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1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20004 USA
On Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, three blocks from The White House, stands the National Theatre, "The Theatre of Presidents." This historic playhouse has seen Pennsylvania Avenue grow from the muddy main street of a fledgling capital, to the ceremonial avenue of a great world power. Festive inaugural parades and raucous demonstration marches pass on the Avenue in front of the building. Inside, drama and merriment reign. In the year the theatre opened, President Andrew Jackson paid off the national debt... the last time that has happened ... and he came to the National Theatre. That same year the Liberty Bell cracked, P.T. Barnum organized his first circus, and the National Theatre opened its doors. The National has operated longer than any other major touring house in the United States. Subsequent to its opening on December 7, 1835, the building was destroyed by fire and rebuilt on the same site five times during the 1800's. Part of the original foundation can still be seen in the basement of the present structure, which was rebuilt in the 1920's, and given a major renovation which was completed in 1984. The history of this theatre is a panorama of American theatre: a Who's Who of the stars of the past, the present, and, undoubtedly, the future. Virtually every great stage performer of the past century has appeared here. One star of the first season was Junius Brutus Booth, whose three sons, including the infamous John Wilkes Booth, all played at the National. The first performance in the theatre was Man of the World, in 1835. When the theatre reopened its doors in 1850, after a disastrous fire, the featured performer was Miss Jenny Lind, "the Swedish Nightingale." The first attraction in 1952 when the National returned to stage performances after a short period as a movie house was Call Me Madam, starring, of course, Ethel Merman. Among the other celebrated stars of the theatre who have appeared here are: Helen Hayes, John Barrymore, Joan Rivers, Carol Channing, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Sarah Bernhardt, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn. Playwright John Guare was an assistant manager here. Shirley MacLaine was an usher and her brother, Warren Beatty, was the stage doorman at one time. For almost a century the National has been haunted by the friendly ghost of actor John McCullough, reputedly shot and killed by a fellow performer. The two men argued while washing clothes in the Tiber Creek, which then flowed through the basement backstage. A rusty pistol, perhaps the murder weapon, was unearthed under the stage in 1982, near where McCullough's remains are rumored to lie in the earth beneath the stage. According to legend, his spirit roams the theatre on the eve of opening nights, and was once seated in the audience.