September 6, 2007
The National Hotel occupied the current site of the Newseum from 1826 to 1942. <em>(Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)</em>

The National Hotel occupied the current site of the Newseum from 1826 to 1942. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

John Wilkes Booth Slept Here: The History of the Newseum Site

The Newseum, rich in historical artifacts and stories, occupies land that has its own story to tell.

The site of the Newseum — Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street, N.W., in downtown Washington — was occupied from 1826 to 1942 by the National Hotel, one of the most famous hotels of its era.

In April 1865, actor John Wilkes Booth took a room at the National Hotel, his favorite place to stay in Washington. Booth hated President Abraham Lincoln and longed to avenge the Confederate cause. On the evening of April 14, five days after the surrender at Appomattox that ended the Civil War, Booth shot and mortally wounded Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, several blocks away.

While Lincoln lay dying, investigators searched Booth’s room at the National Hotel and found a letter that seemed to connect him to a plot against the president. Booth died in a shootout with federal agents 12 days after the assassination.

On April 19, Lincoln’s body was escorted down Pennsylvania Avenue by a large funeral procession. He was the first U.S. president to be assassinated.

Booth’s brother later wrote a letter to President Andrew Johnson asking that the contents of Booth’s hotel room be returned to the family:

There is also (I am told) a trunk of his at the National Hotel. … it may contain relics of the poor misguided boy — which would be dear to his sorrowing mother, and of no use to anyone.

The National Hotel eventually closed and was demolished in 1942 to make way for a local government building. The Freedom Forum purchased the property from the District of Columbia in 2000 to relocate the Newseum there from its original location in Arlington, Va.

Newseum visitors will learn more about the history of “America’s Main Street” in an exhibit on the Pennsylvania Avenue Terrace, which also provides a panoramic view of Washington landmarks.

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