Oct 24, 2011

Reclaiming History: Captain Marvel in The Great Brinks Robbery! (A True Story)

Welcome to a new installment of Reclaiming History, an ongoing series where the Comics Cube! tries to balance out what the history books say and what actually happened! Click here for the archive!

So I was reading Uncle John's Unstoppable Bathroom Reader a few days back. For those of you not aware of these books, they're full of short, random articles that make interesting reading, from lists of quotes, puns, and funny names to small news stories from the last century.

One of the articles that I just randomly turned to detailed the Great Brinks Robbery, which took place on January 17, 1950. Seven men came out of a car on Prince Street in Boston, went up to the Brinks Armored Car garage, and walked away with $1.2 million in cash and $1.5 million in checks, money orders, and securities. At the time, it was the single largest robbery in U.S. history. It was called by some "The Crime of the Century."

Thanks to this site.

And the public loved it. Almost immediately, they were sympathetic to the robbers, earning a status as cult heroes due to their nonviolent methods as well as the gigantic balls they had taking on, of all things, a security company. The FBI had six years to catch them before the statute of limitations would elapse, and they did catch them, with 11 days left to spare. But not only did they recover only 0.2% of the money ($51,906), but more than 1,000 prospective jurors were excused from duty because they admitted to being sympathetic to the robbers. (The unbiased jury ended up finding them all guilty.)

What makes this comics-related? Simple. When they committed the robbery, some of the men were wearing Halloween masks. What a bunch of modern accounts won't tell you is that these were the masks in question.

That's right. That's a Captain Marvel mask. That's how big this character was circa 1950, folks. Not only were they making Halloween masks of him, but his face was used in the "Crime of the Century."

What? Don't believe me? Okay, the robbers who weren't wearing a Captain Marvel mask were wearing these instead.

A Captain Marvel, Jr. mask. This entire franchise was just huge, and I have no doubt that if they had female robbers with them, we'd have gotten a Mary Marvel Halloween mask in this gallery as well.

This little detail is overlooked by some texts (and rightfully so — it's a small detail) like the Wikipedia entry or this one, but I am happy that the book covered it, and I found the pictures of it and the full FBI documentation of it here, as it highlights just how big Captain Marvel and Family really were. On the Ed Sullivan show, Ed did a sketch with seven people wearing these masks (meaning the identity of the mask was a big detail back in 1950, even if it's a footnote now).

There. Never doubt the popularity of the Golden Age Captain Marvel ever again!! And if you do, just think: Elvis Presley would debut three years later. And, well, you know.


Kid said...

Strangely, the second one looks like a Christopher Reeve Superman mask. Don't you think?

Duy Tano said...

Actually, I'd thought it looked a bit like a thin Elvis.

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