This summer we are interviewing each of the three guides who play Detective James McDevitt on our History on Foot walking tour. The tour Investigation: Detective McDevitt takes up to 40 visitors on an interactive journey through the facts and faces of the crime that changed American history and investigates whether Lincoln’s murder was part of a larger conspiracy.
James McDevitt is the name of a true-life 1860s detective who worked at the Metropolitan Police Department during the time of the Lincoln assassination and trial. We recently spoke with our newest guide, Michael Glenn, for a few behind-the-scenes insights about playing McDevitt on the streets of D.C.
When Michael Glenn was offered the job as the newest History on Foot Detective McDevitt tour guide this summer he jumped at the opportunity to play this unique role and has quickly learned the ropes.
Investigation: Detective McDevitt goes into extensive detail about all the events surrounding the Lincoln assassination. The tour explores not just what happened at Ford’s Theatre but everything that happened throughout the city on the fateful night of April 14, 1865. As the newest McDevitt, Glenn has had a lot of learning to do. “The script is pretty dense, and it’s filled with a lot of names and dates. It is getting easier and easier to deliver all that information as the job goes on. The heat, the bugs and the potential for rain all factor into the performance in a way they certainly don’t when you’re working inside a theater.”
After a few weeks of playing McDevitt, Glenn is really starting to be able to stop worrying about the lines and is starting to notice the little details of each tour. He explains, “Until recently, my brain’s gerbil wheel had been spinning like mad just keeping all of the facts straight.” Glenn says that, because he is new, he has been trying to do a very similar delivery of the lines as the other McDevitts do. “Now that I’m getting more comfortable [with the role], I expect some of my own personality will work its way into the performance.”
During the tour, McDevitt leads the group through various sites, starting at the historic Ford’s Theatre and following the assassination conspiracy all the way to the White House. Glenn loves reminding people how old and interesting D.C. really is. “While it’s fun to learn about the storied history of Ford’s Theatre, the Willard Hotel or the White House, etc., it’s most interesting to me to learn about the locations that have been paved over by metropolitan progress.”
Glenn believes that the History on Foot tour has some unique advantages on other walking tours: “I think it offers a different perspective on the information and allows you to see all the history still alive in this city.” He hopes the people who attend his tour come away with a better understanding of the events surrounding the Lincoln assassination. “Most people are aware of [John Wilkes] Booth, but it’s always interesting to see how many people are unaware of all the other attacks that happened at the same time, and how big the conspiracy actually was.”
History on Foot tours involve some participation from the audience. Those on the tours are enlisted as deputies and share clues as they follow the conspiracy trail. This makes each tour a little bit different. “You can never predict who’s going to be the most interested, most participatory or most fun. So far, every tour has had its own particular joys.”
Glenn leads tours a couple times a week for both large and small groups. But when he isn’t being McDevitt, he likes to explore D.C. with his son: “We’re constantly taking advantage of all the branches of our magnificent Smithsonian network. We’re big fans of the National Zoo and the Arboretum, as well as the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum.” He is also a fan of the many art galleries but laments that his son is still too young to sit still long enough to enjoy them.
You can come see Detective McDevitt in the History on Foot walking tours through August 30th. Buy your tickets today!
Alex Johnson is a former Ford’s Theatre Marketing and Communication Intern and graduate of American University with a double major in Public Communication and Theatre Performance.