Bernice Historical Society
Bernice Dots #18
By Cathy Buckley
I believe this winter I saw the temperature drop to 5 degrees at my house. However on February 8th of 1933 Bernice posted a temperature of 4 degrees accompanied by snow and a stiff north wind. Housewives in Bernice awoke to find their once flourishing vegetable and flower gardens “dead as a hammer.”
In 1922 Bernice had the distinction of being the birthplace of the “World’s Largest Baby.” At her birth Ida McClung looked more like a one year old sporting plenty of hair and teeth and weighed more like a 6 year old. This fact made headlines across America. The area newspapers followed Ida for several years and in 1933 the Ruston Daily Leader wrote an article about her entitled “Wonder Girl Says 300 Lbs Is Nobody’s Business”. According to this article no Doctor had been able to determine the cause of her excess weight. Ida was in the fifth grade at the time and in reply to the interest of the paper, stated “It’s nobody’s business”; a fact I tend to agree with.
A great deal of excitement came through Bernice in April of 1933 when Bonnie and Clyde Barrow kidnapped a couple in Ruston. The gentleman kidnapped had been visiting a lady at a boarding house in Ruston and had left his car parked in the front yard and witnessed a man getting into his car and driving off. A lady at the house told him to jump in her car and they would chase the thief.
This chase led all the way to Hico where they were flagged down by two men and two women who captured them, hit them in the head with pistols and threw them into the back seat of their car. As the car approached Bernice the kidnappers told the two to make no sound as they had to stop and get gasoline and if necessary they would kill them and the gas station attendants. They purchased gas and oil in Bernice and then left. About 6 miles out of El Dorado the car stopped and the oil was added to the car. Further down the road the car stopped and let their victims out but not before they threw a five dollar bill on the ground for the couple to use to get back to Ruston.
The men were later identified as Clyde Barrow and his brother and it is assumed one of the women was Bonnie Parker. The four had murdered two men in Joplin, Missouri just ten days prior to the kidnapping and would have spared no one had things not gone smoothly upon their stop in Bernice.
Stores in Bernice were open for long hours until May of 1933 when all stores with the exception of drug stores, markets and grocery stores would now close at 6 pm to give employees more time for recreation.
June saw the destruction by fire of the W.F. Grafton home which had been built in 1900. The fire originated in the chicken house and spread to the home. Mrs. Grafton reported that she had been missing eggs and chickens almost daily and believed the fire to have been started by chicken thieves.
The next month it was reported that all insurance companies were threatening to cancel all policies in town due to the lack of a town water system that could be used in fighting fires. The town held a meeting of taxpayers, invited the Ruston Fire Department to be in attendance and made plans to take the necessary steps to secure a water and sewage system for the town. The Ruston Fire Department also pledged their support to the town if they decided to establish a system of fire-fighting.
In November the town voted unanimously for a $40,000 waterworks project which included the placement of water pipes through the streets.
I know we have had a great deal of rain lately but in July of 1933 the town was hemmed in from every direction due to water covering
the roads and railroad tracks. It was reported that “it is impossible to start cotton destruction due to boggy fields”. The destruction was part of a government plan to pay farmers not to place more cotton on the market and to aid in the financing of their next crops. A total of $6000 was paid out to Bernice farmers and it was said that when the money was received the town had one of the biggest crowds they had seen in months.
In the fall Bernice was invited to participate in the Semi-Centennial program in Ruston and sent a group of singers from Pisgah and Bernice led by Arthur Ferguson. The group called themselves the “Sacred Harp Singers” a name chosen from the Sacred Harp song book from which they chose their music.
********************************************************************************************* Cathy Buckley is a native of Union Parish and lifelong citizen of Shiloh. She served as Principal of Spearsville High School for many years until her retirement. Cathy is now the director of the Bernice Depot Museum and a active member of the Bernice Historical Society.