Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Jesse James, Heath Ledger, and Flashbulbs

On April 3, 1882, notorious outlaw Jesse James walked into his living room with Robert and Charley Ford. The following is Robert Ford's rendition (in dramatic fashion, no doubt) of the events of that morning to Governor of Missouri Thomas Crittenden:

"He walked over to the bed, and deliberately unbuckled his belt, with four revolvers in it, and threw it on the bed. It was the first time in my life I had seen him without that belt on, and I knew that he threw it off to further quiet any suspicions I might have. He seemed to want to busy himself with something to make an impression on my mind that he had forgotten the incident at the breakfast table, and said: "That picture is awful dusty." There wasn't a speck of dust that I could see on the picture, but he stood a chair beneath it and then got upon it and began to dust the picture on the wall.

As he stood there, unarmed, with his back to me, it came to me suddenly, 'Now or never is your chance. If you don't get him now he'll get you tonight.' Without further thought or a moment's delay I pulled my revolver and leveled it as I sat. He heard the hammer click as I cocked it with my thumb and started to turn as I pulled the trigger. The ball struck him just behind the ear and he fell like a log, dead."

The assassination, or murder depending upon your view of the events, of Jesse James drew crowds of people into his little house in St. Joseph, Missouri. All of them gawking at the dead outlaw's body. Some even clipped some of his hair for a keepsake. The Ford's made no effort to hide their involvement in his death, and were soon arrested.

Jesse James' body was put on display for many to view in Kearney, Missouri. Laid upon ice in order to preserve it, many proudly had their photos taken with his lifeless body. Photos of his body were a well sought after novelty. The nation, even the world, was fascinated by Jesse James and the grand events surrounding his death. At one point Robert Ford went on tour, performing reenactments of his assassination. Often performing to sold out crowds in New York and other places.

This afternoon, Heather Ledger was found dead in his New York apartment. The cause of his death has yet to be determined. I'll be the first to admit I wasn't a Heather Ledger fan, but it is always a tragic thing when someone passes on before what seems to be their time. What strikes me is no matter how civilized, modern, or how far we think we've come we always seem to go back to our most basest of human reactions to things. Call it curiosity if you may, but there's something morbid to me about crowds forming outside Heath's apartment, and everyone waiting to snap a photo of his body being taken out to the ambulance. There's even video of it, if you are so inclined to watch.

When it comes right down to it, we're not much different in 2008 than they were in 1882 are we?

No comments: