But for about 35 minutes on a cold February night in 1964, four boys from Liverpool entered a converted ice rink and warmed a generation's heart.
COURTROOM DRAMA: Last act of the Civil War
The man, a tavern owner, took the witness stand.
"I was acquainted with John Wilkes Booth," he said. "Booth came into my restaurant [adjoining Ford's Theater] on the evening of the 14th of April."
Booth "walked up to the bar, and called for some whiskey, which I gave him; he called for some water, which I also gave him; he placed the money on the counter and went out. I saw him go out of the bar alone, as near as I can judge, from eight to ten minutes before I heard the cry that the President was assassinated."
Peter Taltavul spoke those words, in this room, just one month after Lincoln died.
By then, authorities had already tracked down Booth, cornered him, and killed him. And they had rounded up eight people who they believe had assisted him.
They convened a military commission to conduct the trial in the third floor of what was then a federal penitentiary. The co-conspirators, they reasoned, were not "civilians," but were "enemy belligerents." The nation was seeking justice and vengeance, and it would come swiftly.
On July 6, 1865 -- less than three months after the assassination -- the commission found all eight conspirators guilty. It sentenced four to hang, and four to prison terms. The condemned were hanged the next day.
A year later, the Supreme Court would rule that a defendant could not be tried by military commission when civilian courts were functioning. But it was too late.
The penitentiary is now closed and largely demolished. The land is part of Fort McNair at the southernmost point of Washington.
Visitors -- mostly lawyers and Civil War buffs -- are frequently overwhelmed when they enter the room, said Susan Lemke, a special collections librarian who has accumulated artifacts related to the trial. "There's no substitution for actually witnessing or being in the middle of a historic site like that," she said.
THE GALLOWS: Where generals "serve," conspirators hanged
Michael Kauffman is struck by the incongruity of it all.
On the edge of a Fort McNair tennis court, where generals now casually toss their gym bags, Abraham Lincoln's death was avenged.
Here in this spot, near the penitentiary room where the sentences were handed down, on a miserably hot day in July 1865, Union Army Capt. Christian Rath raised his hands and clapped three times. On the third clap, soldiers knocked supports out from under a gallows, and four prisoners fell. Their bodies jerked violently at the ends of their ropes. The prisoner in the dress appeared to die instantly. But one of her three accused accomplices writhed for five minutes before surrendering his ghost.
"I am one of those people who think that if you really want to understand history, you have to go to where it happened," says Kauffman, an expert on the Lincoln assassination.
So Kauffman leads me to this empty tennis court. It is drizzly and cold, and there is little here to evince the images and emotions of that hot July day. The penitentiary's tall wall has been demolished, and a building prominent in photos of the hanging has been altered almost beyond recognition.
Kauffman shows me the place where the wall met the building. And in my mind's eye, the gallows fall into place.