A Few San Antonio Statues

I didn’t specifically seek out statues while visiting San Antonio, but sometimes I would be wandering along and there was another one. Such as this fellow, important enough to get a life-sized bronze downtown, on Houston St.

TC Frost San Antonio Feb 2015It’s Thomas Claiborne Frost (1833-1903): frontier lawyer, Confederate commander, wool merchant, and eventually banker. Frost Bank exists to this day as a major regional bank focusing only on Texas markets, and most recently it had the distinction of not being caught with exposure to the bum mortgages of the 2000s, and so turned down TARP money.

Sculptor Robert L. Dean Jr. did the Frost statue. He’s better known for a number of Eisenhower statues, including ones in Denison, Texas; West Point; Ike’s presidential library; and in London and Normandy. He also did Patton, Bradley, DeGaulle, and Eddie Rickenbacker, among others. I’d never seen the Frost bronze because it’s fairly new, put there only in 2001.

Here’s a person I didn’t know had a bust in San Antonio.

FDR San Antonio Feb 2015President Roosevelt, looking not quite like the FDR we know from photos and movies, but never mind. The memorial is on the grounds of San Antonio City Hall, a 1946 gift from Mexico — specifically, the Comite Mexicano de Accion Civica y Cultural. The sculptor was from San Antonio, however: Louis Rodriguez, a member of a family that still carves memorials and gravestones. Louis and his brother James best-known work is the Alamo Cenotaph.

Not far away is “The Conquistador,” a bronze outside the Spanish Governor’s Palace.

Conquistador, San Antonio Feb 2015It too was a gift to the city — by the government of Spain in 1977, “as a symbol of the close ties of Spain and San Antonio,” according to the plaque at the foot of the work. The sculptor was Enrique Monjo, who also did work at the National Cathedral.

Conquistador San Antonio Feb 2015Here’s a fellow in a Texas pose.

Miram Park San Antonio Feb 2015Who holds his weapon so defiantly? Texian Ben Milam, in Milam Park downtown. He was one of the leaders of the Texian forces in the Siege of Bexar in late 1835, which resulted in the capture of San Antonio from Mexican forces under Gen. Martin Perfecto de Cos, an incident that precipitated the better-known Battle of the Alamo a few months later. Milam didn’t live to participate in that, or even the conclusion of the Siege of Bexar, since a Mexican bullet hit him in the head on December 7, 1835, two days ahead of Cos’ surrender. Besides Milam Park, a scattering of other places in the state are named for him, such as Milam County, northeast of Austin. But the Ben Milam Hotel in Houston is no more.

One Bonnie McLeary did the statue, which was commissioned for the Texas Centennial in 1936, along with a number of other statues around the state. She’s better known, according to A Comprehensive Guide to Outdoor Sculpture in Texas (1996), for her “garden sculptures and her portrayal of children.”

Then there’s Jolly Jack.

Jolly Jack San Antonio Feb 2015Sea Island San Antonio Feb 2015He stands outside of Sea Island, a restaurant on the North Side of San Antonio, near North Star Mall. Remarkably, I’ve been able to find mention of its creators, two Austin artists named Dana Younger and Kevin Collins, at least in this 1998 Austin Chronicle article: “In August, the area was dominated by Jolly Jack, a 10-foot-tall statue commissioned by Sea Island Shrimp House. Jack is the regional seafood chain’s answer to the classic Bob’s Big Boy, an oversized cartoon fat kid [looks like an old-time jack fisherman to me, not a fat kid] in cut-off blue jeans and bare feet, with a red-and-white striped shirt and a black top hat. He proudly holds a five-foot-long fish up in his left hand to entice potential diners. Collins and Younger were paid $9,000 to make the mold and will get $3,000 for each of three more Jolly Jacks.”

Treue der Union

The Texas State Historical Association says that “the Civil War skirmish known as the battle of the Nueces took place on the morning of August 10, 1862, when a force of Hill Country Unionists, encamped en route to Mexico on the west bank of the Nueces River about twenty miles from Fort Clark in present-day Kinney County, were attacked by mounted Confederate soldiers… Contentions over the event remained on both sides, with Confederates regarding it as a military action against insurrectionists while many German Hill Country residents viewed the event as a massacre.

“After the war the remains of the Unionists killed at the battle site were gathered and interred at Comfort, where a monument commemorates the Germans and one Hispanic killed in the battle and subsequent actions. The dedication of the Treue der Union monument occurred on August 10, 1866. To commemorate the 130th anniversary of the memorial, the monument was rededicated on August 10, 1996. It is the only German-language monument to the Union in the South where the remains of those killed in battle are buried, and where an 1866 thirty-six star American flag flies at half-staff.”

The memorial stands on High Street in Comfort, Texas, between 3rd and 4th Sts., next to a piece of undeveloped land and across the street from a church and a school.
Comfort, Texas Feb 2105With the names of the dead on the sides. These fell in a later event in October 1862, on the Rio Grande.

Comfort, Texas Feb 2015And a 36-star flag does indeed fly there.

Comfort, Texas Feb 2015Not something you see too often. That flag was only current for two years, between 1865 and 1867, or rather between the admission of Nevada and Nebraska.

Two Stops on the Hill Country Bat Trail

Somewhere or other Jay heard about a bat roost near Comfort, Texas, and if that isn’t an incentive to visit that place when you’re already close by, I don’t know what is. So on the afternoon of the 14th, we went looking for it.

Comfort is a small town, pop. 2,300 or so, in Kendall County and, according to the Census Bureau, part of the San Antonio MSA. I’d put it in the Hill Country, though that’s not an official designation. Comfort’s main street (named High Street) is characterized by handsome 19th-century buildings, many made of local stone, put to 21st-century purposes, such as antique stores and restaurants that point out — or should point out — that they offer Comfort food.

To get to Comfort from San Antonio, head northwest on I-10. On Ranch to Market Road 473, a few miles east of town, you’ll find this curious structure.

Bat Roost, near Comfort, TexasAccording to the Texas Historical Commission plaque at the site: “This shingle style structure was built in 1918 to attract and house bats in an effort to eradicate mosquitoes and thereby reduce the spread of malaria. It was designed for Albert Steves, Sr., a former mayor of San Antonio, by Dr. Charles A. R. Campbell, an authority on bats who had served as the health officer in the same city. Named ‘Hygeiostatic’ by Steves, the bat roost is one of 16 constructed in the United States and Italy between 1907 and 1929. Recorded Texas Historic Landmark – 1981.” It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places.

No bats were at home, it being February. I understand that they do live there in the warmer months. Different sources put the number of such towers in this country at two or three. Apparently one of the others is on Lower Sugarloaf Key in the Florida Keys.

North and east of Comfort, not far from Fredericksburg, is Old Tunnel State Park. Formerly a railroad tunnel, it’s now a home for bats. During the warm months, you can sit outside the entrance and watch bats emerge around dusk — a smaller version of the bat flight out of Carlsbad Caverns, memorable enough that I remember it after 40+ years. Again, no bats were around in February. But on hand were a couple of bat enthusiast-volunteers to tell casual visitors about the bat cave, and we talked to them a few minutes.

That’s two stops on the hypothetical Hill Country Bat Trail. Another could be the Congress Street Bridge in Austin, also known for as a bat habitat, or Bracken Cave in Comal County.

Tumbledown Cemeteries Near Downtown San Antonio

Cemetery tourism isn’t what it used to be. I’m pretty sure that most San Antonio tourist literature either ignores or gives scant mention to the Eastside Cemeteries Historic District, as the city calls it.

Too bad. I’d call it a fascinating agglomeration of old graveyards amazingly close to downtown San Antonio. Officially 31 separate cemeteries over 103 acres, and even better, as unkempt as old burying grounds sometimes are.

City Cemetery No. 1, fittingly, is the oldest in the district, dating from the 1850s. Even a mild climate like San Antonio’s will wear stones down eventually.

Cemetery No 1 San AntonioHere lie Aug. and Georgiana Ohnescorce, both of whom passed their lives in the 19th century. Their stones are still legible, but you have to look at them pretty closely.

Cemetery No 1 San AntonioI didn’t seek out well-known permanent residents of the Eastside Cemeteries Historic District, though the San Antonio city site cited above tells us there are a number of them, including mayors, prosperous local businessmen, German pioneer families, 19th-century soldiers (some of them Buffalo soldiers), the woman who led the fight to preserve the Alamo in the first decade of the 20th century — Clara Driscoll — and the man who designed and advocated the San Antonio Riverwalk, Robert H.H. Hugman.

This is Cemetery No. 6, not quite as tumbledown as No. 1.

Cemetery No 6 San AntonioAccording to the city, the Confederate Cemetery is separate from Cemetery No. 6, but that’s hard to tell when you’re there. In any case, the Confederate Cemetery sports the Stars and Bars.

Confederate Cemetery San Antonio Feb 2015The cemetery’s historical markers says that there were over 900 burials in the cemetery, including former CSA soldiers, but also their dependents, some later descendants, and some vets from WWI and WWII as well.

Then there’s the Hermann Sons Cemetery, also enjoyably frowzy.

Hermann's Sons Cemetery San AntonioHermann's Sons Cemetery San AntonioThe first Texas lodge of Ordens der Hermanns-Söhne was founded in San Antonio, and the organization is no thing of the past.

South Texas in February

My most recent trip to Texas lasted eight days, most of them in San Antonio, though there was a foray into the Hill Country. One fine thing about South Texas in February is that it isn’t northern Illinois in February. There’s nothing quite like arriving at the airport and stepping out into night air that’s about 40 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the septentrional place you left. Not that it isn’t winter in both places, just that a South Texas winter isn’t going to be consistently cold, like an Illinois summer isn’t going to be consistently hot.

It’s also green in South Texas. Or greenish. The grass isn’t hiding under a coat of white, and there’s been enough rain this year to make it green. Some bushes have leaves, but most trees still do not. A few flowers, the early spring pioneers of the area, are budding. Despite occasional outbursts of cold weather, snow is just a rumor, rather than an active nuisance.

Most of the time I visited family or worked. But I did get out to see a few new things, and no matter how familiar you think you are with a place, there’s always something new. Such as a cluster of unkempt cemeteries east of downtown San Antonio, or a 26-foot copper-roofed gazebo designed by Jalisco architect Salvador de Alba Martina, or a bat roost in Kendall County, or a small state park I’d never heard of — Old Tunnel SP, only a park in recent decades.

Also, I saw a few things I’ve seen before, sometimes uncountably often, but gave them new thought. Such as the Sunset Ridge shopping center neon sign.

Sunset Ridge, San Antonio, Feb 2015At about 110,000 square feet, Sunset Ridge dates from the development of its part of San Antonio in the 1950s. Or so I think, because it looks like it’s from that period, it’s historically plausible, and I myself remember it almost that far back: 1968 (and my brothers remember it even earlier that decade). Sunset Ridge, which is within walking distance of my mother’s house, has many old associations for me. Such as the Winn’s that used to be there. It was a Five & Dime, part of a well-known chain in this part of the country, but now long gone, so long ago that it wasn’t even Walmart that killed it off.

I’d never given the sign much thought. It was simply the Sunset Ridge sign. When I looked at the sign during this visit, I thought mid-century commercial neon, a holdover from an increasingly remote time, and increasingly rare.

Pet Peeve Opposites

Time for a winter hiatus. Back to posting on February 22 or so, when there will still be plenty enough winter to go. At least we haven’t had the kind of wall-to-wall snow that Boston’s experienced lately.

Pet peeve for the day: postings, especially those containing business or economic data, that have no date, nor any way to figure out when they were posted. Worse than useless. I ran across two of them yesterday. Want to be cited in an article? Don’t do that.

But I don’t want to rattle on about pet peeves. Is there an opposite term for pet peeve? A small thing that consistently brings pleasure. One of life’s “itty-bitties,” as my Old Testament professor called them, though they could be good or bad. Finding money you didn’t know you had; a doughnut with a bit more cream filling than usual; a new understanding of a lyric or a plot point or a concept that suddenly occurs to you.

There has to be a term for that. Something just as pithy as pet peeve, that is. I haven’t been able to think of one, or spend any time looking. Finding such a phrase would, in fact, be an anti-pet peeve, considering the pleasure a pithy new phrase brings, so I’ll have to work on it. Besides the Internet – not everything is there yet – I’ll take a look in delightful books like They Have a Word for It and Lost Beauties of the English Language. When I have time; that can be the best little pleasure of all.

Phil Plait at the Cernan Center

On Saturday evening, we – all of us but Lilly, who had other things to do – went to the Cernan Earth & Space Center to see “Bad Astronomy,” a show mostly narrated by Phil Plait. It pretty much encapsulated what he has to say: there’s a lot of bad astronomy in movies, astrology is nonsense, of course men went to the Moon, and so on.

Ann Feb 10, 2015Not much new for me, though Ann probably got something out of it. In fact, she said she did, but also that she already knew there’s no sound in space. Not many movies or TV shows set in space bother with that, usually for sensible dramatic reasons – imagine the Enterprise passing by without that swoosh — though I can think of a few exceptions: 2001, Firefly.

Plait also mentioned in passing, without naming it, that there’s a place on the Moon where the Sun (almost) always shines. Never heard of that before, and it intrigued me. He must have been talking about the Peak of Eternal Light, which besides sounding like a cult, is an actual place near the south pole of the Moon.

We also got Ann a shirt from the small gift shop (which has no postcards): a map of the constellations.

Happy Turn Rice Crackers

Yuriko bought some Happy Turn rice crackers (senbei) recently. They’re oval crackers with a light sweet-soy flavor. Happy Turn is the name — or rather, the English rendering of the katakana name, ハッピーターン. A product of Kameda Seika Confectionery.

Happy Turn rice snacksThey’re very popular in Japan with both adults and children, and they didn’t last long in our house. I prefer Bonchi rice snacks myself, which are shaped like small bowls and are a bit saltier, but I’m fond of these too. Been a while since we’d had any.

Execution of Justice

Execution of Justice was the first play I saw in Chicago after moving here in 1987. I’d seen a number of plays in the city before, such as Vicious, Rap Master Ronnie, and All My Sons, because it was a good thing to do when visiting town. Chicago’s got first-rate theater. Once I came to live there, I went to the theater every other month or so.

ExJustice87The play, by Emily Mann, is about the trial of Dan White, assassin of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, and the reaction to his absurdly light sentence. White had been in the news again not too much earlier, in late 1985, for committing suicide.

The “Twinkie defense” was part of the play, but I don’t remember if it was treated as the myth it is or not. As Scopes puts it, “better to believe the jury was hoodwinked by some pseudo-scientific nonsense about junk food than to acknowledge the fact that our legal system sometimes absolves defendants of responsibility for the most heinous of crimes.”

I best remember the depiction of the White Night riots, with a dark, quiet stage suddenly exploding with light and noise and the motion of actors. You could tell the audience was startled.

Divers* Notes on an Ordinary Thursday

Maybe it’s time to go on another literary bender. Lately I’ve been reading The Dog of the South, which I’m enjoying, so maybe Charles Portis is just the thing. Since I read True Grit not that long ago, that only leaves three more novels of his left to read. The man’s got a gift for understated humor. Sometimes that’s the best kind.

Got one of a mass email from the principal of Quincy Adams Wagstaff Elementary School recently – an email of the times: “In light of the recent news regarding measles at a Palatine child care facility, District π is sharing with all families this Measles Fact Sheet from the Cook County Department of Public Health. At this time there have been no reported cases of measles in District π. Should there be a case of measles at your child’s school; [sic] parents/guardians would be notified.

“Measles is a highly contagious disease. However, more than 99% of our students are vaccinated against this disease and the measles vaccine is highly effective.”

What he didn’t say, but I wouldn’t have minded if he did: “We’re glad there aren’t a lot of anti-vax morons in our district.”

The usual suspects were over to celebrate Ann’s birthday last week.

Ann & friends Jan 30, 2015A close up of the cake. It’s the same kind as seven years ago, at Ann’s request. (She didn’t remember having it before, but was impressed when she saw it, and wanted it.)

Ann's 12th birthday cakeTo quote myself: “[The cake is] very dark and very round, heavy as a manhole, rich as Bill Gates. Among chocolate cakes, it’s a Union Pacific steam locomotive.”

* For some reason, I’ve long been fond of the archaic form of diverse “divers.” According to Grammarist: “The archaic adjective divers means various or many. Diverse means having great variety. For instance, a group of three can be called diverse if all three elements differ from one another, but we wouldn’t call the group divers because three are not many. Still, divers (usually pronounced DIE-verz) has given way to diverse in the sense meaning various, and in the many sense it gives way to other synonyms. The word has not been widely used in over a century, and even in the 19th century it was mainly a poeticism.”