What do an east Texas opera house, a cantankerous mule and the Marx Brothers have to do with each other? Turns out…quite a bit!
Around 1910 a trio of brothers named Leonard Joseph, Adolph and Julius Henry Marx were touring the vaudeville circuit with their act, which was mainly singing popular tunes and doing a little dancing. The thing was…they weren’t terribly adept at either of those things.
One night they were doing their act at the Opera House in Nacogdoches, Texas, one of the stops known as “tank towns” on the performance circuit. Nope, that’s not a compliment, but I’m sure they were glad to perform anywhere they could. (A tank town was considered a small, unimportant town where only trains stopped to take on water. There – now you’re all set for trivia night!)
During this particular show, a man ran in from the street shouting “Runaway mule!” Well now, THAT had to be more entertaining than these guys, so almost everyone in the audience ran out to see the excitement.
It seems that a mule had begun kicking a wagon it was hitched to until it broke loose on Church Street beside the Opera House and started running rampant through the streets of downtown. With their audience now outside on the streets watching the action, the brothers were left on stage. And Julius was fuming mad. Once the mule had been lassoed and subdued, the audience returned to their theatre seats – they HAD paid for tickets, after all.
And Julius let loose on them.
He began singing the tune of a popular little ditty but changed the words to include the story about how “the Jackass is the flower of Tex-ass.” As he kept hurling insults into the audience the brothers noticed something unexpected. The Texans were laughing and applauding. The snide remarks and clever insults were a hit!
That was a turning point in their career, and they began to develop the routines around sarcastic humor that would become their trademark.
Soon, Julius would paint on a greasepaint moustache and go by the name Groucho – a surly man who walked with a stooped posture. Leonard Joseph would adapt the personae of an accented immigrant by the name of Chico. And Adolph (who, by the way, understandably later changed his name to Arthur) would still rely on his brilliant musical talents as the wordless Harpo.
After they found success, they were occasionally joined by brothers Milton (Gummo) and Herbert Manfred (Zeppo).
But one of America’s most recognized comedy acts may never have happen if it weren’t for that east Texas Mule.
The Opera House is still standing today at 329 East Main Street in Nacogdoches . . . without a mule in sight.
‘Tis the season for ghostly fun…and boy did we find some in Richmond!
As a cemetery historian and author of a couple of books about cemeteries and ghosts, October is understandably a busy time of the year for me – filled with giving tours and presentations. So it was a special treat last night when my husband and I took time for ourselves to TAKE a ghost tour of the historic district of Richmond, Texas. It’s one I’ve been wanting to see for years, and now I can’t wait to go back with friends next year!
Richmond is filled with history, which usually – in turn – means that through the years tragedies and unfortunate events have affected the lives of those who lived there. We found out that even the clock tower of the Fort Bend County Courthouse (where we got our marriage license many moons ago) has a story of death and a haunting attached to it.
We were lucky enough to have Jessica Avery, programs coordinator for the Fort Bend Museum, as our tour guide – assisted by a charming group of other museum employees and volunteers.
One of the things I appreciate about ghost tours organized by historical society groups is that they have a respect for true history as their basis. (Read that as “they don’t just make up a bunch of stories and get their references to history muddled – -I’ve seen that done way too often.) Though the Fort Bend Museum does historical tours of their properties throughout the year so you can learn about the historic aspects of them, their ghost tours focus on the tales and legends associated with the places. So . . . much . . . fun.
And no, I’m not going to share the stories they worked so hard to gather here. I want you to hear them for yourselves in the spots where they occurred!
It was an easy-paced walking tour as we followed Jessica through the streets nearby Moore Mansion and into old downtown Rosenberg as she pointed out different sites and shared their stories. Used to documenting with school groups, she has a lovely, clear speaking voice that was easily understandable even over the occasional street noise. The museum staff has visited with local business owners, so they’re able to share their unexplained experiences and sightings as well.
Several charming small buildings that belong to the group such as the McFarlane House are included, and attendees are encouraged to peek inside the windows! Charming by day, certain places with so much past can contain rooms where even the most serious-minded history experts may become so unsettled they have to gather their things and leave when darkness falls.
One of the properties even has a gravemarker in the front yard. What’s better is that it belongs to Texas hero Deaf Smith “The Texas Spy!” His name may sound familiar to you if you took Texas history in school. I had no idea such an illustrious person’s commemoration would be found inside the white picket fence of the property. There may even be more unmarked graves beneath the house, which was moved to the property much later.
Our final stop of the evening was at the fascinating 1883 Moore Mansion, home base for the Fort Bend Museum. And they definitely saved the best for last!
If you haven’t heard it before – but you probably have if you read my blog – funerals “back in the day” were held at home, and the staff had set up an entire Victorian funeral scene in one of the rooms complete with a mounting wreath, coffin, samples of mourning jewelry and announcements, and draped mirrors and pictures. Beautifully done, and very appropriate for the Halloween season.
The house was lit throughout only with battery operated candles and hand held flashlights, which added to the mood. Our guides gave us a tour upstairs and downstairs while telling us some eerily intriguing tales, then let us wander through the large home by ourselves for a bit.
Sign up early – they do sell out. You can choose to do a Halloween tour of the Moore Home or a ghost tour of the area. We chose to do a combo tour of both because . . . who wants to choose?
The Fort Bend Museum has events throughout the year for all ages. You can check the upcoming plans here.
It’s Cover Reveal Day!
I’m so excited to finally share the full cover of the upcoming ‘A History of the Hotel Galvez’ with you. Sending a huge thanks to the designers at
The History Press who put together the cover look during quarantine. I’m so happy with it, and receiving the image during the uncertain days of Covid was a great light to hold onto.
I really wanted to relay the historic element of of the hotel, and after going through the images I submitted I think they definitely chose a winner.
Today I’ll be reviewing the galleys (a final proof of the book with photo placements, etc.) and sending it back to the presses to become “real.”
Release day is February 1, and it’s already available for pre-order here.
I’m looking forward to sharing some of the amazing stories behind the “Queen of the Gulf.” Have you ever stayed at the Hotel Galvez?
The first tale I’ll share this October is probably one of the most famous to native Texans, and takes place in Bailey’s Prairie.
If you happen to be motoring south on Highway 35 and see a bouncing orange glow . . . it’s probably Old Brit Bailey in search of his jug of whiskey!
James Briton “Brit” Bailey was more than a real person. He was a real character. Known for his eccentric personality, love of drink and penchant for brawls, life was never dull in his presence. At six feet tall (quite a height for the time), was an imposing figure with his jet-black hair and broad brimmed hat.
“Brit” was born in North Carolina on August 1, 1779 in North Carolina. After fighting in the War of 1812 the pioneer came to Texas in 1818 with his second wife, Dot, six children and his slaves, settling in what came to be known as Brazoria County. Several years later Stephen F. Austin would arrive with the “Old Three Hundred” to settle parcels of land in the area.
Not one to pass up a fight or give ground on a cause he believed in, Brit was also a veteran of the Battle of Jones Creek in 1824, and the Battle of Velasco in 1832.
Locals love to share a story about the rowdy rancher that captures his personality. It seems that he shot at a traveling preacher’s feet to watch him dance. After the episode when the men were sharing a drink, the preacher took the opportunity to grab Brit’s gun and made the same demand. Roaring with delight, Brit jumped onto a table and energetically danced a jig while onlookers applauded.
His temper was as legendary as his humor, and one night he apparently set fire to all the buildings on his own property except the main house.
On December 6, 1832 Brit passed away quietly in his own bed from fever that many think may have been cholera.
Peculiar instructions in his will provided one more surprise for the community. He had requested to be buried standing up (now that took a deep hole!), facing west with his rifle over his shoulder, powder horn by his side, and a jug of whiskey.
Brit didn’t want anyone passing by his grave saying, “There lies Brit Bailey” and he figured if her was standing up….they couldn’t!
He was buried in a grove near his home and though all his instructions were followed, his jug whiskey was omitted from the coffin. His widow objected to that item, saying he had imbibed enough in his lifetime.
According to legend his ghost in the form of a strange light roams his old homestead at Bailey’s Prairie looking for the lost jug of whiskey. Many describe it as having an orange glow and bobbing around about four to six feet above the ground – the eight a lantern might be held on horseback.
Back when the story originated, it was said that Old Brit searched the prairie every seven years, but either people weren’t paying attention or he’s getting thirstier because now Bailey’s Light is seen on a regular basis.
Naysayers theorize the glow is caused by puffs of natural gas escaping from the ground, but you’ll be hard pressed to convince witnesses of that.
Bailey’s Prairie, Brit Bailey Boulevard (FM 521) and even a local chapter of the DAR are named for this unique figure in Texas history.
Texas State Historical Markers telling Brit’s story can be found just outside the gates of Munson Cemetery. Unfortunately, someone has vandalized the emblem off of Brit’s marker. (Hope that Brit chased them!)
Are you brave enough to search out Bailey’s Light on a dark night on the prairie?
Subject a real person: Confirmed
Location: Bailey’s Prairie, Brazoria County. Stretch of Highway 35 between Angleton and West Columbia
Best time to see phenomenon: Twilight
For more Texas ghost stories check out
available on amazon.com.
Apple pie, apple tarts, baked apples, apple fritters, apple dumplings, apple cobbler, apple cakes, apple cookies, apple pandowdy, caramel apples, apple pancakes, apple bread pudding, fried apple pies, apple cider, Apple Brown Betty . . . is your mouth watering yet?
It might be time to set a course to Medina, the Apple Capital of Texas.
On the way home from Lost Maples State Natural Area (read more about this trip here), my friend and I made a stop at Love Creek Apple Orchards Cider Mill and Country Store to treat our tastebuds to some fall goodness.
This country store is popular stop for travelers in search of apples for snacking or baking. They offer 11 kinds, including Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala, Jonagold and Pink Lady.
If you aren’t passing by during harvest season there are still plenty of yummy things to indulge in. Walk through the store to a covered courtyard area and order up tasty freshly made apple cider, an apple dumpling with a sugary crunch, a slice of apple pie or even apple ice cream. Of course they also have burgers, sandwiches, salads and quesadillas if you’re more “hungry” than “munchie.”
If you’re feelin’ saucy, there are plenty of options to bring home as well. (We did some early Christmas shopping. Shhh!) Store shelves are lined with jars of apple butter (my favorite!), apple pie filling, jams, jellies, and syrups, And…darn…you’re also encouraged to taste samples while you browse. Old-fashioned apple-y goodness!
Whether you’re looking for a fall photo opp or just to make some memories, the Apple Store Bakery and Cafe is a tasty way to start off the fall season.
Be sure to check their website for the Great Hill Country Pumpkin Patch where pumpkin painting, apple orchard tours, farm animal petting zoo, games, hayrides, hay maze, storytelling, scarecrow building and sing-a-longs will keep the entire family entertained. For information about dates, times and entrance fees click here.
If you can’t make it to the Hill Country in the next few weeks, you can still treat yourself by ordering some of their most popular items online here.
Your tastebuds will thank you either way.
Love Creek Apple Orchards Cider Mill and Country Store
13558 TX-16 in Medina
Ewe better believe there’s something, well…sheepish about San Angelo.
No matter where you look, there they are: fiberglass sheep sculptures in every color and design imaginable.
Some cities have cows, horses or pelicans. Here sheep started grazing around town in 2007 as a nod to the town’s past, when it was known as the Wool Capital of the World.
Each is sponsored (usually by the location where they’re making an appearance) and given a punny name: Happy Trails to EWE, Lambscapes, Don’t EWE Mess with Texas, Lucky EWE, Lamb of God, and more. MANY more.
If you’re ready to start off on a sheep-tacular scavenger hunt of your own, this list is a great place to start.
Ah, fall: cool breezes, pumpkin patches and leaves changing colors….
Wait! Change of season colors in Texas? Yep, and I’m here to tell you exactly where to mark your map for a beautifully vivid fall trip.
Lost Maples State Natural Area is a pristine destination about five miles north of Vanderpool on Ranch Road 187. Typical of most state parks and natural areas, March through May are busy months due to the cooler weather.
But Lost Maples’ most popular months are October and November when the foliage is ablaze in greens, reds, orange and gold.
Uvalde big tooth maples, oaks, Florida basswood, American sycamore, green ash, black willow, sugar hackberry and pecan trees tucked into limestone canyons carved by the upper Sabinal River provide the dazzling seasonal color. Add in an array of wildlife and seasonal wildflowers and this becomes one of the must-see autumn spots in the state.
Sound amazing? It is!
With over 2,900 scenic acres to explore you can fill your visit with hikes, picnicking, photography, camping, backpacking, fishing, geocaching and bird watching.
A birding guide for Lost Maples here.
Fall temperatures at Lost Maples are mild, and the stargazing at night is jaw dropping. The sky looked like a sea of twinkling glitter. I used a handy phone app to identify some of the stars and constellations we spotted. You can find more information about the free app here.
Stop into the ranger station at the entrance parking lot for a small but interesting display about Lost Maples, and don’t forget to pick up a free trail map to set your course. There are ten miles of well-maintained hiking trails, including a challenging, steep seven-mile loop that takes you along the top of a 2,200 foot cliff.
Even on the easiest trails, you’ll enjoy seeing steep canyon walls, streams, ponds and rocky bluffs.
Remember to take plenty of water and normal hiking supplies like sunscreen and a small first aid kit.
Dogs are welcome, but if they’re hiking along with you be sure to bring their water. It’s a workout for them, too.
I was intent on finding Monkey Rock during my hike, one of most photographed spots in the park year round, and was grateful to find several signs indicating the general route to him. Just follow the marked trail and as you come into a clearing by the bluffs, look up! There’s no mistaking his toothless grin.
I dare you not to smile when you spot him.
In addition to reptiles and insects (even tarantulas!), keep an eye out for an array of birds, gray fox, white-tailed deer, armadillos, raccoons, bobcats, squirrels and an occasional javelina. Most of the wildlife will understandably avoid people, but the more tranquil (quiet!) your walk, the better chance you have of spotting them.
If you only have half a day or so, I recommend prioritizing a hike along the Maple Trail, to Monkey Rock and the Grotto with its ferns and drip springs, with a short detour to the waterfall.
Taking time for a picnic lunch and skipping stones across one of the ponds is guaranteed to wash away stress.
When hiking, remember to stay on the trails to preserve the natural habitat. Water can sometimes cross the trails during heavy rains.
Remember that you’re in a canyon, so don’t expect cell phone reception inside Lost Maples. It’s a great opportunity to disconnect from the world and enjoy nature.
The park only accommodates about 250 cars, so if you go during the peak season you’ll want to arrive early to claim your spot.
Weekends fill up fast with only 300 guest slots available from 8 a.m. until noon, and another 150 spots from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Once you’re there you can stay until 10 pm.
Here’s the secret: you can actually purchase a Save the Day pass 30 days in advance online! When I chose the dates of my visit I counted backward on my calendar and jotted myself a reminder to book as soon as the dates were able to be claimed.
As with most popular destinations, weekdays are less crowded. My friend and I went on a weekday to avoid the weekend crush and were thankful to have the trails virtually to ourselves.
Another insider tip: Though the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November are traditionally the height of the fall color season, this can vary from year to year due to weather patterns. Be sure to check resources like the fall foliage conditions for the most current updates. A link is here.
When you’re ready to satisfy that appetite you’ve earned after a wonderful day of hiking and exploring, check out the nearby Lost Maples Café in Vanderpool. Click the name for more details.
My only regret is that Lost Maples was on my wish list of destinations for so long before I actually made time to go. Now I can’t wait to go back and take others along!
If you think this neon is gorgeous (I do!), you should see their boots!
Four generations of craftsman have been making custom Leddy’s boots using the same methods passed down since 1922. If you stop in to order a pair for yourself, your custom measurements will be added to the book alongside rock stars, sports heroes, presidents and royalty. A hand written code inside each boot allows Leddy’s to trace every pair they’ve made the original owner.
Today they offer custom boots, saddles, jewelry, belts, accessories and more in unique Texas style.
This sign adorns their original shop in San Angelo. You’ll find their other location in the Fort Worth stockyards.
The sign is just as show stopping in the daylight. Which do you prefer: the daytime design, or the lit up night time version?
Bet you didn’t know that Texas has an official state water lily…
I mean, c’mon. There’s pretty much a state EVERYTHING of Texas, so why not this?
And I’ve discovered the ideal place to see it in person: The International Waterlily Collection Garden in San Angelo.
For over thirty years, visitors to this unique outdoor space have been stopping to admire the fascinated flowers and lily pads. Ho hum, you say? What if I told you that some of the pads are eight feet in diameter!
A rainbow of blooms of up to 150 species inhabit six pools. What’s even more amazing is that the varieties on view are only about 1% of owner Ken Landon’s collection, which encompasses close to 90% of all water lilies, including some that have become extinct in their native lands. The types in the pools are changed annually, and signs identify many of the species.
My husband and I had so many thing on our “to see” list while we were in San Angelo, that I admit this park fell into the “if we have time” category. Thank heaven we did! The descriptions of it that I hadn’t done it justice.
Dozens of dragonflies and birds flitted around the pools and flowers, which made it even more enchanting.
The long flowering season of the waterlilies (from April to October) provides ample opportunity to see them but the height is September, which is when San Angelo’s Lily Fest is! Click this link for updates about the festival.
The best time to see the flowers is in the morning, but some of the blooms only occur in the evening.
But what about the Texas State Water Lily? I’m glad you asked! On April 26, 2011, the 82nd Legislature of the State of Texas formally designated Nymphaea, “Texas Dawn” as the Official Waterlily of the State of Texas. San Angelo is home to the “Texas Dawn,” which was created by Landon.
The International Waterlily Collection has been designated by the International Waterlily & Water Gardening Society as a premiere collection of lilies in existence. Pretty impressive, huh?
The display is near the corner of West Beauregard Avenue and North Park Street west of downtown San Angelo and the Concho River. The park is free to the public and open 24 hours.
So put the ‘petal to the metal’ (sorry!) and be sure to add this colorful, unique stop to your next visit to or through San Angelo.