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Welcome to the Dallas Wax Museum

By John G. Short

WELCOME TO DALLAS'S wax museum. There's a good number of people coming in today. Inside the museum (door to the right) are the exhibits of wax figures of some of the most famous people from our history. Included in the exhibits are Lec Harvey Oswald, the alleged slayer of President Kennedy; Jacqueline Kennedy, the beautiful former first lady; and Bonnie and Clyde, the famous killers.

People are shuffling into the exhibit room.

1. First is an exhibit of the famous New Orleans pirate Jean Laffite. Laffite is standing life-size with an old New Orleans Hat Spanish cowboy hat on. His hair is human hair, imported from Central Europe, inserted one strand at a time with a special needle. His eyes are medical eyes imported from Germany. Laffite was a well-respected pirate who was promised a lot of money by the British Navy in return for his helping them to attack New Orleans in 1814. He double-crossed the British and helped the Americans. That won him a pardon from the President of the United States. The crowd moves on.

2. Next is the battle of the Alamo. Several people in the crowd try to involuntarily catch their breath. The scene shows Colonel Travis ("I shall never surrender or retreat... VICTORY OR DEATH.") drawing his famous line on the ground which his men were supposed to walk across if they were going to stay and fight. The wounded Jim Bowie is directing two aides to carry him and his cot over the line. Davy Crockett is there. All 187 defenders were killed in the next day's battle, but they brought down over 1600 of the Mexican soldiers.

3. And the battle of San Jacinto. The Mexicans have been routed by a surprise attack by Sam Houston's Texas army. Texas has been made a free country. Santa Anna has been discovered out of uniform in a peasant's garb. He is brought before the wounded Sam Houston. Houston is glowering at the humiliated general. Houston would never humiliate himself the way this Mexican has. Just one scene ago 187 men in the Alamo died rather than even retreat.

4. Here's the battle of Sabine Pass where 42 Confederate soldiers drove back an entire Union Naval task force attempting a full-scale invasion of Texas.

5. Now Judge Roy Bean, "The Law West of the Pecos." The judge is sitting on the porch of his general store passing sentence on a prisoner who knows his fate is being decided in that moment by the famous Judge Roy Bean. Bean is holding a whiskey bottle on its side in his left hand while he bangs out the verdict with the butt of the pistol in his right hand. A man in the crowd says to his children, "Look, there's Judge Roy Bean." His children don't know who Judge Roy Bean is so they don't get very excited. The man remembers that the Judge Roy Bean TV series stopped before they would have been watching television.

6. Opposite is a gathering of some of the most notorious bandits of the West, Jesse James, Frank James, and Cole Younger. They robbed banks and trains for ten years, killing men in most of the stick-ups, until their gang was just about wiped out in Northfield, Minnesota. With them stands William Quantrill, who formed a band of guerrillas, of which the other three were all members, and which, as a unit of the Confederate Army, sacked Lawrence, Kansas.

In the exhibit is a little machine with a sign reading; "Jesse and Frank James and Cole Younger used this 1843 mill to crack corn for their horses when they stopped in 1869-1870 and 1871 at the Abbott-Cooper-Lemmon-Ranch 9 miles west of ENNIS, TEXAS / displayed through the courtesy of Lawrence Camper of Ennis." Credit goes where credit is due.

7. Belle Starr, "Queen of the Outlaws." Belle Starr was successively the girlfriend of Cole Younger, Jim Reed, Sam Starr, Blue Duck, John Middleton, Jack Spaniard, Jim French, and Jim July, all of whom met violent deaths. Belle was killed by a blast of buckshot.

8. Sam Bass, who robbed trains of $60,000, $3,000, $50, and $160 until he was trapped and killed by Texas rangers.

7. King Fisher and Ben Thompson. King Fisher is known to have killed 12 men-not including Mexicans. He had a big ranch on the Nueces River in Texas, and he used to shoot people who came onto his property. Ben Thompson, at the age of 13, deliberately shot a playmate. He later killed a Frenchman in a New Orleans knife duel. And when in the Confederate Army, he killed several men in his company. He killed someone in Texas, and went to jail for two years. He became a hired gunfighter, and was killed along with King Fisher by unknown assassins in Jack Harris's Vaudeville Theatre. Bat Masterson wrote of him: "There was never a better-hearted man than Ben Thompson. It is doubtful if in his time there was another man living who equalled him with a pistol in a life and death struggle."

10. Bill Longley, who was once caught by vigilantes in Texas for stealing cattle, and hanged, but escaped because they didn't do it right. Bill Longley killed 32 men.

11. And John Wesley Hardin, who killed over 30 men.

12. Next is General Albert Sidney Johnston. General Albert Sidney Johnston was a Confederate general from Texas. He lost the battle of Shiloh and was killed in the fighting. (General Albert Sidney Johnston is a not-so-sly move on the part of the wax museum people to credit Texas with the War Between the States. But no one mentions this obvious fact.) General Johnston's uniform looks quite nice. Someone says so. President Jefferson Davis said of him, "His coming is worth more than the accession of an army of 10,000 men."

13. Geronimo, whose life is an encouraging story. He led Apaches on the warpath three times over a span of thirty years before surrendering to General Miles on September 4, 1886. But after that Geronimo reconciled his lot. He became a Christian and joined the Dutch Reform Church. He attended the St. Louis World's Fair and the Buffalo and Omaha Expositions. Geronimo rode in the inaugural parade of President Theodore Roosevelt.

14. Then follows a scene where ColonelCharles Goodnight of the Texas Rangers is meeting Chief Quanah Parker, leader of a renegade band of Comanche Indians. The Chief had led his people out of the Fort Sill reservation where they were supposed to stay. They had moved into the Texas panhandle onto the private property of Colonel Goodnigh-a million-acre cattle ranch. The Indians wanted to settle there and start their own farms. The scene captured in wax is when the colonel convinced the chief to "go back to the reservation."

15. With a detailed reconstruction of the fight at the O. K. Corral, there is a brightening in the eyes of the crowd. The theme in Dallas's history is evident. The winning of the West was a struggle. "That's Wyatt Earp cuttin those other guys down," someone says to a child. In the wax, Earp's side is coming out on top. There are four men on his side and three on the other. One of the others is already dead. One of them is wounded and about to get it again as he tries to shoot from the ground. Wyatt himself is in the process of drilling the third guy, who, in a miracle of modern wax, is positioned on a 45 slant to the ground, falling with blood pouring out of the holes in him.

16. There are only four non-wax exhibits in the museum. The first of these is a mock-up of the graveyard in Dodge City. Then there's a huge collection of rifles, pistols, and other guns kept in glass cases. Also, right after the O. K. Corral comes a display of all 211 different kinds of barbed wire there ever were. Overhead the barbed wire is a yellow sign. The sign says "Bonnie and Clyde straight ahead."

17. Straight ahead is a wall full of clippings from the Dallas Times-Her-old about Bonnie and Clyde. The crowd now finds out that they are like crowds in other museums: they're unselfish and patient. People crowd around the clippings, but they wait their turn. The newspapers have big pictures of the dead bodies, the bullet-riddled car, the crowds looking at the car and the bodies. The story describes it this way: "Both Barrow and the woman were instantly killed; Barrow being shot through the left temple and through the left shoulder. The Parker woman was shot through the mouth, her teeth being knocked out through the neck, and the fingers of her right hand were shot off." Around the corner is the original "death car" used in the movie "Bonnie and Clyde." It is very nice. There are bullet holes in the windows and in the doors. The window on the driver's side has been completely shot away.

18. Opposite the "death car" are the most popular female movie stars born in the Southwest. They are Carol Burnett, Joan Crawford, Linda Darnell, Dolores Del Rio, Greer Garson, Dorothy Malone, Mary Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Ginger Rogers, and Ann Sheridan. They are all standing, sitting, or lounging in what looks like a long pink powder room. Their cushions are velvet. And they're all in stunning silky gowns. They're beautiful. They're all smiling.

19. Next comes a group of sheriffs and Texas Rangers, including Pat Garrett, who blew Billy the Kid to pieces as he was walking across the yard to get a drink of water.

20. Then comes a reconstructed wooden livery stable. We see the inside by looking through the windows. The windows are high enough so that very little children can't look in. Inside there are four men hanging from their necks dead, who have just been lynched. Their tongues stick out, their eyeballs are rolled back, their necks are crooked. People looking inside see other people looking in through the windows on the other side of the hangings. But they only look briefly because others are waiting behind them to look in, too.

21. There's a scene showing Billy the Kid shoot Bob Ollinger. The Kid is firing a shotgun out through a jail cell window. Ollinger, who was running forward, has been knocked backward by the blast. It's one of the old wax museum's most dramatic reenactments. Things are starting to pick up again. Ollinger's left side has been shot away and is covered with blood. Billy the Kid shot him once more after he was dead. And then he tore the gun to pieces and threw them at the body.

22. The next one shows Wild Bill Hickok being shot in the back of the head while he plays poker. A boy's father is explaining to him, "There's Wild Bill Hickok gittin' it in the back of the head."

23. The last wax cowboy is gun-fighter-killer John Ringo, who's lying dead underneath a tree. His stomach and chest are full of holes with blood trickling out down his shirt, onto his pants, and into the dust. He's got a bottle at his side and a gun in his hand.

24. The museum moves to the famous men of our own times with the wax figure of Lee Harvey Oswald leaning forward to raise his rifle. He looks a lot like he's about to blast some skeet out of the air, but, of course, he's really about to shoot Kennedy. The image elicits little more out of the people in the crowd than a knowing nod, which is as if to say, "Yeah, I know: I drive by it every day on the way to work. So I've already seen that one."

25. Then there are the two fathers of Negro culture in America. Dr. George Washington Carver who came up from slavery, learned to go to school, devoted himself to his own research in "God's little workshop," and eventually developed 300 useful products from the peanut, 118 from the sweet potato, and more than 60 from the pecan. And W. C. Handy, who taught himself how to play a $1.75 trumpet, joined a band of roving minstrels, and became famous writing songs like "St. Louis Blues." After his success, his father told him, "Sonny, I am very proud of you and forgive you for becoming a musician."

26. "Dad" Joiner, who just couldn't be convinced otherwise, and started drilling for oil in the arid wastelands of Eastern Texas. Undaunted by early failures, he finally discovered the oil that has made Texas what it is today.

27. Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who first achieved national fame in 1930 when she played on the Golden Cy-clones Championship Girls' Basketball team of the Employers' Casualty Insurance Company of Dallas. She moved into the international spotlight in 1932 by winning the javelin throw and 80-meter hurdles at the Olympics in Los Angeles. In 1947, she won 17 straight golf tiles before turning professional. The Associated Press voted Babe the greatest female athlete of the first half of the twentieth century and, also, named her the woman athlete of the year in 1932, 1945, 1946, 1947, and 1950. In the Texas Sports Hall of Fame she is labeled, "The World's Greatest Woman Athlete."

In her autobiography This Life I Have Lived, she explained that all her life she wanted to do things better than anyone else. She liked to win, and, to insure success, she trained hard for whatever contest she entered. But it was not only in sports that Babe Zaharias strove to excel. While in school, she had to make a dress in sewing class and determined it should be the best. Her dress was the winner of the State Fair of Texas. She also won a gold medal in school for the best speed in typing.

28. Mickey Mantle, one of baseball's all-time greats. "The Mick" hit over 500 home runs in his career, including one in an exhibition game in 1953 that was described as the "most spectacular drive in the 44-year history of Pittsburgh's Forbes Field." He and his wife, Merlyn, and their four sons make their home in Dallas.

29. Will Rogers, whose quick wit made him a box office riot, who gave unstintingly of his time for benefit performances, and who crusaded for American leadership in aviation. One of his best-known lines was, "All I know is what I read in the newspapers."

30. Audie Murphy, who was one of only two men in the history of the nation to receive every decoration awarded for valor in combat. He entered World War II as a private, but emerged as a 1st Lieutenant, and was credited with killing, wounding, or capturing as many as 240 Germans throughout North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. He was persuaded to go to Hollywood, and starred in "To Hell and Back," the story of his own life and the only case of an actor portraying himself.

31. Dwight David Eisenhower, who was perhaps one of the greatest presidents ever to lead the United States, and certainly one of the most able commanders ever to lead our armies in war. He was born in Denson, Texas, and was also president of Columbia University from 1948-1952. The museum hasn't gotten around to including that he died this year. Most people said something about this to their children.

32. Admiral Chester Nimitz., born in Texas, and leader of U. S. naval forces in the Pacific during World War II, and the man who signed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay; and General Douglas MacArthur, who, after his historic two-month defense of Bataan, evacuated himself to Australia only to return four years later. He was relieved of his duties in the Korean War because he insisted on advancing U. S. forces into China. Millions of Texans served under Nimitz and MacArthur with 750,000 of them being killed in World War II. The two commanders are displayed with bombs bursting around them, fortresses crumbling, and aircraft carriers sinking.

33. Next follows a little scene with Vice-President Johnson being sworn in as President in the cockpit of Air Force One. He is a grim and serious man, but ready to serve. His wife, Ladv Bird, is beside him. Both, of course, are from Texas.

34. Finally, is the scene of "President Kennedy's Triumphant Arrival." Five thousand Dallasites gave a warm welcome to President and Mrs. Kennedy when their plane touched down at 11:37 a. m. at Dallas's Love Field. The President and Governor Connally are shown waving to the crowd. The last figure is that of the President's famous wife, Jacqueline. She doesn't look like most of her pictures, though. It's easy to see they've given her too much make-up. But she is smiling, too.

And this is the end of the wax museum's exhibition. After that, it's out into the warm, sun-shiny air of the big Texas sky.

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