The Hookers’ Balls: 126th Anniversary

March 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Perhaps — no, probably — the greatest events in Austin social history. Never before, and certainly never again, even in “Weird” Austin.

April 1, 1886



As rumored and as was made known to scores of young men by special invitation cards the public ball announced for last night came off. It was given by Georgia Frazer, a Fille de Joie, and mistress of a notorious bagnio of ill repute, and a few days ago she sent out cards of invitation. For the nonce the houses of ill fame in the city were emptied of their evil-minded, unconscionable inmates, and under the protecting wings of the city government, they were permitted to publicly occupy a public hall and engage in wild, dissolute Circean orgies.

A score or more, considerably more of girls were present, rigged out in all the catching frippery tawdriness, paint and tinsel, peculiar to such women. Some few were in gorgeous attire and sparkling diamonds flashed from numerous hands. To make themselves attractive was the object, and all the wiles and cunning of hell itself were invoked to accomplish this end.

“Was the ball attended?”

“Did any body go?”

“Were men there whom I know?”

“Yes, they were there.”

“Fifty were there.”

“Over a hundred were there.”

“Alas, it is safe to say that during the night five hundred were there.”

“Five hundred.”

“Yes, five hundred, from the country, boys from the country attracted by the music and by street reports.”

“Strangers were there.”

“Scores of well known young men were there dancing with girls in all their silkiness.”

For the time, dissoluteness, debauchery, and voluptuous orgies ruled the hour, and all under the protection and by the permission of your city government.

Thus it is under the sanction of your city government are your sons publicly debauched and lured to eternal ruin.

Under the protection of your city government with a police force detailed to do duty at the ball last night, are the lives of your sons marred forever and they hurried on the way to disgrace, and to dishonorable graves. Are you astonished that a long list of violent and mysterious murders have cursed your city? Is it not time to call a halt? Abandoned women and dissolute men cannot be permitted to publicly exhibit themselves. It is a disgrace to the city and dangerous to society.

April 2, 1886


Some More Lushy Baccanallan Doings.

Last night the immortal first ward opened out its Cetaroon denizens, who under a permit from Mayor Robertson, took possession of the hall occupied the night before by Madam Frazier, and throughout the night, they and scores of colored admirers, and, alas, some white ones, too, danced, guzzled beer, and turned themselves loose in licentious debauchery. Messalina, herself, would have rejoiced to have been in Austin during last night and the night before. In her day, city government didn’t grant permission for such orgies because it was not necessary, nor did they afford protection, because life was not counted of much value. Now, things have changed. Civilization has advanced, and you have to get permission to carry on, in a public hall, in the center of the city, on a public street, indecorous, dissolute, libertinism. Life is of more value, now, too, and police are detailed to suppress and keep in bounds the maddening passions of drunken lustful men and women, who engage in these evils.

Now, this is all wrong. If it is necessary for the city to grant permission for such orgies as have disgraced this city for the past two nights, by all means confine them to the premises on which these women live. If these balls are kept up, look for more mysterious murders. Lust, licentiousness and consequent jealousy was at the bottom of every murder in Austin last year.

(The reporter, in the last sentence, is referring to the infamous Servant Girl Murders.)


Going Up Windy

March 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Like all 3-year-olds, nephew Jonas loves trains. So yesterday afternoon (Friday) we boarded the CapMetro Redline at MLK Jr. Station for a round trip dash to Lakeline station. I would have preferred to go all the way to the northern terminus at Leander, but at this point in time, you can only do this round trip in the morning, boarding the 7:17 downtown, arriving Leander 8:19; leaving Leander 8;30, returning downtown at 9:32.

As some of you may know, the Redline follows the original Austin and Northwestern route, which was originally built as a narrow-gauge line, 1881-82, to Burnet. It went bankrupt barely more than a year later. But the reorganized line’s fortunes were revived when the decision was made to build our present state capitol with pink granite (16,000 carloads) from Granite Mountain, near Marble Falls. Dozens of huge blocks of granite that spilled from the train during wrecks and derailments lay scattered picturesquely all along the line. Accordingly, the ANW was extended to Granite Mountain, Marble Falls, and eventually to Llano in 1892. The line was acquired by the Southern Pacific system in 1891 and the line was converted to standard gauge the same year.

According to the grand Texas tradition of “cheapness,” the ANW was built on the cheap; narrow gauge roads cost a lot less to build and promoters touted that they could carry almost as much freight as the more expensive standard gauge railroad. The ANW was just one among many narrow gauge lines built across the country in the 1880s, as “cheapness” swept the nation. Narrow gauge roads have their proper place in the world of railroading, principally in mountainous regions where tight turns are necessary; narrow-gauge trains are ideally suited for this.

The phrase, “Going Up Windy,” (“Windy” as in “winding,” not as in lots of wind) came from the road’s tortuous path. In order to minimize building costs, the route followed the contours of the countryside as closely as possible, minimizing the number of expensive bridges to be built and grading to be. In fact, the line runs due east for well over a mile before it finally turns north and eventually veers northwest, as its name implies. This anomaly earned it a spot the O. Henry short story, “Friends at San Rosario.”

In 1986, the Southern Pacific sold the ANW line to the City of Austin and Capital Metro. The Austin Steam Train Association began running a weekend excursion train a couple of years later between Cedar Park and Burnet. SP steam engine 786, which sat in a tiny downtown Austin park for more than 30 years, was resuscitated to pull a string of vintage passenger cars along that stretch of the line. The better part of 10 years ago, No. 786’s boiler was discovered to be in dangerous condition, the result of a serious wreck during its working years and a half-assed repair job. It was yanked from service and has been in the shop ever since, hopefully to run again someday. In the meantime, the tourist train chugs on, pulled by a vintage diesel locomotive.

At $5.75 for the round trip to Leander, the Redline is an entertaining way to pass a couple of hours and change. From downtown, be sure to pick a seat on the left (west) side of the train. Once you are out of Austin, the scenery on that side is much more pastoral. the bluebonnets are just coming now, and for the next 6 weeks or so, the wildflower viewing should be topnotch.

I am now working on a new chapter for the next edition of Hill Country about the ANW, called “Going Up Windy,” of course. The trip route will run from downtown Austin up to Llano, and will involve rides on the CapMetro Redline, the ASTA weekend excursion train, and some auto driving. Rail enthusiasts in Llano are trying to get tourist train service from Llano to Burnet, but that has yet to translate into reality. But in anticipation, Llano now has a railroad district with a reconstruction of the old ANW station, the last of the old railroad hotels, and an old rail car or two.

Go on now, and “Go Up Windy,” while the flowers are out. If you like trains, you’ll love the ride.

Lockhart Correction

March 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

After eating some great Lockhart barbecue, it’s time to eat some words. On page 211 of Central Texas (Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage), I state that the Emmanuel Episcopal Church sanctuary was used as a horse stable by federal troops during Reconstruction days. This was the conventional wisdom around Lockhart for many years. But according to the congregation’s website, “Research shows that the Union troops were actually stationed in Austin, and when sent out on patrol to Lockhart, camped at springs near the old ice house, adjacent to the Livengood Feeds property. Some cut nails found under a wooden floor laid in 1899 lent credence to this story, but apparently there is no truth in it.”

And while I’m at it, the construction of the damnable toll roads between Lockhart and Austin has totally altered — that is, ruined — what little beauty there is along most of the route. And besides being a pox on the landscape, they will be, at best, only lightly used. But big bucks were stuffed into a certain statewide-elected official’s pockets by the contract winners as a result. Republicans brought the carpetbagger mentality to Texas, and like herpes and malaria, once you’ve got it, it’s here to stay. We used to have to import the greedy, unscrupulous sons of bitches; now we grow our own.

Livengood Feeds property. Some cut nails found under a wooden floor laid in 1899 lent credence to this story, but apparently there is no truth in it.

A Day in Lockhart and Luling

March 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

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My sister-in-law, America, and nephew, Jonas, who live in Hannover, Germany, are visiting us this week, along with my daughter’s Colombian rock-star boyfriend (who’s here for “South X get the F___ Out of My Town,” but that’s a different story). If there’s one thing that Germans like as much as their beer and spring-crop asparagus, it’s all things Texan. America’s father-in-law wears a bolo tie and boots to church every Sunday, even though he’s never been here (although it is his profoundest wish to do so).
So naturally, we had to get out of town yesterday for some real, good, old-time Texas barbecue (Sorry, Aaron Franklin – you’re good, but you’re not lord of the brisket, despite what Texas Monthly “eat al” might say). Since Jonas is your typical cranky 3 year old with a short attention span, we chose close-by Lockhart over fellow ‘cue meccas Llano, Luling, Taylor, Schulenburg, or Elgin. Now anyone who really knows barbecue knows that you can’t go wrong in Lockhart, at Kreuz Market, Smitty’s, Black’s or Chisholm Trail. They’re all good, and truth is, many locals prefer to eat at Chisholm Trail because they can get vegetables and cruise the salad bar.
But we wanted real, old-time Texas atmosphere to go along with our larrupin’ good smoked meat and sides, so Smitty’s was the obvious, and only, choice. After getting our pork ribs, pork chop, ring sausage, lean beef, fat beef and Orange sodas, we settled down in the air conditioned dining room – for Jonas’ sake. If I had my druthers, we would have sat in the old room out back next to the back-up pit, where we used to eat our meat with the carbon-steel knives chained to the tables.
As is usually the case, our lunch was a pan-humanic experience, with whites, blacks, hispanics, orientals, SXSW refugees and assorted other human detritus happily gnawing away.
After a few words with the amiable “Mr. Nina” Sellers (the owner’s husband), it was time to go to the back rooms and pay homage to the good old days 30 and more years ago when we would ride our bicycles down to Shiner, get plastered at the brewery hospitality room while visiting with our friends there, climb into our designated driver’s vehicle, and head for the original Kreuz Market (now Smitty’s) to get our meat and settle down at one of the back room tables, and start sawing and chawing away, the way God almighty and old man Kreuz meant it to be. These “pilgrimages” as we called them, became the basis for one of the chapters in Central Texas (The Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage) as well the epic mass bike ride several of us invented, called the G.A.S.P. (Great Austin to Shiner Pedal).
Well, there is only one table left out back today, and no knives chained to it, but there was one patron seated there, cut “out of the old rock,” as the old saying goes, happily gumming away at his ring sausage quartet with crackers: the amiable Tally Gabriel, who’s been a regular customer for 65 years now. And by regular, I mean several times a week. He was going to a funeral later in the afternoon, for an aunt who had passed away at the age of 90. I offered my condolences, which he gently brushed aside; she had lived a long and full life – there was nothing to be sad about.
Tally had worked for the Southern Pacific railroad, on track maintenance crews. As such, he knew Sanderson, my home away from home, well, but I was disappointed that he had not known Hank Parrish, an SP engineer and the king of eccentrics, whose home I had purchased from his niece several years after his death. Hank had died from heatstroke one June, it is supposed, having refused to turn on his “swamp cooler” for relief from the oppressive heat, despite the fact that a swamp cooler draws about as much power as a light bulb. But after all, this was a man so stingy that when he went to the post office to pick up his mail, he would bring his VW beetle to a stop by crashing into the guard rail out front rather than use his brakes. Now when it came to his locomotives, he drove the hell out of them. He was as famous along the SP line for abusing his engines as he was for his tight-fistedness. Tally just grinned. “Guys like Hank guaranteed us our jobs, god bless ‘em.”
Tally also worked on several of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass lines (The SAAP, or “SAP,” figures prominently in several chapters of both Hill Country and Central Texas; one of its branches once ran up to Lockhart), including the branch that ran south through Skidmore and Beeville, nicknamed “The Sausage Line,” because of all the hogs it hauled up to the San Antonio stockyards.
We finally bade Tally and Smitty’s farewell and walked over to the newly renovated and restored Caldwell County Courthouse, to admire, among other things, its beautifully restored courtroom.
Our next stop was Westy’s Pharmacy, to check out the damage done to our waistlines on the “Moderne,” the most beautiful scale I have ever encountered in all my travels, and the only thing you can still do for a penny anywhere that I know of in Texas (although it accepts nickels if you’re not a nickel nose). Pharmacy owner Brad Westmoreland has been offered upwards of a thousand dollars for the “Moderne Peerless Weighing Machine,” but he just laughs off any and all offers. His father bought the Moderne second-hand from the Imperial Amusement Co. in San Antonio in 1942 for $25. At a penny a pop, the Moderne had paid for itself by 1944, and it’s been pure profit ever since. One the other side of the front door from the Moderne is a little display case full of old patent medicines and other vintage pharmaceutica; Brad says he has plenty more downstairs (Westy’s has been serving Lockhart for more than a century), but there’s no place to put it. Lockhart may be a prime contender for Barbecue Capital of Texas, but it’s not squat for home-grown sweets; luckily Westy’s carries an abbreviated line of Lamme’s candies from Austin (Lamme’s has been satisfying greater Austin’s sweet teeth since 1885), so we left with a box of chocolate covered pecans to give the rest of town a quick looky-loo before continuing south to Luling. America was quite impressed with the many Victorian mansions and brick business palaces dating to the days when Cotton was King. After popping into the 1856 Emmanuel Episcopal Church, we headed for Storey Springs, where Sam Houston gave his famous speech in 1857 (Read about it in Central Texas, Shiner-Lockhart Pilgrimage) to check on their condition after the recent flood and let Jonas blow off some steam on the park playscape. The springs looked as good as ever.
Once in Luling, we were still too full from lunch to eat any of the best pork ribs in Texas at Luling City Market (Sorry again, Franklin’s), so we went down to the Zedler’s Mill museum complex on the Guadalupe River. Progress on restoring the complex is slow but steady, and you can now take an audio guided tour via your cell phone (I forget the number now). The river was still running a bit high and debris-cluttered after the recent flood, but was almost back to its normal beauty.
After a tour of all the decorated pumpjacks (the butterfly was a favorite), we stopped at the old Sarg Records shop to pay homage to the late, great Charlie Fitch, who first recorded Sir Doug Sahm back when he was “Little Doug” and who turned down Willie Nelson back when Willie was a nobody trying to become a somebody. A peek inside the window showed the shop virtually undisturbed since Charlie’s death, messages such “R.I.P, We love you Charlie” finger-wiped in the window dust, now several years old. A recent documentary about Charlie has been running lately on KLRU, the local PBS station. And of course, my beloved little cast-iron stop signs are still embedded in the asphalt at several downtown intersections.
With Jonas now growing sleepy/cranky, it was time to head back to Austin via Stairtown and Joliet, through Edgar B. Davis’ fabulous Rafael Rios oilfield, the oilfield that changed Luling forever and gave rise to the phrase, “All you have to do is follow your nose to Luling.”

The Rise and Fall of the Free Lunch in Austin

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

We are all familiar with the old saw, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” and that is certainly the case in Austin today, unless you happen to be at Costco at noon when they are handing out the free samples. If you are totally lacking in shame, you can fill up quite nicely for nothing more than the cost of the gas to get you there and back.

But once upon a time, long long ago, before the advent of co-ed bars and the Happy Hour, there was the free lunch. Saloons catering to the working man (and all saloons catered to the working man) offered some sort of spread, no matter how humble, to any man willing to plunk down a hard-earned nickel or two, for a foaming mug, or two. Sometimes it was just a platter of sliced ham, bread, and a pot of watery mustard, but other times, it could put any happy hour buffet offered today to shame.

February  26, 1881

The free-lunch men are doing a rushing business and the lunch fiend looks sleek, oily and happy.

Generally, the fancier name of the saloon, the fancier the lunch spread and the fancier the beer prices.

 On October 1, 1881, the Occidental Saloon offered


Chicken Gumbo a la Creole


Red a la Hollandaise


Oyster Patties, Drawn Butter Sauce, Chile con Carne, a la Mexicana

On April 5, 1882

The Grande Lunch at the Occidental from 10:30 to 3:00 PM featured

Soup: oxtail

Roast: beef with brown potatoes

Entrees: Chili con carne, Mexican style, or breast of lamb braised with green peas.

Relish: California salmon salad

Which provoked the Austin Statesman to observe, “The saloons are trying to see which one can excel in the character and quantity of their free lunch.”

The Cosmopolitan saloon, Denny & Brown, proprietors, next door to the temporary capitol building, entered the fray on August 5, 1882. The bar was supplied with the choicest wines and liquors, and everything conducted in a manner suitable to first-class places. The grand opening and christening included free lunch and free drinks from 12 noon to 2 o’clock.

Everybody in Austin, regardless of race, color, or creed, back in the day, was fond of chile con carne. The Cosmopolitan imported an artist from the City of Mexico to make it. All who patronized the Cosmopolitan on February 21, 1883, between the hours of 11 and 2, “blessed the Mexicans for bringing chile con carne to Texas.”

By October 1883, J.A. Bornefeld’s Palace saloon was getting to be quite metropolitan, and no mistake. His bill of fare on October 3 was chili con carne, pork and beans, herring salad, potato salad, green celery and vegetable soup. “If that was not a metropolitan free lunch, where were you going to find one?”

The cool weather produced plenty of pepper in the free lunch soup. Soupers rather relished it.

Lunch was not necessarily the sole attraction. At the Break of Day Saloon there was a lunch counter and sign combined in one, and it was a curiosity well worth looking at. Mr. Gus Sauter, proprietor of the Brueggerhoff Cellar saloon, had a Jenny Lind table, besides keeping the choicest of liquors, and serving a hot lunch every day. In February 1882, the Rosebud Saloon, on Pecan street, had received a new J.M. Brunswick & Balke Exposition Novelty billiard table, in addition to serving a hot lunch every day.

Everything that reaches its end must have its beginning, and the beginning of the free lunch in Austin was on September 7, 1868, when a Mr. Hathaway, who kept a saloon on the west side of Congress Avenue, began giving a free lunch daily between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. “This practice was a novelty in Austin,” The Austin Daily Republican noted, “but has worked elsewhere. Hathaway knows what he is about.”

Two weeks later, the Daily Republican pronounced, “Yesterday’s lunch at Hathaway’s was an unrivalled affair. The generous host is great on soups; one plate has nutriment enough for dinner, yet is delicately flavored. His chicken salad is not to be beaten.”

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