Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum
The outlaws of the 1930s with the most star power 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.
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 and 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, 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 hat; 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.
What Boots calls a "Replicar" -- a black 1934 V-8 Ford with fake bullet holes -- acts as a stand-in for the Museum's former automotive exhibit: the bullet-ridden 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, and was here until 2008, when it was moved to the Crime Museum in Washington, DC.
To add to the confusion, the real death car, along with Clyde's death shirt, are displayed in a casino in Nevada. These genuine bloody artifacts are beyond the budget of the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum: the shirt alone was purchased for $75,000.
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 over the years it has been covered with graffiti, gouged with axes, and blasted with gunfire to the point where its inscription is barely legible (It has even been yanked out of the ground a few times). The many hearts and intertwined initials scrawled on the monument suggest that young couples make pilgrimages here, digging the Bonnie and Clyde outlaw vibe.
The romantic vandalism somehow seems appropriate. Bonnie and Clyde would have defaced monuments too.
Update: Boots Hinton retired from the museum in early 2015. New owner Perry Carver has brought in some of his own displays, but says he may have to eventually move the museum to neighboring Arcadia if he can't fix its leaky roof.