March 14, 2012 | Category: Things to Do | Posted by: Sarah
I had the privilege of going to see the new exhibit at Landis Valley Musem, The Golden Age of an American Art Form – The Lancaster Long Rifle on Friday. I met with Guest Curator Patrick Hornberger, a member of the Kentucky Rifle Association and the Pennsylvania Antique Gun Collectors Association.
The exhibit features around 65 Long Rifle guns, as well as early smooth-bore rifles for shooting waterfowl (known as Fowlers), some early pistols, and gunsmithing tools, powder horns and game bags. The exhibit is narrated by historical panels explaining the evolution of the long rifle.
The rifles are in glass cases, which allow for a well-lit, 360° view of the rifles. Patrick explained to me the differences between the rifles as we walked around the exhibit, how the wheellock rifles from the 1500s changed to the flintlock somewhere in the 1760s-80s. The pioneers used these guns because they needed an accurate rifle to bring down large game, as well as for protection. Later, the gunsmiths reduced the caliber and lengthened the barrel because of the smaller game. This allowed for easier travel with the gun, as the bullets were smaller and not as heavy to carry.
My favorite thing about these rifles is the intricate carving done on the patch-boxes, something that was perhaps a request from the buyer before the gun was made. Whether it was a request, or the gunsmith made it up as they went, these are beautiful carvings, some raised carvings, some incised. I asked if people would ever get their initials or names carved into the guns, and Patrick informed me that there was a spot on the thumb piece for intials, although not everyone got them carved in. The gunsmith would sign on the top of the barrel.
I’ll leave you with a very interest fact, and one that ties this exhibit to Downtown Lancaster. It’s a story about Melchior Fordney, a famous gun maker who had a gunshop at 508 Queen Street in Downtown Lancaster. John Haggarty, a neighbor of Fordneys with a troubled past, apparently bludgeoned Fordney and his wife to death, and severely injured one daughter. The trial is the first recorded time in the United States that insanity was used as a defense. Haggarty did not get off on insanity plea.
So what are you waiting for? Head on over to learn more history about the Lancaster Long Rifle! The gunsmith shop will also be open on the ground of Landis Valley, where you can hear more and maybe even see someone making rifles!