Transcript Bonus 5.3: The Derringer
Callie Hawkins: Hi everyone! This is Callie and Joan from Q&Abe, a podcast by President Lincoln’s Cottage.
Joan Cummins: As we’re talking to historians and other experts for the show, we sometimes end up with intriguing information that doesn’t quite fit in the main episode, but we don’t think that should keep you all from hearing about it.
CH: This bonus episode accompanies episode 5.3, Why would Maryland do that?, so if you haven’t listened to that one yet, it might be a good place to start.
JC: When an act of gun violence enters the national conversation today, there’s a lot of discussion about the specific weapon used, where it came from, and whether anybody should be allowed to access it.
CH: I asked Terry Alford, a biographer of John Wilkes Booth, how long had Booth had his gun, and where did it come from?
Terry Alford: It was a little pistol, single shot pistol made by Derringer Company in Philadelphia. They were sold in pairs, so theoretically there was another one out there. We don’t know, we don’t have a bill of sale, we don’t have records from Derringers, we don’t really know where it came from. We do have a reference that as early as five years before the murder, uh, he had a Derringer, probably was the same one. In fact, the one he had does show some signs of repair as if had had been used for a number of years. How long he had had it, we don’t know, he’d had that type of weapon for several years. It was customary, in fact, in large parts of the country down South, out West, just to carry a personal side arm for your protection. He was exceedingly familiar with firearms and an, actually an excellent shot. Now the shot at Ford’s Theater required no marksmanship. It was point blank, but you know, there are records of him in shooting contests, leaning over and shooting between his legs and hitting a target, there are all sorts of stories of about how good a marksman he was.
JC: And Alex Wood told us more about how she thinks about the work they do at Ford’s Theater.
Alex Wood: At Fords, we welcome students and learners and history lovers of all ages to come visit us as a historic site and to come experience live theater in the historic theater itself. A lot of what we talked about today we tackle pretty intently through our teacher programs and our student field trips and, both onsite and online, and it’s really exciting to dig into these questions and these primary sources with people who are curious and eager to learn. And I think I said this already, but I do absolutely love how so many people come to Ford’s Theater, maybe with an idea of what they think they’re gonna get out of their visit, they’re gonna see the box, they’re gonna see the stage, they’re gonna maybe get to see some of the artifacts, but I think a lot of our visitors leave with more nuanced understanding of what the local community was like during the Civil War, where they can learn more and hopefully keep exploring, and then hopefully some more questions about, you know, how all of this history that can sometimes feel very long ago and far away actually still matters very much to us today.
CH: It’s amazing. I think that Ford’s Theater and what happened there is just an incredible study in memory, and especially as you were saying, how like, so many different people remembered the evening so differently and I’m, I’m thinking back to times that I’ve, I’ve been aware that I was living through something that was either unprecedented or was just going to be one of those moments where I was gonna need to remember where I was and what I was doing at the time that I heard about it. I think it’s such an amazing place for, for looking at that.
AW: Oh, thanks! I love talking to students today about what they think they’re gonna save from the historic experiences they’re living through right now, right? We’ve just been, we’re still going through Covid 19 pandemic, racial reckoning in this nation, events like January 6th, right – we are living through historic times right now, and everything that’s in Ford’s Theater is there because someone decided to save it. Just a regular person said, “I should keep this.” So what are, what are we gonna save? What are we gonna save? And you know, what things are we gonna discard cause maybe we don’t wanna remember it yet?
CH: Is there anything in your life you think could be part of history later? Maybe put it somewhere safe and somebody will talk about it on a podcast in 2181!
JC: Thanks for listening, and please tell a friend about the show! We appreciate you coming along with us for Season 5, and you’ll hear from us again soon. This episode was produced by me, Joan Cummins, with Callie Hawkins and support from the President Lincoln’s Cottage team. Music for Q&Abe was written, performed, and is copyrighted by Clancy Newman.
CH: Q&Abe is made possible by listeners like you. You can support the show by joining Team Lincoln at www.lincolncottage.org, where you can also check out our other online and in-person programming. You can reach us at email@example.com.
JC: President Lincoln’s Cottage is a home for brave ideas. Stay curious!