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: 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Bruhl's Drugstore

The Llano County Historical Museum is housed in the former location of Bruhl's Drugstore along the Llano River and contains antiques and local area historical artifacts.  

And they've also got their own historical marker:

The marker reads:

"Louis Herman Bruhl (1849-1931) immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1867.  He became an American citizen in 1870, the same year he married Leonie Julia Hammale.  A merchant and a pharmacist, Bruhl lived in Waco and Rockport, and served as U.S. consul in Italy (1894-1899) before moving to Llano to open a drugstore in 1900.  His son Adolph (1876-1937), also a pharmacist, joined him in business.  The drugstore building they erected here in 1922 was donated by the Bruhl family to the County Historical Society in 1965 and was later remodeled for a museum."

You can see lots of antique drugstore related paraphernalia inside and was as a variety of historical exhibits.

The area is also home to "llanite", a rhyolite which is on display at the museum:

It's a great place to stop on your next road trip!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Jim Reeves

When you think about monuments to Texas music legends, the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue or the Willie Nelson statue, both in Austin, might first spring to mind.  But let me introduce you to another Lone Star performer whose memorial is worth a stop on your next east Texas road trip:

Jim Reeves started his career as a minor league baseball player but an injury led to his pursuit of fortune and fame in the music industry.  And it worked.  So much so that his hometown of Carthage, TX (also the former home to country music legend Tex Ritter) has created an impressive memorial to his memory:

The marker reads:

"Born in Galloway, James Travis Reeves played professional baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals' minor league team until an injury forced him to abandon that career. He became a radio disc jockey and formed a country western band. Joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1955, he became a world famous singer. Known fondly as Gentleman Jim, Reeves was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967, three years after he died in a plane crash."

Check it out the next time you are in the area.  If you aren't familiar with Reeves' work then sit back and enjoy his effortless performance of "I Love You Because" on a Norwegian TV show in 1964:

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fort Worth Stock Yards Entrance

Strap on your boots because today's entry takes us to the Fort Worth Stock Yards. There is a ton of history at the stock yards so we won't even try to cover it all at once. In fact, we'll start at the beginning...or the entrance:

Ok, so this one is an Historical Medallion as opposed to an Historic Marker but just go with it:

The text reads:

Spanning Exchange Avenue, this gateway to the Fort Worth Stock Yards was completed in 1910. Constructed by the Topeka Bridge & Land Co. for the Fort Worth Stock Yards Co., it was a significant feat of concrete work for that era. The columns are 22 feet high and 13 feet in circumference. The sign is 36 feet long and 4 feet high. The entrance is a significant landmark in this historic area of Fort Worth. Recorded Texas Historic Landmark-1985.

We've also got some video at the Stock Yards that we shot a few years back for your viewing pleasure:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Salt Palace

This time our history has some legitimate geology to go along with it. Welcome to the Salt Palace Museum in Grand Saline, TX.

Grand Saline is what you would call a "salt town." It is home to a major salt mining operation and honor's the world's tastiest rock by hosting a yearly Salt Festival in addition to being the home of the Salt Palace Museum seen above. The museum was closed when I stopped by but when it is open it is packed with salt memorabilia and free salt samples. And it's here where we find today's historical marker, which seems to have nothing to do with salt.

The marker reads:

      "Pioneer aviator Wiley Hardeman Post was born on November 22, 1898, in the community of Corinth in Van Zandt County, to William Francis and Mae Laine Post, who moved to Oklahoma when Wiley was a boy. Wiley was inspired as a youth to learn to fly.
In the late 1920s he obtained flight training, made his first solo flight, and acquired an air transport license. Despite the loss of one eye in an oil field accident, Post worked as a barnstormer, commercial pilot and flight instructor.
      Post set many flight records and won the national air races in 1930. He and Harold Gatty circled the world, flying 15,474 miles in less than 9 days in 1931. Post soloed around the world in less than 8 days in 1933.
      Post invented and developed the first pressurized flight suit, explored stratospheric flight, and used an early Sperry autopilot mechanism. He worked with the U. S. Army Air Corps on an experimental automatic direction finding (ADF) radio compass, and was a pioneer in the use of liquid oxygen for high altitude flight. Post and humorist Will Rogers died in a plane crash on a trip to Alaska in 1935. His plane the "Winnie Mae" is in the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C."

Post seems like a fascinating and accomplished guy and I'm genuinely surprised that he's not more well known. Here are some interesting facts about his life that I insist you memorize:

  • He lost an eye in an oil field accident yet still went on to become a pilot
  • He was the first person to fly solo around the world
  • He invented pressure suits for high altitude flying
  • He died in the same place crash as Will Rogers

Now take that handful of factoids to your next cocktail party and impress your friends.

We'll leave you with a good look at the pride of Grand Saline: a great big hunk of salt, which is on display outside of the Salt Palace and brings joy to local wildlife searching for a little small town flavor.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Hippos of Hutto

When you visit the town of Hutto, TX (about 30 miles north of Austin) you can't help but notice the multitude of hippo statues. What gives? Well the town also has a Historic Marker which will hopefully shed some light on the situation.

The marker reads:

"Located near Shiloh, one of the earliest villages in Williamson County, this area was settled in 1855 by J. E. Hutto (1824-1914) and Adam Orgain, a former slave. Hutto sold land for this townsite to the International & Great Northern Railroad in 1876. A post office was established in 1877 with Hutto as postmaster. By 1882, the town had a school and a Baptist church. By 1898, there were six churches, a Masonic lodge, newspaper, hotel, bank, two gins, and several stores. Hutto grew rapidly after Swedish immigrants turned nearby farms to cotton production. The town was incorporated in 1911."

Ok, that really didn't help so here's the short version of the story: in 1915 a hippo escaped from a circus train and went about the business of hippo hi-jinks until the townspeople and animal trainers were finally able to catch him and return him to the train. Ever since then the town has had Hippo Fever!

The school even adopted the hippo as the official mascot and the town is riddled with hippo statues. Some say there are hundreds but I don't think anyone has ever done an official count.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Downtown Grapevine

Today's entry takes us to picturesque downtown Grapevine, TX where they have their fair share of history. Just driving down Main Street is a trip through time starting with the city's historical marker.

The marker reads:

     "Wild mustang grapes growing profusely in this area inspired the name "Grapevine" for this community. Ambrose Foster (1794?-1847) and his wife Susannah Medlin (1796-1876) were among the first settlers in 1845, from Platte County, Missouri. The Fosters, their daughters and sons-in-law acquired land that became the heart of Grapevine. Within the first year worship services and school classes were conducted.
      Cattle raising was the major enterprise prior to the Civil War. Beef cattle were sold to Camp Worth (present Fort Worth) by Archibald Leonard, Fosters' son-in-law, who owned a mercantile store. In 1858 a Federal Post Office was established and run by Solon Dunn. During the 1870s the village was also known as "Dunnville". In 1914 the name became "Grapevine". After the Cotton Belt Railroad line opened in 1888, the town thrived as a shipping center for cotton, grain, truck crops and dairy products. In 1907 Grapevine incorporated. By 1934 two major paved roads leading to Dallas and Fort Worth were constructed. A dam built in 1942 on Denton Creek formed Lake Grapevine. It serves as a water supply, flood control measure, and a recreational area. In 1974 the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport opened within the city limits."

The marker is amongst a myriad of shops and attractions and is right next to the Torian Log Cabin which has its own historical medallion.

The medallion reads:

"This cabin of hand-hewn logs was built along a creek at the edge of the Cross Timbers near the pioneer community of Dove. It originally stood on a headright settled in 1845 by Francis Throop, a Peters colonist from Missouri. J.C.Wiley bought the property in 1868. He sold it in 1886 to John R. Torian (1836-1909), a farmer from Kentucky. Torian family members occupied the structure until the 1940s. The cabin was moved about four miles to this site in 1976."

And right next to the cabin, in Liberty Park, is the "Walking to Texas" sculpture, which is the city's first piece of public art which salutes the first pioneers to come to the area. Very close to that is:

"The Sidewalk Judge" who is always eager for visitors to sit down and keep him company. But even farther down is a fully functional piece of history: The Tarantula Train!

A while back we shot some video of the "Murder Mystery on the Tarantula Train" event. Check it out:

And right behind the train is a functioning blacksmith shop:

Live blacksmithing demonstrations are given frequently and homemade metal items are for sale.

Devin was able to speak with the blacksmith and learn a little about the craft:

Friday, March 4, 2016

Collin County Prison

Collin County had its own tiny little prison.  The historic building is still standing and can be found next to McKinney's downtown square (which, as you may recall, was the setting for the climax of an early episode of Walker, Texas Ranger).  Some of the prison's famous residents include Frank James and a member of Bonnie & Clyde's gang.

Despite all this, the building's historical marker is all about the architecture and touts that it is one of the few buildings designed by F.E. Ruffini that is still standing.

The marker reads:

     "Designed by F.E. Ruffini, Architect of numerous Public Buildings in Texas in the late 19th century, this High Victorian Italianate structure served as the Collin County Prison for 99 years. Completed in 1880, it was modified in 1938 with Funds from the Federal Public Works Administration. Prominent features of the building include its bracketed Cornice and Arched Windows. It is one of the few F.E. Ruffini structures remaining in the state."

There is an attorney's office currently housed in the building but over the years it has been a book store and a restaurant.  Back when the restaurant was open it was called the "Prison Bars & Grill" and we visited there to shoot some video.  Check it out:

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Menger Hotel

The Menger Hotel in downtown San Antonio has a rich and varied history.  Famous guests have included Oscar Wilde, Babe Ruth and multiple U.S. Presidents.  Events like the "rough rider" recruitment by Teddy Roosevelt and the first public demonstration of barbed wire took place there.

Their marker reads:

     "William A. (1827-1871) and Mary Menger, both born in Germany, opened a boarding house and brewery at this site in 1855, when most local buinesses were still clustered around Main Plaza and Military Plaza. The popularity of the boarding house led Menger to replace it with a two-story stone hotel erected at the corner of Blum and Alamo Plaza in 1859. Mary Menger sold the Hotel in 1881 to J.H. Kampmann, the builder of the first portion of the structure.
     Famed for its excellent meals and beautiful patio garden, the Menger was San Antonion's most prominent hotel in the 19th century. It attracted many well-known visitors and was periodically enlarged and remodeled to accommodate more guests. Cattlemen such as Richard King stayed here during the era of the great cattle drives. Other guests included Generals U.S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and John Pershing; poet Sidney Lanier, writer O. Henry (William Sidney Porter); and performers at the Grand Opera House located across the plaza. Theodore Roosevelt recruited his regiment of "Rough Riders" for the Sapnish-American War at the Menger in 1898. 
     Purchased in 1943 by W.L. Moody, Jr., the hotel was further expanded in 1966-67 to cover the entire block. (1976)"

But history, schmistory!  Let's head to the bar:

The hotel bar is famous in its own right.  It's the oldest continuously operated saloon in town and, according to a plaque at the location, it is an exact replica of a London pub.  It's also known to be the first bar in Texas with ice.  If that wasn't enough, the bar has some very "Texas" features: bullet holes!


They're not as big as you might expect.  I guess real-world 19th century weapons don't blow stuff up the way blockbuster movies bullets do.  Some of those bullets probably made their way into some patrons back in the day too because the hotel is known as "The Most Haunted Hotel in Texas."

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Camp Howze

If you drive from Texas to Oklahoma and back as much as we do, you will quickly notice that near the border, on the Texas side, are signs indicating a that there is a World War II monument in the area.   Which begs the question, "What part of World Wart II happened in North Texas?"  A little exploration led to this Historical Marker:

The marker reads:

     "In operation from 1942 to 1946, Camp Howze served as an infantry training facility during World War II. It was named for General Robert Lee Howze (1864-1926), a native Texan whose distinguished career in the United States Army began with his graduation from West Point and included service in France, Puerto Rico, Germany, a South Dakota Indian War and the Philippine Insurrection, 1899-1902. 
     Clifford McMahon of the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce first contacted Federal authorities with the idea of establishing a military installation here. Attracted by the community's active endorsement of the plan, the government activated Camp Howze on August 17, 1942, under the command of Colonel John P. Wheeler. In addition to infantry training, the base was also the site of a German prisoner of war camp and an air support command base, now part of the Gainesville Municipal Airport. Services provided for the soldiers included camp exchanges, libraries, chapels, theaters, service clubs and a base newspaper, the "Camp Howze Howitzer." 
     The economic and social impact of Camp Howze on Gainesville was significant and was instrumental in the town's rapid growth and development. (1982)"

So apparently in the 1940's, near Gainesville, TX,  the Army operated a Training Base/POW Camp.  But if you go to the location today all you see is an empty field behind an historical marker.  That's because the Army had always intended it to be a temporary facility.  The buildings were not made to last and after the war they were torn down.  Some concrete foundations can still be seen if anyone wants to look for them.

In a letter to his sweetheart (which can be read along with tons of other old letters on this great site), PVT. Prune R. Brooks mentioned the shoddiness of the buildings, helping to explain even more why there's nothing left of them today.

He writes:


Dearest Donna,

Well honey here I am down in Camp Houze Texas and what a hell of a camp. The buildings are so old and so about to fall down. But the south is very beautiful and the girls are pretty as the devil. I stopped off in Fort Worth Sunday and went roller skating and met a few very nice girls and had lots of fun.

This will be a very short letter till the next. I haven't much time. Honey I want you to write often and please send your picture. I send you mine for Xmas. I will close for now and will compose soon again 


But if you are in the mood to stop during your drive along I-35 to snap some pics of something historic, you can hit the Texas Travel Information Center in Gainesville (and take a much needed restroom break) to see the other historic World War II monument.

Look behind the great big Texas photo op and you'll find the 103rd Infantry Division Monument.  Sculpted by artist Edd Hayes and titled "A Call to Duty," the monument pays homage to the 103rd who trained, in part, at Camp Howze.

It's amazing what you can learn along the roadside.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Hare Taller

Within the city limits of Odessa, TX you can find the World's Largest Jack Rabbit, a.k.a. Jack Ben Rabbit.  He stands tall in downtown at 8 feet and was named after former Odessa Chamber of Commerce President John Ben Sheppard.  He hopped into place in 1962 and two years later he was joined by a Texas Historical Marker:

The Marker reads:

     "True plains Rabbit. Lives only in the west. Burro-like ears gave him his name. color is protective, blending with sand and dry grass. Very long legs make him a swift runner, clocked at speeds to 45 miles an hour. Object of hunts with Greyhounds.
      Was prized by plains Indians for food and fur. to white man a reminder of desert-hard life. In drouth and depression, meat source for thousands.
      Subject of tall tales. Actual hero of world's only Jackrabbit Rodeo, in Odessa, May 1932.

But this isn't just any historical marker, it's the marker that just keeps giving.  Adventurous foodies can find an authentic Texas Jack Rabbit Recipe attached to the back:

On the other side of Ben is a marker placed by the Heritage of Odessa Foundation commemorating the town's former Championship Jackrabbit Roping (Odessa is clearly what you would call a "Jack Rabbit Town"):

This marker reads:

"Contest began as "hare-brained" publicity stunt during 1932 annual Odessa Rodeo. Held at 3rd and Grant Street site despite objections from out-of-town do-gooders. Local sheriff opposed event but mayor and judge ruled no violation of Texas law. Cowgirl Grace Hendricks roped rabbit from horseback in five seconds flat winning over numerous male competitors. Notorious contest revived in 1977 causing coast-to-coast outcry. Midland animal lover delayed action by liberating captive jackrabbits. Event proceeded on schedule when former prisoners returned at feeding time. Seven ropers competed on foot. Jack Torian placed first with a six second scamper. In 1978 Humane Society blocked all future ropings with court order."

So yeah, this is a town that gets excited by jack rabbits...even enough to share.  In 2002 Ol' Ben hopped out of town to take part in the "Best of Texas" Festival at Six Flags over Texas in Arlington:

There he was joined by Old Rip from Eastland, the Car Part Dinosaur from Bertram and many other Texas roadside icons.  While he had a great summer in '02, his traveling days seem to be behind him and now you can always catch him at home in downtown Odessa.