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Bank Robbers of the Great Depression as Folk Heroes

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Erin Greenberger

on 22 April 2010

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Transcript of Bank Robbers of the Great Depression as Folk Heroes

Double click anywhere & add an idea Bank Robbers of the Great Depression as Folk Heroes Thesis: Bank robbers of the Great Depression era became popular folk heroes because of the devastating economic situation, the culture of the time, and the idea of an American Robin Hood.
1.History of the Great Depression

2.Culture of the Great Depression

3.The Western Hero

4.The Robin Hood figure

5.Specific Bank Robbers
a.John Dillinger

b.Pretty Boy Floyd

c.The Barrow Gang (Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow)
History of the Great Depression NYSE stock crash in 1929 1.Thousands of banks closed and unemployment soared to staggering levels in the 1930’s.
2.Many of the unemployed took to the road or the rails, while a sense of desperation gripped the United States of America
3.Between the years 1929 and 1932 total national income and industrial production fell by half.
American farmlands Many good citizens across America’s farmland lost their farms, and many of the farms that the banks had to foreclose on were good farms.

Children had to work on farms At the banks' advice the farmers purchased new machinery (pre 1929) The actual drought struck in the 1930's Farmers had no food or money for the winter Hoover turned to the Red Cross, solely, for help Many officials in Washington D.C. paid very little attention to conditions in the farmlands of America. The newspapers at the time of The Great Depression often only showed the good side of things and ignored the problems. President Hoover denied that people in the farmlands were actually starving By 1931 farms all across America’s farmland had collapsed and bankers, depositors, and farmers alike all had anguish Stories from the Great Depression 1. A family in Arkansas 2. Les Orear in Chicago Culture of the Great Depression From 1929 to 1930 the number of known indictable offenses increased by 12,450 to a whopping 147,031 in 1930 (Elkin, W. A.) They were written about in the newspapers and became celebrities of the day Mass media Guerilla comedian shows “Poverty and social disorganization were eating away at the country’s social fabric.” (Friedman, Lawrence) fascination with the underworld of America Banks had huge public relations problems during the Great Depression From 1929 to 1933 the number of banks in operation decreased from 25,568 to 14,771 (The Great Depression and New Deal, 1929-1939). To ordinary citizens, bank robbers were seen as victims of injustice, driven to commit crimes. The FBI at the time Weak, untrained, and often uncertain The Anne Baker mix up The raid on Little Bohemia Great dislike of government The Western Hero The American myth --> American Adam “The archetypal American is a displaced person- arrived from a rejected past, breaking into a glorious future, on the move, fearless himself, feared by others, a killer but cleansing the world of things that “need killing.” Loving but not bound down by love. Rootless but not carrying the center in himself, a gyroscopic direction setter, a traveling norm.” (Willis, Gary) What comes to mind when you think of the ideal western hero? “To breathe free on the land. The real American must shake off the weight of institutions.” (Willis, Gary) Anti-intellectualism Street smarts Through his own ingenuity he'll work out the situation Isolation Myth of outlaw (freedom) Distrust of government “[The American Adam is] untrammeled, unspoiled, free to roam.” What comes to mind when you think of Robin Hood? The Robin Hood Figure Robin Hood has become a “symbol of justice against greed and tyranny” (O’neill, Brendan) Outlaw Mysterious background Best known for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor "Robin Hood's appeal arises from primal desires for justice and equity, and though medieval in origins, this is a fantasy broad and deep enough to possess the imaginations of people in almost all times and places." (Hahn, Thomas) “His independence and anarchic resistance to all forms of authority - from corrupt local officials to the clergy - stood out against the expansive, complex, mysterious economic networks.” (Hahn, Thomas) In the best retellings, Robin Hood almost always represents the opposite of 'policy' or rationalizing our financial behavior." (Hahn, Thomas) "Characters like Robin Hood have existed across culture and history, fulfilling a need for the helpless and hopeless to believe that someone is on their side." (Killick, Rob) Bank Robbers The so called ‘public enemies’ were well liked because they, “raced about the country, stealing wads of cash from banks, picking up women, and having a good time between jobs.”(Friedman, Lawrence). Living out the common man's dream --> vicarious The daring daytime robberies and exits were seen as skillful and exciting, especially if the robbers were polite, photogenic, and handsome Stayed at large because of a wide chain of support “Anybody who robbed banks or fought the law was really living out some secret fantasies on a large part of the public.”(Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car) There were reports all across America that “children applaud the gang hero.”(Ashby, Leroy). There was a general breakdown in respect for all laws on behalf of the American citizens, and children wanted to emulate gangsters. John Dillinger Public enemy #1 Flamboyant hold up style Dillinger was placed in a supposedly escape proof jail with fifty guards on him, and he managed to escape with only a wooden pistol FBI attack on Little Bohemia In defense of John Dillinger one citizen from Mooresville, Indiana said, “Most of the financial institutions of the state have just as criminally robbed our citizens.”(Ashby, Leroy). In his memoirs, government agent Melvin Purvis wrote, "there is probably no one whose career so graphically illustrates the inadequacies of our system as does that of John Dillinger." Many bank robbers such as Harry Pierpont, a member of John Dillinger’s gang, made statements such as, “I stole from the bankers who stole from the people.”(John Dillinger: Bank Robber or Robin Hood?) Betrayed by the lady in red There was a note pledging revenge found on Dillinger’s grave shortly after his death. The note was believed to be directed to Anna Sage whose tip enabled the federal agents to kill Dillinger. The note said, “I am going to get her, John, so long, old boy.” (Hamilton, John). Pretty Boy Floyd Well dressed An outlaw, a robber, and a killer One of the common people Robbed across America's farmlands Sagebrush Robin Hood From America’s farmlands experienced the drought and financial hardship that came, and decided to turn his back on the farm life Tore up mortgages Would give some of the money he stole to the poor “[Floyd] became a hero celebrated in movies and music for helping the poor.” (Rockefeller, Terry). Floyd died on October 22nd, 1934 in East Liverpool, Ohio. He was cornered by the FBI and shot, he died fifteen minutes later. Floyd died as a hero to the poor of America and as an enemy to the wealthy bank owners. The Barrow Gang (Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow) Clyde Barrow Bonnie Parker The gang was “bolstered by wild shootouts with police, spectacular car chases, and the romance of two lovers outside of the law.” “By the time Bonnie and Clyde became famous many felt the capitalistic system had been abused by big business and the government officials. Now here were Bonnie and Clyde striking back.”(Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car). Presence of a female Parker and Barrow loved to pose together Carried kodak box cameras in their getaway cars They liked to pose self parodying their gangster image When they were murdered the police found an undeveloped roll of film under their car seat. The photos that the police found were of Parker and Barrow together, both looking adventurous and deeply in love. “[Bonnie and Clyde lived a] fast life. A die-young life. And they wouldn’t have traded it for the world.”(Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car). The Barrow gang never pretended to be an exception to the phrase “crime doesn’t pay”, instead they decided to “let all hell break loose and whoop and holler it up till death do them part.”(Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car). Bonnie's poems The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde “I once knew Clyde when he was honest, upright, and clean. But the laws fooled around and taking him down and locking him up in a cell ‘til he said to me, “I’ll never be free, so I’ll meet a few of them in hell.””(Parker, Bonnie) “folk heroes wreaking vengeance on a callous economic system.”(Parker, Bonnie). Stars of Hollywood proportions, but of common origin On May 23rd, 1934 Parker and Barrow were killed in their car around nine o clock in the morning. Officers pumped one hundred and sixty seven rounds into Parker and Barrow. Daring Robberies, Stylish Clothes, and Handsome Faces: Bank Robbers of the Great Depression Questions?
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