One year after presenting her senior capstone to U.S. Congress, alumna Julie Thompson ’13, a local historian, is leading a celebration in Garrettsville that will commemorate the last great American train heist, the topic of her research.
At 6 p.m. on May 14, 2014, in James A. Garfield High School’s Iva Walker Auditorium, the Garrettsville community will celebrate the dedication of an official state historical marker. The marker will memorialize the former site of the Garrettsville train depot, where the heist occurred in 1935.
Thompson’s research project “The Thief and the Justice: The ‘Last Great Train Heist in American History’ and Its Influence on the Rise of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI,” led her to be chosen as one of 60 undergraduates from across the country to present to U.S. Congress last April. But she didn’t stop there. Working with the Garrettsville historical society and the local school district, the Garrettsville native’s research enabled the James A. Garfield Historical Society to secure a grant from the Ohio Historical Society toward the purchase of a historical marker.
The marker will be placed the day after the ceremony (May 15, 2014), near a portion of the Portage Hike & Bike Trail, where the heist took place.
On Nov. 7, 1935, “Public Enemy Number One” Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, the leader of the Karpis-Barker Gang, robbed the train of $46,000 in cash and securities, armed with explosives and machine guns. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and his government men (called “G-Men”) led the pursuit of Karpis following the heist, and in the process, developed many of their modern techniques of human source intelligence the FBI still uses today.
Thompson hopes this celebration and the new historical marker will encourage the community to recognize Garrettsville’s important role in history.
“This true local tale will encourage others to recognize its significance in history, bringing to light how important our local history becomes and remains,” she said. “The remarkable facet about being an historian or history buff is that an individual gets to choose what parts of history to illuminate for the general audience and to be remembered by future generations.”
As part of the celebration, the James A. Garfield High School band and theater students will re-enact this last great train heist in American history, and Thompson will provide a visual documentary of Karpis’s account of his arrest.
Speakers include the following:
- Ted Lysiak, James A. Garfield School Local School District Superintendent
- Kit Semplak and Grace Edwards, members of the James A. Garfield Historical Society Board of Directors
- Kathleen Chandler, Maureen Frederick, Sabrina Christian-Bennett, Portage County Commissioners
- State Rep. Kathleen Clyde, 68th District
- Tim Bryan, chief of staff at Hiram College,
- U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce, Ohio, 14th District
Thompson will serve as master of the ceremony and offer commentary throughout the program.
The celebration, “Two Grants and Three Giant Leaps for the James A. Garfield Schools and the Garrettsville Communities” will also recognize the first responders to the March 22 Garrettsville fire, a $5 million grant to the James A. Garfield local school district and Hiram College President-Elect Dr. Lori Varlotta.
James A. Garfield High School is located at 10233 State Route 88 in Garrettsville, three miles southeast of Hiram College. For more information, please contact Julie Thompson at (330) 979-1882.