Joplin, Missouri, Tornado: 7 Things to Know About Joplin

Bonnie and Clyde robbed their way through Bible Belt city built on lead, zinc.

May 24, 2011, 10:05 AM

May 24, 2011— -- Before the devastating tornado this weekend, Joplin, situated along two major highways in the southwestern corner of Missouri, was a bustling city. It's motto, "Proud of Our Past ... Shaping Our Future," was more than a slogan to the 50,000 or so residents who witnessed recent revitalization efforts.

Now a city in shambles, Joplin conjures up other images, including those associated with the 19th-century lead and zinc mining on which it developed.

Here are seven other things to know about Joplin.

1. As tornado-inducing as the region might be, Joplin actually sits outside what's loosely defined as Tornado Alley.

Although its boundaries are debatable depending on the criteria used -- frequency, intensity or events per unit area -- the area collectively called Tornado Alley runs from central Texas, northward to northern Iowa and from central Kansas and Nebraska east to western Ohio, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Satellite and Information Service.

Still, given that 30 percent of Joplin was just leveled, it's hard now to imagine how it could have been any worse situated.

2. While it's not in Tornado Alley, Joplin is firmly situated in the Bible Belt, with two Christian colleges in the city: Ozark Christian College, whose campus was not in the path of the tornado, and Messenger College, which was founded in 1987 on the merger of two collegiate institutions.

3. Joplin was once a backdrop for arguably the most notorious U.S. criminal gang: Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. They robbed their way through Joplin for a few weeks in the mid-1930s before high-tailing it out of town but leaving behind items in their hideout that included a camera with the iconic image of Parker holding a gun at her hip and a cigar in her mouth.

4. No, the city was not named for famed Texas-born composer and ragtime pianist Scott Joplin. The distinction belongs to the Rev. Harris G. Joplin, who founded the region's first Methodist congregation in the mid-19th century.

5. But Joplin had its share of notable people born there: poet Langston Hughes; actors Dennis Weaver and Robert Cummings; golfer Hale Irwin; serial killer William Cook; broadcast journalist Lisa Myers.

6. The single, largest group of residents identified themselves (19 percent) as of German ancestry, according to the 2000 census.

7. The Joplin Little Theater is the oldest continually-operating community theater west of the Mississippi, according to the city's website.

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