Bonnie and Clyde Festival
in Gibsland, LA, USA
Bonnie and Clyde Festival
After a two-year crime spree that left twelve people dead, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow etched a place in history for themselves as America's most notorious criminal couple. Their run from the law ended on May 23, 1934, on Ringgold Road, eight miles from the rural parish of Louisiana known as Gibsland. Having stopped to help a farmer with a flat tire, Bonnie and Clyde were mowed down in their car by a whirlwind of bullets spraying from a copse of trees at the side of the road. This historic scene was further burned into the American psyche in 1967 when Arthur Penn's movie Bonnie and Clyde was released.
And now the town of Gibsland brings that same gruesome ambush back to life (and death) every year at the world's only Bonnie and Clyde Festival. A group of actors from Denton, TX, a town whose local bank was robbed twice by the dynamic duo, show up annually to reenact the scene with blazing guns and lots of fake blood. The actors who play Bonnie and Clyde even drive the real Swiss-cheesed Ford used in the movie.
But that's not all there is to see and hear at this 2-day event, which is held on the Saturday closest to the anniversary of the shooting. Besides several other reenactments (a bank robbery and a hostage scene), tourists can meet some of Bonnie and Clyde's relatives, such as Clyde's nephew, Buddy Barrow, and his sister Marie Barrow. And now and then some of Bonnie's kin show up as well. Then there's Boots Hinton, whose father Ted was one of the six lawmen from the ambush. To get a scholarly perspective, anyone attending the event can sit in on the Friday night historians meeting. What do they talk about? "They come and argue about stuff," says Billie Gene Poland, one of the festival's organizers and the curator of the Authentic Bonnie and Clyde Museum in Gibsland. "An argument went on for a long time about whether Bonnie was pregnant when she died. But her mother said she wasn't because she couldn't get pregnant. Things like that."
Because the local museum doesn't have a budget, they depend on donations, which means the pickin's here are pretty slim, because Bonnie and Clyde paraphernalia fetches top dollar on the crime curio circuit. But Poland does have original pictures Bonnie and Clyde took of themselves, pictures of places they visited, a picture of the cemetery where they are buried, and a picture of the six men from the ambush. Then there are some gun displays and two female mannequins dressed to look like the gangsters. Poland wants me to get one thing straight though. "Our museum is dedicated to the law officers who ended their career," she says.
Outside the museum, there are lots of vendors selling everything from commemorative T-shirts to small swatches of cloth torn from the pants Clyde was wearing when they were gunned down. All the same, Billie Gene says, "We don't do it to honor Bonnie and Clyde. We do it as a reenactment of history. And we let the law officers win at the end of the festival. It's not like we leave them going free or anything." Maybe that would give the historians something new to think about.