Monday, August 15, 2016

Cowtown Coliseum

If you live in North Texas and have guests from out of state who might not necessarily want the "Authentic Texas" experience but perhaps the "Touristy Texas" experience then odds are that you will take them out to the Fort Worth Stockyards.  Once there, your guests will be surrounded by all the trappings of Texas: cowboys, horses, cattle and rodeos!  And when it comes to rodeo, the number 1 spot is Cowtown Coliseum:

Not only does the Coliseum continue to host world class rodeos but it was also the site of the world's first indoor rodeo in 1918.  Over the years, the event space has hosted famous faces ranging from Theodore Roosevelt to Elvis Presley.  The historical marker out front has the historical rundown:

The marker reads:

     "Until 1908, The Annual Fort Worth Fat Stock Show was held in a variety of locations. As interest increased in the event and its educational and promotional values were realized, livestock exhibitors sought a permanent home for the show. The coliseum was constructed in 1907-08 to provide such an exhibition hall. Construction costs were borne by the Swift and Armour Packing Companies, and by the Fort Worth Stock Yards Company, which owned the property. The stock show was held here annually for 34 years. 
     This site has been within three separate cities: North Fort Worth until 1909; Niles City, 1911-23; and in Fort Worth since 1923. It is the birthplace of the indoor rodeo, and the first live radio broadcast of a rodeo was transmitted here on WBAP Radio in 1923. 
     The Coliseum also has served as a place for cultural, educational, religious, social, and civic events. In 1911, former President Theodore Roosevelt spoke here. Numerous Texas Governors, performing artists, grand operas, entertainers and evangelists have appeared here. The great Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso, performed here in 1920. 
     In 1936, the Stock Yards Company sold the coliseum to the City of Fort Worth. Historically it has been an important part of the city and the livestock industry."

Also outside the Coliseum is a monument to a cowboy who pioneered one of the most difficult rodeo events:

Bill Pickett was a lifetime cowboy and inventor of the technique of "bulldogging" which is essentially the act of jumping off a moving horse on to a moving steer and wrestling it to the ground with your bare hands.  So, yeah, he had guts.

Another little piece of history can be found near the entrance:

This Spanish canon was found in a river in San Antonio near the Alamo and now sits right outside the Coliseum warning visitors that this is a place where explosive things happen.

FUN FACT:  The Coliseum stood in for a Mexican Hotel in the (sadly short lived) TNT continuation of the legendary CBS soap opera "Dallas".  And as an added bit of melancholy trivia, it played the part of the hotel where J.R. Ewing was murdered (shortly after the real life death of  Larry Hagman):                   

Monday, July 4, 2016

Smoke Signal

When driving out to west Texas there's not a lot to see.  It's flat, desolate and there are very few roadside markers that you can use to track your journey.  So when you come across something out of the ordinary it tends to get your attention.  For example, you know you've made it to Thurber, TX when you see this:

The Thurber Smokestack is the last remnant of a former thriving coal town.  The town was owned by the Texas Pacific Coal Company and the residents were made up of primarily of the company's employees.  As the oil boom grew, Texas Pacific transitioned more toward the petroleum industry.   And with rise of the railroad, most of the residents had to leave to find work elsewhere thus creating a good old fashioned ghost town with the stack and a historical marker left behind:

The marker reads:

     "Most important mine site in Texas for 30 years. Coal here, probably known to Indians, was "discovered" in 1886 by W. W. Johnson, who with his brother Harvey sold out to Texas and Pacific Coal Company in 1888. (T. and P. Coal Company provided fuel for the Texas and Pacific Railroad, but was independently owned.) 
     Town was named for H. K. Thurber, friend of T. and P. Coal Company founders. Most dynamic firm member was Robert D. Hunter (1833-1902), developer of 7 of 15 mines. Next president was E. L. Marston, Hunter's son-in-law, who left mining largely to William K. Gordon (1862-1949), an engineer who brought daily output to 3,000 tons. 
     Then in 1917, Gordon (backed by management of coal company) was primarily responsible for discovery of Ranger oil field, 20 miles west. Adoption of oil- burning railway locomotives cut demand for coal. Last mine here closed in 1921, and the 10,000 or more inhabitants of Thurber began to move away. 
     The coal firm changed its name to Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company and was sold in 1963 to Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, Inc., for $277,000,000.00. Renamed Texas Pacific Oil Company, it is now one of largest independent domestic energy suppliers. Much coal (by estimate 127,000,000 tons) remains underground. (1969)"

A lot of interesting roadside stops like these can be somewhat secluded which which makes people hesitant to stop.  But the good news here is that the smokestack is accompanied by the Smokestack Restaurant so you can grab a slice of buttermilk pie when you investigate some history:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

History in the Making

A recent trip along the back roads of East Texas led us to a quick stop at the Rusk County Depot Museum which had tons of history on display in the form of documents, antique equipment and restored buildings.  There is way too much to cover in one blog entry.

I also didn't have a lot of time for this stop so I spent most of it strolling the grounds to check out the old buildings.  One thing I learned was that I was genuinely interested in knowing how brooms were made.  I honestly didn't know this until I came here.      

All right, so brooms don't grow in the wild...we've learned that today but there's an even bigger lesson to take away here.  In my opinion the most memorable building on the location is the "Arnold Outhouse":

Sure, it may not be as exciting as the See-Thru Bathroom in downtown Sulphur Springs but it is historically significant.  So much so that it has its own Historical Marker:

The marker reads:

     "Prominent Henderson businessman and civic leader John R. Arnold moved his family to this property in 1908. He added a second story to the home (razed in 1966) that already existed at the site. He also built a number of structures around the property, including this outhouse. It was larger than most standard outhouses of its day, and the milled pattern on the door and window facings matched that of the large Arnold house. The Arnold Outhouse is preserved to illustrate part of the lifestyle of 19th and early 20th-century Texans."

But that information is no substitute for witnessing an outhouse firsthand:

Yes kids, that's how it used to be.  This was the best case scenario for getting your "thinking done."  Ask your grandparents why there are catalogues and corncobs in there.

And when you start thinking about how bad the world is now, I would encourage you to always look on the bright side.  Despite political, economical and environmental the very least...we get to poop inside.  And sometimes that makes all the difference.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Tragedy in New London

Tragedy struck the small East Texas town of New London when a freak accident caused a massive explosion that destroyed the New London School and took the lives of over 300 students and staff.  Today, in the center of town, visitors can see a monument to the 1937 catastrophe:

The giant cenotaph was constructed two years after the explosion.  Composed of granite, it stands 30 feet tall and sits across from the current New London school.  There is also an official Texas Historical Marker commemorating the event:

The Marker reads:

     "On March 18, 1937, a massive explosion destroyed the New London Junior-Senior High School, instantly killing an estimated 296 students and teachers. The subsequent deaths of victims from injuries sustained that day brought the final death count to 311. The explosion was blamed on a natural gas leak beneath the school building. Within weeks of the disaster the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring an odor to be added to natural gas, which previously was odorless and therefore undetectable. This memorial to victims of the explosion was erected in 1939."

Across the road is the London Museum Cafe & Soda Fountain that serves old fashioned breakfast and lunch:

I got there little after lunch so the kitchen was closed.  Thankfully though, the Museum portion was open.  It contains an exhaustive collection of antiques and memorabilia about the explosion, the school and the town itself:


Two of my personal favorites were personal keepsakes of the students.  On the left is a text book and pocket knife belonging to student Perry Lee Cox.  On the right is a bar of soap carved into the shape of the Alamo belonging to sixth grader Glendell Sutherlin:             

The explosion was covered on a news reel at the time which you can watch below:

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mount Bonnell

Not too long ago we got a different perspective of the Austin area as we checked out the view from atop Mount Bonnell.

We're always on the lookout for historical markers and this area didn't disappoint.  The Mount Bonnel marker reads:

     "Rising 775 feet above sea level, this limestone height was named for George W. Bonnell, who came to Texas with others to fight for Texas independence, 1836. Was commissioner of Indian Affairs in Republic of Texas under president Sam Houston. Moved in 1839 to Austin; there published the "Texas Sentinel", 1840. Member Texan-Santa Fe expedition, 1841. Was captured but released in time to join Mier expedition, 1842. Was killed in camp on Rio Grande, Dec, 26, 1842. 
     Frontiersman W.A.A. "Bigfoot" Wallace killed an indian he met face to face while crossing a narrow ledge 50 feet above river, 1839. He also took refuge in a Mount Bonnell cave to recover from "flux", but was missing so long his sweetheart eloped. 
     In the mid-1800s Mormons built a mill on the Colorado river at foot of Mount Bonnell. Mill was destroyed by flood and the Mormons moved on west. 
     Mount Bonnell was site of picnics and outings in 1850s and 1860s. As it is today. Legend has it that an excursion to the place in the1850s inspired the popular song "Wait for the Wagon and We'll All Take a Ride". As a stunt in 1898, Miss Hazel Keyes slid down a cable stretched from the top of Mount Bonnell to south bank of then Lake McDonald below."

From the top you can get a good look at Lake Austin.  There's also this old school marker:

There's also a great view of the Austin skyline.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Ende-Gaillard House

The Greenville area is known for its history of cotton production and war hero/movie star Audie Murphy.  In fact, the town is home to a museum that celebrates both those things.  But before you head inside to see the exhibits, you can get a good look at a little history:

The Ende-Gaillard House was moved to the area in the 90's and came with its own historical marker.  

 The marker reads:

     "German native Charles Frederick von Ende (b. 1832) came to Greenville in 1857 and established a mercantile business on the town square. He became one of the community's most active civic leaders, serving on the school board and city council, and helping to establish the local Odd Fellows lodge. In 1857-1859, Ende built this home for his bride, Amelia Reinecker. Their daughter, Louise, and her husband, Dr. David l. Gaillard, bought the home in 1883. After Louise's death in 1945, the house became part of a lumberyard and was threatened with demolition. Originally located just north of the courthouse square, the Ende-Gaillard House was moved to a city park in 1957 and then to the American Cotton Museum in 1996.

Once past the house, you reach the parking lot for the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum.  Check out a tour of the museum in this video we shot for an episode of East Texas Explorer:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Aurora Cemetery

There's very interesting cemetery in Aurora, TX.  You're probably thinking, "So what?  Lot's of cool cemeteries in Texas."  True, but this one has quite a bit going on.  Let's start with this tombstone:

I've searched for information on "Loreta" but can't seem to find anything other than listings of her grave.  Basing my information strictly on what I learned from her tombstone: She was a bird.  She talked.  She was the "world's."

Odd bird graves notwithstanding, it's the historical marker at the cemetery entrance that gets most people's attention.

It reads:

     "The oldest known graves here, dating from as early as the 1860's, are those of the Randall and Rowlett families. Finis Dudley Beauchamp (1825-1893), a Confederate veteran from Mississippi, donated the 3-acre site to the newly formed Aurora Lodge No. 479, A.F. & A.M., in 1877. For many years, this community burial ground was known as Masonic Cemetery. Beauchamp, his wife Caroline (1829-1915), and others in their family are buried here. An epidemic which struck the village in 1891 added hundreds of graves to the plot. Called "spotted fever" by the settlers, the disease is now though to have been a form of meningitis. 
     Located in Aurora Cemetery is the gravestone of the infant Nellie Burris (1891-1893) with its often-quoted epitaph: "As I was so soon done, I don't know why I was begun." This site is also well known because of the legend that a spaceship crashed nearby in 1897 and the pilot, killed in the crash, was buried here. 
     Struck by epidemic and crop failure and bypassed by the railroad, the original town of Aurora almost disappeared, but the cemetery remains in use with over 800 graves. Veterans of the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts are interred here."

Yep, there's a legend that not only did a spaceship crash her in the 19th but also that the alien pilot is buried somewhere in the cemetery.  So of course we had to look for his tombstone.  Want to know if we found it?  You'll have to watch the video we shot to find out: