There's an overwhelming belief that small towns are just peaceful little joints where apple scrumping and forgetting to doff your hat to a lady is just cause for calling in law enforcement. At least, that's why we think our spec scripts for Law And Order: Breckenridge Falls keep getting rejected. In actuality, big-city crimes pale in comparison to the shady, monstrous deeds carried out in hamlets and villages across the country.
If you believe that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, the ex-residents of Times Beach, Missouri, would really like a word. Their road to Hell was paved with an ultra-dangerous chemical weapon by an inept government contractor.
Other towns have roadkill. Times Beach had a killer road.
To understand how Times Beach ended up as the bastard child of Love Canal and Chernobyl, you need to remember the root cause of most problems in the world: money. More specifically, the town didn't have enough money to pay for the roads to be properly maintained. So when drivers complained about road dust obscuring their vision, the town came up with an ingenious plan: they'd just hire a local waste hauler, Russell Bliss, to douse the roads in motor oil. And to be fair, who among us hasn't tried to drown our dirty problems in motor oil?
There was just one problem. Russell wasn't just pouring out cans of oil like 40s in memory of his homies -- he was using random barrels of chemicals that he had laying around his yard from a previous job. As it turned out, that "previous job" was working for a local mom n' pop outfit that doubled as one of the biggest manufacturers of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Whenever a construction crew trades their hard hats for hazmat suits, run the other way.
Those barrels contained huge quantities of dioxin, a highly toxic component of the defoliant that, in the words of the WHO, "can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones, and also cause cancer." Way to bury the lede, WHO.
This practice of pouring cancer juice over the streets continued for years before someone noticed that, huh, a lot of people were dying of liver failure. The EPA tested Times Beach in 1979 and discovered an off-the-charts level of dioxin contamination. Although people slowly trickled out of the danger zone, it wasn't until an outbreak of flooding in 1982 that the residents were paid to GTFO.
St. Louis Times
The local paper could recycle this headline, but for an entirely different reason.
If there's one group of people that White America has a mad-as-all-hell hate boner for, it's unionists.
Oh, and black people.
Bearing this in mind, you can imagine the clusterfuck that ensued when a pre-Civil Rights Movement black union emerged to demand a fair price for their work in the early 1900s. In scenes that must have resembled The Purge, the subsequent outbreak of violence resulted in the deaths of 200+ black sharecroppers.
Central Arkansas Library System
"And if any of you white people start to feel bad, just look at the pretty World Series until it all goes away."
In 1918, black sharecroppers in Arkansas -- who paid their landlords using a proportion of the crops grown on the land in lieu of cash -- began to complain about how their landlords were seizing their homes, crops, and possessions for no reason other than because they could. In response, they organized across the state and formed the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America, because that's what people do when they live in a democracy and have work-related disputes. This is all Civics 101, folks.
Now here comes History 101.
In September 1919, after getting word that a union meeting was taking place in a church outside Elaine, Arkansas, a group of white landowners ordered three men to break it up. You can probably guess what happened next: a confrontation between the two groups turned into a gun battle that left one union breaker dead. Both sides retreated and geared up for the inevitable shitstorm.
Pat Rowe / Central Arkansas Library System
A Southern state, taking out its Civil War frustrations on people they used to own? The hell, you say.
The black unionists roused everybody they could from their houses and formed self-defense groups to repel attacks, while the landowners organized a posse of hundreds of battle-hardened World War I veterans. In the meantime, the narrative among the white landowners and (presumably PTSD-ridden former soldiers) had changed. In the new version of the story, the black sharecroppers didn't kill a white man out of self defense during a union meeting gone wrong, they killed a white man in their first attempt at killing ALL the white people in a massive conspiracy, we shit you not.
The posse divided into groups and scoured the landscape looking for "conspirators," and by "conspirators," we mean "black people." By the time they'd finished, 237 sharecroppers had been murdered, along with hundreds more arrested, tortured into confessing to the "plot," and hanged.
Central Arkansas Library System
With all the others intimidated into silence, because what's racial terrorism if you can't terrorize everyone?
You already knew this, but none of the perpetrators ever faced any charges, punishment, or mild inconvenience for their part in the massacre. And to be fair, they weren't the only ones -- alongside polio and celebrating the end of World War I, race riots were the go-to fad of 1919 and were fought ostensibly to keep blacks "in their place," despite the fact that everyone only had a place because of a wartime victory eked out, in part, by black soldiers.
How are you feeling right now? Are you good? What if you told you that, right at this moment, there was someone out there conspiring to destroy your life for no logical reason? That's the insane reality which Mary Gillispie had to endure when one noble anonymous citizen took it upon themselves to air her dirty laundry to friends, family, co-workers, and everyone else in the small town of Circleville, Ohio, in 1976. Oh, and before you ask: she was a school bus driver. She didn't, like, run for President against a crazy person or anything.
It's not nearly as fun to have your own personal comment section as you might think.
The first salvo of letters to the townspeople were brutal. Alongside accusing Mary of having an extramarital affair with the local superintendent, they contained a warning that no one was safe from the self-titled Circleville Writer. It could have been a bluff, but would you want to challenge the craziness levels of someone who handwrote letters to an entire town? As the object of this lunatic's obsession, Mary's letters contained a little something extra: thinly veiled threats against her children.
"I know where you live ... I've been observing your house and know you have children. This is no joke. Please take it serious."
Two weeks later, this letter was followed up by another:
"Gillispie, you have had 2 weeks and done nothing. Admit the truth and inform the school board. If not, I will broadcast it on CBS, posters, signs, and billboards, until the truth comes out."
Unsolved Mysteries did an episode, so they technically carried through on the CBS part.
Against all reason and logic, Mary called their bluff and it didn't end well. In August 1977, her husband Ron Gillispie received an anonymous telephone call, grabbed his gun, and sped away in his car. He was found dead behind the wheel several hours later, the victim of a drunken crash. When his gun was tested, however, it showed signs of having been recently fired. By whom and at whom, it remains a mystery.
Even after Mary and the superintendent confessed that, yes, they'd been having an affair, the harassment campaign continued for another six years. Finally, Bus Driver Mary literally stopped her bus and attempted to pull down one of the harassment signs that were posted on her route. But when the widowed victim of years of stalking tried to pull down the sign, she found another surprise. Attached to the sign was a box with a gun in it. Poor Mary just couldn't cut a break.
It wasn't just sitting in the box either. It was booby-trapped to shoot her like the lovechild of Looney Tunes and Saw.
In the end, the gun was traced to her brother-in-law, who was arrested and sentenced for attempted murder. Case solved, right? Not a chance. The letters kept on coming. It wasn't the brother-in-law -- he was placed into solitary confinement and even began receiving letters of his own. They kept coming for years and years until one day, they stopped forever. To this day, it isn't known who wrote the letters or whether the last act was just a copycat or, indeed, why she became a target in the first place.
(Feel free to check the comment section for jokes about women drivers.)
Displaying pieces of your fallen enemies is a time-honored tradition that goes back centuries. The British did it with the heads of traitors at London Bridge, Napoleon had his dick cut off and exhibited, and Vlad the Impaler is ... well, parents, he's what happens when you give your child the surname "Impaler." It's just asking for shit to go wrong.
For a brief period during the 1880s, Vancouver also played host to a rogue body part. It wasn't from an enemy, mind. It was out of politeness.
In 1887, someone traversing a nearby creek discovered a human leg, somehow still wearing a boot. It was probably the easiest case that the police could have gotten. The day beforehand, a man had gone missing in the nearby area and, well, if the boot fits the freshly dismembered leg ... fuck it, we don't know.
Instead of quietly storing the leg in a box at the station, this particular town decided to skewer it on a pike and display it outside the police station on the off-chance that its owner would hop by and claim it. No one ever did; therefore, it was either thrown away or fed to a local dog.
However, Vancouver didn't forget the leg. The site where the leg-kebob was displayed has since been renamed "Leg-in-Boot Square" and, truth be told, it's not an entirely inappropriate name, especially given British Columbia's history of acting as the freaking Island from Lost for runaway lower body parts.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Want free shoes? Got a thing for amputated feet? Vancouver is your new home!
Contrary to popular belief, the Wild West wasn't a neverending slew of gun battles, outlaws, and card cheats. It was pretty peaceful, save for the time-travelling trains that would fuck up your daily commute.
However, that's not to say that it was a pacifist wonderland. Take Holbrook, Arizona. Such was its reputation for death and despair, that it was regarded in contemporary newspapers as being "too tough for women and churches," a rating which really begs the question of what type of rating system that is. For instance, what about babies and barbershops? Where do small kittens and old men fall on the Wild West Deathometer?
Navajo County Historical Society Museum
The Holbrook barbershop: where complaining about a shitty cut means scissors right in the jugular.
One of the bloodiest years in the town's history was 1886, which saw the deaths of 26 people ... which might not sound that high until you realize that accounted for 10 percent of the town's population at the time.
Most of these deaths were the result of a long-running feud between a law-abiding posse and an outlaw gang, an awesomely named outlaw gang, the Hashknife Outfit. In one incident, the town's saloon was said to be slick with blood after a fight broke out between the groups, either because the outlaws were accused of horse theft or because, playing to type, someone was discovered to be cheating at cards. Or maybe a horse cheated at cards. We'll never know.
Navajo County Historical Society Museum
Even the bartender shot up the place, which couldn't have been good for his Yelp rating.
After getting the place cleaned up, the saloon later changed its name to the "Bucket of Blood Saloon" while the road got a similar makeover with "Bucket Of Blood Street." Not "Here Is The Establishment Where Many Souls Met Their Maker Saloon" or "Good Lord, People Used To Be Violent Street," but "Bucket Of Blood Street."
Tristan Tom / Flickr
If you ask Siri how to get there, she just weeps bitterly for hours.
That being said, we have questions.
Did the owners of the saloon collect the blood into an actual bucket at one point? If so, how? Did they use mops? Do they use their hands to wring out mop blood into a bucket? Why not just mop the blood into the street or ditch or alley or a barmaid's apron? Why would your clean-up crew add so many steps to this simple operation? What was the name of your saloon before the the fight? Fart Bar? It was Fart Bar, wasn't it?
You know all those facts you've learned about psychology from movies and that one guy at the party who says, "actually ..." a lot? Please forget them. Chances are none of them are true. Take the Stanford Prison Experiment, the one famous psychology study people can name. It was complete bullshit. Funny story actually, it turns out that when you post flyers that say "Hey, do you wanna be a prison guard for the weekend? Free food and nightsticks," you might not get the most stable group of young men. So join Jack O'Brien, the Cracked staff and some special guests as they debunk Rorschach tests, the Mozart effect and middle child syndrome, so soon you can be that person at the party who says, "Actually ..." Get your tickets here!
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