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Jefferson still survives, unlike the other guy

Anna Berkes

Sometimes it's a little scary how persistent apocryphal stories about Jefferson are. Case in point: the perennial (for us) question, "Did Thomas Jefferson shoot someone on the White House lawn?" There's no evidence that he did, and strangely enough, the source of this particularly bizarre story seems to be the movie Swordfish. (Thank you, Swordfish scriptwriters!) We've been asked about this question so many times that I'm thinking we should take out a full-page ad in the New York Times to quash the whole thing. The last few inquirers have pointed me to a message-board-type website in which someone answers this question in the positive, with quite a few details. I dutifully investigated this new information, to no avail - I could not find one shred of evidence that this incident ever happened: nothing in Jefferson's papers, nothing in congressional records, nothing in the newspapers of the time (one would think they would have mentioned such a thing). Of course, if anyone has information to the contrary, do let me know...

The persistence of this story is in itself intriguing. Either a lot of people are watching Swordfish, or a lot of people want to believe Jefferson shot someone on the White House lawn. Perhaps both of those factors are at work. Just another example of the ways in which Jefferson has lived on in the minds of people and taken on meanings and forms I'm sure he never could have imagined.

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