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Gangs and Outlaws of Western Pennsylvania

1 rating: 3.0
A short local history by Thomas White and Michael Hassett
1 review about Gangs and Outlaws of Western Pennsylvania

The real Slim Shady: a slim volume of shady characters in the old wild west of PA

  • Dec 23, 2013
It turns out that though there has never been a shootout at the OK Corral here, there have been some pretty wild shootouts--and holdups, and bank and train robberies, even a desperate pair of mismatched lovers who went Bonnie and Clyde in western Pennsylvania.

This is a slim volume, just over 100 pages, but by being selective and leaving out organized crime and bootlegging operations (worthy of their own volume, they say), White and Hassett are able to focus on the loners and losers who populate our imaginations, the rugged West, and at different times in western Pennsylvania history, the pages of the local papers.  In fact the writers note that most of their source materials come from local newspaper accounts which often differ widely in descriptive and factual detail.  These local papers were a source of both information and confusion, a piece of the landscape no longer active today as small town newspapers have gone out of business or been syndicated into local advertising supplements to metropolitan dailies.  The local history of the next century will be a little duller for it.

One common thread of several of these stories is a jail break, which makes me wonder about the quality of law enforcement and the penal system of the time.  The most famous is the breakout of the Biddle Boys, which was made into the major motion picture "Mrs. Soffel", inspired by the titillating accounts of the lonely prison warden's wife who befriended the prisoners first to rehabilitate them, then became romantically involved, then helped engineer the escape, then fled with them!

Irene and Glenn, western PA's Bonnie and Clyde, when stripped of the romantic overlay, are actually a desperate and despicable pair deserving of the cross country manhunt and death sentence that awaited them at the end of their short brutal lives.  And yet, and yet, we wish for them that their lives were different, or failing that, that those lives meant something more than death and destruction for them and their unfortunate victims.

This is a fun well done local history that gets it right.

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