By Kyle Shea
On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary, arrived at Ford’s Theatre to watch the play My American Cousin. They were joined by Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée, Clara Harris, and they were taken to their box to watch the play. In the middle of the play, after a joke that had Lincoln laughing out loud, a horrible sound filled the theatre. A well-known actor named John Wilkes Booth snuck into the box and shot Lincoln from behind. After a small struggle with Rathbone, Booth managed to get free, jump to the stage and was heard to have shouted something as he fled. Some say it was “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” or something to do with the South. Whatever the case, Booth died after a twelve-day manhunt, but Abraham Lincoln would die on April 15th, the day after he was shot by Booth.
In the film “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” the assassination of Abraham Lincoln is reenacted and plays a huge part in the story. The main character of the movie, Ben Gates, tells a story about the night where one of Booth’s fellow conspirators killed one of Gates’ ancestors after decoding a message for them. However, someone comes forward with evidence that the Gates ancestor may have been part of the conspiracy to kill Lincoln. Determined to prove his ancestor innocent of the charge, Gates and his friends set off on a quest to find out what the original message said.
John Wilkes Booth used a Philadelphia Deringer to kill President Lincoln. These guns were created by Henry Deringer Jr., the son of a German immigrant family. He got his start producing muskets for the army, but soon developed a small pistol that used a percussion cap. The gun was small enough to hide in a coat pocket and was a favorite of politicians since there was no Secret Service at the time. It was also a good back-up weapon and sadly, a good gun to sneak up on someone and shoot them.
The Deringer pistol functioned like most single shot guns of the day. First, gunpowder was poured down the barrel of the gun. Then, a piece of cloth was placed over the mouth of the barrel. An ammunition ball was placed on the fabric and a ramrod was used to push it down the barrel. The hammer was then pulled back to a halfcocked position and a percussion cap placed on the nipple. At this point the hammer was pulled back all the way and the pistol was ready to fire.
The gun used to kill Lincoln was a .44 caliber pistol and is on display at the Ford’s Theater museum. The gun used in the film is similar, but there are some differences. It is nicely decorated with the wooden stock imprinted with markings to probably help with the grip. On the right side of the gun, the words “Deringer Philadelphia” are imprinted on the metal just behind the hammer.
“National Treasure: Book of Secrets” is a sequel to 2004s “National Treasure” and stars Nicolas Cage as Benjamin Gates, the main character of both movies. He does a good job in the role, as does Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, and Jon Voight do in theirs. Ed Harris plays the villain, but doesn’t have much of a presence. Sean Bean was the villain in the previous movie and did a better job. Both movies did well at the box office and were well received by critics and audiences alike. There was one criticism and that is that the sequel feels a little too much like the first movie. However, this is a small criticism and both movies are definitely worth watching. If you want something similar to Indiana Jones but set in a modern day, these are the movies for you.
SAR would like to thank the Weapons Department of Independent Studio Services in Sundale, CA for allowing us to photograph and record the history of these Movie Guns.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V26N6 (JUNE/JULY 2022)|