Sunday, October 25, 2015

ACROSS THE CONTINENT - 1878 The Frank Leslie Excursion to the Pacific

This article is included here as background information to describe train travel conditions about the time that Ft. Worth got its first rail service in 1876.  The intent is to provide a glimpse of what our Cattle Barons and other assorted early Fort Worthians likely experienced as they ventured out from their prairie homes to see the larger world beyond.

New York publisher, Frank Leslie himself, wrote of his 1878 journey from New York to San Francisco taken just a few years after the Golden Spike was set at Promontory Point joining the East and West coasts together for the first time.  Although his descriptions tell of his numerous tribulations, railroad travel was revolutionary in its day.  Journeys that formerly took weeks to complete, suddenly could be done in 4-5 days, coast to coast with the engines chugging along 24/7 making about 35 mph on average.

Credit for the following goes to:  

FROM our Pullman hotel-car, the last in the long train, to the way-car which follows closely on the engine, there is a vast discount in the scale of comfort, embracing as many steps as there are conveyances.  It is worth one's while to make a tour of the train for the sake of observing these differences and noting the manners and customs of traveling humanity, when tired bodies and annoyed brains (there are plenty such even on the overland trip) have agreed to cast aside ceremony and the social amenities and appear in easy undress.  The old assertion that man is at bottom a savage animal finds confirmation strong in a sleeping-car;  and as for the women — even wider dear little five-and-three-quarter kids, the claws will out upon these occasions. For here, at 9 P.M., in the drawing-room steeper, we find a cheerful musical party bowling, "Hold the Fort!" around the parlor organ, which forms its central decoration; three strong, healthy children running races up and down the aisle, and scourging each other with their parents' shawl-straps ; a consumptive invalid, bent double in a paroxysm of coughing ; four parties, invisible, but palpable to the touch, wrestling in the agonies of the toilet behind the closely buttoned curtains of their sections, and trampling on the toes of passers-by as they struggle with opposing draperies; a mother engaged in personal combat (also behind the curtains) with her child in the upper berth, and two young lovers, dead to all the world exchanging public endearments in a remote corner. Who could bear these things with perfect equanimity?  Who could accept with smiles the company of six adults at the combing and washing stages of one's toilet?  Who could rise in the society, and under the close personal scrutiny of twenty-nine fellow-beings, jostle them in their seats all day, eat in their presence, take naps under their very eyes, lie down among them, and sleep — or try to sleep — within acute and agonized hearing of their faintest snores, without being ready to charge one's soul with twenty-nine distinct homicides?

But if the "drawing-room sleeper" be a place of trial to fastidious nerves, what is left to say of the ordinary passenger-car, wherein the working-men and working-women — the miners, the gold-seekers, the trappers and hunters traveling from one station to another, and the queer backwoods folk who have left their log homesteads in Wisconsin and Michigan and Illinois to cross the trail of the sunset —— do congregate, and are all packed like sardines in a box?  It is a pathetic thing to see their nightly contrivances and poor shifts at comfort ; the vain attempts to improvise out of their two or three feet of space a comfortable sleeping.  Place for some sick girl or feeble old person, and the weary, endless labor of the mothers to pacify or amuse their fretted children.  Here and there some fortunate party of two or three will have full sway over a whole section — two seats, that is to say — and there will be space for one of them to stretch his or her limbs in the horizontal posture and rest luxuriously ; but, for the most part, every seat has its occupant, by night as well as day, a congregation of aching spines and cramped limbs.  The overland journey is no fairy tale to those who read it from a way car !

We climb into the baggage-car sometimes to admire the orderly-piles of trunks and valises andboxes, to peep at the queer little corner fitted up as an armory, with its gritted door and assemblage of deadly weapons held always in readiness for a possible attack upon that store-house of many treasures ; or we take a furtive glance at some pretty girl who has been seized with an unconquerable desire to explore her trunk, and who — under close surveillance of the baggage-master, who is no respecter of persons — is turning over the trays to rummage out a handkerchief or a clean collar, or perhaps a hat in place of the one which a gust of wind just now sent whirling over the Plains into some Pinto lodge.

Among the "side-scene"sketches which our artists scratch down by the way, the Chinese roadmenders come in; we find a constant amusement in watching them along the route from Echo Cañon to Reno, where whole groups of them dot the roadside, bare-legged, ragged, dressed in a sort of hybrid mixture of Chinese and Caucasian styles, with their pig-tails twisted up out of the way, and their great straw platter hats tied under their chins.  They are by no means the smooth, immaculate wellshaven pictures of neatness which greet our eyes in the dining-saloons — on the contrary, they are evidently of the lowest caste of Chinamen, with stupid, half-brutal faces, and dirty and unkempt though still, in these respects, falling far enough short of the Irish or German laborer.  They work diligently as beavers along the route, traveling from point to point with their tools on a little hand-car, which they sometimes hitch fast to our train, and then we, on the rear platform, find an ever-fresh delight in looking down upon them, laughing, and pelting them with "pigeon English," to which they scorn a response, but sit cackling among themselves in their own queer chopped-up language, replete, probably, with opprobrious epithets for the "white devils."

Note:  The above is one complete article published February 9, 1878, in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper,  from the July, 1877 - late 1878 multi-part series on "The Frank Leslie Excursion to the Pacific Coast."  The vivid description of this transcontinental excursion on the Pacific Railroad by Frank Leslie and his wife, Miriam, captures the experience of travel on the CPRR as well as the regrettably commonplace prejudices of the 19th century.   Frank Leslie's technological innovation, a dramatic speed-up in wood block engraving, made possible the illustrated newspaper, of which Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Harper's Weekly were preeminent.  Leslie realized that large wood block engravings could be prepared fast enough to appear in a weekly newspaper by drawing the entire image onto a single wood block, then cutting it into rows and columns of smaller blocks each of which could be simultaneously hand engraved by a separate engraver.

Frank Leslie’s cross-country trip report broaches the topic of various classes of travel on the same train and illustrates the “coach” class most likely taken by many of our early Fort Worthians when they decided to go somewhere.  We packed our trunk, put on some comfortable, yet proper traveling clothes, gave the conductor our ticket and climbed aboard to chug off over the northern horizon at 35 mph for hours and hours and hours.

During those early Ft. Worth days of the 1880s and 1890s, our most likely destinations were St. Louis (a 19-hour trip); Chicago (a 28-hour trip); and New York (a 45-hour trip).   St. Louis and Chicago had the big meat packing plants and New York had the money and plenty of restaurants where our beef was consumed (more about them just ahead).

George Pullman, a self-taught western New York Engineer, who had lived and worked on the Erie Canal in his early life, had moved on to Chicago shortly before the Civil War.  He was in the perfect location to observe the rise of railroad travel to far-away places and make note of how long those journeys were.  He brilliantly combined his canal boat experience with the rising need for comfortable rail passenger accommodation and invented his “Pullman” sleeper cars. 

They were finished in various degrees of comfort, then leased to the railroads, complete with a Negro staff.  Pullman correctly reasoned that the recently freed slaves of the post- Civil War South would make excellent service staff for his cars and time proved him right.  He rapidly became the largest employer of freed slaves in the country.  And what’s more the Pullman porters treasured their positions and became highly respected pillars of their own communities throughout the nation.

Pullman’s cars ran the rails until the 1960s when rail passengers moved away to jet airline and personal automobile travel.  So, we just missed the opportunity to experience the highly refined rail travel as it had developed over the company’s 102-year history.  However, there are a few travel clubs and restored Pullman cars still in existence where a dedicated rail fan might find a current version of the experience.  The pictures that follow show a few fully restored cars that well illustrate the travel experience our Cattle Barons might have had when they ventured “back East” to catch steam packets for “the Continent” or just see the big city for a visit.

....hang on Gotham...we're on our way....

...Next, Gotham, THE Mrs. Astor, and some Vanderbilts....

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The EHHS Social Order – 11.2.4 – Early Cowtown Society - Quality Hill

If the upshot of the railroad coming to town was the ready availability of outbound transportation for Fort Worthians—all 500 of them at the time—it was also the gateway for thousands of people living north and east of us who had been reading of the “Wild West” in their local newspapers and dime-novels of the day.  Within 10-years, our population jumped to 6600 and after 20-years, in 1890, it was 23.000.  Our little town was booming and the railroad made it possible.  As the sequential maps above reflect, our entire country had been largely “wired-up” by 1890.

Essentially none of Fort Worth’s Cattle Barons were born to wealth and when they started moving to town after working their ranches for about 25-years, they had the task of having to learn how to live to their levels of accomplishment.  And what better way to start effectively living up to their stations than to build a grand house in Fort Worth's very first "upscale" neighborhood, Quality Hill?"  A section of land located just southwest of downtown and today, other than for a couple of surviving relics such as Waggoner's Thistle Hill, covered by Ft. Worth's "hospital district" the area is difficult to find on casual inspection.  The 1891 "birds-eye" drawing below pretty well illustrates the area (outlined in red) at the time.

The very first cattleman to build a home on Quality Hill was R.D. Hunter, a Scotsman via Missouri who had come to America in 1843.  After having been a gold miner during the California gold rush period, Hunter saw promise in the post-Civil War free-range cattle business and stopped off at Texas to give the business a try.  Success and fortune followed and Hunter, like many others of his day decided to make the newly developing Fort Worth his later-life home.  Ultimately Hunter, with the aid of the T&P railroad, founded a coal mine about 60-miles west of Fort Worth at Thurber and a side business of making brick with the residue coal not taken by the railroad.  His Thurber bricks were the ones we recall driving on as they covered our downtown streets and on some of the early brick highways that were still paved with their original brick surfaces…Highway 80 to Weatherford, for example.  His grand home was built in 1897 at the corner of Summit and El Paso.

For the most part, the mansions of Quality Hill were built by men who had not been born with silver spoons in their mouths (although one—George Reynolds—long carried an iron arrowhead in his back). Two of the most successful began their careers as cattle trail cowboys (Samuel Burk Burnett, William Thomas Waggoner); another began as a Pony Express rider (George Reynolds), and still another began as an illiterate woodchopper (Winfield Scott).

Summit Avenue just as easily could have been called “Cattleman Avenue.” Among the cattlemen with fine homes along Summit Avenue were John Bunyan Slaughter, William Thomas Waggoner, Cass Edwards, Colonel C. A. O’Keefe, brothers William and George Reynolds, Samuel Burk Burnett, and James H. Nail. Likewise, Penn Street could just as well have been called “Bankers Boulevard.” Bankers on that four-block street included W. H. Eddleman, Otho S. Houston, Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt (also a lawyer), and C. H. Silliman.

Pennsylvania Avenue had a bit more variety. Winfield Scott who listed his occupation in the city directory as simply “capitalist” (in boldface), was Fort Worth’s biggest taxpayer. Also on Pennsylvania Avenue were three cotton brokers (Neil P. Anderson, Hermann Frerichs, and T. B. Owens) and four bankers (H. C. and W. R. Edrington, H. B. Herd, and G. E. Cowden).

As the Cattle Barons built and moved into their Quality Hill mansions during the late 1890s, Fort Worth finally had some venues large and fine enough to host some fancy soirees that might have become the genesis of our 1950s Meadowbrook Minuet but, I don’t think so…not yet.  A couple of Winfield Scott hotels, the Metropolitan and the Worth, were built near the end of the decade that would have had large enough public spaces to hold a large party but, I'm not sure that many of us knew how to do it yet.  Still, there were no paved streets yet, nor any automobiles, although a streetcar system was pretty well developed by now and we had some electricity.  Fort Worth was developing into a working man's society with a few manager-types moving in to help keep the books straight.

After the large growth seen the decade before, Fort Worth’s population growth slowed considerably during the 1890s.  It appears to have been a time of organization and consolidation of the City infrastructure itself, as well as a time of changing of the guard as the older Cattle Barons were mostly in or approaching their retirement years when they built their mansions.

As younger leaders emerged, it became clear that although some of Fort Worth’s leading citizens had earned substantial wealth, none of them were “to the manor born” in an East Coast sense.  However, since the arrival of the T&P Railroad about 20-years earlier, an inflow of people, news, and new ideas had been contributing to the maturation of our Chisolm Trail campsite.  And some of our leading citizens had taken the opportunity to travel “back East” to see for themselves, the big cities they had been hearing about.  But, we had a long way to go to catch up with magical places like Chicago, where much of our cattle herds headed for processing and New York, where a lot of our beef was consumed and where Jay Gould and the T&P Railroad money originated…..

Chicago 1870--before the great 1871 fire destroyed much of this...

Fort Worth 1890--a rare shot of the Texas Spring Palace..up 2-years, then burned down.

Fort Worth 1899 - 10th Street viewing east..Houston shown above, is 2-blocks ahead and Hell's Half Acre starts on the right side of 10th St.

Plainly, although some of us had some money, we weren't quite ready to work on getting our own Cowtown Society up and running just yet...and forget about minuets out on the lawn...for now, anyway.  It would take a few more years of Summers and 35 mph train rides "back East" for some of us to start developing our own notions of how Cowtown Society ought to work.  And in 1900, what better place to start learning than in New York City?  After all, weren't the Astors and Vanderbilts going at one another for the top spot in NYC society about then?  Why, yes they were....and that story is next....

Circa 1900:  
Fort Worth population.............26,700
New York City population...3,400,000

Next, The NYC Connection and "The" Mrs. Astor's famous 400

Monday, September 21, 2015

The EHHS Social Order – 11.2.3 – Early Cowtown Society - After the T&P

It’s difficult to find early pictures of Ft. Worth taken during its formative years following the 1876 arrival of the T&P Railroad.  For one thing a small, dusty village of just a few hundred frontier stockmen was of little interest to photographers having the requisite “modern” photo equipment…the gear was bulky and difficult to transport over long distances.  Thankfully, there are number of miscellaneous images in circulation that do provide random snapshots of the small town that help describe how the town was developing from 1876-1895.  Taken from a Penn Street home in 1885, shown above is the earliest known photograph of what was the developing skyline.

Thankfully, the early Ft. Worth builders did manage to establish one City view that has remained substantially unchanged for over 130-years; that being, Main Street either north to the Courthouse or south to the rail yards with some occasional off-axis views to fill-in the texture detail.  Countless photographers, both professional and amateur, have taken those pictures from various vantage points along Main Street such that a collection of them really does a good job of illustrating the growth and changes over that period of time.

With the coming of the T&P railroad, Fort Worth became the cattle shipping center for all those Texas free range cattle that had been driven up the Chisolm and other trails to the Kansas railheads.  In addition, the rail line provided much easier access to the country’s newest frontier lands from the much larger population centers of Chicago and New York.

A young (27) Frederick Remington’s amusing letter home to his girl friend suggests one young man’s feel for the place, circa 1888.

Sunday July 1, 1888

My dear girl,

Here I am at last—leave in the morning by stage for Fort. Sill—spent a day in Fort Worth with Hough—had a devil of a time—the mosquitoes like to eaten me up—there is not a square inch on my body that is not bitten—and oh oh oh how hot it is here—I have sweat and sweat my clothes full—I can fairly smell myself—I am dirty and look like the devil and feel worse and there is no help for me.

Well you can bet I am going to make the dust fly and get through as soon as I can—This is a miserable little frontier town with a little hen coop of a hotel—I am nearly starved to death—This Texas grub is something frightful—and my room—I wish you could see it.  You would smile—I fully agree with Phil Sheridan “If I owned Texas and hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.”—

Well all this is very discouraging but it’s an artist’s life.  I have no idea how long this thing will take for these Indians are scattered all over the earth but I “touch and go” and you can bet I won’t spend the evening with them—still I came to do the wild tribes and I do it.

Love Missie
Your Old Boy,

Now, while Remington and Russell were venturing out into the Indian Territories to record what they saw and create their artwork, a young Amon Carter about age 10, who would become perhaps the most important influence on what Fort Worth would become, was growing up in Crafton, about 60-miles northwest of town.  Carter, together with his future friend, oilman Sid Richardson, were too young to have known Remington and Russell during their prime years, but would later enthusiastically embrace and collect their art.  Those collections reside in Fort Worth museums today and form perhaps the greatest accumulation American Western Frontier Art in the world.  More on them later.

Frontier cattlemen started building “city” homes in Fort Worth during the 1890s that dwarfed all residences that had been built during the previous 30-years of settlement.  The earliest large homes went up a little north of the Courthouse on Samuels Ave. and since they were built of wood, nearly all of them have either burned or rotted away.  Only the Garvey house remains today as a reflection of what once was.  Moving to Fort Worth made sense for the regional Cattle Barons.  Their herds had been shipped out from there since the T&P came to town in 1876.  Setting prices and making the deals was done right there in town at the Exchange and the money flowed through Van Zandt’s bank, among others.

With a rapidly growing population, Ft. Worth was quickly developing some of the more refined creature comforts the large cities back East had been enjoying for about a generation by the 1890s.  Waggoner and Burnett both had private rail cars they used for travel.  There were probably others…an interesting research project to find some pictures might be in the oft.  But, for most folks, it was the large homes they built in Quality Hill that left the lasting impressions.

...and, Van Zandt had managed to help cure the lack of any saloons in 1886, there were 68 recorded in the City Directory., Quality Hill residents and details...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The EHHS Social Order – 11.2.2 – Early Cowtown Society - Cattle Drives

1865-1880s.   At the end of the Civil War when millions of (Spanish) longhorn cattle were left on the plains of Texas without a market, the Union Pacific was building west across Kansas. Joseph McCoy, an Illinois stockman, believed these cattle could be herded north for shipment by rail. He built yards at Abilene, Kansas and sent agents to notify the Texas cattlemen. In 1867 the first cattle drives came up the Chisholm Trail and during the next five years, more than a million head were received at McCoy’s Abilene rail head.

Settling near Dan Waggoner’s ranches on the North Texas open range was Samuel Burk Burnett, a 19-year old young man closer in age to Dan’s son William Thomas, than to Dan himself.  During the ensuing 25, or so years, the Waggoners and the Burnetts built their herds and their fortunes driving tens of thousands of cattle to market each spring.  Their cattle drives and those of many other open range ranchers caught the imagination of the generations to follow as being the last days of our western frontier and of the American cowboy.  Burnett’s ranches, located just west of Waggoner’s, grew in several parcels to total about 350,000 acres at their peak.

It would be the next generations of Waggoners and Burnetts, along with a number of other open-range ranchers who, as they aged and prospered from their cattle businesses, would move to early day Ft. Worth to build their spacious city homes during the waning days of the 19th century.  But before anyone in Ft. Worth could start dancing a minuet out on a lawn, a city would have to be built first.

The Chisolm Trail passed right through Fort Worth which offered transient cowboys a convenient waypoint while driving their South Texas herds through on their way to McCoy's Abilene, Kansas rail headFt. Worth provided them an opportunity  to reprovision, rest their stock, and blow off some steam.  The constant stream of cattle and cowboys contributed to at least two very early civic improvements toward the establishment of Fort Worth as a city of the future.  First, Van Zandt’s note of there not being a single saloon in the town was soon rectified and next, a permanent settlement of sorts began its existence on the south end of what would some day be downtown….Hell’s Half Acre (HHA).  Remnants of Hell's Half Acre were still standing in the southern part of downtown when we were kids....and the area is now largely covered by the Tarrant County Convention Center.

1876.  New York financier, Jay Gould, was the ramrod behind pushing the rail line south from Kansas into Texas.  First, the line came into Marshall, then Dallas by 1873, and after the bank panic of 1873 had passed…into Ft. Worth by 1876.  The arrival of the railroad was the first significant link to a larger world than Ft. Worth had ever seen.  Our population then was about 500-600 people.

Of course, all of us learned of the Golden Spike joining the very first Transcontinental railroad in 1869 at Promontory Point in Utah but, understanding the significance of the arrival of rail lines into the country’s hinterlands was probably lost on most of us.  Think of it this way, after the Civil War, New York City was the center of most United States commerce…it was like the stout tree stretching toward the sky, it’s root system hidden out of sight below the surface.  As the map below shows, the railroads acted very much like that tree’s root system by connecting the rest of the country and its products to the trunk…NYC ! 

And once we had more efficient transportation leading to the big city than horse-drawn stage coaches, the possibility of some of us learning the minuet was substantially improved but, we weren't there yet.

Next -  Quality Hill

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The EHHS Social Order – 11.2.1 – Early Cowtown Society - Settlement

One might wonder how we 10-11 year old Texans, growing up in mid-20th century Ft. Worth, managed to find ourselves out on the front lawn of the East Side’s  Meadowbrook Elementary School one evening wearing bright white sports jackets, dancing the minuet with pretty little girls wearing, delicate light lace and tulle party dresses with ruffle sweetheart busts, nipped waists, lace overlay and super full cupcake poof circle skirts, made up of one lace layer with attached tulle cascading ruffles, one layer of tulle and fully lined with taffeta material.”
Scarcely 50-years before that evening on the Meadowbrook lawn, our hometown had just gotten its first paved downtown street and the Wrights had just begun their ventures skyward in a Wright Flyer.  To imagine there was a deep tradition of high society soirées for which we were preparing, was wrong.  Until only a few decades before our time, most of our ancestors made their living from tough jobs and working the land.  Fancy soirées, such as those in which we began to participate in the early 1960s had not been a multi-generational tradition.  I think they may have actually gotten their start sometime in the late 1930s, perhaps in conjunction with the 1936 Texas Centennial celebration.  There was certainly a large pavilion hosting frequent dances at Casino Beach on Lake Worth by this time.

Ft. Worth’s social history isn’t very deep and is probably best explained by a cursory look at the principal contributors to the city’s growth; a few people and their occupations.  As youngsters, we probably got a brief look at the last days of the parochial nature in which a lot of small to medium-size cities conducted their variously unique, yet significantly similar “social orders” after WWII, after which things got a lot larger and our options expanded.

The term, Cattle Barons, is a general nod to the area’s more industrious, earliest Texas settlers that flowed into the new Republic after it gained its independence from Mexico.  Since this early Texas history is varied and largely unrelated to my EHHS “social order” exploration, I'll mention a few of our earliest settlers only in the context of noting their contributions to the development of Ft. Worth itself.  Their contributions started the process of setting down the initial premises for our notions of  “polite society” almost a century later.

The 1833 Map - This is the earliest map I’ve found showing good detail of Texas just before Independence--have a look, it's a large map.  Just 3-years before this map was published, some of my early ancestors put down stakes in Arkansas, just across Red River where they opened a couple of taverns to serve the flow of newly arriving Texas pioneers bound for Austin’s Colony.  Their location is marked on the map, as are the approximate locations of (future) Ft. Worth and an arrow marking the point where the famous cattle drives would cross Red River about 30-years later.  Note that the crossing shows a then known trail leading to it from the northwest....most likely an ancient Indian crossing.

1850s - Dan Waggoner (1828-1903) was one of the first settlers in our area of North Texas and his arrival was described by another writer thusly….

“In the 1850s, he moved from Hopkins County to Wise County, Texas with his son, an African slave, six horses and 242 Longhorn cattle.  They settled on Catlett Creek, near Decatur.  The land was 'open range' when they first arrived.

In 1856, he purchased 320 acres of land near Cactus Hill, and moved his family there.  He later purchased more land on Denton Creek, seven miles east of Decatur.  Each time, the whole family moved with him.  Over the next three decades, he purchased more land in Wise County as well as Clay County, Wichita County, Wilbarger County, Foard County, Baylor County, Archer County, and Knox County.

Waggoner's landholdings became known as the (535.000 acre) 'Waggoner Ranch.'  With his son Tom, he also owned five banks, three cottonseed oil mills, and a coal company.

In 1883, he built the Waggoner Mansion, also known as 'El Castile', in Decatur, where he resided with his family.” 

“El Castile” is still standing but has been uninhabited for years.  As time passed, his son Tom Waggoner and his offspring would make a lasting impact on early Fort Worth by constructing several large homes in Quality Hill and River Crest…more about him later.
 ***  ***  ***

Khleber M. Van Zandt (1836 – 1930) arrived in Fort Worth in August 1865 and found "a sad and gloomy picture," as the town had a population of only 250 people and lacked "even a saloon." 

He began a dry-goods business that succeeded and allowed him to participate in other business endeavors. In 1875 he organized the Tarrant County Construction Company, which built the Texas and Pacific roadbed from Dallas to Fort Worth. In 1874, with John Peter Smith, James Jones Jarvis, and Thomas A. Tidball, Van Zandt organized Tidball, Van Zandt and Company, forerunner of the Fort Worth National Bank.  According to his biographer, he was a typical Texan, "one of the quiet men who built homes, . . . engaged in business, promoted towns, . . . opened schools, and enforced law and order."  (The page at left is from a c.1914 special publication entitled "Makers of Fort Worth" showing a contemporary bio - good read)

Van Zandt built several homes over the span of his long life, one of which was a small farm plot on which the Ft. Worth Cultural District stands today.  His last residence was a fine, large home befitting his later life stature as the prosperous banker.  It sat on the land just east of and straddling the West 7th Street bridge, as you approach the city’s 7th St business district…right where I got pulled over for my first ($10) speeding ticket as we motored briskly over the bridge after a date on the west side.

...more in Part 2

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The EHHS Social Order – 11.1 – Dating May be a Contact Sport – Part 2

Having wheels available and the charter to get on with dating was only a preliminary hurdle we had to overcome.  Now what?  Where the heck do we go and what are we going to do?  Of course, there were school sponsored dances and individual club sponsored gatherings, but they were infrequent and always seemed like an office party to me.  Why socialize with people you spend so much of your daily life with, a significant percentage of whom you scarcely know and a few that you flat don’t like? 

The house parties seem to have quickly faded as the rush to find some boy/girl friends ramped up; their function as mixers no longer serving their purpose once pairings increasingly emerged and solidified.  The time was at hand to start fogging up some car windows.

Along with the realization that we were going to need some money for expenses, came the realization that in order to make a date somewhat interesting, we were going to need to tap into some creativity.  Our 1961 East Side really lacked much variety for entertainment…a couple of drive-in movie theaters and hamburger stands.   The Gateway Theater was there but, we had been going to the Gateway movies since we were kids…these early dates needed to be something more special than the old Gateway. 

There were a couple of drive-in movie theaters but, by the time we got our hands on the steering wheels, they were showing “B” films and some of them perhaps passing for raunchy in those days.  Bowling was always there but, it wasn’t very conducive to quiet conversation and maybe some snuggling.  We weren’t yet sophisticated nor well-heeled enough to try dinner dates, although the wonderful Italian Inn stood ready on East Lancaster, should we need it.  The Italian Inn was started by Janis Smith’s (EH ‘64, if she hadn’t moved to Highland Park HS) dad, Sid and his partner, Armand Jones.  It had a terrific atmosphere for our early romantic ambitions…private booths with doors on them!  But, we weren’t yet old enough to order the Chianti. 

Now, these early dates really called for some quick o.j.t. …you know the kind, which way to tilt your head on the approach to avoid bumping noses, how to keep from clicking your teeth together…stuff like that.  Then there was the arm around her shoulders ordeal that called for struggling with some serious muscle fatigue while holding it still so as not to risk screwing something up …etc.  Of course, these were minor adjustments that once mastered, faded into fond memory. 

Since young boys/men are naturally curious creatures, once their curiosities are satisfied, their focus and inquisitiveness tends to quickly wander on.  If our girls had only known, it might have behooved them to simply accept the curious attention, secure in the knowledge that his mind would very soon shift to something else.  But no, we were all treated to that amusing female affliction…the twitching shoulder often accompanied by the forearm deflection or swat.  It was actually kind of fun to make a feint just to see her reflexive defenses deploy….sort of a Pavlovian thing.

As a bashful lad, unsure of how his own properties and features were seen by our lovely girls, my approach to the wonderful opportunity was a measured one.  Close observation of Gay and her pals at MJH had shown that when “the girls” liked someone, they tended to act like playful puppies…lots of laughs, playful punches, and in Gay’s case, an insufferable infatuation with that damned Roby.  Glenn Brandon and Charlie Rigby were favorites; so was Paul Tate and Bobby Dillard…their common threads were outgoing personalities and they were smart.  I had the smart part down pretty well but, an outgoing personality wasn’t my thing.  Recently, Girl #3 described me as an ironic wit, thoughtful, and intelligent…sounds good to me….I’ll  take it.  She also described our dates as, “egghead dates” which, well for heaven’s sake…I thought of them as sophisticated.  Hmm…they probably were sophisticated and on reflection, despite appearances to the contrary, she wasn’t…not yet. 

As Carl (’64) brilliantly observed in his Teen Canteen piece, seeing our distaff counterparts mature into increasingly serious potential romantic interests was something that snuck up on us.  Gone were the “sugar and spice and everything nice” days…and here was, well, we weren’t too sure what but, we knew we needed to find out.  The Harry Potter cast shown below as they made their same transition in public view is very illustrative of the phenomena.  Wow!

Very soon we started having to face the sad fact that a lot of our girls were going steady or otherwise engaged with someone that we may not have known or even noticed.  Not only had the ’61 and ’62 class “gulls” swooped in during our Sophomore year of wheelless purgatory, gulls from other schools had been picking them off, too!  What a miserable situation!  But, I’m told by several former classmates that taking themselves out of the game too early came back to bite them later, when they were Seniors, the older gulls had moved on, and us ’63 boys had become otherwise involved.

A light review of our CLAN mug shots from those years suggest a few things; one, our girls were probably right in looking to the gulls when they could…our ’63 crop of boys was seriously deficient in budding Redford or O’Neal prototypes and, our ’63 beauties were numerous, outnumbering the few of us devilishly handsome types by perhaps 6:1.  Doubt me?  Compare a picture of Dianne Hardin or Carolyn Almond or Cheryl Reeder as CLAN Sophomores and with most of the dozens of Sophomore boys in our class and you'll see what I mean.

Asking a girl out on a date was another psychological hurdle to overcome.  There was the direct approach, perhaps over a lunch table or in the hallway but, those were fraught with potential problems…the potential for embarrassment, having an audience for what was fundamentally an ad hoc private matter, and the risk of screwing things up with her nearby girlfriend if she were your fall-back position.  Of course, there was always that infernal telephone.

I don’t recall how I made my approaches to Girls #1 & 2 but, Girl #3 remains clear in memory…a simple, painfully brief, “ya wanna” was probably the extent of it since I didn’t have much expectation of success; she, still being the reigning goddess of the old MJH lunchroom table that had reconvened at EHHS.  But, I had a wonderful advantage…she was pinned to a table in the hallway tending to some club fund-raising activity and had nowhere to escape.  Flustered and unable to run away, she quickly looked one-way, then the other and said, “can I get back to you?”

“Sure,” I said….heck, it wasn’t a “no,” now was it?  And, she had bought herself a few moments to think it over.  This being a nothing ventured, nothing gained situation, I was neither anxious nor complacent since there was nothing to be lost in the venture!

An hour or two later came the Western Union response shown above, and Gus had effectively ended his sampling of our abundance of beautiful EHHS girls, sent Steve Means into a deep funk, and judging from some of their sporadic wistful hallway glances over the next couple of years, may have even tuned up the “Meadowbrook Ladies” a bit,.  The telephone was never again a menace…she kept saying, “Yes, I’d love to.”

Now, having bagged our 8th grade MJH lunchroom table’s unanimous choice as it’s foremost goddess, quickly came the quandary of what to do with her.  This was certainly uncharted waters and young Gus was but a pollywog in them.  Fortunately, Dad had a couple of nice, fairly new cars that he readily made available to me for the cost of the gas to run them so, I wasn’t faced with having to make do with a jalopy.  One of my recent correspondents mentioned that his banger was so rough that his sister refused to ride in it…and by extension, etc.  What other lads had to contend with, I really don’t know since we had essentially stopped sharing social intelligence with one another….this was yet another competition between us and a serious one, at that.

Finding interesting things to do on the early 1960s East Side was a challenge…there wasn’t much.  Oh sure, you had the periodic dances at school or one of the rec centers but, never having had the time to pay much attention to learning how to look cool whilst dancing, I never took time to learn or, with the sports, never really had the time…I think she was the same way as she kept her plate full with lots of extracurricular activities.  You could double-date to one of the hamburger stands, then to a drive-in movie, and grub through the movie but, I had judged the reigning goddess of the MJH/EHHS lunch table gang to be classier than that.  Although double-dates could be a great aid in keeping conversation lively, Girl #3 and I never needed any assistance with that, at least none that I recall.  

Our time in history was within an interesting period of transition in the music industry.  We were evolving from “swing” which we sort of morphed into “rock n’ roll” with “bop, bunny hops, hokey pokies, strolls,” and when Motown entered the scene, it seemed that a “new” dance was invented just to go with each new song release.  There was no way in hell I was going to keep up with all that stuff; but, close dancing remained a consistent and pleasant just got a little closer as you got a little older.

Be that as it may, a happy transformation occurred in the boys’ favor about the same time we started exercising those new drivers' licenses…we got a new supply of girls as the ‘64s came aboard for their Sophomore year.  Just by the numbers, the situation was obvious…where we had had about 150 of our ’63 girls available, the arriving ‘64s roughly doubled that number to 300!!  Once again, things were looking up.

Movies were an old standby that had been serving most communities around the country since they were invented in the early part of the century.  Since I had judged the Gateway as not “uptown” enough for Girl #3, that left the downtown Ft. Worth theaters that had been around essentially unchanged, since the very early days of downtown and for something more modern, we had the newer Ridglea theater on the West Side that usually screened first-run films.  Dallas had its own well established “theater row” on Elm St. but, I don’t recall our going that far to see a movie.  And all of those theaters were much fancier than our old East Side Gateway.
A job in the local neighborhood threw off enough to cover expenses and even enough to bump our dates a bit more "uptown"…the live stage musicals at Casa Mañana and occasionally, the Dallas State Fair Music Hall....the Egghead dates.
But, there was something else afoot during these years…the thing that most likely set in my head the notion of EHHS being an odd social culture.  Ever since starting this blog and canvassing others about their recollections, I’ve been impressed and amused by the responses from some of our top former classmates.

“An in-crowd?  Yes, definitely.”

“I was a good girl.”  (ed. note: yes, I'm sure you were.)

“I dated a lot and never paid attention to it but, yes it was there.”

“I sort of regret it.”

“Snobs”  “Snobby”

“I was a goody two-shoes.”

“I wasn’t near the level of that crowd to have any knowledge of it.”

“I left there after graduation and never looked back.”

“The Meadowbrook Ladies.”

…and a number of others responding along those lines.  Interesting that their thoughts and recollections fairly closely matched my own, which I had for nearly a half-century put off to Bible Belt religions, parochialism, and a fairly common adolescent thoughtlessness.  But, there was more to it than that.

If Carole Stallcup hadn’t erupted in the hall all those years ago, it’s very likely that I wouldn’t have had any knowledge of them…Thaelis, that is.  And it wasn’t until making some inquires in the past few years that I even knew Delphi existed.  Both of them, I think actually skewed our EH social life to some degree and I’ll tell their story after a couple of introductory pieces that must be inserted here, to better explain them.

Until then, 

Next, The Cattle and Oil Barons