Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum
Before there were gangstas, there were gangsters. The most beloved of the old-time outlaws were Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the rogue Romeo and Juliet of Depression America. After a brief career of robbing gas stations, stealing cars, and killing policemen, they were slaughtered by a posse of angry sheriffs south of Gibsland, Louisiana. Bonnie and Clyde were dead, but they were also famous.
L.J. "Boots" Hinton is the son of one of those vengeful lawmen, and he has grown up to become the manager and public face of Gibsland's Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum.
"We didn't want it jumping out and grabbing people. We wanted it inviting people," says Boots, describing the museum's fairly low-key storefront that features a large "ambush" sign riddled with cartoon bullet holes. Opened in 2005, the Museum is the centerpiece of this tiny town, housed in a building that used to be Ma Canfield's Cafe, the last place on earth visited by Bonnie and Clyde. "They got two sandwiches to go, went down the road eight miles, and got killed," said Boots. According to one account, Bonnie died holding her half-eaten breakfast.
Boots told us that the museum attracts a lot of families -- children love criminals -- but he warns parents at the cash register, "now one of y'all be sure and walk through in front of the kids." That's because the museum displays gruesome photos of Bonnie and Clyde after they were riddled with 130 rounds of ammo that were fired into their car. "Of course," Boots concedes, "most kids nowadays, with what they see on TV, it doesn't bother them." And his caution does seem irrelevant, as he openly sells copies of the same photos in the gift shop, next to the t-shirts.
Highlights of the Ambush Museum include one of Clyde's Remington shotguns, pulled from the death car; a Browning semi-automatic rifle similar to the one used by the Barrow gang; a tire that Clyde stole and gave to an old man (who refused to use it but who kept it as a souvenir); Bonnie's red tam; some glass from the death car windshield; and replicas of Bonnie and Clyde's tombstones, set in a simulated graveyard. A large mural fills one wall, faithfully recreating the moment of the ambush.
The star exhibit of the Museum is a cream-colored, bullet-ridden V-8 Ford -- identical to the death car -- from the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde movie. It had been displayed in the Wax Museum of the Southwest in Grand Prairie, Texas, until that place burned down.
This car looks nothing like the Bonnie and Clyde movie death car that was displayed at the now-defunct Tragedy In U.S. History Museum in St. Augustine, Florida -- but that one may have been an imposter. To add to the confusion, the real death car, along with Clyde's death shirt, are displayed at the Primm Valley Resort Casino in Primm, Nevada. These genuine bloody artifacts are beyond the budget of the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum: the shirt alone was purchased for $75,000.
The Museum's gift shop sells bricks from Ma Canfield's Cafe for $20 apiece -- "Ain't nobody got them except us," says Boots -- and small swatches of Clyde's death pants for $200 apiece. Can visitors to this rural attraction afford such pricey souvenirs? Apparently so. "We're almost out of 'em," Boots confides. Also for sale here are CDs of a modern black-face comedian who records himself as he makes prank phone calls. Add these various novelties to the postmortem Bonnie and Clyde photos, and this place certainly offers some good reasons to spend money.
Eight miles south of the Ambush Museum, on an isolated stretch of highway, is the small stone monument that marks the death site of Bonnie and Clyde. It was erected in 1972, and has since been covered with graffiti, gouged with axes, and blasted with gunfire to the point where its inscription is barely legible. 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.