One Damned Thing After Another

Well, September is upon us once again, bringing with it the signs of change, as it always does. The playgrounds fall silent as the kids go back to their books and number 2 pencils, the long summer days grow shorter, leaves start to show a hint of color, and our thoughts turn to long cool nights filled with the cozy smell of gunsmoke and the unholy moans of the undead. Soon it’ll be time to board up the windows, gather the family around the hearth, roast some chestnuts, and give the old hogleg pistol a new coat of gunoil.

I built this pistol case as a wedding present for my friends and fellow zombie movie aficionados, Willie and Mikki. It may seem like a strange wedding present, but only if you haven’t met Willie and Mikki.

My original plan was to also build the pistol from parts. I’ve built a few that way so I was looking forward to it, but mid-project my supplier stopped carrying the pistol parts. So, I bought an already-finished .44 Colt 1851 Navy—the same gun favored by Wild Bill Hickock, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Calamity Jane. It’s a percussion revolver—commonly called a cap and ball pistol. You load each chamber with loose black powder, wadding, and lead ball. It’s a slow process, and not the kind of thing you want to attempt when a zombie is gnawing on your cranium. But in the mid 1800s, cartridge ammunition was still a few years away, and the Colt Navy was state of the art. In the .44 caliber and with a full charge of powder, it’s a powerful and accurate pistol. Capable of shooting three inch groups at 25 yards, it can drop an opponent—undead or otherwise—with one shot.

So all this got me thinking—if zombies had been rampant in 1851—and who’s to say they weren’t—mightn’t this pistol case be the kind of thing one would find hanging on the walls of public buildings, alongside the fire ax and pail of sand? Let’s hypothesize for a moment that maybe—just maybe—in the 19th century the living dead walked among us undetected. Given the general lack of hygiene in the 1850s, it certainly could have happened. And if you accept that possibility, maybe you can accept the equally plausible notion that there would of course have been a secret order of highly trained men and women—sworn to secrecy—who hunted the living dead to slow the spread of zombie contagion. I’m just saying—coulda happened, right?

So, with that premise as my general guideline, I got to work imagineering.

The case itself I made from old stuff  that I cut and fitted—an old egg box, a 19th century walnut frame with old bubbled glass, a type-case label holder, and a vintage brass lock. The latches and hinges were new, so I corroded them to match the old lock. I then built a liner with fitted recesses and lined it with moss green velvet. The pistol, ammo tin, and powder horn were all brand new, so I used some of my propmaker’s tricks to take the shine off and put some age on them.

I coulda slapped some labels together in Photoshop and printed them out on my Epson, but I have an obsessive nature, and besides—Willie and Mikki deserved the best. They’re the kind of friends that embody that old saying—“A friend will help you move. A good friend will help you move a body.” So I hand-set the labels with 19th century lead type and ornaments and hand-printed them, just like Wild Bill would have done if he’d been a printer instead of a gunslinger and, perhaps—who can really say?—leader of the zombie-hunting elite force.

Vigili Urbani is pretty self explanatory. The Latin motto “Unus Damno Res Secundum Alius” translates to “One damned thing after another.”

So kids, have fun, play safe, and—as a wise man once said—shoot ’em in the head!

Ross Macdonald is a letterpress artist, illustrator, and prop maker. This article originally appeared (and still appears, with larger pics!) on


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