Little By Little, City Archivist John Slate and UNT Are Putting All of Dallas's History Online

I envy John Slate most days -- after all, as the city archivist it's his job to dig deep into Dallas's history, where I am but mere enthusiast and dilettante. It was Slate who last week found something once thought lost to the dustbin of history: that animated 1970 feature How Motor Cars and Other Living Things Can Find Happiness in the Dallas Freeway System starring the voice of Mel Blanc. It should be online shortly. But till then, here's his latest project in conjunction with the University of North Texas Libraries' Portal to Texas History: all the city-owned docs relating to Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, Clyde Chestnut Barrow and the members of their gang.

They started going up this morning, and Slate says he's "literally putting up more stuff right now." He tells Unfair Park that this isn't just Bonnie and Clyde stuff: "It's good ol' West Dallas history," he says. "It's all tied to West Dallas, and there are some crazy, crazy stories that aren't just Bonnie and Clyde."

Like, for instance, the story of Hattie Rankin Moore Park near Sylvan Avenue and Singleton Boulevard. Says Slate, Moore was a woman from Houston who moved to Dallas and read in the paper the tragic tale of Raymond Hamilton, one of the Barrow Gang members who eventually disassociated himself from Bonnie and Clyde but found himself in Huntsville nonetheless for execution.

"Hattie read about him in the paper and the tough place in West Dallas where he grew up," Slate says. "So she went to see his mother and said, 'It's a shame kids who grew up in this part of town grow up to become criminals. Maybe if they had something to do or some place to go they'd have an outlet,' so she built the park. It has a direct Bonnie and Clyde connection."

The docs were with the Dallas Police Department for years, till they were transferred to the city archives in the '90s. And while they were available to researchers, "this is about achieving a preservation goal, which is to make sure people can look at something digitally all they want. They can print it, use it for little Suzie's paper, whatever."

Next up: digitizing all "11,000 or so paper documents" related to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (DPD's photo archives were made available in November.) Slate says the city also just acquired "several hundred vintage images of the Dallas Farmers Market -- really, really cool ones that show what an active place it was." Those are going to Denton next week, and Slate expects they'll be available "in a few months."

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