Monday, February 08, 2016

Then & Now: Where Lincoln assassination conspirators met

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In 1864-65, John Wilkes Booth and his cohorts allegedly cooked up plots to assassinate Abraham Lincoln at this Washington house. Today, the old boarding house once owned by Booth confidant Mary Surratt is used for another kind of cooking -- it's an Asian restaurant called Wok & Roll that serves General Tso's bean curd for $7.75, Eight Treasure Clay Pot for $14.95, Mai Tais for $7.50 and large glasses of warm sake for $9.50. (Here's their full menu. Happy hours are weekdays from 5 p.m.-8 p.m.)

Mary Surratt
The exterior of the 3 1/2-story building at 604 H Street NW has been altered since the 19th century. What was a doorway 151 years ago is now a second-floor window and a first-floor window is now an entrance. Of course, Mrs. Surratt probably wouldn't recognize the interior, which features a karaoke lounge with a  touch-screen search monitor that can play more than 150,000 songs. Wi-Fi, unavailable during the Civil War, is offered gratis.

Despite her family's hope that she be spared by President Andrew Johnson, 42-year-old Surratt was hanged on July 7, 1865, for her role in the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln. Surratt's boarding house, Johnson famously said, was "the nest in which the egg was hatched." She became the first woman executed by the U.S. government.

"Woman as she was, she knew her business well; sick as she was, she had strength sufficient for her fearful purpose, and stern as the sentence was, its justice was absolute, its execution certain," the New York Times reported the day after Surratt was hanged. "We have heard many express the desire that the woman's life might be spared and its weary hours passed in the quiet of the prison, but no one who knew the President and his unmoveable nature supposed for an instant that the sentence would be changed in jot or tittle."

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  1. I really enjoy your "then and now" photos. I've walked past the Surratt house a number of times without realizing its significance.

    1. thanks for the kind words.... i have driven past it several times and not know the significance either...

  2. I ate there just because I wanted to see inside! Good food, but I kept imagining Wilkes Booth coming through the door as I ate my crab rangoon...