In Washington, D.C. on June 9, 1893, the interior of ramshackle Ford’s Theatre collapses, causing the deaths of 23 people. The building—where President Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865—houses hundreds of clerks employed by the War Department’s Records and Pensions Division. An investigation determines the cause of the tragedy was a pier that had given way during excavation in the basement for an electric-light plant.
Rescue workers quickly arrived on the scene, toiling “like demons” to search for victims and to remove debris. Clerks recalled screams of co-workers. One witness said Civil War veterans who worked in the building were the “wildest and craziest.” In a panic, some employees jumped from the second floor, using an awning to brace their fall.
Businesses and homes in the immediate area were used as makeshift hospitals. Anguished relatives rushed to the scene. Some onlookers watched events unfold from the rooftops of buildings.
“Plunged in a chasm of death,” read a newspaper headline.
A Washington Post reporter visited the home of a victim whose body was the last one recovered. “Say, mister, when is papa coming home?” asked the tearful boy. “He will come home tomorrow, won’t he?”
One man thought there was a “curse” on the building since Lincoln’s assassination. “…if I had my way [Ford’s Theatre] should be entirely demolished and the ground be forever left unbuilt upon,” he told a reporter.
Ford’s Theatre remained a federal office building until 1932. After undergoing extensive renovations, it was re-opened as a theater in 1968. The national historic site underwent extensive renovations again in the 2000s.