Monday, October 30, 2006

Houston History Mystery V: The case of the missing portrait

It’s Halloween, which gives me a good excuse to post this photoshopped picture I took of the old Jefferson Davis Hospital years ago.

Speaking of JDH, here’s another Houston History Mystery that needs solving.

On Dec. 2, 1924, members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy met with hospital, city and county officials to officially open the hospital.

It’s no coincidence that local leaders scheduled the hospital’s dedication ceremony at the same time UDC members were meeting in Houston.

The high point of the ceremony was the unveiling of a portrait of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The UDC presented the portrait to hospital officials.

Judge Sam Streetman, president of the local hospital board, hoped the portrait would “stand as a constant reminder of the highest conception of honor and duty as expressed in the life of Jefferson Davis.”

A bronze tablet commemorating the Confederate veterans was to have been presented at the ceremony, too, but it was not ready.

Obviously, the tablet and the portrait were removed at some point. No one seems to know where the items are located. I seem to remember contacting the UDC about it years ago, but no one knew anything about it. With the current inclination to remove all things related to the Confederacy, it’s easy to believe that both the painting and tablet have been lost for good.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

When aviation landed in Houston

The Houston Post touted it as the opportunity to see the “greatest invention of present era.”

In fact, the Post co-sponsored the event, so naturally the newspaper would play up the spectacle.

In the end, Frenchman Louis Paulhan’s flight over South Houston was the first documented flight of a heavier-than-air flying machine in Texas.

By the time Paulhan arrived in Houston, he was an accomplished aviator and record holder. His two-day appearance here in Feb. 1910 was part of a tour that included stops in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and New Orleans.

Some notes from his appearance in Houston:

*Paulhan flew a Farman biplane.

*Admission, which included a round-trip ride on the Galveston, Houston and Henderson railroad, cost $1.25 (about $26 today). Those arriving by automobile paid less.

*The first flight was delayed a few hours because his plane was not assembled early enough.

“When the mammoth dragonfly-looking machine left the earth, a murmur disturbed the previous silence, and within an instant, the retreating aviator received a welcome from 3,000 throats,” the Post reported in its Feb. 19, 1910 edition.

During that first flight, Paulhan flew south-southeast and circled back over the spectators. Once he landed, a “great many thought the flights for the day over and boarded waiting trains for Houston.”

Actually, Paulhan landed because of engine trouble, according to the Post. Once that was fixed, he flew three more times and stopped when it started to get dark.

Paulhan eventually returned to Europe, setting more aviation firsts. He flew in WWI and became a seaplane builder once the war ended.

Anyone interested in local aviation history should tour the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport.

A historical marker about Paulhan’s Houston appearance is here.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Now 3-D!

In March 1953, moviegoers at the Loew's were treated to two 3-D shorts: "The Black Swan" and "Royal River," which was basically a trip down the Thames River.

"Without the special glasses, the figures look a little blurred," the Chronicle reported in its March 7, 1953, edition. "With them, they almost stand out so you can almost see around them and figures in the background are sharp and clear."

"Rogue's March" also was showing at the Loew's during that time.

Showing at the Majestic was the Alfred Hitchcock film "I Confess." To promote it, Hitchcock and actress Anne Baxter appeared before the audience once the movie ended.

"Referring to his ample proportions, (Hitchcock) announced that he was 4-D," the article reported.

(Hitchcock's next picture, "Dial M for Murder" would be shot in 3-D.)

Roger Dann, a French actor who also starred in "I Confess," sang a few songs for the audience, too.

"But when he sang 'Deep in the Heart of Texas' in French, he brought the house down," according to the article.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Two pictures

Texas Avenue looking west at Fannin Street, 1907. Note the Rice Hotel on the far left and the original Chronicle building between the two buildings in the foreground.

And for the Galveston folks...Market Street, 1907.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Hanging Tree

Apparently, Founders Cemetery is also home to the Hanging Tree or "Hangsman Grove."

One Web site says "the tree has seen an untold number of deaths and suffering" while another Web site says several blacks were hanged there.

Some references indicate the tree is located near the entrance to the cemetery. I'm not sure if a marker or plaque indicates the location of the tree.

In Dr. S.O. Young's 1913 book, "True Stories of Old Houston and Houstonians," he says, "The general idea is that many men were hanged out there, but as a matter of fact only three executions took place there."

According to Young, a man named Hyde was the first to be executed at the site.

"He had waylaid and murdered a man and had then left the state and gone to Louisiana or Mississippi....Proper papers were made out and Hyde was arrested and brought back. That was in 1853, and the hanging took place in what was afterwards known as Hangsman Grove just on the southeast corner of the old cemetery out of the San Felipe Road," Young wrote.

The next execution was in 1868 and involved a black man named Johnson. About two years later, another black man named Johnson was executed at that spot.

After that, Young says, executions took place at the jail or jail yard.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Respect for the dead

It only lasted a few years, but the Houston Republic, a weekly publication, frequently pressed for better care of the “City Grave Yard.”

“The opinions expressed to us by many strangers and numerous inhabitants of Houston renders it absolutely necessary that we should, through the columns of our journal, call public attention to this grave subject….” (Emphasis NOT mine!)

The column, published Jan. 16, 1858, doesn’t say which graveyard needed fixing. Presumably, it could be Founders’ Cemetery off West Dallas outside downtown. “At Rest: A Historical Directory of Harris County, Texas, Cemeteries” by Trevia Wooster Beverly notes that early newspaper editorials brought attention to the condition of the cemetery but little was done about it.

“We have railroads centering here – we have others projecting, which will, in time, make us the recipients of the trade of various portions of the state – we have a stream open to navigation at all seasons – the price of our great staple is looking up, and ere long the effects of our temporary depression in trade will…have passed away, and now let us spare from our abundance a little to effect the object named….

“Let the new Board of Aldermen vote a portion of the city revenue – let the County Court make an appropriation, and then we think by the aid of our ladies who, no doubt, will lend a helping hand to so philanthropic an object, the grave yard will be enclosed,” the column concluded.

Last time I checked, the fence was still standing.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A big misunderstanding

As President William McKinley – hit by assassin’s bullet – edged closer to death, anxious Houstonians kept up with the latest on his health.

“The bulletin boards of the city were constantly scanned by an army of anxious watchers, and telephone inquiries poured in on The Post from all parts of the city,” the Houston Daily Post reported in Sept. 1901. “For hours it appeared that almost the entire population of the city alternated between mingled hope and fear.”

But a misunderstanding and touchy nerves led to the arrest of a Katy man downtown.

The man, who was not named by the Post, came to Houston for some medical treatment. He joined a crowd of others outside The Post’s bulletin boards awaiting the latest news on McKinley.

As they waited, he said he canvassed for McKinley in Chicago in 1896 and voted for him in 1900. During the 1896 election, the man said he made an $80 bet that McKinley would be elected. After the bet was agreed to, another man said, “You are right in betting on McKinley; he will be elected twice and then he will be assassinated, and after this there will be a revolution.”

That created a commotion when the crowd misheard the man’s tale and thought he won $80 betting that McKinley would be assassinated.
An officer arrested him, but the man was quickly released once everyone realized it was a misunderstanding.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Two old photographs

Main Street and Lamar Avenue, 1941. You don't have to look very hard to find similar photos of this theater district. In addition to the Loew's State and Metropolitan on the left, the Kirby is on the right. The neon sign on the far right belongs to a "feminine apparel" store. This picture was apparently taken before Woolworth's opened at McKinney Avenue and Main Street.

Travis Street and Capitol Avenue, 1913. Contrary to the note on the photograph, I think the photographer was looking north or northeast rather than east. Anyway, this picture was taken just before renovations began on the old Rice Hotel. Farther up Travis, we see the Southern Pacific Building under construction along with the Union National Bank Building just right of center.

(Photographs used with kind permission.)


Friday, October 13, 2006

The birth of the Chronicle

The first edition of the Houston Chronicle -- published Oct. 14, 1901 -- didn’t go unnoticed by its competitor.

Reaction to that first issue came from, of all places, the Houston Daily Post.

“It is a cleanly printed, skillfully arranged, well written sheet -- in most essentials an up-to-date publication,” the Post noted in its Oct. 15 edition. “In the first issue the business department makes a flattering exhibit in the way of advertising patronage….”

The short paragraph heralding the paper’s debut appeared inside the newspaper.

In conclusion, the Post wrote:

“The paper promises to join vigorously into the campaign for industrial development already going on, and announces that it is independent of any political party or faction.”

The Post closed in 1995 when the Hearst Corporation, which operates the Chronicle, purchased the Post’s assets.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Houston's pandemic panic

As we enter flu shot season, let’s look at how the Spanish Flu Pandemic affected Houston.

As early as July 1918, health officials in the east had sounded the alarm over the malady. Philadelphia and Boston were among the first cities to report a significant number of cases. In fact, according to a PBS documentary, 635 new cases of influenza were reported in Philadelphia in late September shortly after 200,000 gathered for a Liberty Loan drive.

In Houston, things were calm. By Sept. 27, 1918, there were about 25 cases in the city. Four cases were localized to the home of the Emma R. Newsboys Association and nine other cases were reported in Magnolia Park.

Lt. J.W. McDonald, a government official who had been handling the cases, advised against closing the schools or quarantining Camp Logan.

“I think the ‘Spanish’ should be left off the disease that has visited Houston,” he told the Houston Press in its Sept. 27 edition. “It is more like la grippe.”

Less than two weeks later, on Oct. 9, 1918, Houston City Council ordered a shutdown of all schools and public places.

“This includes schools, moving pictures, theaters, churches and in fact all manner of assemblages,” the Houston Press reported that day.

The WPA Guide to Houston says that between 600 and 700 cases of Spanish Flu were reported at Camp Logan. By Oct. 14, the deaths totaled 111 after just a few weeks.

(In 1920, Houston had a population of 138,276, according the Chronicle’s 1924 guide to the city. One hundred and eleven of 138,276 is about .08 percent.

According to the U.S. Census, Houston had a population of 2,016,582 in 2005. If a disease struck Houston and killed about .08 percent of the city’s population, about 1,600 residents would be dead. Imagine…1,600 Houstonians dead in a matter of weeks!)

City officials hoped everything would calm down in a few days and planned to lift the flu quarantine in a week.

Actually, it wasn’t lifted for another 16 days.

Hit hard by the shutdown were local theaters, which lost thousands of dollars during that period. The theaters reopened with such acts including Fred Bowers’ “Annual Song Review” and Jack Lingwood of Canada’s Princess Pat regiment.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Thinking of you

Thanks to Technorati, I've added a search feature near the bottom of the rail at right. A lot of people were perusing past entries, and I wanted to make it easier for visitors in case they wanted to find posts about a particular topic.

New card stock has been added to the custom cards I'm offering for sale. I'll update my personal Web page with the information in a day or two. As a result, expect a reduction in the price of cards printed on regular card stock.

As always, thanks for visiting.

(From top to bottom: Montrose Boulevard, looking south; Courtlandt Boulevard; San Jacinto Street, looking north from Walker Avenue; Prairie Avenue, looking west from Caroline Street; Main Street, looking south from McGowan Avenue; Travis Street, looking north from Rusk Avenue. Source: Houston Chronicle 1924 Guide to Houston.)


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Open arms, open doors

This drawing appeared in Wednesday’s Sept. 19, 1900, edition of the Houston Daily Post.

Without such wide, open spaces like the Astrodome, evacuees from Galveston were spread around town.

The drawing shows where some evacuees were staying.

1205 Congress is currently a parking lot across the street from the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, or diagonal to the old county courthouse.

606 Main is across Texas Avenue from Rice Lofts.

212 Fannin is across the street from the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

211 Crawford is now a parking lot north of Minute Maid Park and Franklin.

Turner Hall belonged to the Houston Turnverein and was likely located on a city block bounded by Prairie, Caroline, Texas and Austin.

On Tuesday, four trains and two tug boats arrived in Houston with nearly 1,000 more evacuees from Galveston.

Aside from the places mentioned above, evacuees were also staying at the Lawlor Hotel, Hutchins House, Bristol Hotel (712 Travis), Capitol (Rice) Hotel, Monteflore Hall, Settegast Building (1016 Preston) and Camp Building.

In unrelated news that day, the body of 12-year-old Robert Opperman was pulled from Buffalo Bayou. He apparently had been swimming in the bayou with some friends on Monday when he went under near the water works facilities (sort of across the bayou from where Bayou Place is). Opperman’s body was found the next day and pulled from the bayou at Main Street.


Friday, October 06, 2006

What's on TV?

It's Friday, March 20, 1964.

Someone staying in that night would have been left with few options on local television.

From 7:30-8:30 p.m., there was a Bob Hope special (in color!) showing on Channel 2. After that, "The Twilight Zone" appeared on Channel 11 at 8:30.

But, hey, why not stay up after the news and catch wrestling on Channel 13?

Some night owl might have caught the locally produced program "Midnight With Marietta" on Channel 2.

Whatever happened to Marietta Marich?

Apparently, she's still working in front of the camera. This month, she reprises the role of Luda Mae Hewitt in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning."

Who knew?


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A night at the opera house

In the late 19th century, the Sweeney and Coombs Opera House was the place for live theater.

Located in the 300 block of Fannin, the opera house was named after the Sweeney & Coombs jewelry company. (Not to be confused with the building of the same name that still exists on the north side of the block where the Harris County Administration Building is located.) Does Sweeney’s Jewelers sound familiar?

On Sept. 26, 1892, Irish comedian Herbert Cawthorn starred in “Little Nugget.”

Not much is known about that production. The same goes for “A Breezy Time,” though it made the rounds in other opera houses during the same period.

Anyway, the next day, Houstonians got a chance to see McCabe and Young’s Operatic Minstrels.

Billed as “The Only Legitimate Colored Attraction,” the duo of Billy Young and D.W. McCabe were among the few blacks who actually owned their minstrel company.

According to the Cyber Encyclopedia of Musical Theatre, TV and Film Web site, “Black performers still had to wear blackface makeup in order to look ‘dark enough,’ performing material that demeaned their own race. Despite such drawbacks, minstrelsy provided African American performers with their first professional stage outlet.”

A well-sourced Wikipedia entry on the subject says all-black troupes played up the idea that their ethnicity made them the only true representatives of black song and dance. That may help explain why McCabe and Young’s Operatic Minstrels were billed in such a manner.

According to Young’s entry in the University of Kentucky’s list of notable African-Americans, the duo had been working together since the 1870s and managed to tour the South and Cuba.

But it appeared relations were already tense by the time the two hit Houston in 1892. Later that year, McCabe left the company in Mexico, took off with the money and was not heard from again until 1894.

McCabe died in 1907. Young continued to perform until 1913 when he developed lung problems and died a few months later.

And whatever happened to Cawthorn?

Well, he appeared on Broadway periodically from 1899-1908. But in December 1903, Cawthorn found himself in Chicago as part of the cast of “Mr. Blue Beard Jr.” at the Iroquois Theater. Cawthorn, the production company and 1,900 people in attendance would end up being part of one of the worst single-building fires in American history.

During the matinee performance, a light set a curtain on fire. Overbooking, poor fire prevention measures and other factors led to the deaths of more than 600 people.

Cawthorn was able to help many of the stage girls escape the blaze.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Houston History Mystery IV: Braes, Bray's or Brays?

A reader recently asked how Bray’s Bayou got its name.

In short, no one is certain.

We do know that Bray’s Bayou was likely named by the mid-to-early 1820s. John R. Harris set up Harrisburg near where the bayou empties into Buffalo Bayou in 1826. About two years earlier, he had received a land grant for that area.

Page 23 of the WPA Guide to Houston makes reference to Bray’s Bayou in a quote from the 1828 diary of Joseph Clopper:

"Harrisburg is laid out on the west side of (Buffalo Bayou) just below its junction with Bray's bayou..."

But, thanks to some research by the Harris County Flood Control District, Clopper and his brother Edward apparently couldn’t agree on a name.

On January 3, 1828, Edward N. Clopper referred to "the junction of Buffalo Bayou and Brays Bayou" in his journal. On January 4, he wrote "at the junction of Braes and Buffalo Bayou."

The name discrepancy endures 180 years later:

  • The WPA Guide to Houston calls it Bray’s and Brays on maps.
  • A 1953 Humble Oil street map and a 1964 Texaco street map call it Brays Bayou.
  • A 1939 chamber of commerce map calls it Bray’s Bayou.
  • My 41st edition Key Map calls it Brays Bayou.
  • The Handbook of Texas calls it Bray’s Bayou.
  • Finally, the plan to alleviate flooding along the bayou is called Project Brays.

Some have said the word “Braes” is derived from a Scottish place name in which “brae” means “hillside” or “slope.” Webster’s New World Dictionary defines it as “a sloping bank; hillside.”

Some local history aficionados on the Houston Architecture Info forum speculated the name could have come from Spanish explorer Alonso Álvarez de Pineda, but it doesn’t seem likely. Nothing in the Handbook of Texas seems to indicate any other Spanish or French explorer contributed to the naming of Bray’s Bayou.

Another member of that board said a man named James Bray, who settled in that area with others in 1822, may have been responsible for the name. That is being looked at.

Keep in mind though, that settlers were already living along the waterways when Harris moved into where he would set up Harrisburg. Therefore, it would seem likely that someone had named the bayou by that point.

Any ideas?

(Background information and research credit for this post also goes to the Houston Public Library.)