Gangsters and Gunslingers
23 March – 3 November 2013
Memorabilia from defining points in American criminal history, from the Wild West to the roaring twenties.
This show brings together two defining chapters in the history of the United States that shaped America’s national identity: the Wild West (mid 1860s to the late 1880s) and the wild years of the Prohibition/Depression era (1920s and early 1930s).
These windows of time produced legendary characters, Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane, Bonnie and Clyde, to name but a few. For the benefit of the inhabitants of America’s industrial eastern cities, homegrown ‘western’ heroes and villains performed acts of derring-do, penned by writers who had seldom (if ever) abandoned their urban comforts for the inconveniences of travelling to the frontier or even to small Midwestern towns. There was a huge market for these ‘real life’ western adventure stories in dime novels, the pulps, and sensational newspapers.
Historical artefacts on show include Native American weapons confiscated in reprisal for the Battle of Little Big Horn; the medicine bag owned by Doc Holliday, a survivor of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral; The watch worn by Clyde Barrow when he was gunned down with Bonnie Parker in 1934; and one of the two death masks of Depression-era outlaw John Dillinger, who was ambushed by federal agents outside a Chicago cinema in 1934. The exit wound of the bullet that killed Dillinger is clearly visible below his right eye.