They entered the theater. When the crowd in their seats heard or saw that Lincoln was in the house, many applauded, some rose from their seats, others cheered. The President stopped and nodded to the crowd, then he and his group proceeded up some stairs to the presidential box.
Rathbone and Miss Harris sat near the front of the box, viewable by the crowd. The President and Mrs. Lincoln, seated farther back, were less viewable by the audience. The President and his party, as well as the audience, seemed to enjoy the play, "Our American Cousin."
Parker, armed with a revolver, was on duty outside the box. His job was to prevent, with deadly force if necessary, any unauthorized person or persons from entering the presidential box.
If character is determined by actions, Parker's actions that fateful night at Ford's Theater were lousy. At one point, intrigued by the dialogue of a play he could hear from his position but not see, he deserted his post, walked down a side aisle and seated himself in the balcony, watching the play.
Later, to make matters worse, he left the theater entirely for awhile, joining friends outside for a drink. Neither President Lincoln or his group was aware of Parker's absence. Later, having quenched his thirst, at least for awhile, Parker apparently returned to Ford's Theater, returning to a seat in the balcony, continuing to avoid his designated position outside the presidential box.
Soon, John Wilkes Booth was outside the unguarded door of the presidential box. According to Sandburg, "Softly he had opened the door and stepped toward his prey, in his right hand a one-shot brass derringer pistol, a little eight- ounce vest pocket weapon winged for death, in his left hand a steel dagger. He was cool and precise and timed his every move. He raised the derringer, lengthened his right arm, ran his eye along the barrel in a line with the head of the victim less than five feet away--and pulled the trigger."
Sandburg continues, "A lead ball somewhat less than a half-inch in diameter crashed into the left side of the head of the Human Target, into the back of the head, in a line with and three inches from the left ear. 'The course of the ball was obliquely forward toward the right eye, crossing the brain in an oblique manner and lodging a few inches behind that eye. In the track of the wound were found fragments of bone, which had been driven forward by the ball, which was embedded in the anterior lobe of the left hemisphere of the brain.'"
Sandburg concludes, "For Abraham Lincoln it was lights out, good night, farewell and a long farewell to the good earth and its trees, it's enjoyable companions, and the Union of States and the world Family of Man he had loved. He was not dead yet. Lincoln was to linger in dying. But, the living man could never again speak nor see nor hear nor awaken into conscious being.
IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE SHOOTING:
Right after the shooting, Major Rathbone leaped from his seat. Booth charged him, dagger drawn. Rathbone, grappling with Booth, received a bad stab wound to his arm. Quickly climbing to the railing, Booth leaped to the stage ten feet below. Catching the spur of one boot on the silk of the Union flag draped on the presidential box, it threw off his descent. He hit the stage with his full weight on his left leg, breaking his shinbone. Soon, Booth was off the stage and into an alley, stealing a horse and racing away. Only a minute or so had passed since the shooting of Lincoln!