The McDevitt Files: Exploring the Lincoln Conspiracy with Matt Dewberry

The walking tour Investigation: Detective McDevitt takes up to 40 visitors on an interactive journey through the facts and faces of the crime that changed America: Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Along the journey, attendees hear about the manhunt to find John Wilkes Booth and the other conspirators. The tour is led by Detective James McDevitt, a real-life 1860s detective who worked at the Metropolitan Police Department during the time of the Lincoln assassination and conspirator trial. We recently spoke with one of our guides, Matt Dewberry, for a few behind-the-scenes insights about playing McDevitt on the streets of D.C.

Matthew Dewberry performs in History on Foot for Ford's Theatre.

Lauren Beyea: What makes Investigation: Detective McDevitt walking tour unique?

Matt Dewberry: The dramatic aspects of the McDevitt tour experience really sets it apart. Your tour guide is a professional actor in period costume who invites you back to 1865 with him. You get a first-hand look at how it all played out, while walking through the streets where it happened.  I think that’s pretty fascinating!

Beyea: You’re an actor and also a member of our office’s Group Sales team. How did you get your start working as McDevitt?

Dewberry: I’ve been at Ford’s for about 2.5 years now, while also balancing my acting career. … A few months ago, I overheard Ford’s Theatre Company Manager Melissa Kimball saying something about looking for a new actor for the McDevitt tours. I wasn’t exactly sure what she was talking about, but I just jokingly said “Fine! I’ll do it!” Schedules and details of the tour itself worked out pretty perfectly.

For me, the challenge of doing what is basically a one-man show (albeit a pretty unconventional one) that moves from location to location come rain or shine was intriguing.

Beyea: How long did it take you to learn the script and rehearse before taking to the streets?

Dewberry: I took the whole month of May. Since then, I’ve been doing one or two tours a week since.

Beyea: Are there any interesting challenges you’ve discovered in leading a walking tour here in D.C.?

"Evidence" shared along the walking tour, Investigation: Detective McDevitt.

Dewberry: You have to be ready for anything outside. It was pouring down rain on my first tour. It actually made the first part of the tour even more exciting because the weather on the day of Lincoln’s assassination and passing was drizzly so it totally added to the atmosphere of the story. It was almost as if we’d planned it that way.

I’ve also had to pause briefly near Pennsylvania Avenue for motorcades to pass by. There are all sorts of cars and sirens, but you just have to stay in character and try to find a fun way to play it off. The groups actually love to see how you handle those random situations.

Beyea: What fun facts have you learned in your preparations for the tour?

Dewberry: There were herds of cattle grazing on the National Mall during the 1860s. It wasn’t unusual for cows to wander up into the streets and walk around. How incredible (and hilarious) that it was part of daily city life to share the city with cattle!

Beyea: What is the most rewarding part of playing McDevitt?

Dewberry: I love standing in front of the White House once the tour has finished and having members of the tour come up and engage with me. There are always fantastic questions about the events of the assassination and the investigation itself. The fact that they’ve spent the last two hours with me and that they want to talk more about the tour makes it all worthwhile.

History on Foot tours work their way through downtown D.C. from Ford's Theatre to the White House.

Beyea: Any funny moments you can share from this summer’s tours?

Dewberry: A family with three kids (two girls and a boy) and their grandparents all came on the tour recently. Throughout the entire tour, the two girls were right on my heels asking questions and trying to figure out what was going on. At one point, the girls whispered in my ear, “I’d keep an eye on my grandmother if I were you. I think she might be involved!”

As the tour progressed, they kept giving me more and more information about their “shady” grandmother, who, they thought, began to look increasingly guilty. As we neared the White House, one of the girls pulled me aside again and said, “I also think my brother is involved. You should have him arrested for sure.” Hard not to crack a smile!

After the tour, we told the grandmother, who had become suspicious of what her granddaughters had been saying, about the accusations that had been brought against her. She just laughed before telling the girls that they’d be walking back home to California. It was such a fun time to have a group that was so obviously engaged in the whole nature of the experience.

Beyea: What do you hope the people on your tours take away from the experience?

Dewberry: I hope the people who come on my tour will have a really enjoyable time while also learning something. I also hope that they will leave with a new-found appreciation for the events that led up to the assassination of President Lincoln—not just the things that everyone knows, but also the tiny details that make it such a fascinating story.

Join Detective McDevitt for a History on Foot walking tour now through October 29. Purchase your tickets today!

Read what other McDevitt guides have to say about the tour.