Start Your Own Dia de los Muertos Party Tradition

    Texas traditions can originate from almost anywhere in the world, thanks to our diverse history of immigration. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that some of Mexico’s customs have been brought north of the border. The most colorful, and thought by many to be mysterious, celebration is Dia de los Muertos.

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Stacy Anderson Photography

    When I first approached a group of friends about having a Dia de los Muertos party, they were a bit hesitant. “Isn’t that kind of morbid?” “Isn’t that a celebration of death?”

    The simple answer is no – it’s something much more upbeat than you may think.

    Luckily, a few of them had seen the Disney Pixar movie “Coco” that familiarized American audiences with the celebration through a powerful story about family, community, tradition and remembrance. Think about Memorial Day, and the concept doesn’t seem so strange.

Dia de los Muertos vignette at the National Museum of Funeral History

    The gist is to celebrate the lives of our ancestors, rather than mourn their passing, by incorporating food, drink and activities they enjoyed in life. Family members create “altars” in their homes with photos of loved ones surrounded by offerings of food, flowers and mementos. Others visit family cemeteries to decorate ancestors’ graves and share stories about their lives. The days of the celebration surround the Catholic “All Souls Day” on November 2. (So it isn’t really a ‘Halloween thing” like many think.)

Stacy Anderson Photography

    Many of us no longer live in the communities of our ancestors, so circles of friends tend to become our new families. That’s why I thought having our own Dia de los Muertos celebration together would be a fun chance to celebrate all of our families and have some fun and great food at the same time! (Plus, I have some talented friends, so we’re always up for a reason to celebrate together!)

    You can easily put together your own party as well.

    Be sure to incorporate photos of loved ones who’ve passed, and share their stories. It keeps their spirit and your family lore alive.

    I not only included photos of my mother, who we lost last year to Alzheimers, but also made tissue paper flowers for decorations – a craft she taught me as a child.

Stacy Anderson Photography

    Attention to the smallest details can make a theme like this really come together. The talented Evangeline Event Designs made adorable sugar skull invitations and colorful menu cards, and I found some adorable small decorative accents, as well as a beautiful embroidered skull dishcloth at Hendley Market. The bright Fiestaware plates and platters are from Yesterday’s Best.

Stacy Anderson Photography

    No Mexican theme meal is complete without tamales. We loved these from Pennie’s Tex Mex Takeout.

Stacy Anderson Photography

    Alicia from The Kitchen Chick made chorizo with apricot sauce, Bob Armstrong queso (from the “Queso!” recipe book she carries in her store), and an amazing  Blackberry Mezcal Smash Cocktail.

    Our friend Stacy, otherwise known as the Hurried Hostess, made amazing fruit tacos and a churro bar. Yum-ola!

Stacy Anderson Photography

    But the item that really  had us all gasping in disbelief were the gorgeous cookies created by Jennifer from Good Gosh GanacheI mean, really…look at these beauties!

     Our friends Hailey and Tamara used their styling talents to help our buffet look amazing. Making this event such a group effort made it even more special.

    Many communities in Texas offer the opportunity to experience Dia de los Muertos, including San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Victoria and Austin. Check your local community calendar to see if there’s one near you, and celebrate!

I Spy….Bonnie & Clyde!

Rosenberg’s historic downtown district has been undergoing a revitalization in the past few years. It’s so great to see the number of buildings that have been standing along the streets housing local businesses for generations.

Once  Again Antiques

Among the businesses now are a few impossible to resist antique and gift stores, including Once Again Antiques at the corner of Third Street and Avenue F.

The Eagle Cafe

And you won’t believe the fun connection it has to a notorious couple!

Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow

In 1934,  the Eagle Cafe was housed in this building, and a favorite among locals. One day, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (yes, THAT Bonnie and Clyde!) came in and sat down. Even in the age before electronic media, their faces were easily recognizable, so it’s a bit surprising that no one confronted them or left to get the police.

The couple sat down, ordered lunch and ate it without ever looking up or making eye contact with the staff or other customers. Can you imagine how exciting, and perhaps a bit unnerving, it must have been for the locals inside?

The Eagle Cafe

It shouldn’t have been too surprising to have spotted them in town, since Bonnie was from Roweena, Texas and Clyde was from Ellis County, near Dallas.

When they finished their meal, they returned to their car, which they had left running out front, and left.

Shortly after this particular stop in Rosenberg, the couple was killed in a shootout in Louisiana.

These days the building is filled with happier reminders of the past, in the form of antiques. The charming co-owner proudly pointed out the small sections of exterior wall at the front where they uncovered “ghost signs” or remnants of original painted ads. They preserved them so that future generations could enjoy their find.

Once Again houses the booths from 18 different vendors and one of the best assortments of antiques I’ve seen in a long time. They also have a few art pieces, like these adorable “canines” made from antique toasters, cameras, spoons and other amusing parts. They’re worth the stop all by themselves, but the history of the building makes the visit pretty memorable, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legends, Mystery & Romance

   I love a good mystery, and a dash of romance just makes it better, right?

Rose Window

   The iconic Rose Window at Mission San Jose in San Antonio is one of the most famous windows in the world. Along with other features of five Spanish missions in the area, it is listed as one of the details that distinguish it as the first World UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas.

   Sculptor Pedro Huizar carved the quatrefoil shape entangled with the images of pomegranates, said to symbolize fertility, in 1775. Yet the ten foot tall, six-foot wide window sits only about four and a half feet above ground level. And its position in the sacristy wall (where windows were traditionally plain) and the purpose of steps leading up from the interior remain a mystery.

   But what intrigues most visitors who come especially to see this ornately carved window are the legends behind it.

   One version of its creation says that Huizar’s sweetheart Rosa either died or disappeared in a shipwreck on her way from Spain to be reunited with him in Texas.

   Another that he carved the window in the throws of despair after the woman who he came overseas to make a fortune to win, betrayed him.

   Yet another story relates that Huizar carved the masterpiece after falling in love with a wealthy woman whose family shunned him.

   Which version is true? Perhaps one…or none of them. The tales most likely took shape during a period of romanticism after the 1870s in order to attract tourists.

   But does it really matter? Sometimes the legends can be more intriguing than cold, hard facts.

   Whatever its origin, the Rose Window has become one of the most recognized architectural features in the Southwest. Miniature replications of the window can be seen in several buildings in downtown San Antonio, and there’s even a massive version at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Beaumont.

   Which version of the story would you prefer to be true?

Travel Out Loud

   I’ve ALWAYS been excited about traveling. Can you guess which one is me? Yep! Even at age six I had trouble controlling my enthusiasm for exploring.

     This is a photo of me with my mother (whose red hair I inherited, but not her demure nature) and my beautiful big sister (who I’m sure more than once has wondered if we are really from the same gene pool), on a visit to the Franklin Mountains State Park in west Texas. Dad was usually the one behind the camera, as that was one of his hobbies.

     Whether it’s playing tourist in your hometown or discovering new places, travel is full of surprises. The love of these discoveries is why I’m going to be sharing more places around Texas, old and new, to give you a peek at some of the fun to be found out there . . . and hopefully inspire you to take a trip or two to see it for yourself.

     I’ll be visiting small towns and big cities, locations close to home and on the far side of the state, historic hotels and unusual B&Bs, classic soda shops and Victorian cemeteries . . . just to start things off.

     It’s a wide open state with so much to see, so let’s fill up the tank and hit the road!

     What are your favorite Texas destinations, and what do you like to do there?

Secret Compartments

     Imagine finding the original house deed of your Victorian home, or perhaps love letters from over 100 years ago. It’s possible you’ve been walking by them on a daily basis.

     Newel posts, or the large post ending a staircase, are structurally meant to keep the rest of a staircase safely anchored, but sometimes they keep secrets as well.

Newel Post at the Carr Mansion, Galveston, Texas

     In the last half of the 19th century, machinery had advanced to make the popular “new style” of broad posts on a lathe, often leaving an empty space in the middle. It’s the hollow posts that have lent themselves to the folklore of secret hiding places.

     Before the cap of a hollow newel post was attached (or removed later), some owners rolled up their house deeds, original plans or other mementos and placed them in the void before it was closed. The item most often found is a coin, placed inside for good luck.

     The lady of the house was, of course, aware of this hidden space as it was most likely one of the few places not easily accessible by her servants, children or spouse on a daily basis. There are many family stories of love letters from previous relationships or loved ones off at war, or documents that might reveal some tawdry detail from the owners past being found years later in a newel post.

     Though most of these stories are probably the stuff of family legends, enough have been true to keep the intrigue alive.

Amity Button

     Another feature of a newel post cap sharp eyes might spy is a small round “button”  carved of ivory, whale bone or mother of pearl sometimes inlaid in the newel cap. These are called mortgage buttons or amity buttons, and signified their was no lien on the property – a point of pride for the homeowners. Not as mysterious perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.

     So the next time you tour a grand home with a large newel post anchoring the staircase, ask your guide if anyone has peeked inside. There might be a story there.

Following a Galvestonian to a Fateful Act

“Jumped headlong from a window of the Confederate Home…”

The line made me gasp out loud.

  To back up a little, I was in search for background information about Christian Henry Thieme before a recent trip to Austin to locate his grave.

  The Galvestonian was born in Germany in 1827, immigrated to Texas in 1860 and was a member of th e Catholic church He enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 34, once telling an interviewer that he had been “a private in Company B, in Cook’s heavy artillery. My first captain was Coura, and first major was Cook.”

  I knew that he and his wife Elizabeth had a family of three daughters, and they all had survived the 1900 Storm. Yet at some point, Christian ended up in the Confederate Men’s Home (for disabled veterans) in Austin.

  During the 1900 Storm, Christian and Elizabeth lived with their daughter Selma Nelson and her family at 710 Church Street. Although they didn’t lose any family members in the tragedy, they were sure to have witnessed grievous sights.

  The traumatic events caused him to become mentally unbalanced, forcing his family to send him to the home in Austin the following April.

  Suffering from rheumatism and old wounds far from home, he was dealt an additional blow when his wife died in November. She is buried in Galveston’s Oleander Cemetery, but her marker has been lost to time.

  I thought I may have found all available information about him, and then came the discovery of a newspaper account of his death on June 23, 1910.

  “Christian Thieme, an aged Confederate soldier, killed himself today by jumping headlong from a window of the Confederate Home. Thieme became mentally unbalanced at the time of the Galveston storm. Melancholia caused him to talk constantly of killing himself. Formerly an express man at Galveston, he lost all his property in the tidal wave and was force to come to the Confederate Home. None of his relatives can be located.”

  

  Stunning. And infuriating…because his family still lived in Galveston and couldn’t have been too difficult to locate.

  So I went to visit him and find his marker.

   It stands in a sea of military markers in Confederate Field at the Texas State Cemetery, with his last name misspelled as “Thiemer.” Gleaming white as if wanting someone to remember his story.

  And now he has had at least one visitor from home.

Texas State Cemetery, Confederate Field, Section 1 (F), Row B, No. 18.

 

At His Wife’s Gravesite

 

Many gravestones don’t begin to tell the story of a life or death, just listing the barest of facts. But every so often I see one that illustrates a chapter of the life (or end of life in this case) that ensures the marker was created just for this specific individual. These are the type I wish every grave had, to help us appreciate the person memorialized.

This spectacular carving portrays a father holding a young child in his arms and standing at his wife’s gravesite. I’ve never seen one like it in person.

Even with over 150 years of weathering, the details are astounding. He holds a top hat in his left hand and his child in his right. The drapes of the child’s dressing gown hang down behind it’s father’s arm. Facial features of the man are still somewhat discernible, and his wife’s grave is marked with a headstone and footstone. One knows immediately that he has been left alone to care for their small child.

It marks the resting place of Clarissa Wells Collins in Austin’s historic Oakwood Cemetery.

Clarissa, a native New Yorker, married Travis County constable  and farmer Thomas C. Collins in January 1856, when she was 30 years old.

They were blessed with a daughter, who they named Clarissa Ann (“Annie”), in July 1860 but just four months later Clarissa passed away.

On Halloween 1864 Adelaide “Addie” Swisher, Clarissa’s sister who had married James Monroe Swisher at her sister’s home in 1857, died as well presumably from postpartum complications. Her name is listed on Tom’s gravestone, along with the name “Little Lillie,” their three year old daughter who died the same year.

The following year Tom enlisted in the military and was stationed in Austin.

He joined his wife in death in April 1871.

Their young child, who is referred to in documentation alternately as Annie or Clara, ended up being raised by her aunt Ann Marie Wells in Brooklyn far from where her parents were laid to rest. She lived the rest of her life on the east coast, and I wonder if she ever came to visit their graves and stood before this stone. It’s doubtful.

So much sadness in such a short time.

But Tom’s love, and grief, is immortalized here in marble and encourages those who pass by to learn their story.

I came to Oakwood specifically to look for this marker, and made an additional discovery that made my day.

As I was photographing it, I looked at the bottom right corner and found the signature of the carver… Allen & Company Marbleworks of Galveston. Especially thrilling, since Allen owned the state’s first marbleworks, founded in Galveston in 1852 on Center Street between Strand and Mechanic. His business has now been owned by the Ott family for five generations.

The gravestone had traveled a long way to come here.

I love a good connection to Galveston history, and somehow seem to find them wherever I go.



UPCOMING CEMETERY TOUR

I’ve been getting quite a few requests  to do more cemetery history tours in Galveston in the past couple of months. So…..

I’ve scheduled a tour through Eventbrite to make it easier for individuals to sign up!

This is the cemetery tour that has been featured on “Texas Country Reporter,” “Texas Chronicles,” the local news, magazines and newspapers. I’m ready to show you that the true stories from the past really can be stranger than fiction!

We’ll meet in the Historic Broadway Cemetery District, where I’ll introduce you to some of Galveston’s past citizens, from heroes to villains, notorious to noteworthy. We’ll focus on Trinity Cemetery, where’s something here for everyone: stunning artwork, hidden symbolism, Civil War history, surprising trivia and even one resident ghost.

Follow this link to purchase your tickets, or to find out more details about the tour:

https://bit.ly/2uFLmDg

See you at the cemetery!

 

Tiny Home, Large Family!

I almost passed this adorable home by since I was on my way to an appointment earlier this week, but had to turn around to take its photo to share with you!

John Jacob and Wilhelmina “Mina” (Miller)  Theobald built this Galveston cottage at 1605 Winnie in 1892, after they had been married 14 years. It’s a bit mind-boggling that something that seems so small and quaint in comparis

on to surrounding homes actually survived the 1900 Storm.

It must have been a lively household, with four bedrooms and eight children!

Daughter Mary Elizabeth married Otto F. Lossow in the home in Oct. 1910.

Daughter Susie married Oscar Milton Scales there in 1913. For the next few years, she ran her cut flower business out of her parents home (probably because they had the luxury of a home phone). She took orders for a wide variety of cuttings for the grand homes and special occasions of her customers, including Easter lilies, hydrangeas, callas, geraniums, larkspur. coleus, roses and more.

Her two other sisters Julie and Alice never seemed to have married, but Julia became one of the first female attorneys employed by Galveston County. There were four sons as well: George, Louis, August and Charles (who was also an attorney for the county).

John owned a large carriage and blacksmith shop on Mechanic, and built many types of specialty conveyances for locals and customers in other cities. He also had a staff of ferries (trained in the horseshoeing trade) and blacksmiths. 

Mina hosted meetings of Galveston’s Young Women’s Embroidery Club at her home.

It sounds like their home was filled with beauty and joy. What a wonderful legacy.

Would you attempt to raise such a large family in this relatively small home?

Pointing the Way

When I give cemetery tours or workshops I get a lot of questions about the symbolism of different hand portrayals on gravestones.

An index finger pointing up symbolizes the hope of heaven. Knowing this causes some raised eyebrows when visitors spot any markers with a downward pointing finger.

Not to worry…it doesn’t mean the person is going ‘in the other direction!’ It just represents God reaching down for the soul (or an unexpected death).

Phew! There now, don’t you feel better?