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Posts Tagged ‘Miscellaneous’

As you no doubt are aware, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were Depression-era Texas lovers who went on a murderous crime spree, emerged as folk heroes, and ultimately were gunned down by the law.

It occurred to me recently that I really knew very few details about the infamous duo. I haven’t seen the 1967 movie with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in decades, and I’m pretty sure Hollywood was loose with the facts anyway. Ergo, I decided some research was in order to get to their real story.

How did Clyde end up as a murderer on the lam? He was easy to figure out. He was a runty kid from a poor family who grew up being bullied and mistreated. His older brother coaxed him into becoming a thief, and things quickly went south. Clyde was doomed to crash and burn.

Bonnie’s trajectory was not so transparent. She seems to have been bright and talented and had, by most accounts, a normal childhood. But at age 16, she dropped out of high school and married her boyfriend. He turned out to be abusive and a cheat, so she left him. Soon thereafter, she met Clyde.

Here, for your edification, is more of their story.

———

Clyde Champion Barrow was born in 1909 to a rural farm family in Telico, Texas, the fifth of seven children. When he was a boy, the farm failed due to drought, and the family moved to Dallas. Clyde learned to play guitar and saxophone and hoped to become a musician.

However, under the influence of his older brother Buck, Clyde became a shoplifter, then a car thief, then an armed robber. By 1929, at age 20, he was on the run from the law.

Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was born in 1910 in Rowena, Texas. Her father died when she was four, and her mother and the three children moved to Dallas to live with grandparents.

The diminutive Bonnie (4’ 11”) was an attractive girl who dreamed of becoming an actress. She earned academic honors in school and was interested in poetry and literature.

In 1926, during her sophomore year, Bonnie quit high school and married classmate Roy Thornton. When Roy began to abuse her physically, Bonnie walked out, moved back to her grandmother’s house, and got a job as a waitress.

In January 1930, when Clyde and his small gang of thieves were trying to elude the police, a mutual friend introduced him to 19-year-old Bonnie. The attraction was immediate. Bonnie declared that Clyde was her soulmate. They became inseparable.

But only for a few weeks. Clyde was arrested for auto theft, tried, convicted, and imprisoned.

A short time later, Bonnie smuggled a pistol to Clyde during a visitation period. On March 11, 1930, Clyde used it to escape with several cellmates. They were captured a week later, and Clyde was sentenced to 14 years at hard labor.

He was sent to the notorious Eastham Prison Farm near Huntsville, Texas. Clyde called Eastham “that hell hole” because of the sadistic guards, the heat, the overcrowding, the grueling work details, and the repeated sexual assaults he endured from another inmate.

Bonnie and Clyde exchanged numerous love letters throughout 1931, a regular theme being the hope that Clyde would get an early release. In February 1932, in an effort to get excused from field work and possibly get transferred to another facility, Clyde faked an accident in which two of his toes were cut off. Thereafter, he walked with a limp and had to remove his shoe while driving.

Ironically, unknown to Clyde, his mother had convinced a judge to grant parole to ease the overcrowding at Eastham, and his release already was being processed.

Also ironically, Bonnie was injured in a car accident the following year that left her with a limp, as well. During a car crash, battery acid spilled onto Bonnie’s leg, causing third-degree burns that never fully healed. Thereafter, she walked with a limp and at times had to be carried.

Two weeks after Clyde was separated from his toes, he was free and reunited with Bonnie. Initially, he tried to go straight, taking a job at a Dallas glass company. But law enforcement officers who had pursued him in the past pressured the company owners until Clyde was fired.

Probably resigned to the hand he was dealt, Clyde formed another gang, this time with Bonnie at his side. They robbed banks, gas stations, and assorted small businesses across Texas.

A few months later, Bonnie was captured when a robbery went wrong. While in jail for two months pending trial, she wrote poetry, most of it about her relationship with Clyde.

After her release in late 1932, Clyde killed a police officer and a store owner, and the gang quickly left Texas.

In early 1933, Clyde, Bonnie, and one of the gang members hid out in Joplin, Missouri, at the home of Clyde’s brother Buck. Soon, suspicious neighbors notified the police, who came to investigate. The fugitives escaped, and two police officers were killed.

Left behind was an undeveloped roll of film that Bonnie and Clyde had taken of themselves. The pictures were printed in newspapers around the country, along with sensational stories about the couple’s exploits. Bonnie and Clyde became national celebrities.

In January 1934, Clyde orchestrated a jailbreak at Eastham to free a childhood friend. One prison guard was killed, and several inmates escaped. One of the escapees, Henry Methvin, joined Clyde’s gang.

On April 1 near Grapevine, Texas, Clyde and Methvin shot and killed two Texas highway patrol officers. Days later, with a posse in pursuit, Methvin killed a police officer in Oklahoma.

The gang fled to northern Louisiana to hide out at the Methvin family farm. Frank Hamer, the former Texas Ranger leading the posse, learned of their whereabouts and made a deal with Henry Methvin’s father: the elder Methvin would lure Bonnie and Clyde into a trap in exchange for amnesty for Henry.

On May 23, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde came upon the elder Methvin on a rural road, standing beside his supposedly stalled truck. When they stopped to help, Hamer and his six-man posse opened fire on the couple from the nearby woods with a barrage of more than 130 armor-piercing bullets.

The coroner’s report said Bonnie was shot at least 26 times, Clyde at least 17 times. The bodies were so damaged that they would not hold embalming fluid. Bonnie was 24. Clyde was 25.

Immediately after the ambush, with the bodies still slumped where they fell, souvenir-hunters descended on the site. Before police stopped them, one man tried to cut off Clyde’s ear, another his trigger finger. Someone in the crowd stole a lock of Bonnie’s hair and snipped off a piece of her dress.

For several decades, the blood-spattered, bullet-ridden sedan in which they died made the rounds of carnivals and state fairs nationwide. In the 1970s, it was housed at a Nevada racetrack, where, for a dollar, you could sit inside and have your photo taken.

Currently, the car is on display in the lobby of Whiskey Pete’s Hotel and Casino in Primm, Nevada.

The Barrow gang committed dozens of robberies and burglaries between 1930 and 1934, as well as 13 murders. Bonnie participated in numerous armed robberies, but I found no claims that she shot or killed anyone.

Among the poems Bonnie wrote in 1932 while in jail was “The Trail’s End.” Two weeks before her death, she gave a copy of the poem to her mother. It is not especially artistic or memorable, except for the closing:

Some day they’ll go down together
they’ll bury them side by side.
To few it’ll be grief,
to the law a relief
but it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.

———

You can read “The Trail’s End” in full here.

Bonnie’s mother would not allow the couple to be buried together. Bonnie’s grave is at Crown Hill Memorial Park in Dallas. Clyde was buried at Western Heights Cemetery, also in Dallas, next to his brother Buck.

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The Questions…

1. When British anthropologist Jane Goodall went to Tanzania in 1960 to study chimpanzees, she initially found the animals to be fearful and unapproachable. What did she do to gain their trust?

2. What is the only U.S. state that borders just one other state?

3. What does HTTP stand for?

4. Who was the only U.S. President who was a bachelor while in office?

5. What species of fish is the fastest?

The Answers…

1. She passed out bananas to demonstrate that she wasn’t a threat.

2. Maine, which borders only New Hampshire to the south. Its northern border is with the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, and the Atlantic Ocean is to the east.

3. HyperText Transfer Protocol.

4. James Buchanan, who served in office from 1857 to 1861. His niece served as hostess for White House events.

5. As a group, the billfish are the speediest for sure. Blue marlins have been clocked at 80 mph, sailfish at nearly 70 mph, and swordfish at over 60 mph. A few years ago, researchers found that swordfish have a gland in their heads that secretes oil to reduce friction as they move through water.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Galileo

Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de’ Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian intellectual and polymath known as the father of, among other things, physics, astronomy, and the scientific method.

In his time, the world believed what Aristotle had decreed 1500 years earlier: that Earth stood at the center of the universe, and all other celestial bodies rotated around it. This was the geocentric model.

Science was a fledgling thing in the 1500s, but slowly, it was examining the old beliefs and often calling baloney on them. This did not please the Catholic Church, which saw a threat to its influence. To the church and many common folk, questioning the traditional teachings was blasphemous.

To be clear, Galileo and others who rejected geocentrism didn’t get it right, either. They believed in heliocentrism, which said the sun is at the center of the universe. Not until the 1700s did we figure out that the sun is just an ordinary, unregarded star.

That error aside, Galileo’s achievements were many and impressive. And his ideas were so radical and disruptive that the Catholic Church eventually locked him up for them.

Galileo was born in Pisa, and both of his parents were from prominent families. His father wanted him to pursue the lucrative profession of medicine, but young Galileo was drawn to mathematics and various sciences.

His studies led him to teaching positions in Pisa and Florence and the beginning of a long series of scientific breakthroughs.

As a young man, he invented the thermoscope, a device that measured temperature changes and evolved into the thermometer.

He dropped items of different weights from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, demonstrating that the speed of fall is not proportional to weight, the prevailing wisdom at the time.

He also built a series of refracting telescopes, first of 3x magnification, then 9x, then 30x. The devices immediately became a sensation in the nautical world and gave Galileo a profitable side business.

Observations with his telescopes led him to deduce that the supernovae of 1572, 1691, and 1694 involved distant stars. The Catholic Church was not amused.

Observing the Moon through a telescope, he concluded that the mottled lighting and uneven appearance is caused by craters and mountains. At the time, the surface of the Moon was believed to be smooth.

His telescopes also located four “fixed stars” close to Jupiter. After studying their motion, he correctly declared them to be moons orbiting Jupiter.

The idea of moons orbiting another planet directly contradicted geocentrism. The church fumed.

Galileo concluded that all stars and planets are round. He also said that the Milky Way consisted of so many stars that, as viewed from Earth, they have the appearance of a cloud.

By his 50s and 60s, Galileo had become famous, wealthy, influential, and probably somewhat cocky. But the church and a host of enemies opposed him, and finally, his activism went too far.

In 1616, he was hauled before the church’s dreaded Roman Inquisition — which had been pursuing witches and blasphemers since the 5th Century — to answer for his sacrilegious views. There, he was told he could write about heliocentrism or anything else as personal opinion, but he was ordered to stop teaching heliocentrism as scientific fact.

Galileo agreed, and for a time stayed out of trouble. But only for a time.

Eventually, he wrote a book that featured the account of a fictional geocentrist and heliocentrist making their respective arguments. No surprise, the heliocentrist won easily — and proceeded to refer to the geocentrist as a “simpleton.”

His enemies pounced, claiming the comment was directed at Pope Urban VIII. Galileo vehemently denied it, but the Pope could not allow himself to be subjected to public ridicule. Accordingly, in 1633, the 70-year-old Galileo faced the Inquisition in Rome for a second time.

Galileo faces the music again, 1633. This painting depicts him pushing a bible away.

This time, he was found “suspect of heresy.” His writings, past and future, were banned from publication, and he was placed under house arrest, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Historians point out that the Inquisition generously did not convict Galileo of heresy per se, for which he would have been executed.

During his years under house arrest, Galileo wrote at length, refining and organizing his works of the previous 40 years. But his health steadily declined, and in 1642, he died of heart failure at age 77.

In 1718, the church announced that Galileo’s works could be published, if they were edited to remove the offending heliocentric references.

In 1758, the church modified its Index of Prohibited Books to allow authors, including Galileo, to assert that Earth is not the center of the universe.

Finally, in 1992, 360 years after the fact, Pope John Paul II formally declared that the church was wrong to condemn Galileo and lock him up.

A truly magnanimous gesture. Who says the Catholic Church invented science denial?

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The Questions…

1. Before they formed the Beatles, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison were members of what group?

2. In olden times, what was Ethiopia called?

3. What do former presidential candidates Samuel Tilden, Grover Cleveland, Al Gore, and Hillary Clinton have in common?

4. On a standard keyboard, all of the vowels except one are on the top row. Which one is not? No fair peeking.

5. A male donkey is called a jack. What is a female donkey called?

The Answers…

1. The Quarrymen.

2. Abyssinia.

3. All four won the popular vote, but lost in the Electoral College.

4. The letter A is the leftmost key on the second row.

5. A jenny.

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Sins and Virtues

In olden times, all religions had a seriously Old Testament mindset, and the masses were lectured vigorously about the basics: behaviors to avoid and behaviors to emulate.

To codify the message for easier consumption, two handy lists evolved: the “Seven Deadly Sins” and their mirror image, the “Seven Heavenly Virtues.”

Neither list is mentioned in the Bible, but over the centuries, they nonetheless became well known and influential, and they remain so today, dear to the hearts of religious conservatives.

To refresh your memory, the Seven Deadly Sins are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

The Seven Heavenly Virtues are humility, charity, patience, kindness, chastity, temperance, and diligence.

I certainly agree that greed, gluttony, and all that are negative behaviors, and that humility, kindness, etc. are solidly positive. I do not, however, find it necessary to sit people down and explain it to them. Everyone understands basic morality perfectly well by the time they are five.

On the other hand, if folks are not gathered in a group, you can’t pass the collection plate.

The Seven Deadly Sins,” attributed to Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1500.

Aerodynamics

The game of golf as we know it originated in Scotland in the 1500s. It probably evolved from either the Roman game of paganica or the Chinese game of chuiwan, both of which involved using a stick to knock a ball into a hole in the ground.

When the Scottish version arose, golf balls were fashioned by hand of beech wood. They were more or less round, but often were off-balance, making them maddeningly unpredictable in flight.

Sometime in the 1600s, a slight design improvement appeared: a leather ball stuffed with feathers. This version was better balanced and thus less erratic. But a dry ball did not behave like a wet one. Plus, the feathers had to be boiled and softened prior to stuffing, making the process labor-intensive and costly. And still, the balls were round in only a general sense.

In 1848, a Scottish clergyman discovered that the rubbery sap of the sapodilla tree could be heated, placed in a round mold, and allowed to harden into a sphere. With this “gutta percha” ball (translation: Sumatran latex), the mass manufacturing of cheap, reasonably aerodynamic golf balls finally was made possible.

Fifty years later, the sap was replaced by a core of tightly-wrapped rubber thread. Further, someone discovered that adding dimples to the ball improved control of the ball’s trajectory.

Fast forward to the present. The governing bodies of the game closely control the specifications and manufacturing of all golf equipment. Worldwide, an estimated 1.2 billion golf balls are manufactured each year.

Annually, in the US alone, some 300 million golf balls are lost.

Keep Calm

Keep Calm and Carry On is the perfect slogan to be corrupted into memes. I mean, it practically begs to be parodied.

Keep Calm and Carry. Keep Calm and Carry On My Wayward Son. Keep Calm and Carry Hand Sanitizer, Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake. Freak Out and Run.

The slogan originated in 1939 on a motivational poster created by the British Ministry of Information to boost public morale as World War II approached. The idea was to call upon the British self-image of remaining calm and resolute when facing adversity.

Actually, the government designed three posters and was poised to distribute millions of copies if a German attack came. Each poster featured the Tudor crown, a symbol of the state.

Immediately, the government was criticized for wasting money and patronizing the public. Very few of the posters were distributed, and the program soon was canceled. According to one historian, the effort was a “resounding failure” by clueless bureaucrats.

The posters essentially were forgotten until 2000, when copies were discovered in an English bookshop. Only a few original prints were know to have survived until Antiques Roadshow turned up a batch of 15 prints in 2012.

I think the criticism of the project was misplaced. Patronizing? Baloney. To me, the posters seem perfectly “stiff-upper-lip” British. Straight out of a Churchill speech.

The critics should have just, you know, kept calm.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The human nose has about six million scent receptors. A dog’s nose has about 300 million.

● In 1962, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors set the record for the most points scored by a player in a professional basketball game: 100 points against the New York Knicks.

In 1983, the Detroit Pistons defeated the Denver Nuggets 186-184 in triple overtime. The combined score of 370 points is the most points scored in a single pro game.

● If you drove your car straight up at 60 mph, you would reach “outer space” in about one hour.

● The water of Lake Hillier, a salt water lake on an island off the west coast of Australia, is the color of bubble gum. The cause is a red dye created when algae in the water combine with the salt. Other than the pink color, the water is normal and harmless.

● Gravity varies with mass, so a person weighing 200 pounds on Earth would weigh 505 pounds on Jupiter and 13 pounds on Pluto.

● John Quincy Adams, who was President from 1825 to 1829, kept a daily journal from age 12 until his death at 80. It revealed that during his term as President, he arose each morning between four and five AM, walked two miles around the city, and, when the weather was nice, went skinny-dipping in the Potomac River.

● In the mid-1960s, the CIA launched Project Acoustic Kitty, a plan to implant tiny microphones and transmitters in cats and train them to eavesdrop on the Soviets. After a few years, the agency decided the project was impractical and canceled it. The implants worked fine, but no one could train the cats.

● In the late 1880s, Gustave Eiffel proposed building the Eiffel Tower in Barcelona, Spain, and was told to get lost. He then approached Paris, and the city agreed to let him erect the tower for the 1889 World’s Fair.

The tower was not popular with Parisians, who considered it just plain ugly. One critic called it a “metal asparagus.” After the exposition, it was scheduled to be dismantled and sold for scrap, but it was spared because the French army found it useful as a communications tower.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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BEAVERTON, OREGON — A car thief who discovered a toddler in the back seat of the vehicle returned the child to the mother, chastised her for leaving the child unattended, and took off again with the car.

According to police, the woman went inside a meat market, leaving her four-year-old in the car with the engine running and the vehicle unlocked. While she was in the market, a young white male stole the car.

When the thief saw the toddler in the back seat, he immediately returned to the market. A police officer said, “He actually lectured the mother for leaving the child in the car and threatened to call the police on her.”

The vehicle was found later in Portland. Police are still searching for the thief.

CINCINNATI, OHIO — An Ohio man marked Lent by giving up solid foods and getting most of his nourishment from beer.

Lent is an observance among Christians leading up to Easter Sunday, during which believers pray, repent, and perform acts of denial and simple living.

Del Hall of Cincinnati said his Lent diet consisted only of beer, water, black coffee, and herbal tea. He said he drank three to five beers per day.

Hall completed Lent beer diets in 2019 and 2020 and lost about 50 pounds each time. He also said his blood pressure and cholesterol levels improved.

“The human body is an amazing thing,” Hall said. “We’re used to going through life as hunter-gatherers — feast and famine. The problem is we don’t go through the famine anymore.”

SAND LAKE, MICHIGAN — Milo, a springer spaniel who wandered away from home, was found 44 days later and 20 miles away at the bottom of an abandoned grain silo.

A Sand Lake resident told Kent County animal control officers he heard barking and feared a dog had fallen into the old silo. The officers responded and found Milo inside the 10-foot-deep structure.

The officers used a rope to lasso Milo and haul him to safety.

During his ordeal, Milo endured snow storms and frigid temperatures, and he suffered significant weight loss and dehydration. He was reunited with his family and has no permanent injuries.

Milo in the silo.

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