By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Think of it as sibling rivalry run amok.
While there were many benefits to Whiteaker Middle School eighth grader Madison Rutter constructing a scale replica of Ford’s Theatre, one that she’ll likely hang onto longer than some others was outdoing her sister.
“I just wanted to do something bigger than her,” Madison said.
Rutter’s grandfather, Paul Rutter, helped her sister construct a working cotton gin for an enrichment project a few years back. This year, Megan approached Paul with her own idea for a project, a replica of the site where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.
“I just kind of followed her lead and we took off from there,” said Paul, a housing contractor who spent eight weeks with his grandaughter constructing the model.
It all started innocently enough. Matt Faatz, a Whiteaker social studies teacher, talked with students about taking on an enrichment project for extra credit. He told students it should be something that they were interested in learning more about. When Madison approached him looking for ideas, he gave her the book Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson. The story of an actor-turned-assassin was too interesting to pass up. She checked out every single book on the topic from the school library and found herself drawn to the theater where it happened.
“It is just such a beautiful building and I wanted to know more,” Madison said.
Piecing together photos of the theater at the time of the assassination and the little bits included in the books she read, Madison and Paul drew up their own blueprints of the floor plan and got to work.
“Booth knew the place really well. He even got his mail there and that’s how he found out Lincoln was going to be at the theater,” Madison said.
The model includes quite a bit more than just the theater and stage. The dressing rooms, the prop room, the manager’s office, and even the lighting tech’s office are all part of the finished project, which is about three-and-a-half feet square and easily that tall. It even includes a replica of Star Saloon, where Booth conjured up liquid courage before his main performance.
“Booth waited until the perfect time to do it,” Madison said. “Lincoln’s bodyguard had gone down to the saloon to drink with the coachman and Booth used a secret passage between the two buildings to get up to the balcony where the Lincolns were sitting.”
Booth entered the balcony with a woman’s pistol and the rest, as they say, is history. Madison’s model includes the flags that draped in front of the balcony for the presidential entourage.
“After he took the shot, another person grabbed for him and Booth leapt down to the stage,” Madison said. “His riding spur on his boot got caught on the flag hanging below the balcony causing him to fall awkwardly and break his leg.”
Madison and Paul went to painstaking effort to get all the details of Ford’s Theater that night. They purchased dollhouse furniture to adorn each room and spray-painted each before they were included. Every door – and there are many – opens to reveal little nooks with their own furniture. The replica of the sign outside the front door swings. Madison painted the brickwork exterior using painter’s tape, and devised the final solution for the paned windows.
“We started out planning to use cellophane, but had a difficult time getting it to stay tight. It was by far the hardest part before we settled on plexiglass,” Paul said.
The management of Salem’s A.C. Gilbert House has already expressed interest in housing it as part of their exhibits.
While Madison managed a bigger project than her sister, it was the time spent together that meant the most to Paul.
“It was rewarding to see her take the educational aspect of it and run with it. It was a way to let her know how important her grandmother and I feel her education is,” Paul said.
“It’s also exciting to know more people might get to learn from the model,” added Madison. “This was an important event people should know more about.”
There is one last, little bit of pride Madison takes in having completed a project so awe-inspiring.
“In class, Mr. Faatz had to ask me if he had his facts right,” she said.
One can only guess that her sister will be hearing about that one for years to come.