Johnny's Little Pistol
The War is ended. All the guns have fallen silent; except me. I am about to make the loudest shot of all.
Washington is full of soldiers, all dressed in the blue uniform of victory. Unlike during the past four years, those wearing the uniform are no longer grim. Now they are festive. The festivities of victory are expected to go on for weeks. I am about to change those expectations. After tonight, there may be no more festivities here inWashington D.C. for many years to come.
Now it is evening. My owner Johnny stands on Northwest 10th street, outside the Peterson’s House, directly across the street from Ford’s Theater. He has me hidden. I am easy to hide. I am a tiny pistol known as a “Derringer”. I’m also known as a “Lady’s Pistol”, but when I perform tonight, it won’t be as a soprano. Tonight everyone here at Ford’s Theater will hear my base baritone blast, that the whole World will never forget!
The Theater is presenting an English Comedy; “Our American Cousin”. The doors are open, and the crowd is entering the lobby. My owner Johnny is an actor. While he is not listed as a performer in this Play; he will have a part in it tonight; the only part that will be remembered, throughout all time.
He crosses the street but does not enter the lobby. He moves along the alley beside the theater and enters through the stage door. Everyone here backstage knows him. They greet him casually, while going about their theatrical activities. No one here has any reason to expect any trouble from him.
He mumbles softly, “Sic semper tyrannous.”
An actress glances at him, but pays him no mind. She probably assumes that Johnny the Actor is rehearsing lines for a different play.
The performance has begun. It has been going on for a considerable amount of time. Now Johnny begins to make his move. He steps out into the darkened theater, looking up at the Box above the stage, where the President is seated with his wife, along with a military officer and his wife. Johnny moves over to the aisle along the wall to the side of the audience, leading to a door which is shut, blocking access to the steps leading up to the President’s Box.
An armed Soldier stands blocking the door; cutting Johnny off from attempting to accomplish the task, for which he has come here tonight. The Soldier is restless. He keeps moving about, trying to get a better view of the performance. He keeps moving away from the door and back. Each time he moves away, he stays in view of the stage just a little bit longer.
Now he has moved totally away from the door; paying it no attention whatever.
Johnny continues his move, going quietly forward along the aisle, ignored by any audience member who notices him. He comes up to the door and glances at the inattentive Guard, who’s entirely focused upon the performance. Johnny quietly opens the door, steps across the threshold, and then shuts it again. Now he removes me from hiding.
We quickly climb the steps, reaching the inner door to the President’s Box in a moment.
Johnny opens this inner door, and steps out into the Box, unnoticed by the President, his guest and their wives; whose attention is focused upon the performance below.
Johnny points me at the back of the President’s head, and pulls my trigger.
Now I give my performance! A base baritone blast, which will be remembered throughout all time!
The actors below us on stage are startled, and look up at the Box. There is screaming, shouting and confusion all over the theater. Johnny tries to leap away, but a spur on one of his boots, catches on the bunting clipped to the front of the Box. He falls flat onto the stage.
He stands up, faces the audience, and performs his single line.
“Sic semper tyrannous!” (That’s Latin; meaning “Thus be it ever with tyrants.”)
That was last night. Now it is the following day. The President has died in a bed in the Peterson’s house, across Northwest 10th street from Ford’s Theater.
A member of his Cabinet is reported to have said, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
That means that Johnny will also belong to the ages.
So will I.