1968. Because of the coat's fragile condition today, the original is currently preserved in museum storage. However, high resolution images of the coat's interior can be viewed on the Ford's Theatre website.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.
Photo courtesy of Ford's Theatre Society.