Photo of the Day: Holding Booth’s gun

When it comes to researching and writing about the assassination, I am a very visual person.  I actively seek out and like to include pictures in as many of my posts as possible.  Images contain a life and message all their own.  So often though, we as human beings gloss over visual information quickly.  As an elementary teacher, I even witness this with my young readers.  Children are so eager to read quickly and efficiently like adults, that they start abandoning the pictures in their stories.  They ignore the photographs and pictures, opting instead to race through and finish.  As adults we do the same.  Efficiency runs our lives with nary a moment devoted to the mere act of looking closely at anything.  So, from time to time, I will be combating this with a simple post of a photograph.  I invite you to take some time to really see it.  Take an actual 60 second long minute, and really look at the image.  Let it bring questions into your mind.  Reflect on the feelings it might draw out of you.  Put it in its proper context as a moment in time, and not just as a graphic on a computer screen.

Today, I’m putting up a picture of a man holding John Wilkes Booth’s gun.  I’ve seen the gun many times and this specific photo as well, but when I really take the time to see it, this image speaks to me:  “This man in the photo chose to hold the gun.  With or without prompting, he posed himself into an aiming position with it.  This item was used to kill the President and this man is holding it centimeters from his face.  His eye is drawing an imaginary line down its barrel.  What does he see in its sights?  How did he feel when he posed for this?  Is the gun like a toy to him?  Has he been around it so long that the impact of what it did has worn off?  Or is he trying to get into the mindset of the man who pulled the trigger?…”

When you look at this picture, I hope it affects you in some way, if only for a minute.

August 10th, 1937

Edwin B. Pitts, Chief Clerk of the Judge Advocate General’s Office, poses holding Booth’s derringer:

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11 thoughts on “Photo of the Day: Holding Booth’s gun

  1. Richard Sloan

    If you go to the AP photo site (which sells their prints for personal use for between $25-$40), you can find a color photo of the gun resting on a piece of linen in the palms of the hands of Frank Hebblethwaite, the former curator of Ford’s Theatre. It was taken just before the gun was moved to a bank vault for a few months, while the museum was closed for refurbishing a number of years ago. (I haven’t ordered my own copy of it yet, but I intend to.) It was a very detailed , elaborate, and carefully orchestrated move, and Frank had the responsibility of seeing to it that the gun was transported carefully. The two security guards from the company that owned the truck stand on either side of him in the picture. What I found amusing was the fact that Frank told me that the bank was just a block or two away!. (Frank could have walked there with the gun in a shopping bag without anyone knowing it!) Of course, I am joking about that part. It reminded me of an episode of the old Abbott & Costello TV series — the boys spent most of the episode loading their belongings into their car, for a carefully planned vacation trip. The car was, parked in front of their apartment building. A dozen suitcases and a trunk were pushed inside and strapped onto the roof of the car. It was hilarious. Then they got in and drove to the next building on the block — a hotel where they were going to spend their vacation! . ..I don’t know if you can get away with showing the photograph, but it’s a beauty.

  2. I’m wondering about this photo, Dave – obviously taken in the 1950s to early 1960s; more or less during the restoration of Ford’s Theatre. I personally don’t think that Booth had his eye that close to the pistol. His eye is right near where the cap would be placed. Sometimes there would be a “flash” with this type of gun when it hit the cap. This could be dangerous I would image to his eyes….. I wouldn’t put MY eye that close to the barrel…..that’s what strikes me; did Booth really aim the gun looking down the sight? I don’t think he really needed to. An interesting photo, Thanks Dave!

    Also LOVE your “Boothie” pumpkins!! They are wonderful — you need to do one of Powell for me! HA!

    • BoothieBarn

      Betty,

      The photo is from the Library of Congress and they date it as 1937. Since the Judge Advocate General still had ownership of the relics in 1937, and this man is cited as a clerk there, I believe the date to be accurate. And you’re right, Booth would never had put his pretty face that close to the actual weapon.

      Thanks for the compliment on the Booth-o-Lanterns. I carved them out of craft pumpkins so that they last from year to year. I just put them out last night.

  3. J. Beckert

    Deringer’s were notoriously inaccurate. After about 20ft., it’s worthless. No need for Booth to aim at that distance. Just put it right up to the target and “point and click”.

  4. I’m going to have to try that, Dave! Thanks for the pumpkin tip….

    I notice one thing about that gentleman in the photograph. He’s a redhead. Trust me – I know! His hands are as freckled as my own – also 1937 is probably correct as he’s wearing one of those collar tie pins prevalent in that era. Love the design on his shirt…..

  5. Bob & Sue Cook

    13 October 2012

    For the record: http://www..zazzle.com/ currently is offering a mousepad of the 1937 Edwin B. Pitts/JWB derringer photograph at:

    Straight Shooter: 1937 Mousepad:

    http://www.zazzle.com/straight_shooter_1937_mousepad-144652903058201163

    Robert W. Cook

    Bryantown, Maryland

    _____

  6. Pingback: Photo: Holding Booth’s Gun Part 2 « BoothieBarn

  7. I HAVE A REAL PHOTO POSTCARD SHOWING BOOTH’S DERINGER FROM THE EARLY 1900s WITH A PIN, BEFORE THE SCREW WAS ADDED. IT IS AUTHENIC!

    • I’d love to see it Shirley and post it if you’re willing. My email is boothiebarn (at) gmail (dot) com.

      • HI,

        I AM GOING TO FORWARD YOU MY BEST PHOTO THAT A FRIEND TOOK FOR ME—I DON’T KNOW HOW TO GET IT IN MY PHOTO FILES. I WANT TO SELL THIS POSTCARD, CAN YOU GIVE ME ANY HELP DOING THAT? PLEASE COMPARE THE DENTS ON THE METAL OF THIS PHOTO WITH THE 2011 ENLARGEMENT ON GOOGLE. THANX! SHIRLEY

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