The deringer pistol was favored for its small size. Booth was able to conceal it inside his pocket when he entered the Presidential Box at Ford's Theatre.
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After John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, he dropped his deringer pistol. What should happen to the weapon has been a question ever since.
The gun John Wilkes Booth used to change American history was a .44-caliber pistol made by Henry Deringer of Philadelphia. Booth could easily hide the weapon in his pocket.
After the assassination, theatre patron William T. Kent found the pistol on the floor of the Presidential Box and turned it over to investigators. The U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Office used it as evidence in the conspirators’ trial in May and June of 1865. Eventually the War Department, today’s Department of Defense, displayed the deringer at its headquarters.
In 1931, General Ulysses S. Grant III, in charge of planning the new Lincoln Museum at Ford’s Theatre, asked to display the weapon and other Lincoln assassination artifacts. The Adjutant General of the U.S. Army denied the request, saying:
“The relics should not be displayed to the public under any circumstances, on the theory that they would create interest in the criminal aspects of the great tragedy, rather than the historical features thereof, and would have more of an appeal for the morbid or weak-minded than for students of history. […] the Lincoln relics should not be placed upon exhibition anywhere”.
Eventually, the War Department relented. In 1940, the War Department transferred Booth’s deringer and other pieces of evidence from the 1865 conspirators’ trial to the National Park Service for display at Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site.
After further questions about propriety, they first went on display in 1942, when a military tribunal for German saboteurs was taking place nearby.
Ford’s Theatre has displayed the deringer since.
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The engraving names the creator of the pistol: Henry Deringer of Philadelphia.
It was this tiny bullet that would impact American history. Booth fired a single, round lead ball right behind Lincoln’s head to kill him.
The night of April 14, 1865, forever changed our national history. Together, Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service partner to protect the artifacts from that night. Through these objects, we can better understand how that single event transformed our nation. Give to Ford’s Theatre to help continue sharing the stories that shaped a nation.