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Part of what makes Parks & Recreation such a great show is the amount of detail they’ve put into portraying Pawnee, the city where the show takes place. Just look at their City of Pawnee website. That looks exactly like a local government website would look.

I think the funniest details about Pawnee involve its bloody history represented in the horrifying murals that line the walls of Pioneer Hall.

Here’s a sampling:

Sunday Boxing
Sunday Boxing

This mural was originally entitled “A Lively Fisting.” The name was changed for obvious reasons.

For a while in the 1880’s, most of the law enforcement officials in Pawnee either quit or died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds while drunk. As a result, things were pretty wild. Spontaneous bareknuckle fighting rings spread throughout the town, including this one, in which the Reverend Bradley took on all comers after the Sunday Sermon. Here, the Reverend takes on Anna Beth Stevenson, who had won her previous 11 bouts against the men of the town. The streak came to an end on this punch, though Stevenson won the rematch a week later on a 60-round TKO.

At first glance, it is horrifying, but on second glance, it is even more disturbing. One is tempted to assume the fighting woman was a prostitute or thief, when in fact she was Pawnee’s first female high school graduate. Girl Power! That’s right – 1800s Pawnee let girls go to high school! Trust me, you didn’t want to be valedictorian. (Seriously, that is not a joke. Female valedictorians were given mandatory hysterectomies. Yikes!)

The Trial of Chief Wamapo
trial of chief wamapo

Without courageous settlers and the United States Cavalry, there would be no Pawnee today. Their battles with the Wamapo Indian tribes were epic and brought great glory to both sides.

This mural depicts the trial of Chief Wamapo, who was accused of “being Indian.” Tragically, in 1834 that was a crime punishable by death.

Despite the proximity of the canon to Wamapo’s body, the cavalry missed him on their first two shots. On the third shot, they got lucky and hit his left shin. He died several years later of old age.

Trading Post
trading post

Pawnee would never have survived if settlers hadn’t figured out ways to peacefully co-exist with their Native American neighbors. They would come together at “trading posts” to exchange food and goods. Sort of like a flea market, with a high risk of intentional small pox.

I’d like to believe that the white man is paying the Indian to correctly guess the weight of his baby, but I’m pretty sure that’s not it. Historical fun fact: this baby grew up to be the woman being punched by the man in “Sunday Boxing.” So she got to be in two murals! Lucky devil! Fun fact number two: “Lucky Devil” was the name the Indians gave to the baby after purchasing it.

Pawnee Zoo
pawnee zoo

The Pawnee Zoo has been around for 150 years. It’s one of the oldest zoos in North America, and with over 250 species of animals on display, it continues to dazzle Pawneeans today:

Unfortunately, the muralist chose to depict a rather disturbing and isolated event in the history of the zoo: in 1914, a Jewish ornithologist who was headed for the Mississippi River took a wrong turn, and wandered into Pawnee looking for directions. The mayor at the time had never seen a Jewish person before, and, believing him to be some kind of rare alien creature, placed him in the zoo’s abandoned otter cage.

A few days later, the residents of Pawnee received confirmation that this was merely a human being with a different heritage, and let him out with great apologies. The mayor even invited the man to settle right there in Pawnee for good, an offer which the man politely declined.

Yes, it is a harsh image, but ask yourself: would it sway your opinion if you knew the mural was painted by a Jewish man? (It wasn’t.) Also, lest you feel that Pawnee as a town was unfairly cruel to Jewish people, there is evidence that people from many other religious minorities were also put in cages: Catholics, the Amish, and Unitarians, to name just a few.

Obviously, it is shameful and disgusting that a human being was placed in a cage. And I can promise you, it won’t happen again. Not on my watch!

List of unseen murals listed in Operation Ann (Season 4 Episode 14)

  • Cornfield Slaughter
  • Lament of the Buffalo
  • Needless Slaughter
  • Slaughter Gone Wrong
  • Eating the Reverend
  • It’s Raining Blood
  • Death Everywhere

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