Lothrop Wight Penny - Atlas Obscura

Lothrop Wight Penny

Framingham History Center

This penny stopped a bullet and saved a soldier’s life during the American Civil War.  


It is a common trope in movies and popular culture: A character is shot, and the wound seems fatal. But then, miraculously, they reveal they are unharmed, spared by an item in their pocket. It could be a bible, a flask, a pocket watch, a locket, or, as in the real-life case of Lieutenant Lothrop Wight, a penny he had in his pocket when he was struck by a Confederate bullet in 1864.

When the Civil War broke out in the spring of 1861, thousands of men across the northern states signed up to fight for the Union. Lothrop Wight was one of them—he enlisted in the 16th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as a Second Lieutenant from Framingham, Massachusetts. Despite his enthusiasm and commitment, his army career was cut short by a conflict with his commanding officer, Captain Henry Lawson, who he believed to be incompetent. According to Framingham Legends & Lore, Wight filed charges against Lawson, accusing him of negligence, but Wight in turn was charged with insubordination and was dishonorably discharged in November 1861.

Determined not sit out the war, Wight enlisted in the US Navy and served aboard the USS Wachusett and USS Vanderbilt as part of the Union blockade of the Confederate states. In July 1864, while patrolling the James River near Richmond, Virginia, on the USS Mendota, he was struck by Confederate gunfire. Fortunately for Wight, a penny in his breast pocket stopped the bullet.

After the war, Wight worked as a florist in the town of Wellesley, not far from Framingham, until his death in 1918. The penny was passed down through his family until they donated it to the Framingham History Center. It remains in Framingham today, a large dent visible from the impact of the bullet along with fragments of the projectile that fused to the penny in the heat of the moment.

Know Before You Go

The penny is in the reference collection of the Framingham History Center, which is only open by appointment. You can contact them via the contact info on their website.

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