Mike the Musicologist and I were talking about the moronic Rolling Stone list. So apparently “Derringers” are among the most dangerous guns in America? I can buy that; after all, no president has ever been shot with a machine gun, so clearly they are less dangerous than derringers.
(Would you trade a ban on derringers for legalized machine guns? I wouldn’t either, but I think it is an interesting question.)
Anyway, that, and the fact that I’ve been reading a lot about presidential assassinations and attempted assassinations recently, got me thinking. (As a side note, I owe my readers a longer discussion of the works of Candice Millard, but that’s for another time.)
So Oswald’s rifle may be the single best documented presidential assassination weapon we have. It is historically interesting, but we can set that to one side for the moment.
I am 99 44/100ths percent sure I have seen Booth’s derringer, but that was a long time ago in another country. I did briefly wonder how it was recovered: was it on Booth when he died? (No: Booth dropped it on the floor of Lincoln’s box when he pulled the knife and slashed Major Rathbone. Apparently, the New York Reload had not been invented in 1865.) And I was also not aware that there was a brief controversy about Booth’s derringer: there were claims that it was stolen and replaced with a replica. (I am also not sure that I trust the FBI’s police work 100% there, Lou, but that’s probably yet another discussion for another time.)
So that takes care of the two most famous assassinations. What of President McKinley, who, as you may recall, was shot by an anarchist with an unpronounceable name? Czolgsz’s weapon of choice was a .32 caliber Iver Johnson revolver; according to this site, that gun resides in the Buffalo History Museum. (Their website supports this.)
And that brings us to Garfield (the president, not the cartoon cat), who you may recall was shot by a “disgruntled office seeker”, which is a polite way of saying “a f–king nut”. When the Oneida Community thinks you’re weird, maybe that’s your sign.
Anyway. Guiteau shot Garfield with a “.44 Webley British Bulldog revolver“, which he purchased using money bummed from a friend. (Bumming money from friends and skipping out on his boarding bills was typical of Guiteau.) Supposedly, he bought one with ivory grips instead of wood because “he thought it would look good as a museum exhibit after the assassination”. (I’ve seen this cited elsewhere. On the other hand, the Wikipedia entry on the Bulldog says Guiteau didn’t want to spring for the extra $1 for ivory.)
The punchline to this: “The revolver was recovered and displayed by the Smithsonian in the early 20th century, but has since been lost.”
Seriously. They lost the gun used to kill a president. Granted, it appears to have been “lost” long after Guiteau was tried and executed. But still; how do you “lose” a presidential assassination weapon? And can you imagine the discussion at the Smithsonian when they found out Guiteau’s gun was “lost”?
(And I think I have to give Oswald a slight edge on taste, as he was the only one to use a Smith and Wesson revolver. Granted, it was a Victory model, so it wasn’t one of the better looking ones, but it was still a Smith. And if you were wondering, Jack Ruby used a Colt.)
(I say “slight edge” because, for all of Guiteau’s numerous faults, at least he picked ivory. As we all know, only a pimp in a cheap New Orleans whorehouse carries pearl handled revolvers.)