Saturday, May 23, 2009

“Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car”

As Nobody Move! blogger John DuMond reminds us, today is the 75th anniversary of the ambush slayings of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, known to history as the Depression-era gangsters Bonnie and Clyde. “Their exploits were known nationwide,” explains their entry in Wikipedia. “They captured the attention of the American press and its readership during what is sometimes referred to as the ‘public enemy era’ between 1931 and 1934. Though their gang was notorious for their bank robberies, Barrow preferred to rob small stores or gas stations. The gang was believed to have killed at least nine police officers, among several other murders.”

As Joseph Geringer recalls in a satisfyingly long article for the TruTV Web site:
Bonnie and Clyde were meant for each other. And they clung to each other while they fought back against the elements. These elements were destitution and a government they took for its face value. They were children of a nationwide economic depression that not unlike France in the late 1700s had its upheaval--and those who tried to keep small the size and impact of the upheavals.

An anger dwelt within Clyde, having been born ragged and made more ragged by the Depression. He sometimes killed in cold blood, and always tried to justify the murders as if he had a right to pull that trigger, thus releasing somehow the seething that built up like a volcano deep inside him. Perhaps he actually believed in his own special privilege. As the fame of Bonnie and Clyde grew, they shot their way out of police loops, each time growing tighter and tighter, and claimed that the “laws” they killed just happened to get in the way between their fiery outcry and the rest of the country. Their killings were not personal, they contended. But, the government took them personal. And Bonnie and her man were marked for death. ...

While they terrorized banks and store owners in five states--Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Louisiana, and New Mexico--Americans thrilled to their “Robin Hood” adventures. The presence of a female, Bonnie, escalated the sincerity of their intentions to make them something unique and individual--even at times heroic--and above similar activities of all-male motor bandits like John Dillinger, “Baby Face” Nelson and “Pretty Boy” Floyd.
However, that notoriety ended suddenly in a screaming hail of bullets on the morning of May 23, 1934, when a posse of six lawmen, four of them from Texas, two from Louisiana, opened fire on the couple as they drove along a quiet northern Louisiana road in their new Cordoba gray, four-door Ford V-8. In his book, Ambush: The True Story of Bonnie and Clyde, Ted Hinton, one of the officers who took part in that bloody incident, recalled what happened next:
“Bonnie screams, and I fire and everyone fires ... My BAR [Browning Automatic Rifle] spits out twenty shots in an instant, and a drumbeat of shells knifes through the steel body of the car, and glass is shattering. For a fleeting instant, the car seems to melt and hang in a kind of eerie and animated suspension, trying to move forward, spitting gravel at the wheels, but unable to break through the shield of withering gunfire. ... My ears are ringing, there is a spinning and reeling in my head from the cannonade of bullets and the clank of steel-jacketed metal tearing steel. ...” And when the firing subsided ... “Clyde is slumped forward, the back of his head a mat of blood ... I scramble over the hood of the car and throw open the door on Bonnie’s side. The impression will linger with me from this instant--I see her falling out of the opened door, a beautiful and petite young girl ... and I smell a light perfume against the burned-cordite smell of gunpowder ...”
Estimates of the ammunition emptied into that Ford sedan vary from 130 to 1,500 rounds (the latter being most dubious). The film embedded below, supposedly taken “by an amateur photographer five minutes after the shooting,” gives you a pretty clear idea of the violence involved in the ambuscade.

Today, the spot where Bonnie and Clyde ended their lives--on Louisiana Highway 154 south of Gibsland--is marked by a small stone monument, put up in 1972, five years after the release of the movie Bonnie and Clyde, which starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. That marker “has since been covered with graffiti, gouged with axes, and blasted with gunfire to the point where its inscription is barely legible,” according to an article at the travel Web site Roadside America. “The many hearts and intertwined initials scrawled on the monument suggest that young couples often make pilgrimages here, digging the Bonnie and Clyde outlaw vibe. The romantic vandalism somehow seems appropriate. Bonnie and Clyde would have defaced monuments too.”

In recent years decades, Gibsland has become home to a well-touristed Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum, particularly popular with families, we’re told. And every year, that town of just over 1,100 people hosts a Bonnie and Clyde Festival--the latest version of which began today. With a new big-screen feature about the “rogue Romeo and Juliet of Depression America,” this one headlined by Hillary Duff and Kevin Zegers, set to begin filming in central Louisiana in late July, one can only assume that Gibsland will have even more to celebrate next year.

READ MORE:Adios, Bonnie and Clyde,” by Thomas Pluck (Criminal Element); “Bonnie and Clyde Redux: The Year of the Gangster, Part 3” (U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation).

1 comment:

Clea Simon said...

Was hearing about the fest on WWOZ (great Louisiana station available online). The DJs seemed to be having fun with the idea.