- BEHIND 'BARS': Old Statehouse exhibit features photos of Capone (left) and pals in Hot Springs and other artifacts of Arkie criminality.
Crime may or may not pay, but it surely fascinates. The Observer is supremely confident that “Badges, Bandits and Bars: Arkansas Law and Justice” will be among the most popular exhibits ever at The Old State House Museum. Supreme confidence is not a feeling he gets often.
Here you have photographs of Al Capone frolicking at a popular Hot Springs tourist attraction of the 1920's, riding a donkey and wearing a sombrero just like any other playful tourist. The personal effects of Owney “The Killer” Madden, including revolver, switchblade knife and brass knuckles. The infamous six-foot-long leather strap that was used to beat inmates at Tucker Prison Farm, displayed appropriately near Sparky I and Sparky II, the electric chairs used at the prison before lethal injection became the preferred method of execution. Weaponry of all kinds, some used by bad guys, some by good, including the rifle that brought down the badman Cherokee Bill. A gavel used by the Hanging Judge, Isaac Parker, in sending hordes of villains to the gallows. (The deputy marshals in Parker's court died at about the same rate as the men they pursued in what was then Indian Territory.)
Jesse and Frank James, Bonnie and Clyde, Lucky Luciano, J. Edgar Hoover, and the phantom killer of Texarkana are all represented in the exhibit one way or another. So are the state troopers who shut down the Hot Springs casinos and smashed their equipment. (Curiously, there's no photograph of Lynn Davis, the flamboyant State Police director who led those raids.) A visitor looking at pictures of Belle Starr, the famous woman outlaw, remarked that she certainly didn't resemble the glamorous actresses who'd played her in movies — Gene Tierney, for one. The visitor recalled his Fort Smith grandmother telling how, as a young girl, she'd seen Belle Starr in the flesh at a picnic. When he later learned that many people of a comparable age told similar stories, his thought was “So what.” Belle Starr was prominent, she got around, she probably attended a lot of picnics in the Fort Smith area. Despite being rather seriously unattractive. Who would tell her?
“Badges, Bandits and Bars” will continue through March 6, 2011. The hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free, but contributions are accepted. And in this case, well deserved.
Readers who observe through a camera lens take note: The Arkansas Times has started a new photo feature on its editorial page and your work can appear there. “Eye on Arkansas” has featured, for example, Brian Chilson's shot of a laughing Sen. Blanche Lincoln falling back into the arms of Vice President Joe Biden at a local fund-raiser. We've also run Chilson's photo of the old Kempner Brothers shoe store on Main coming down. Your photo doesn't have to include personalities, but it should say something — newsworthy, silly, beautiful, sad — about Arkansas. Send your pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org with phone number and a little information about the picture.
If we had an infrared camera, we'd shoot the @$#^%#$ mockingbird that starts in every night at 11:05 outside The Observer's bedroom window. (Others might use something else to shoot the bird. So to speak.) See, there's no branch outside our bedroom window, so the bird's either hovering the whole hour it sings (kicks off with the titmouse song) or perched on the windowsill not two feet from our ears. Why is it singing at night? Who's going to challenge it at that hour? What female is still awake to hear it? We're guessing it's a teen-ager, and it's his first year to woo. Hoping he's successful soon so we can get some sleep. Hard to observe when you can barely keep your eyes open during the day.