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The History of the Alamo, Part IX: Chili Queens, Street Preachers and Tomb Raiders

The stores running along the boundary line of the Alamo compound’s lost west wall. (L to R) the Crockett Building, Palace Theater and the Woolworth Building. Photo taken by Author in April, 2018. 

Ron Current

By the time the 150th anniversary of the 1836 battle arrived all but two of the Alamo’s original buildings had been erased from public sight.  And sadly, it wasn’t just physically gone; the historic Alamo was also gone from the very consciousness of most people. To citizens of the city, and visitors alike, “The Alamo” became just one of its two remaining structures; Its Church, the Shrine.

What if the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and the State of Texas, had purchased the Alamo Plaza instead of the grounds behind and to the north of the church?

The decades of focusing on just the church has caused damage to the reverence of the battlefield. The battlefield had become just another city park leading to “The Alamo,” and the site of the forts west wall, a collection of stores that promote themselves as being, “across the street from the Alamo.”

In this posting, the ninth in my series on the History of the Alamo, I’ll explore the good and the bad commercial development on the site of the west wall, and the many uses made of the Alamo Plaza through the years.

The Alamo Plaza: a great public gathering place

Being one of the largest open public spaces within San Antonio, the Alamo and de Valero Plazas became a draw for all those who wanted to sell their wares or to hold special events, especially with the backdrop of the famous “Alamo.”

Chili Queens

In the 1860s, these two plazas were one of the many locations throughout San Antonio to have the famous “Chili Queens.” These Chili Queens were mostly Mexican women who’d set up their cooking pots, boiling with tasty chili con carne and other Tex-Mex delights. Tables and benches were set up nearby to seat the many casual diners that these stands attracted. Soon strolling musicians joined in, circulating amongst the crowds, adding to the festive atmosphere.

Postcard showing the Chili Queen tables on Alamo Plaza

So famous were the San Antonio Chili Queens that writer O. Henry, after visiting the city made reference to them in his short story, ‘The Enchanted Kiss.” He wrote:


“The nightly encampment upon the historic Alamo Plaza, in the heart of the city, had been a carnival, a saturnalia that was renowned throughout the land.” 

Postcard of Chili Queen tables on the plaza with the Alamo church in the background

By the late 1800s, Alamo Plaza would be home to hundreds of competing cooks and thousands of hungry visitors, filling all its open space.

As more convenient locations became available for the vendors, and concerns for the public’s health, the number of Chili Queens began to shrink. Finally in the 1940s the San Antonio Health Department permanently closed all the food stands due to unsanitary conditions.  

The Chili Queen’s legacy would be the beginnings of our love for Tex-Mex dishes, Mexican Street food, and indirectly, the Taco Truck craze.

A showplace for a new kind of fencing

It was on Alamo Plaza that a product was first showcased that changed ranching and the open range forever. In 1876, Illinois entrepreneur John Warne “Bet a Million” Gates used Alamo Plaza to introduce his new fencing called, “barbed wire.” Gates built corrals on the plazas holding Texas Longhorn cattle to show the effectiveness of this new fencing.

Battle of Flowers Parade

In April of 1891, Alamo Plaza and the Alamo was the end of the first “Battle of Flowers” Parade. This event, inspired by such parades in Spain and Europe, began as a way to honor the fallen of the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. Each year colorful floats, bands and military units march down the streets of San Antonio to the Alamo.

Postcard of one of the Battle of Flowers floats in front of the Alamo church.

The first parade drew around 15,000, and by 2014 attendance had grown to an estimated 350,000 parade enthusiast. The Battle of Flowers Parade also helped to start San Antonio’s annual Fiesta, and this parade is still one of the major events of Fiesta.

Alamo Plaza plays host to Presidents and others

Postcard showing the Alamo Plaza filled with an enthusiastic crowd gathered to hear President Theodore Roosevelt

Over the years Alamo Plaza has been the site used by U.S. Presidents and other speakers., taking advantage of the large open ground, and to have the Alamo church in the background.

Today most of these larger events have since moved to other locations within the city. This is partially due to much of the Alamo Plaza’s former open space being now taken up by flowerbeds, the Cenotaph, and the expansion of the area in front of the Alamo church.

Today, because of the sheer volume of visitors coming to see the historic Alamo, the plaza now attracts many who have little respect for the hollowed ground that their standing on. They only see the plaza as a platform to present their views.

From social protesters, to street preachers, to panhandlers; on any given day you’ll see them there, demanding attention from those who came to learn and to feel the history.

Development of the west wall

Samuel Maverick was one of the first, and most influential developers of the Alamo grounds. He built his home on what is now the northwest corner of E. Houston and N. Alamo Streets. His house sat were one of the old mission Indian houses was located, known as the Castaneda House. During the 1836 battle this was the location of one the fort’s northern cannon postern, called Fortin De Condelle. Today this spot is occupied by the Hotel Gibbs.

Just south, across E. Houston Street from the Hotel Gibbs, begins a line of three commercial buildings which run south along Alamo Plaza Street. These buildings sit along what was the Alamo’s west wall.

The Woolworth Building

The Woolworth Building

The first building on the corner is the old Woolworth Building. Opened in 1921, it housed the Woolworth department store for years. This building has a historical aspect of its own. In the early 1960’s its lunch counter was the site of one of the first peaceful integrations to take place in the south.

The Palace Theater

The Palace Theater

Next to the Woolworth building was the Palace Theater. Opened in 1923, this building also has an architectural history. The Palace Theater was designed by architect George Willis, a trainee of Frank Lloyd Wright. Another historical tidbit is that the Palace was the first completely air-conditioned building in the United States

In this general area stood the old mission house known as the Trevino House. During the 1836 siege it’s believed that this was William Travis’s headquarters. And it’s here where he wrote this famous letter.

The Crockett Building

The Crockett Building

The last building in this line, and the last sitting on Alamo compound ground, is the Crockett Building (not to be confused with the close by Crockett Hotel).

In 1882, the year before the State of Texas purchased the Alamo church for the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the sons of Samuel Maverick constructed what they named the Crockett Building. It was designed to house several stores on the street level and multiple offices on its upper floors. At the time the Crockett was the best example of “Gilded Age” architecture in the city. Today the Crockett’s street level renters are the apparel shop, Del Sol, and Grand Trolley Tours.

Lost to Time

By the time these buildings were constructed all remanence of the mission/fort on that ground was already gone. And as the decades past the businesses that occupied the Woolworth, Palace and Crockett buildings were an accepted part of the community, and the memory of the Alamo compound and battlefield became lost to time. Those businesses along Alamo Plaza Street would promote themselves as being, “across the street from the Alamo,” because it was commonly viewed that the church was “the Alamo.”

Then, more and more people became interested in the Alamo, especially after the Davy Crockett craze of the 1950s, and they began looking at the total historical Alamo, not just its church.

Walt Disney publicity photo for their Davy Crockett TV series. This scene is Davy (Fess Parker) being presented with his “Old Betsy” rifle.

They also began to realize the importance of honoring this hollowed ground, all the hollowed ground that was the Alamo. And just about the time that a group of businesses opened in those buildings along the lost Alamo west wall that shocked and angered them for their lack of reverence.

Phillips Entertainment

Phillips’ Aquarena Springs was one of the biggest tourist attractions in Texas, second only to the Alamo. The park is now closed.

Phillips Entertainment began as a small Texas family owned attraction/ entertainment company in 1964, with Gene Phillips opening his first attraction, a small theme park called Aquarena Springs, in San Marco, Texas. Over the next 20 years their operations grew to four more tourist attractions located throughout Texas.

When Bill Phillips joined his father in the business he created Phillips Entertainment, Inc. (PEI) in 2000, as a separate entity with the sole purpose of operating attractions in the City of San Antonio.

Phillips searched all over San Antonio for the right location to open his new attractions. What he needed was a building with lots of space, affordable rent, and if possible, something else that was nearby that was already drawing large numbers of tourists. What he found was the Woolworth and Palace buildings, and across the street from those buildings, the Alamo.

PEI signed a long term lease with the building’s owner,  Service Life and Casualty Insurance Company, for both the Woolworth and Palace. In 2002, PEI opened their first attraction, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. This attraction did so well that they followed it with the Guinness World Records Museum in 2003 and then Davy Crockett’s Tall Tales Ride in 2005. In 2008, PEI made a major investment and redesigned one of their main attractions, and in doing so cutting any references they had to the Alamo. They converted the Davy Crockett ride into the Tomb Raider 3D Adventure Ride and Arcade.

PEI’s attractions that occupy the Crockett and Woolworth buildings. Photo by author, 2018

PEI continued to expand their interest in San Antonio: managing the Mirror Maze and River Sweet Candy Shop just down Alamo Plaza from their main attractions. A little further beyond the Alamo’s footprint, they also manage the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, and the Texas Ranger Museum.

Bill’s son, Davis Phillips, and grandson of founder Gene Phillips, is the current President and CEO of PEI. Davis is one of the most successful tourist attraction operators in the country. Phillips, and PEI, are active in San Antonio tourism and members of the Texas Travel Industry Association, and is very vocal in protecting his interests on the Alamo Plaza. This is understandable, considering PEI investments in their entertainment venues.

Davis, who also sits on the City’s Alamo Plaza Committee, made the statement that he, and the other tourist attractions/ businesses that line the Alamo Plaza, are not against change. And he’d be willing to consider a master plan that may require moving some of PEI’s businesses, but only:

if its focused on our (PEI) future success as it is the Alamo’s

Shortly after this statement Phillips learned that PEI had a new landlord; The Texas General Land Office, the owners of the Alamo.

Davis Phillips made a statement awhile ago that I strongly disagree with. He said that his businesses helps to bring people to the Alamo. The Alamo has been a destination for history pilgrims and tourists since shortly after the 1836 battle. Visitors to the Shrine has increased each decade, especially after the aforementioned Davy Crockett craze.

Phillips is a exceptional entrepreneur in the tourist attraction business, and he knows that business very well, and what helps to bring him customers, and that’s being close to something where people are already coming too; it’s the Alamo that brings him customers, not the other way around.

My next post will be the last in this series; I’ll start by reflecting on my feelings during my first visit to the Alamo in 1986: what were my expectations, what did I find when I got there and what was the reactions of others that were there around me. I’ll then tell of my visits in 2011 and 2018, and the changes I saw each time.

I’ll finish with a look at some of the possible changes proposed for the Alamo, the Plaza and the west wall buildings.

Some of my resources:

“About Us.” Battle of FLOWERS , The Battle of Flowers Association, http://www.battleofflowers.org. Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

Jennings, Frank W. “Popular Chili Queens Graced San Antonio Plazas.” Journal of the life and culture of San Antonio, University of the Incarnate word, http://www.uiw.edu. Accessed 8 Jan. 2018.

MySA. “History of the Fiesta Battle of Flowers.” mySA, San Antonio Express-News archives, 8 Apr. 2015, http://www.mysanantonio.com.

Cinema Treasures . “Palace Theater .” Cinema Treasures, Cinema Treasures, http://www.cinematreasures.org. Accessed 8 Jan. 2019.

Phillips Entertainment Inc. “About Us.” Phillips Entertainment Inc., Phillips Entertainment, http://www.ripleys.com. Accessed 8 Jan. 2019.

Huddleston, Scott. “State is buying historic buildings facing the Alamo.” San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio Express-News, 5 Oct. 2015, http://www.expressnews.com.

Dietel, Janet, and Adam Reed. “Also conserve interiors of Alamo Plaza buildings.” mySA, mySA, 26 Mar. 2017, http://www.mysanantonio.com.

Dimmick, Iris. “State Purchases Three Buildings Across From Alamo Plaza.” Rivard Report, Rivard Report, 2 Dec. 2015, http://www.therivardreport.com.

Nelson, George. “1876-A demonstration of the new barbed wire.” The Alamo: An Illustrated History, third Revised, Aldine Press, 2009, p. 95.

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The History of the Alamo Part VIII: A Historic Battlefield Erased

The Alamo and Valero Plazas in 1890. This was the Alamo battlefield in 1836.
Ron Current

My last post told the story of the Alamo’s church in the 20th century while under the control of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. In this post I’ll go back a little in the timeline to bring you up to speed on what was happening to the Alamo Plaza while de Zavala and Driscoll were battling over the Alamo’s two remaining buildings. Knowing this history will help you to better understand how the Alamo came to be what it is today. 

It all began with Sam Maverick

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the History of the Alamo Part III, it was Samuel A. Maverick, and his purchasing of the largest sections of the old mission/fort’s grounds, that set the stage for what the Alamo Plaza would become.

His subdividing and selling of the land where the west and north walls had stood, as well as tearing down what original buildings that were left along those walls, had erased the majority of that hallowed ground where the heaviest fighting of 1836 had taken place. Also, with the ownership of these lands in the hands of different individuals and companies it would make the restoration of the Alamo battlefield extremely difficult in the future.

Samuel A. Maverick

When Maverick was subdividing the old mission grounds he left the compound’s large central open area intact. This he donated to the City of San Antonio, and it became Alamo Plaza. During its mission and fort periods this area was not a traditional plaza. Being surrounded by the compound’s walls it would have been the fort’s parade ground.

However, just outside of the Alamo’s main gate was the Plaza de Valero. Valero was a true plaza, a large open common area surrounded by houses with a road that led up to the Alamo’s gate. This plaza was never owned by the Catholic Church, as was Alamo Plaza, and was always municipal land.


 Creating a plaza from a battlefield 

These two open areas had been separated by the Alamo’s main gate building, the Low Barracks, until that was demolished in 1871. Once the Low Barracks was removed residents could now enjoy one of the largest open spaces in the entire city, that’s until it rained. When it rained this whole space became one impassable, gigantic mud hole. 

Between 1888-89, the City of San Antonio undertook a major paving program to solve this mud issue on the two Plazas. The paving material of choice was the ever abundant Mesquite woodblocks.

The city also required that the stores and property owners bordering the plazas install sidewalks. While the paving was taking place a wooden waterline was extended into Alamo Plaza for a fountain that had existed in front of the Hugo & Schmeltzer building (very near were the Alamo Cenotaph stands today).

The Alamo and Valero Plazas in the 1880s. The Market House is in the foreground.

San Antonio was quickly becoming a major urban center, and the two plazas along with it: In 1878 the first street car line was built on Alamo Plaza, in 1882 the Market House building, not an original Alamo structure, was the last building on the plaza to be torn down, in 1887 the city installed public restrooms on the plaza, and in 1890 the U.S. Post Office, the largest structure to be build on the Alamo battlefield at the time, was constructed on the site of the north wall.

Besides the mud issue there was another big concern for the plazas and the buildings around it, and that was the San Antonio River.  Flowing through the middle of the city the river regularly flooded its banks; the most devastating coming in 1921. This led the city to begin looking at different options on how to control its flooding.  It would culminate with the construction of the present system of dams located along the river. With the river levels now stabilized development along the banks of the downtown could  begin. In 1939, partially funded by Federal Works Progress Administration, work began on today’s River Walk. 

The Alamo church in 1900 with the city street coming up to its door.

Continuing with making changes to the plazas, in 1891 the city constructed a park on the Plaza de Valero that featured: trees, shrubs, flowering plants and a band stand for concerts. As more and more businesses began to line the plazas San Antonio saw the need for better traffic control. They paved over the old wooden blocks with asphalt, added streets with curbs, and more sidewalks. One of these new streets went right up to the front door of the Alamo church.

A monument to the Alamo heroes  

The first attempt to construct a monument on Alamo Plaza to the fallen defenders of the Alamo was in 1912. The plan then was to build a 800ft tower on the plaza. However, the group proposing this project couldn’t put together the two-million-dollar cost.

It wasn’t until 1936, during the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Alamo that the idea for a monument was taken up again. In celebration of the battles centennial the State of Texas provided $100,000 for the design and construction of a monument. Local sculptor Pompeo Coppini was commissioned to do the design, which he titled, The Spirit of Sacrifice. Today this monument is known as the Alamo Cenotaph.

The Alamo Cenotaph, 2013

The Alamo Cenotaph is constructed of grey Georgia marble and pink Texas granite. Its center spire rises sixty feet above its 40ft long by 12ft wide base. The base features carvings of members of the Alamo garrison, including the images of Travis, Bowie and Crockett. Also inscribed on the monument are 187 names of Alamo defenders, which were provided by historian Amelia Williams. However new research now shows that some of those listed were not at the Alamo, and that there were more than 187 defenders.

The Alamo Cenotaph was dedicated on November 11, 1940 by then San Antonio Mayor Maury Maverick, the grandson of Samuel Maverick.

A battlefield lost

By the time that de Zavala and Driscoll had arrived on the scene nothing remained of the Alamo battlefield, it was as though it had never existed. And for those who knew nothing of the Battle of the Alamo it was too easy to see only the church as the Alamo, even as they walked on the very ground where heroes had fallen.

My next post will cover the changes to the Alamo buildings and plaza through the late 20th and the early 21st centuries. I’ll also present some of the ideas that have been presented from various groups on how they think the Alamo should look in the future. 

If you enjoyed this post please read the others in this series:

The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort

The History of the Alamo, Part II: From Fort to Forgotten: http://Www.stillcurrent.blog/the-history-of-the-alamo-part-ii-from-fort-to-forgotten

The History of the Alamo, Part III: From Forgotten to Army Depot:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-iii-from-forgotten-to-army-depot

The History of the Alamo, Part IV: From Warehouse to Roadside Attraction:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-iv-from-warehouse-to-roadside-attraction/

The History of the Alamo, Part V: Two Angels, Two Different Visions:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-v-two-angels-two-different-visions/

The History of the Alamo, Part VI: From Roadside Attraction to a Shrine:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-vi-from-roadside-attraction-to-a-shrine/

History of the Alamo Part VII: The Era of The Daughters of the Republic of Texas: http://history-of-the-alamo-part-vii-the-era-of-the-daughters-of-the-republic-of-texas

Also checkout my other posts on this subject

The Alamo; Today and in History:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-mission-to-fort

What happened and where it happened, as it is today; a photo walking tour of the Alamo battlefield (2014):http://what-happened-and-where-it-happened-as-it-is-today-a-photo-walking-tour-around-the-alamo-battlefield

The Alamo and Thermopylae: a Comparison in History:
http://the-alamo-and-thermopylae-a-comparison-in-history

Some of the sources used in this post:

Thompson, Frank . The Alamo: A Cultural History, Taylor TradePublishing, 2001.

Nelson, George. The Alamo: An Illustrated History, third revisedEdition, Aldine Press, 2009, p. 98. Eaton, Jack D.

Excavations At The Alamo Shrine. Fourth Printing, Center forArchaeological Research, 1985.

“Alamo Mission in San Antonio .” Wikipedia,Wikipedia, 30 Nov. 2018,

“Alamo History Chronology.” The Daughters oftheRepublic of Texas, The Daughters of the Republic ofTexas,www.drtinfo.org/drt-library/research/alamo-history-chronology-2#wrap.

Wikipedia . “Alamo Cenotaph.” Wikipedia,Wikipedia, Sept. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alamo_Cenotaph. \lsdsemihidd

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The History of the Alamo, Part VI: from Roadside Attraction to a Shrine

 

800px-1907_postcard_Save_the_Alamo

This 1907 postcard shows a float in the Battle of the Flowers parade proclaiming the feelings of the people of San Antonio and Texas. But what vision were they proclaiming? This postcard was featured in the Frank Thompson book “The Alamo.”

I love history shot

Ron Current

My last post told of the developing division between the de Zavala and Driscoll DRT groups over the Alamo. Adina de Zavala knew the history and layout of the Alamo’s grounds. She had talked to old San Antonio residences who told her how the Long Barracks and Church buildings had been changed over the years. From these accounts she knew that there were two surviving Alamo buildings, with one hidden under the façade of a grocery store.

Clara Driscoll, being away in Europe until 1898, had the common belief of the time that only the Alamo’s church was left of the original mission complex, all the others having been torn down and built over.

If only the two ladies had sat down together, and talked, they may have come to a consensus. Instead, each drew their own “line in the sand,” creating a war that could have destroyed all that was left of the Alamo.

Another Battle of the Alamo

After the State of Texas made the Daughters of the Republic of Texas custodians of the Alamo the DRT executive committee gave control over to Driscoll and her followers. However, the City of San Antonio had given control to de Zavala. This confusion of who had rightful control over the properties became the epicenter for the growing division between the two women, and how the barracks property was to be developed.

The long barracks with the Hugo & Schmeltzer exterior off

The Hugo & Schmeltzer building in the first stages of its demolition. The balcony had been removed, ca 1910.

As I stated before, de Zavala saw the hidden Long Barracks as being of greater importance in Alamo history than the its church, and needed to be preserved even more. Driscoll only saw the Hugo & Schmeltzer building, over shadowing “the Alamo” with no connection at all to the original mission.

Trying to keep control from de Zavala, the Driscoll faction tried to have the locks changed; hearing this de Zavala’s followers rushed in and stopped it. This caused the two groups to split apart, with Driscoll breaking from de Zavala’s chapter and forming their own Alamo Mission Chapter of the DRT in April of 1906.

In 1907 the Vanderventer Hotel Company began buying up land east of the Alamo to construct a luxury hotel. Their plan was to build their hotel far back behind the Alamo’s church. To help give their hotel more visibility on Alamo Plaza they made a proposal to the DRT; let them tear down the old Hugo & Schmeltzer (Long Barracks) building and they’d create a large park in front of the hotel and alongside Alamo church. This would open up the northside of the Alamo as Driscoll wanted. The hotel group also offered to pay the salary of a custodian for five years. Driscoll and the DRT saw this as a win, win; not only would it remove the ugly grocery store building, it would also help to defray some of the operational cost of the “Alamo.”

Hearing that the DRT was in favor of the hotel’s plans de Zavala flew into a rage! De Zavala wrote to the hotel’s representative, Charlies M. Reeves. She told him the history of the Long Barracks and of her plans to restore it, and to have it house a Texas Hall of Fame museum.

Reeves was also one of those who didn’t believe that any part to the original Alamo stood on the Hugo & Schmeltzer property. He rudely wrote back to her, “… (Your) position is historically incorrect. At the time of the battle of the Alamo only the south wall of the Mission was standing. Texas patriots wish to preserve only that which has to do with her history… What you propose to do in the perpetuation of the walls of this old building would simply result in preserving indefinitely an eye-sore which would be a source of humiliation and regret to the people of San Antonio for all time.”

It was Reeves, being from St. Louis, who was totally incorrect historically, but his response fit very well into what Clara Driscoll had been saying, and believed.

Reeves’ letter had really fired up de Zavala. She went around the city and was able to rally enough support from businessmen and residents to kill the hotel’s plans. For Driscoll, the Hugo building had to go, and she would use every bit of the influence she could muster to get it done.

On February 10, 1908 Driscoll had an injunction placed on de Zavala barring her from the Hugo building, but before the doors could be padlocked de Zavala ran inside locking the doors. De Zavala remained holed up in the building for three days, generating national headlines.

It was only after Texas Governor Thomas Campbell ordered the State to retake control of the situation that de Zavala finally came out. But Adina’s victory was short lived; the DRT was able to get a judge to rule in favor of granting back custodianship of all the Alamo properties to Driscoll and her chapter. After which the DRT expelled de Zavala and her followers from the organization and the grounds.

Even though it seemed that Driscoll had won, it was only the battle, not the war. The State of Texas still owned the property, Driscoll was only its custodian. There were hot feelings on the Long Barrack issue in all parts of Texas, and the State wasn’t ready to tear the building down yet. The Legislators took the political way out, and waited until after the 1810 election.

Texas Governor, Oscar Branch Colquitt

Newly elected Gov. Oscar Colquitt visited San Antonio, where he toured the Alamo church and the Hugo & Schmeltzer building. Gov. Colquitt then called a meeting with both de Zavala and Driscoll, so that each could plead their cases.

Oscar_Branch_Colquitt December 16, 1861 – March 8, 1940

Gov.Oscar Branch Colquitt (1861-1940)

Driscoll again stated that to her knowledge the Hugo & Schmeltzer building was never part of the original mission complex. She also offered to use her own money to pay for its removal, and to have a park and a wall built surrounding the Alamo. This she said would allow the only original fort building left to be honored.

De Zavala was also adamant in her opinion, that beneath the stores exterior lay the stone walls of the mission’s convento, and the Alamo fort’s Long Barracks. It was there, she said, were the most horrific fighting of the March 6th, 1836 battle took place. De Zavala also provided testimonies from San Antonio residences and the families of Alamo defenders that remember what the Alamo had looked like.

Three months later Gov. Colquitt came to his decision; the Long Barracks was to be completely restored. Gov. Colquitt also went on to remove the DRT as the official custodians of the Alamo. His reasoning, that the DRT hadn’t done their job in restoring the property since it was turned over to them.

De Zavala was ecstatic, her dream was coming true. Soon the two remaining Alamo building would be restored and the Texas Hall of Fame would open. Driscoll was outraged, not only would the eyesore remain, but her DRT was kicked out. Clara would now bring her full political and influential power to bear on Gov. Colquitt.

Excitement turns to disappointment

chron17

De Zavala’s concept drawing of the restored Long Barracks, looking nothing like the historic original.

Gov. Colquitt put through legislation to fund the removal of the Hugo & Schmeltzer covering, and another $5,000 to restore the historic Long Barracks.

In anticipation de Zavala had drawings made showing how she envisioned the restored Long Barracks should look. What she came up with looked nothing like the original  building, in fact it was very similar to Honore Grenet’s building. Her drawing showed a massive two-story building with a Spanish styled arcade and two bell towers at each end.

Ruins of the Long Barracks

Only the badly damaged west and south walls of original Long Barracks remained, as it was around 1912.

Work on the demolition of the stores superstructure began in 1910. But soon after the outer covering was removed it became evident that the damage and destruction done by the U.S. Army and the department store owners was too extensive. When all the coverings were swept away it revealed that all that was left of the original stone building was only its outer west and south walls.

De Zavala was heartbroken. She had hoped to find all of the original walls still intact, but that was not the case. The Long Barrack’s second floor had suffered the most from all the previous renovations. What remained of the second floor’s stone wall was pockmarked with windows and doors that had been cut out of the old stone by its previous owners. The now exposed ruins looked worse than when it was the Hugo & Schmeltzer store.

However, there was one bright spot that the demolition had revealed, the original mission foundations; proving that de Zavala was correct in her belief that the building had been part of the Alamo mission complex.

The battle continued

Even in its horrible state both de Zavala and Gov. Colquitt fought to keep and to restore the Long Barracks, even its second floor. Meanwhile Driscoll was politicking hard, to again gain control of the Alamo, and to tear down those ugly ruined walls. For two years a very public battle went on between Gov. Colquitt and Clara Driscoll, each holding their ground.

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The ruined west wall of the original Convento/Long Barracks

In 1912 Driscoll was successful in getting an injunction to keep the State from doing any reconstruction work on the Long Barracks. Driscoll, and the DRT, also brought suit against the State and Gov. Colquitt to regain custodianship of the Alamo. Their case was upheld, and in 1913 the DRT once again had control of the Alamo.

When Gov. Colquitt left the State on a business trip, Lt. Gov. Will May ordered that the second floor wall to be removed. There had been a compromise reached between de Zavala and Driscoll to let the first floor remain. Also in the compromise, it was agreed that they’d try and restore what was left of the Long Barracks’ first floor and the mission’s arcade.

In the Long Barracks restoration they used the stone that had been salvaged from the second floor wall. It would be in this reconstructed building that would eventually house the museum de Zavala had so long dreamed of.

Sadly, lack of funding kept the reconstruction of the Long Barracks from being completed. It stood roofless, and full of weeds, until 1968. Today the Long Barrack does house the Alamo’s museum, but not as the “Hall of Fame” pictured by Adina de Zavala.

The Alamo's Long Barracks ruins 1918

The partially rebuilt roofless Long Barracks ca. 1918

Every time that I’ve visited the Alamo and gone through the Long Barracks, I’d tell everyone, ”It was in this building that more Alamo defenders and attackers had died than anywhere else.” It wasn’t until doing research for this post that I came to realize what had actual been done to this building. As Frank Thompson points out in his book, The Alamo, A Cultural History, “…visitors who believe they are standing in an original Alamo structure are mistaken. It is almost a total reconstruction.” So I was one of those, however it still sits on hallowed ground, and there is still its original west wall, more about that in a later post.

The aftermath of the battle of the Angels

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Clara Driscoll ca. 1913

Clara Driscoll did get total control of the Alamo, and because of what she had done to rescue the Alamo she is remembered as, “The Savior of the Alamo.”

Throughout the rest of her life she and her DRT continued to repair and restore the Alamo church. It is her vision that became what the Alamo is today, the”Shrine” that she wanted it to be.
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Clara Driscoll also did many philanthropic outreaches in her life. Using her money and influence she helped the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Texas Fine Arts Association and the Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi Texas.

Clara Driscoll died on July 17, 1945, at the age of 64. As a tribute to her work on the Alamo she lay in state in the Alamo church. She was laid to rest in the Driscoll family tomb at the Alamo Masonic Cemetery, San Antonio.

 

Adina de Zavala, although barred from the DRT, continued to help identify and mark historical sites around San Antonio, including the site of the Spanish Governor’s Palace and the location of the Alamo defenders funeral pyres.

De Zavala with memebers of her DRT at the Spanish Goveners House

De Zavala, and her followers at the Spanish Governors Palace.

Adina de Zavala died on March 1, 1955, at the age of 93. She had never married, and so she willed her estate to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, establishing a vocational school for girls and a boy’s town.

On April 27, 1955, in her honor the Texas State Legislature passed a resolution stating that she was, “a major role in preserving the Alamo and the Spanish Governor’s Place” and for placing, “permanent markers on some 40 historical sites in Texas, many of which might have been forgotten.” Also the Bexar County Historical Commission placed a bronze maker honoring her on Alamo Plaza.

After her funeral service at St. Joseph Church in San Antonio her Texas flag draped coffin was taken past the Alamo. De Zavala did not lie in state inside as Driscoll had, because the DRT had denied it.Adina de Zavala's grave

De Zavala is buried in a simple grave in her family plot in St. Mary’s Cemetery.

In 1994, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas finally honored Adina de Zavala by placing a maker at her gravesite. They also installed makers at the Alamo commemorating both de Zavala and Driscoll.

Two strong angels, each with a different vision of what the Alamo was. One was historical, and one based on conjecture. But both where needed at a time when the Alamo was all but forgotten, and on the verge of being lost forever.

My next post will go on to tell of how the DRT worked to restore and preserve the Alamo. But again, their focus was on the Alamo’s church, not the historic battlefield it was part of.

 

Some of the Sources Used:
Thompson , Frank. “The Second Battle of the Alamo.” The Alamo: A Cultural History, Taylor Publishing, 2001.
“Alamo Low Barracks and Main Gateway.” Texas Historical Markers on Waymarking.com, Waymarking.com, 2018, waymarking.com/waymarks/WM3DJ6_Alamo_Low_Barracks_Main_Gateway.
“Alamo History Chronology.” The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, drtinfo.org.
“Warehouse to Shrine: 1878-1905.” CHRONOLOGY, The Alamo, thealamo.org.
“Historic Photos of the Alamo.” Search: Historic Photos of the Alamo, Google, http://www.google.com/search?q=historic+photos+of+the+Alamo&rlz=1C9BKJA_enUS69:
“Clara Driscoll (philanthropist).” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Aug. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Driscoll_(philanthropist).
“Adina Emilia De Zavala.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 13 Oct. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adina_Emilia_De_Zavala.
“Adina Emilia De Zavala.” Find A Grave, Find A Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/memorial/10365039/adina-emilia-de_zavala. Accessed 14 Oct. 2018.
“Alamo Mission in San Antonio .” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 11 Oct. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alamo_Mission_San_Antonio.
“Buildings .” The Alamo, The Alamo, http://www.thealamo.org/remember/buildings/index.html. Accessed 14 Oct. 2018.
Nelson, George. “Feuds Over Preservation of the Convento.” The Alamo, An Illustrated History, third Revised , Aldine Press, 2009, p. 98.

 

 

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The History of the Alamo, Part V: Two Angels, Two Different Visions

 

Alamo church with ruins of Long Barracks

The Alamo church and the walls of the Long Barrack, exposed after the exterior of the Hugo & Schmeltzer store were removed, ca. 1912-13

 

I love history shot

Ron Current

At the end of Part IV of the History of the Alamo I wrote that the San Antonio Express newspaper,in an editorial, called for a historic and patriotic society be formed to save what was left of the Alamo. Such a society was formed by two “angles” of the Alamo. However, even their leadership and guidance would further cloud and distract from what was the true Alamo battlefield.

Adina de Zavala (1861-1955), The Alamo’s first Angel 

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Adina de Zavala

Adina de Zavala was the granddaughter of Lorenzo de Zavala, one of the signers of Texas’s Declaration of Independence and the first Vice-President of the Republic of Texas.

Lorenzo de Zavala (1788-1836), was an extremely important person in Texas history. Born in Mexico’s Yucatan in 1788, de Zavala was a successful physician and politician.  De Zavala would severe as Mexico’s ambassador to France and Spain. After Mexico had won its independence from Spain he would help to write Mexico’s first constitution in 1824.

During the Mexican revolution of 1829, de Zavala was forced into exile in the United States, were due to his foreign diplomatic skills he was welcomed. Two years later de Zavala returned to his Mexico, only to cross paths with the raising dictator, Santa Anna. Not liking what Santa Anna was doing to his country de Zavala moved as far away from the political turmoil of Mexico City as he could, to the Mexican State of Texas.

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Lorenzo de Zavala

As Santa Anna’s policies toward Texas grow more outrageous de Zavala was one of the first to became involved in the Texas revolution. As I mentioned before, de Zavala was one of the signers of Texas’s Declaration of Independent, as well as helping to write the Texas Constitution, and became the Republic of Texas’s first Vice-President.

Shortly after the end of the Texas Revolution de Zavala’s health began to fail, and on November 15, 1836 he died of pneumonia, at age 48. In Mexico, de Zavala is considered by some as a traitor, in Texas he is one of its revered founding fathers.

You can imagine the young Adina hearing the stories about her grandfather, Texas’s fight for independence, and the battle of the Alamo. Texas history, and its pride, was deep in her soul. So much so that in 1889 she gathered a group of women together to discuss ways to save the quickly vanishing historical sites before they were lost forever, she called her group the De Zavala Daughters.

Two years later, in 1891, another woman’s organization formed, composed entirely of female descendants of the first families who had settled Texas before it became a State. This organization called itself, Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT). In 1893, de Zavala joined her organization with the DRT, becoming the De Zavala Chapter.

Even before joining with the DRT de Zavala had already been working hard to save the missions along the San Antonio River. These historic buildings had badly fallen into disrepair, and became the targets for vandals. One of the missions de Zavala had a very special interest in preserving was the Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo.

As I stated in my last post, the State of Texas now owned the Alamo church, and had turned custody of it over to the City of San Antonio. The entire time that the city had control of the Alamo church they had done nothing to restore or improve this historic building. It stood as it had, with all of the alterations made by the U.S. Army, Hugo Grenet and Gustav Schmeltzer.

Adina de Zavala saw more than just the Alamo church that needed to be saved, its Long Barracks also needed saving. Even though the city had condemned the grocery store building de Zavala was confident that the original strong stone walls of the mission’s Convento, which lay beneath, could be saved.

In 1902, her DRT chapter formed the Congress of Patriotism, whose plan was to buy the Long Barracks and then create a “Texas Hall of Fame” museum, which would be housed in that restored building. De Zavala and her chapter used all their influence to convince the Long Barrack’s owner, Charlies Hugo, to give them first rights to purchase if he were going to sell the building.

One year later Hugo notified de Zavala that he had received an offer from a hotel group to purchase the building and property. It was now time for her DRT chapter to act. Even though Hugo would accept $10,000 less than what he was offered, as a gift to the DRT, the $75,000 he did require was beyond what they had.

De Zavala and the DRT needed someone who could personally, and quickly, cover the purchase amount. In the entertainment industry such a person is called, “an angel.” There was one DRT member who could personally write a check for the $75,000 they needed; she was the daughter of an extremely wealthy rancher, her name, Clara Driscoll.

Clara Driscoll (1881-1945), the Alamo’s second Angel

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Clara Driscoll

Clara Driscoll also had deep connections with Texas history. Clara’s grandfather, Daniel O’Driscoll, had immigrated to the United States from Ireland. In 1829, he settled in Texas as part of the McMullen and McGloin Colony. O’Driscoll had fought in the Texas Revolution at the battles of Nueces Crossing and San Jacinto. For his service he was given 1,200 acres, plus another one-third league of land in Victoria County Texas.

O’Driscoll moved his family to the town of Refugio, where he opened a tavern, and also began raising cattle. He served as the towns Justice of the Peace, until he was killed in a carriage accident in 1849.

It was Clara’s father, Robert Driscoll Sr., who changed the family’s name from O’Driscoll to just Driscoll. By 1890, Robert Driscoll Sr. had amassed an amazing multi-million dollar empire in ranching, banking and commercial land development.

Clara Driscoll’s interest in historical preservation came about while she was living in Europe, and with her family’s history, she also had a deep love for Texas history. When she arrived back in Texas she was appalled at the state of neglect of its historic buildings, especially the Alamo church.

Driscoll heard of the new women’s group forming, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and quickly became one of its first members. Clara became the star of the DRT, not only because both of her grandfathers had fought at San Jacinto, but also because her father was extremely wealthy. And it was because of this that de Zavala and her group came to Clara for help.

Two different visons on saving the Alamo
Clara Driscoll wrote a personal check for $500 to Charlies Hugo as a goodwill down payment  while the DRT began fundraising projects to pay off the balance. However, the DRT’s fundraising efforts fell way short of the needed amount, and so again Driscoll personally covered the balance. In August of 1905 Clara Driscoll became the new owner of the Hugo & Schmeltzer building.

With Clara now owning the Long Barracks the DRT began petitioning the State of Texas for custodianship of both Alamo buildings. Driscoll, de Zavala and their DRT chapter didn’t believe that the state or the City of San Antonio fully recognized the historical significance in restoring the Alamo.

From all the pressure placed on them by the DRT the Texas State Legislature passed an appropriation bill authorizing a $65,000 payment to Clara Driscoll for the Long Barracks property. On October 4, 1905 Driscoll conveyed the title of the Long Barracks to the State of Texas, and the state then named the DRT as custodians for both the Alamo church and Long Barracks.

Even as the property transfers were taking place it became apparent that de Zavala and Driscoll had extremely different views on what “was” the Alamo. De Zavala saw the Long Barracks as being equally as important as the church in the history of the Alamo, while Driscoll saw only the church as being “the Alamo.”

The long barracks with the Hugo & Schmeltzer exterior off

The Long Barracks as seen in 1910, after the porches from second level of the Hugo & Schmeltzer store had been removed

Driscoll’s view of the Alamo should have been known to de Zavala and her group from the very beginning by her writings. In 1900 Clara wrote to the San Antonio Express, “Our Alamo…how do we treat it? We leave it hemmed in on one side by a hideous barracks-like looking building, and on the other by two saloons…Today the Alamo should stand out free and clear. All unsightly obstructions that hide it away should be torn down and the space utilized for a park. I am sure that if this matter were taken up by some enterprising, patriotic Texan, a sufficient amount could be raised that would enable something of this kind to be done.” Driscoll’s reference of the, “hideous barracks-like looking building,” was the Alamo’s Long Barracks, still covered by the Hugo & Schmeltzer stores exterior walls.

Clara Driscoll had fallen to the same belief that started back during the time of Sam Maverick, that nothing of the original mission complex remained except for the church. This is again shown in Driscoll’s 1905 letter to the Fort Worth Record, “The monastery fell to pieces long ago, and on the ground it occupied a grocery store stands today.”

Driscoll didn’t seem to realize, as Adina de Zavala did, that beneath the covering façade of Hugo & Schmeltzer’s store still lay the walls of the Alamo’s historic Convento/Long Barracks.

And while de Zavala’s vision was to protect, preserve and restore all of what remained of the Alamo, Driscoll was looking to raise the fallen defenders of the Alamo to godlike status by creating, not a historical site, but a shrine. And to do that she needed to remove a large eyesore.

My next post will tell of the escalating fight between these two women to fulfill each of their visions, in what has been termed, “the Second Battle of the Alamo.”

Some of the Sources Used:
Thompson , Frank. “The Second Battle of the Alamo.” The Alamo: A Cultural History, Taylor Publishing, 2001.
Nelson, George. “The Alamo at the Time of Civil War.” The Alamo: An Illustrated History,
“Alamo Low Barracks and Main Gateway.” Texas Historical Markers on Waymarking.com, Waymarking.com, 2018, waymarking.com/waymarks/WM3DJ6_Alamo_Low_Barracks_Main_Gateway.
Wikipedia . “Alamo Mission in San Antonio.” Wikipedia , Wikipedia, 28 July 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alamo_Mission_in_San_Antonio.
“Alamo History Chronology.” The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, drtinfo.org.
“Warehouse to Shrine: 1878-1905.” CHRONOLOGY, The Alamo, thealamo.org.
“Historic Photos of the Alamo.” Search: Historic Photos of the Alamo, Google, http://www.google.com/search?q=historic+photos+of+the+Alamo&rlz=1C9BKJA_enUS69:

 

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American Heroes, American history, D-Day, Great American Battlefields, history and travel, Lost and Found, Normandy, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, The Normanday American Cemetery and Memorial, Travel, Uncategorized, What to See in France, World history, World War II

Three Stories of Heroes of Normandy

 

So many of our young gave so much for many others two

The long rows of markers at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Photo by Author

I love history shot

Ron Current

On our recent trip to France we did as most Americans do and visited Normandy, the site of the World War II D-Day invasion.

Besides the beaches where the landings took place the most moving stop we made was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. Although the cemetery and memorial are a peaceful and a reverent tribute to those that had made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, not much is told about those resting there.

In this post I’ll tell three stories of heroes that rest there: one of the Sons of a famous American President, one of two brothers whose story inspired an Academy Award winning movie, and the story of a wife’s unending love, and her search for the love of her life.

But first here’s a little information about the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

Thousands of visitors come each year to walk among the rows to shining white markers,  but what most visitors don’t know is that this beautiful cemetery on the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach is actually the second resting place for those soldiers killed in the D-Day invasion.

The location of the first cemetery of those American’s killed during D-Day.

 As you drive along the Omaha Beach road you’ll see sandwiched among the rows of summer cottages is a small white memorial that reads, “THIS MARKS THE SITE OF THE FIRST AMERICAN CEMETERY IN FRANCE WORLD WAR II SINCE MOVED TO AMERICAN CEMETERY N.”I.”

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Site of the first American D-Day cemetery. Photo by Chris Coffin

 

It was here on June 8, 1944, two days after the invasion, that those killed were laid to rest. After the war ended their remains were moved to the current cemetery and memorial.

 

 

 

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

The Memorial to those American's who that fell during D-Day

The Memorial at the Normandy Cemetery. Photo by Author

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial occupies 172 acres on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel. From different areas within the cemetery you can clearly see the English Channel and Omaha Beach below. There was once a path you could take down to the beach, but that’s been closed.

The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves by Donald De Lue.

“The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.” Photo by the Author

There are 9,387 American soldiers buried there, and although most are from the D-Day invasion there are also those from other World War II engagements as well. Not all those resting there are men; three American service women are interred there. There’s also one World War I hero buried there, which I’ll cover later.

The center piece of the memorial is the statue by Donald De Lue entitled, “The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.”

Along the inside walls of the monument are maps depicting the D-Day invasion, and behind the memorial is a wall that’s engraved with the names of those who are still missing in action. Some of these names now have a bronze star next to them; this denotes that the soldier’s remains have been found and identified.

Among the notables buried at the Normandy American Cemetery are three Medal of Honor recipients, and two sons of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt Jr.

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Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt Jr. Photo from Wikipedia, public domain

My first story is of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. Eventhough his father was one of the most a famous American presidents not much is said about Theodore Roosevelt Jr. But in doing the research for this post I found that in some ways “Ted” Roosevelt was more heroic than his famous father.

Ted Roosevelt already had an outstanding career, not only in the military but also politically, by the time World War II broke out. He had served in World War I and after he had served as the Governor of Puerto Rico and the Philippines. When America entered World War II Ted was one of the first to step up again in helping to defend his country, even though he now suffered with a heart condition, which he kept secret from the Army.

At the time of the D-Day invasion Roosevelt was a Brigadier General. On that terrible morning of June 6, 1944, Roosevelt commanded the 8th Infantry Regiment on its assault on Utah Beach. Roosevelt was the only general to take part in the landings, and at 56 years old he was also the oldest person.

Roosevelt was one of the first off the landing craft, wadding to the beach leading his men. Once on the beach he discovered that they had landed at the wrong position, and that’s when made his famous comment, “We’ll start the war from right here!”

Teds_grave

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. grave. Photo from Wikipedia, public domain

Another interesting fact about the D-Day invasion and the Roosevelts is that just down the coast at Omaha Beach another Roosevelt was also leading his men ashore. Captain Quentin Roosevelt II, Ted’s son and Teddy’s Grandson, was among the first wave to hit Omaha Beach.

Ted’s heart condition, and other health problems caused by his WW I injuries, along with the stress from the D-Day assault, finally took their toll on the warrior. On July 12, one month after the invasion, he suffered a heart attack and died. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and a promotion to a two-star, Major General.

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Quentin Roosevelt’s grave, next to his brother Ted. Photo from Wikipedia, public domain

I mentioned that there is also one World War I soldier buried at the Normandy Cemetery, and that’s Ted Roosevelt’s younger brother, Second Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt. Quentin was a fighter pilot in World War I, and was shot down over France. The Roosevelt family had his body moved next to his brothers.

 

 

 

The Niland Brothers: Preston Niland and Robert “Bob” Niland

Niland brothers

In the foreground the graves of the two Niland brothers, Preston and Robert, side by side. Photo by Author.

Preston Niland

2nd Lt. Preston Niland. Photo from Wikipedia, public domain

Preston Niland was a Second Lieutenant in the 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. Preston was killed on June 7, 1944, during the second day of fighting, near Utah Beach.

Niland

Sergeant  Robert Niland. Photo from Wikipedia, public domain

Robert “Bob” Niland was a Technical Sergeant with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. On June 6th, 1944, while his company retreated from Neuvilli-au-Plain during a major counterattack by the Germans; Bob, with two other men, volunteered to stay back and hold off the Germans with machinegun fire. Although the other two men survived, Bob Niland was killed in action.

Both brothers are buried side by side, and their graves are one of the most visited at the cemetery; the reason is because their story was the inspiration for an Academy Award winning film about World War II.

Bob and Preston were two of four brothers from Tonawanda, New York. All four brothers: Bob, Preston, Edward and Fred “Fritz” had joined the service to fight in World War II.

After both Bob and Preston had been killed, and it was believed that their brother Edward had also been killed by the Japanese in Burma, the Army pulled the last brother, Fritz, from the fighting. They did this so that at least one brother would survive. Fritz would spend the rest of the war as an MP in New York City.

The story of the Niland Brothers would loosely be used by Director Steven Spielberg’s in his 1998 film, “Saving Private Ryan.”

The story does ends somewhat happily when it was found that Edward had only been captured by the Japanese. He was released on May 4, 1945.

Fritz died on November 1st 1983, and his Brother Edward in February of 1984.

A Wife’s Unending Love

From love story to mystery to discovery, WWII widow remains devoted

Peggy and Billie Harris on their wedding day. Photo from DoDLive, public domain.

Peggy Seale had finally met the love of her life, 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris, while she worked at Altus AFB Oklahoma. They had been exchanging letters for some time, but that meeting in the base hanger was their first face-to- face. It was love at first sight.
In 1943 Peggy and Billie married in Florida, where Billie was finishing his fighter pilot training. However, their honeymoon was short lived; six weeks later Billie was shipped off to England, and the war.

Lt. Harris was assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron/354th Fighter Group, whose missions were to fly as escorts for bombers supporting the Allied retaking of France.

Because of the high secrecy needed during the war Peggy only heard from Billie very sparingly, and when she did it was only in short notes. Peggy knew that she would have to wait for Billie to finish his tour of duty before she could see him.

Lt. Harris had completed from 60 to 100 missions, and was eligible to be sent home. However he took one more mission. On July 17, 1944, Harris was again flying his P-51 fighter as an escort when his plane was hit by German anti-aircraft fire.

As his plane was going down Billie had more than enough time to bailout, but ahead, directly in the path of his plane, he saw the French Village of Les Ventes. Billie then made the choice to use his time instead of bailing out, to steer his plane away from the town.

The people of Les Ventes were outside, after hearing the anti-aircraft fire, standing in the town’s main square, when out of the black night sky they saw an Allied plane on fire heading directly towards them. As they watched, knowing that sure death was coming, the plane slowly banked away, crashing in a nearby woods.

Some men from the village ran out to the crash site were the found the pilot dead. After the Germans released Harris’s body the villagers buried him in the town cemetery’s war heroes section. The whole village attended his funeral, and the flowers that covered his

The Grave of Billie D Harris

1st Lt. Billie D. Harris’s grave. Photo by Author

grave were said to have been knee deep. In 1946 Harris’s body was moved to another cemetery, and then finally to the new Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mar.

Believing that Billie was on his way home Peggy sat in excited anticipation, but he didn’t arrived. Peggy contacted the Army and was first told he was already back, and then on his way home, and then missing in action. These changing stories would continue throughout the war. Even after the war Peggy couldn’t get a direct answer as to what had happened to her husband.

For 60 years Peggy would try every avenue to find out what had happened to her Billie, and all she ever got was the same bureaucratic run around. But still she persisted. Someone had to know something on what had happened to Billie. She searched and waited, but never remarried.

Each year, for 60 years, the Village of Les Ventes had honored the pilot who had sacrificed his life to save theirs. They even named the village main street after him, “Place Billie D. Harris.” And each year they’d hold a parade to celebrate his sacrifice.

Even though Harris was no longer buried in the village cemetery, the town continued to visit and decorate his grave at the Normandy American Cemetery, thinking that he had no family to remember him.

As the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of France drew near, the town wanted to do something really special for their hero; the problem was, they really didn’t know anything about him, except his name. What was his family like, and what part of Canada was he from. Yes, they thought Billie was Canadian.

It was an article about the towns 60th Anniversary celebration for their Canadian hero that caught the attention of Mr. Huard, president of the Normandy Association of the Remembrance of Aerial, who contacted Les Ventes Village Councilwomen Valerie Quesnel to inform her that Billie D. Harris wasn’t Canadian, but rather American.
Quesnel then visited the Normandy American Cemetery to talk to Huard and confirmed what he had told her.

Now knowing that Harris was an American Quesnel knew what country to go to get the correct information they were looking for. Quesnel wrote to the United States National Archives were she was sent copies of 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris’s military file.

Meanwhile, Billie’s Cousin, Alton Harvey, had come to Peggy’s rescue to help her find Billie. Instead of making more useless calls Alton decided to personally go to the National Archives himself to see if they had anything on Billie. When he requested information on his cousin he thought it would take months to get anything, instead it only took a few minutes. The secretary was able to find Harris’s file quickly because someone else had recently requested those records, Valerie Quesnel.

This was unbelievable! Alton contacted Valerie, who then contacted Peggy. Finally after 60 years of searching, wondering, and praying Peggy knew what had happened to her Billie, and where he rested.

Peggy Harris, after so many years of not knowing, finally visited her husband’s grave. While in France Peggy also visited Les Ventes, where the citizens welcomed her with

From love story to mystery to discovery, WWII widow remains devoted

Peggy Harris at her Billie’s grave. Photo from DoDLive, public domain.

open arms, the wife of their hero.

Peggy was taken to the site where Billie had crashed, by the last living member of the village who had witnessed it.

Every year that she was able Peggy would return to visit her Billie’s grave. And when she wasn’t there she would have flowers sent on their wedding anniversary, Billie’s birthday, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, and other occasions.

On November 12, 2012, at a special assembly honoring Veterans, the Altus AFB Blue Knights Honor Guard performed a flag folding ceremony in honor of 1st Lt. Billie D. Harris. The flag was presented to Peggy Harris by Col. Ted Detwiler, 97th Operations Group commander.

Also for his service, 1st Lt. Billie D Harris was awarded two Air Medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross and 11 oak leaf clusters.

When asked why she hadn’t remarried Peggy would answer, “Billie was married to me all of his life, and I choose to be married to him all of my life.”

Just three stories of many

What seems to be endless rows of shining white markers, also holds thousands of stories of the heroes lying there. These are only three of the many.

If you’d like to visit these graves from my post you’ll need to ask at the cemetery office for their location, because there is no special identification on them.

Sources:

Gorstein, Ethan. “The story if the vanishing husband.” kiwi report, kiwi report, 23 July 2017, http://www.kiwireport.com/story-vanishing-husband.
Wittkop, Erin. “WWII Widow Finds Husband’s Resting Place 60-Years Later.” DoDLive, DOD Social Media, 20 Nov. 2012, http://www.dodlive.mil/2012/11/20/wwii-widow-finds-husbands-resting-place-60-years-later.
“Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.” WIKIPEDIA , Wikipedia , July 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normandy_Amereican_Cemetery_and_Memorial.
“Niland brothers .” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, July 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niland_brothers.
“Theodore Rossevelt Jr.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 16 July 2018.
“Theodore Rossevelt Jr.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 16 July 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Roosevelt_Jr.

 

 

 

 

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American history, Lost and Found, The Bill of Rights, The United States Constitution, Uncategorized, World history

We the People: A brief history of the United States Constitution and its first ten amendments. Part two: “…in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers…”

The Preamble to the Bill of Rights photoshopped

The Preamble to the Bill of Rights

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One of the thrills I get when writing and researching for these posts is finding those little pieces of history that aren’t always presented in the regular telling’s. But when added to the narrative gives the stories so much more depth, and a much clearer understanding. However, what it also ends up doing is to completely change the direction of my original idea.

So it was when I was doing research for these posts on the Bill of Rights. I discovered a little piece of  its history that hasn’t always been included in the writings on the first ten amendments. I believe that knowing about, and understanding, what this often left out piece of  the Bill of Rights has to say goes to the very essence of the purpose, and the intent of the framers when they crafted the Bill of Rights. To better present this I felt it needed an entire post of its own. 

I’d now like to address the preamble to the Bill of Rights, which went before the listing of the amendments.

Preambles

Having a preamble added to their documents was of extreme importance to our framers: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights all have one.

So what’s a preamble? Dictionary.com defines a preamble as: “an introductory part of a statute, deed, or the like, stating the reasons and intent of what follows.” The preamble was the beginning statement that set the purpose of the document and what it was set up to do.

Federal Hall New York, the first house of the Congress

Federal Hall in New York City, the first capital of the United States (March 4, 1789- July 1790)

The preambles we know also paint a vast vision with inspiring words, such as these from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” and “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” And from the Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The framers did not release an important document without a Preamble. However, its interesting to note that the preamble to the Bill of Rights has been left off most printing, even those published by the government.
One of the books I’ve been using in writing these posts is, “Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of independences” by B.J. Lossing. In his book Lossing includes: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Each of them includes their preambles, except the Bill of Rights. He only printed the introductive paragraph, leaving out the important following three paragraphs, especially the second paragraph that gives the reasons why these amendment were added in the first place. And this book was first published in 1848.

So why has the preamble to the Bill of Rights so often been left off? I haven’t been able to find the answer to that yet. However there is a preamble, and it’s very important for you to know what it says. And I’m sure you’ll see the Bill of Rights in a different light after you’ve read it.

So here’s the text of the preamble to the Bill of Rights in

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John Adams, Vice President and President of the Senate during the Bill of Rights debate

its entirety:

 

CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES
begun and held at the City of New York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution expressed a desire in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
RESOLVED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, two thirds of both the Houses concurring that the following Articles be proposed to the Legislatures of several states as Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, all or any of which articles, when ratified by three fourths of the said Legislatures to be valid to all intents and purposes as part of said Constitution; viz.:
ARTICLES in addition to, and Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America proposed by Congress, and ratified by the Legislatures of the several States, pursuant to the fifth Article of the original Constitution.

Armchair Analyzing the Preamble

In reading the above preamble you see that the first paragraph basically states that these articles are an act of the First Congress under the new Constitution while in session in City of New York. The third paragraph states that two thirds of both the Senate and the House of Representatives are presenting these articles (twelve at that time) to the states for consideration and ratification, and how that’s to be done. The fourth paragraph introduces those following amendments as ratified under Article V of the Constitution.

The real meat to the purpose and intent for these amendments, and to the changes to the Constitution, is clearly addressed in its second paragraph;
The second paragraph begins with: “THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution expressed a desire…” This clearly says why the Congress created these amendments, because several States, and other groups within those States, had BIG issues with the Constitution as it was presented for the ratification process. The issue of a Bill of Rights, or the lack of one, in the presented Constitution threated its very ratification (I’ll go deeper into that in my next post).

The preamble then goes on to state what these amendments are supposed to accomplish: “…in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers…” The “it” in this line is the Federal Government. These amendments are to keep the Federal government from overstepping its bounds by taking away certain States and the peoples rights, then becoming a monarchy or tyranny.

It then explains how these amendments are going to prevent that possible abuse of power: “… that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added…” This line says that through these governmental restrictions guaranteed by these amendments will stop government infringement on the certain people’s civil liberties as outlined in these amendments.

The paragraph ends with:“…And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution…” This says that with, and through, these amendments that the people will trust the government more, and this will be a benefit for both.

So you see, the Bill of Rights amendments are not to protect the people from foreign governments, but from the government of the United States of America.

Now that you’ve read the Bill of Rights’ preamble, and my own humble analysis, we’re ready to dive into the history of how these ten amendments came about, how did James Madison, the Federalist, came to be the one that spearhead the writing of these amendments. And what did I mean by “twelve” Bill of Rights amendments?

Stay tuned, my next post will be on the crafting of the Bill of Rights.

And please read my post: We the People: A brief history of the United States Constitution and its first ten amendments Part One: …In order to form a more perfect union.

Sources used:

Lossing, B. J. Lives of the Signers of the Declartion of Independence. WallBuilder Press, 2010.
“The Preamble to the Bill of Rights.” Revolutionary War and Beyond, Revolutionary War and Beyond, revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/preamble-bill-of-rights.html.
Martin. “Preamble to the Bill of Rights.” What Would The Founders Think?, What Would The Founders Think?, whatwouldthefoundersthink.com/preamble-to-the-bill-of-rights.
“Preamble to the Bill of Rights.” Office of Government and Community Relations, Drexel University, drexel.edu/ogcr/resources/constitution/amendments/preamble/.
“Preamble to the “Bill of Rights”.” Adask’s Law The Profit of Injustice, Adask’s Law The Profit of Injustice, 17 Apr. 2011, adask.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/preamble-to-th-bill-of-rights/.
National Archives. “The Bill of Rights: A Transcription.” Amercica’s Founding Documents, The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript.

 

 

 

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American history, Detroit, Detroit history, Famous Train Stations, history and travel, History in Time, History of American Businesses, Lost and Found, Michigan Central Train Station, Sites to see in the world, Still Current, Train Travel, Travel, Uncategorized, What to see in Detroit, What to see in Michigan

Detroit’s Michigan Central Train Station: a rising phoenix on the city’s skyline.

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Michigan Central Train Station as it was in 2015

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Ron Current

One of the first things you see when driving into Detroit on I-75 is the large, and looming, Michigan Central Train Station. To me, standing tall and alone, it looks like a tombstone; a tombstone for a city that seemed to have given up on itself.
For too many years the Michigan Central Station has stood in ruin, its windows broken out and the building surrounded by a chain link fence that tries to protect an already ravaged grand lady.

However, this is not a post of gloom, but rather one of hope and vision.
I’ll begin with a little history of the train station and then I’ll go into what we hope is its new, and exciting, future under its new owners.

A magnificent expression to 20th century progress

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The back of Michigan Central Station, with the train gate at the bottom. June 22, 2018

Michigan Central Station’s story began in 1914, right after the former stationed burned down in 1913, when Michigan Central Railroad decided to build a world class train station on its main rail line. They hired the firms of Warren and Wetmore and Reed and Stem, who had also built New York’s Grand Central Terminal, to do the design and construction.

The architects chose the Beaux-Arts Classical style for the station’s design, and to handle the rail company’s workers a 18-story office tower was added, making Michigan Central the tallest train station in the world at that time.

When it opened thousands of travelers would embark or disembark from one of the more than 200 trains that arrived or departed daily. These passengers could then take one of the many street or interurban railcars that converged there to get to their final destinations. Such notables that came through Michigan Central were Presidents Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and Truman, as well as Charlie Chaplin and Thomas Edison. Over 3,000 employees occupied the many offices in the station’s tower. In those pre-automobile days public mass transportation was how you got around, and Detroit’s Michigan Central Station was one of the crown jewels in the country.

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the ruined Michigan Central Station grand lobby during the open house June 22, 2018

Henry Ford’s development vision

But the station had a major downfall; it was built on the south west side of the city, far from Detroit’s downtown. This was done because the station was to be an important part of a master plan to develop that area of the city. Henry Ford, even though he didn’t own the station, was a major contributor in these plans. Ford had bought up land around the station in preparation for this new development; however the Great Depression put an end to those plans.

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The station’s concourse taken during the open house on June 22, 2018

The station continued to thrive through the Second World War, after which it began a slow decline as cars and airplanes took over as the public’s mode of transportation. In 1971 Amtrak took over operation of the station, they made some repairs to the building and reopened the main lobby. But in 1988, with passenger rail traffic almost nonexistent, the last Amtrak train left Michigan Central on January 6th.

The now vacant and abandoned station became a target for scavengers and defacers: stripping the building of its fixtures, marble, wiring, and plumbing. Graffiti now covered its once elegant walls.

The Moroun years

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The hall way that travelers took to catch a streetcar to the city. It also where the stations shops were located. Taken on June 22, 2018.

Eight years later, in 1996, Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge that links Detroit with Winsor Canada, took possession of the station. Moroun didn’t do much with the building until 2000, when he demolished its train shed to help convert the property to a freight depot for the Canadian Pacific Railway. But this usage didn’t last long, four years later Moroun closed the station permanently in 2004.

The relationship between Moroun and the City of Detroit, in regards to the train station, is interesting. In 2006, the city named the station as a “Priority Cultural Site.” But in 2009, even though Moroun owned the building, the City Council voted to demolish it. The station’s demolition was only stopped when Stanley Christmas, a Detroit resident, sued the city under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Little was done to renovate the old station until 2011 when Moroun, with the city’s help with funding, replaced the tower’s roof, removed some of the asbestos, and drained some of the water from the basement.

In 2015 electricity was restored to the building, and for the first time in years the main lobby was illuminated. In addition Moroun acquired a permit to install a new freight elevator. Also in 2015, after a land swap with the city, the Moroun family agreed to install windows throughout the building.

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This was the station’s restaurant. Taken on June 22, 2018.

A very special occurrence happened during the “Detroit Homecoming” celebration in September of 2017. The station was opened for an event for the first time in twenty-nine years.

There was excitement for the future of the old building when on March 20, 2018 the Detroit News reported that the Ford Motor Company was in talks with the Moroun family on purchasing the station. And on June 11, 2018 the Moroun family confirmed that the Ford Motor Company was now indeed the new owners of the Michigan Central Station.

With Ford, it comes full circle

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The front of the Michigan Central Station, June 22, 2018

William Clay Ford, the great-grandson of Henry Ford, spoke on what the future prospects were for the Michigan Central Station under Ford Motor Company. They plan on doing a total restoration and renovation of the historic site. Not only the station is to be renovated but also the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository building next door is included in their plans. These two buildings, as well as the surrounding land, will become a campus for Ford’s futuristic autonomous vehicle division. The projected target date for completion of this project is 2022.

One of the big question asked of Ford is: will there be trains in Michigan Central’s future? And although Ford can’t answer that question for sure, they did say that they’re leaving the passenger tracks in place, just in case.

With Bill Ford’s commitment he picks up right where his grandfather left off in the 1920’s, reviving a neighborhood centered on a magnificent and grand building.

Taking a look inside the station

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After the announcement on June 19th Ford opened the train station to the public to tour on the weekend of June 22-25. My wife and I were among those who patiently stood in line for an hour and a half to enter, and experience this historic event.
As we walked in the expansive waiting area, along the halls where shops had been, stood looking up at the skeletal remains of the concourse’s roof that held the glass skylight and the

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The line of those that wanting to experience history

dark cavernous room that was the station’s restaurant, we weren’t depressed by the acts of destruction and neglect that was before us. No, we were encouraged by the possibilities to come.

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The colonnade that connects the station’s main lobby and to its concourse. Taken June 22, 2018

The rising of this Detroit phoenix says a lot about a community. A community that’s tired of the decay, and wanting to build to a new and positive future. From Ford’s commitment, to the over 20,000 people that came to see what was and learn of what will come, this is what will redefine Detroit.

There was one selfless act that I’d like to mention, and it may seem small to some, but is really meaningful to the stations history and of one person’s desire to help; as I had stated, the interior of the station had been stripped of everything that might be of value. One of those items was the brass clock face that was on the station’s gateway.

5 X 5 clock

The returned clock face

Right after the announcement was made by Ford the company got a phone call; it was from the person who had taken the clock. Without giving his name, or asking for any form of payment, he told them where they could find the clock. This important part of Michigan Central’s history will once again be back home, after restoration by the Henry Ford Museum.

In closing, I look forward to the day when I drive into Detroit on I-75 and not see a tombstone, but rather a beacon to what can be accomplished when you have a vision.

Because with a vision, there is always hope!

The photos in this post were taken by me, and the following website was used for background information in my story.

Wikipedia. “Michigan Central Station.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia , 20 June 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_Central_Station.

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