Grieving at Grovers

A Twist in Time

Bill CoateJanuary 12, 2012 

When the White House announced that Abraham and Mary Lincoln would be attending the theater on that Good Friday evening, Leonard Grover was sure the President would choose his establishment. He was featuring "Aladdin or His Wonderful Lamp" while his competitor, John Ford, was playing "Our American Cousin."

Actually, nobody knew for sure where the Lincoln's would wind up that night. That is why John Wilkes Booth reconnoitered both Grover's and Ford's Theaters before he made his final plans to assassinate the president.

By mid-morning on April 14, 1865, the Lincoln's made their decision and Booth went to work. As every schoolchild knows, the president and Mary chose Ford's Theater and that's where Lincoln was shot that night.

The choice of Ford's over Grover's did not doom the president. He most likely would have been assassinated at either show, such was Booth's determination. However, when the Lincolns decided to go see "Our American Cousin," they at least saved one person from the White House the horror of seeing the tragedy unfold first hand.

Alphonso Dunn, the White House doorkeeper had taken a young friend to Grover's to watch his show.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Lincoln's had chosen Ford's Theater, Grover's was packed that night as well. All of Washington was celebrating the end of the Civil War, and "Aladdin or His Wonderful Lamp" was a popular play. Dunn and his friend were both enjoying the production when someone appeared on stage and announced that the president had been shot.

Panic shot through the house immediately and the audience rushed for the doors. Then just as suddenly someone cried out a warning that it was all the trick of a pickpocket who wanted to fleece the crowd. For a moment this brought everyone to his or her senses. Everybody sat back down, and the play resumed. Within a few minutes, however, another person took the stage to inform those in attendance that, in fact, President Lincoln had indeed been shot.

This time the crowed emptied the theater, all except Alphonso Dunn and his young friend, Tad Lincoln, who was screaming, "They killed papa; they killed papa dead."

You see, the president's youngest son, 12-year-old Tad Lincoln, had talked Dunn into taking him to Grover's that fateful night, and if his parents had not chosen the performance at Ford's, the youngster would have been by his father's side to witness his assassination.

In a merciful twist in time, young Tad Lincoln was at least spared the horror of watching the fatal attack on his father. He was, however, still forced to endure the anguish of his distraught mother for the rest of his short life, which ended six years later.

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