One of the more memorable scenes in 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service involves Colin Firth kicking the shit out of a bunch of street toughs using his hi-tech umbrella. And since weaponized parasols have been a part of pop culture since the Penguin threatened to take down Batman in the 1960s, Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura decided to investigate if there’s any truth behind the fanciful firearm. And it turns out there is: Umbrella guns have actually been used throughout history, including in the assassination of a Bulgarian dissident.
To be fair, the idea that Bulgarian dissident novelist Georgi Markov was killed by a poison pellet shot from an umbrella gun in 1978 is technically just a theory. But forensic experts have built a strong case, including the fact that Markov saw a man picking up an umbrella just after feeling a sharp sting on his thigh. (You can read more about Markov’s story on the PBS website.) And historians have collected actual umbrella guns over the years, too, including one from 1860 and one from 1892. Fully intact examples are rare, because the umbrella material tends to fall apart over the years, but they do exist.
Laskow’s article digs into all that, while pointing out that people are quite ingenious when it comes to their hidden gun designs. As collector David H. Fink puts it, “Man has attempted to disguise firearms into just about everything you can possibly imagine.” That includes pillboxes, flutes, pencils, Pepsi cans, pocket watches, rings, bike pumps, lipstick tubes, and, yes, umbrellas.