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SOUTHERN GOTHIC

Updated: Feb 29

Written by Lee Conger



We were never allowed to talk about it when I was growing up. And heaven help the journalists who would call for a quote every May 23rd, if Grandmother was staffing the phone. “You’re glorifying criminals!” She would yell into the receiver. “You should be writing about the nice people in this town!” And then she would hang up forcefully.

 

Bonnie and Clyde. They were ambushed and shot just outside my hometown of Arcadia, Louisiana. Their bullet-riddled remains were delivered to the family business: the furniture store. My great-grandfather had opened it in 1889. (Before the phenomenon of the funeral industry, coffins were sold as furniture.) By 1934, my grandfather was running it, but on the day of the “incident,” he was away on business. Grandmother was in charge. And she was a bit of a character.

 

She had to think fast to control the mob that surged toward the store for a peek at (or a lock of hair or swatch of clothing from) the notorious couple. She worried for the furniture. The official version is that she had helpers clear the front display window, so the corpses could be lain there, allowing the crowds to gawk from outside. The unofficial version had her spraying formaldehyde to drive folks out of the showroom. Finally, the embalmer arrived on the train, processed the bodies, and shipped them to Texas.

 

Frankly, I prefer the formaldehyde version. One way or the other, growing up with Grandmother, I had to learn how to dodge.



 

For 32 years, Lee Conger’s adopted home was the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, California. In October, 2023, he and his Los Angeles-born husband John Wingler (pictured right and left, respectively) moved to Pilgrim Place. They are very happy, discovering new ways of to continue their commitment to service within this vital and supportive intentional community.


Photo Credits Lee Conger

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