Jesse James' First Train Robbery

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

With nothing more than some rope, some guns and a whole lot of gumption, Jesse James committed the first train robbery in the west 138 years ago today.

James’ posse, the James and Younger gang, plotted to overtake a Rock Island Railroad train passing through Adair, Iowa, loaded with a cargo of gold. The plan they executed was pretty simple: they pried one of the rails loose with tools they had stolen, then tied a length of rope to the rail and pulled it out of place as the train rounded a blind curve. When the train predictably wrecked, killing engineer John Rafferty, the gang easily ransacked it.

Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t the payday they expected. When two of the robbers (believed to be Jesse and Frank James, pictured) forced guard John Burgess to open the safe, they found a mere $2,000 inside – nowhere near the estimated $100,000 they were expecting to pocket. It turned out that the shipment had been delayed. To try to recoup some of it, the gang robbed passengers on the train as well – one of the only times they did so. Their efforts netted them an extra $1,000. In case you were starting to feel sorry for the gang, don't: what they ended up with is the equivalent of more then $50,000 today.

Though the train robbery was highly publicized, it wasn’t the first of its kind in the U.S.

The original, committed by the Reno brothers in Indiana in 1866, cost the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad $13,000.

Side note: If you guys have been reading my mental_floss articles for any amount of time, you know I'm obsessed with weird roadside attractions and cemeteries (which are sometimes one and the same). That's why I couldn't pass up stopping to see Jesse James' gravesite when I was driving from Topeka to Des Moines earlier this year. It's quite low key and right in the middle of a pretty modern cemetery just off of a very busy street in Kearney, Missouri. Silly me was picturing Boot Hill, I guess.

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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The Definition of Museum Could Be Changing

The Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
The Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
roman_slavik/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve always casually defined museum as “a place to see art or historical objects,” you’re not necessarily wrong. But the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has a more specific, official guideline that defines a museum as “a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates, and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study, and enjoyment.”

ICOM’s 40,000 members have been adhering to this definition for almost 50 years to represent more than 20,000 museums around the world. Now, The Art Newspaper reports, some members want to change it.

On July 22, the organization’s executive board convened in Paris and composed a new definition that Danish curator Jette Sandahl believes better suits the demands of “cultural democracy.” By this updated description, a museum must “acknowledg[e] and addres[s] the conflicts and challenges of the present,” “work in active partnership with and for diverse communities to collect, preserve, research, interpret, exhibit, and enhance understandings of the world,” and “contribute to human dignity and social justice, global equality, and planetary wellbeing.”

The proposal immediately elicited harsh reactions from a number of other members of the museum community, who felt the text was too ideological and vague. François Mairesse, a professor at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle and the chair of the International Committee of Museology, even resigned from the revisory commission—led by Sandahl—earlier this summer when he realized the new definition wasn’t, by his standards, really a definition. “This is not a definition but a statement of fashionable values, much too complicated and partly aberrant,” he told The Art Newspaper. “It would be disastrous to impose only one type of museum.”

The current plan is for ICOM members to vote on the definition at the general assembly on September 7 in Kyoto, Japan, but 24 national branches and five museums’ international committees have petitioned to postpone the vote—they’d like some time to create their own definition for museum and present it as a counter-proposal.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]