Men with Manners

July 8, 2009

Posted by Nick Sarno

I saw Public Enemies the other night. It was good, and you should see it too. After reviewing the movie, The New Republic reprinted a 1934 article describing one of his robberies. It’s probably one of the most amazing pieces of journalism I’ve ever read. Thanks to Moshe for the tip.

Usual crowd was moving up and down the streets. The leafless trees in the city square, with a faith not given to human beings, remembered spring. But spring in Iowa comes and then it doesn’t. One day it is warm and the next day it is cold. The trees pay no attention to this. The crowds get used to it. People walked around the square. A small crowd, a sort of overflow, came out of the cigar store across from the square and looked around for the loafer’s sun. At one corner of the square was a public toilet and here an uneven stream of farmers and townsfolk came and went. A large stone marker and a monument commemorating something to do with the Civil War broke the vague greenness of grass in the square park.

Around the square were three hotels, the courthouse, which also housed the jail and was the headquarters for policemen, stores and the First National Bank. That is the way Iowa towns are arranged. In the cigar store the proprietor was joshing a customer. In the courthouse the police were discussing traffic ordinances. In the hotels a few guests were lounging in the lobbies. In the bank the president, the cashier and the clerks were getting ready for the three o’clock closing–or thinking of it anyhow.

At 2:45 P.M. seven men walked over to the bank and looked at their wrist watches. They were dressed like average citizens–they might have been average citizens, except that six looked like gentlemen and one like a tough. They were dressed as any young men on the street might dress. They looked like men with manners. At 2:4S P.M. they walked into the First National Bank and told the clerks and the customers that they were being robbed. The clerks and customers had to be told–for didn’t these men look like any of the young men that worked in the town? The bank guard in his glass cage–it was bulletproof according to sales talk, except that it couldn’t stand the constant hammering of bullets, it could resist one shell, perhaps, but not fifteen–the bank guard was ordered from his cage. He fired. But the robbers answered with a few shells. The bank guard turned as white as a sheet. He was scared to death. One robber went out and got a machine gun and made the guard come down.

Someone fired tear-gas guns. The president ran for his office, but the bandits fired on him and brought him out like a dog from his hole. The customers and clerks were all lined up with guns pointed at them. Some of the men carried a pistol in one hand and a machine gun in the other. The customers, the cashier, the clerks, the president and the guard–they didn’t have a chance. But outside the show was going on. In two minutes five thousand people–no one counted them, but there must have been that many–stood on the corner and watched the bandits. No one raised his voice. No gun was fired. The customers in the bank were taken outside and lined up. They were told what would happen to them if they tried to get away. “Hey, there. Hank,” they waved at friends. The crowd laughed and giggled. A shot was fired from the judge’s office above the bank. Quick as thought a south-paw bandit drew his gun and fired over his shoulder. The judge hid below the window sill. A policeman came running across the square from the courthouse. A bandit saw him. He fired. The policeman settled down beneath the stone monument and waited till it was over. He never came out till the bandits were gone.

Because I know you want to read the rest, go here.

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4 Responses to “Men with Manners”


  1. What an escapade–truth beats fiction hands down.

  2. petra Says:

    i think it might be worth starting companies wherein people could purchase certain kinds of simulated experiences. i.e. bank robberies, or hauntings (pay an organization to make you feel scared of ghosts) etc. better than a themepark.


  3. Me too! Me too! Some friendlies once acquired a full size coffin and another friend had an old hearse that they drove as their main form of transportation. They had a small novelty store. Personally I thought it would be a hell of an advertising draw for their business if they offered coffin rides in the hearse–for a small gas fee. What teenager wouldn’t go for this as a gift from their best buds?
    I decline to share how the friendlies reacted to this brainstorm.

  4. Moshe Says:

    Petra,
    That’s what we here at the Green Lantern call a “Marginal Notion.” Well done.
    -Moshe


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