First firefly...and John Dillinger

Dateline: Tue 03 Jun 2008

The first firefly was spotted last night about 11:56 p.m. Actually there were two. This is an annual Putnam County event, seeing who can spot the first lightning bug.

How about it Marion, Hendricks, Hamilton, Johnson? Get with the program.

Probably everyone over a certain age, who has lived in Indiana for a lifetime or so, has a John Dillinger story. Yesterday at Neal's Tires in Greencastle, I met a man whose garden I have long admired. When Guy praised him for being diligent, he quipped, "You mean Dillinger?"

Then he told two stories.

Many people know that the Dillinger gang's biggest hit was a bank in Greencastle. Not many people know that the sheriff back then supposedly got wind of the strike, and rather than confront John and his boys, the law took the day off. Supposedly Greencastle was a little pot of gold because of all the DePauw parents, who had come to town for an athletic event and holed their money away in the bank.

So not only was this robbery the biggest, it was probably the easiest. Nobody confronted the Dillingers in friendly Greencastle. Especially not the cops.

Second story: This gardener fellow's aunt and uncle were middle-aged, childless farmers who lived near Crawfordsville in the country. It was the custom back then for travelers to stop at farms to ask for a meal.

One day the farmer and his wife had a knock on the door. Three well-dressed men, in suits yet, asked if the lady would kindly consider making them a lunch. She was good-hearted, so she gakked the rooster and made mashed potatoes and gravy and served up pie for dessert.

The men, who were driving a long black automobile, were so impressed each one offered the farmer and his wife $20 -- a total of $60. The farm couple insisted that was too much; the men insisted they take it. "It was a very fine meal, ma'am. We want you to have it."

So they demurred. The men went on their way, polite to the end. Two days later, the couple read in the Indianapolis Star that the Dillinger gang was going through Indiana. The story included a photo of their car: a big long black one. It mentioned three well-dressed men.

"Y'see," said the man telling the story, "John Dillinger wasn't bad. He robbed banks cause his people had lost their farm to a bank. He helped out people when he could."

I'll skip the discussion about how much criminals have changed. We all know that.


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