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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Crazy Burrito, Sherman, Texas

I love Mexican food. I was fortunate enough to come from the land of great Mexican food...San Diego, California. Ok....I have been challenged by my Texan brethren (or Sistren, feminine of Brethren....who knew?) for this restaurant or that (someone vehemently proclaimed "On the Border" as genuine Mexican fare...sheesh!). But to no avail. The wife and I would dutifully and anxiously made our way there to be satisfied but ultimately disappointed.

Luckily, I have a co-worker, Ed (who is a retired San Diego Police Sergeant), who is not only a Mexican food aficionado....but an excellent judge of the state of Texas Mexican. Yeah...neither of us like it. Ed has a proven track record in that he too models all Mexican food restaurants after the famous "Las Quatro Milpas" (known but to a few as the "Green Fly") in Barrio Logan.  With that in mind....he did turn me on to a new place in Sherman, Texas that he said was the best Mexican food he had had since leaving San Diego.
Yes...that is Nick's Mid-Life Crisis car

It is rare to find good Mexican food in this part of the world. Yes...there is Tex-Mex and a plethora of wanna-be restaurants that claim to have great Mexican food but none can compare, as it turns out, to this little restaurant, the Crazy Burrito at  1834 Texoma Parkway at the corner of East Taylor and Texoma Parkway.

Ok...its really not a restaurant in that it only has a small outside eating area, no inside tables and chairs to lounge in sipping Horchata or soft drinks. And during a North Texas Summer....well you got to get there early before the sun gets too high. But what a menu. It's as though we were transported back to Old Town, Chula Vista or National City (all vestiges of staid Mom and Pop Mexican food walk-ups.

I met with Jesus, the store owner and once we identified ourselves as former residents of San Diego (yes...there was a secret handshake), his originally quiet demeanor instantly changed, his eyes brightened and he became louder and more animated as we spoke about his restaurant. Jesus had brought his family to Sherman in the hopes of operating a start-up restaurant and ultimately building a sit-down place where he could entertain his friends and patrons. His shop right now is small, nuzzled between an ice making machine (that turns out to be bi-lingual, dispensing ice in both Spanish and English) and a large Goodwill store.

We went with typical fare that would test the mightiest chain restaurant...I had the Carne Asada burrito and Dianna had the three rolled tacos (#23 and #8 if you need to know). Jesus said they had just whipped up some pineapple juice and we had two cold and refreshing cups to go with them. We were not disappointed...

The Burrito was quite large and was straining against a large quesadilla which was thick enough to have been handmade. It had thick and rich guacamole and plenty of fresh tomato and onions. Dianna's rolled tacos were crisply fried but not so they would shatter (major faux pas among rolled taco purists) and stuffed with lots of shredded beef and lodged in a snowbank of the Guac.

When given the option, I always lean toward hot sauce over the more mundane mild sauce one comes across. When he heard this, Jesus insisted I try his homemade hot sauce (the toxic looking orange sauce in the picture). I pinky tested the sauce (an industry standard) and was delighted by the taste (and the slowly expanding warmth in my tummy) so I applied a liberal splash onto the contents of the burrito and dutifully re-wrapped it. I bit into sheer heaven and could taste all the different elements, nothing was overwhelmed by the sauce.

An added bonus...and we've all had this experience...a bite into the burrito end did not result in Newton's 3rd law of motion (for every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction). There was no extraneous beef juice spilling out onto the plate. A perfectly grilled Carne Asada if there ever was. Dianna reported an equally rewarding experience with her rolled tacos. The brisket was well done but held its juices well and not deluding the crispness of the taco shell.

Sadly...there was this second while we ate, that we stopped, mid-chew, to hold onto that moment in time. Realizing we had found Mexican Nirvana but knowing we would have to rise, roll up our now empty wrappings and depart. We looked at each other at that instant and thought-wished we were back home again, enjoying this in the candle-lit flickering lights of Casa Guadalajara in Old Town State Park waiting for a second round of Margaritas. Two thumbs up Jesus! Thanks.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fredericksburg, Texas

Our tour continued with a short trip to Fredericksburg Texas. County seat of Gillespie County, Fredericksburg is also the seat of all things German in Texas. As previously discussed, Germans came in droves to Texas in the early 1840's with a promise of fertile land, freedom from the heavy Prussian way of life and the general fleeing from the social, political and economic conditions which caused the Revolution of 1848.

Fredericksburg was founded in 1846 by Baron Otfried Hans von Meusebach, new Commissioner General of the "Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas", also known as the "Noblemen's Society" and named after Prince Frederick of Prussia. Old-time German residents often referred to Fredericksburg as Fritztown, a nickname that is still used in some businesses. The town is also notable as the home of Texas German, a dialect spoken by the first generations of German settlers who initially refused to learn English.

To keep the peace, they brokered an 1847 Treaty between the Comanche and the German Immigration Company. The treaty was unique in that it did not take away the rights of the Penateka Comanche, but was an agreement that the Comanche and settlers would mutually share the land, co-existing in peace and friendship. It is one of the very few treaties with native American tribes that was never broken. Most of the native Germans despised slavery and the town was split between pro-Union and Confederacy residents during the Civil War (TWONA).

The Nimitz Hotel
The best thing that ever happened to Fredericksburg was when LBJ became President and all eyes focused on the Texas Whitehouse. The Nimitz Hotel served as headquarters for the media who intertwined their favorable impressions of the area with their reporting on the President. The Johnsons attended church in Fredericksburg. Dignitaries and were escorted around Fredericksburg by the President. West Germany Chancellor Ludwig Erhard visited Fredericksburg in 1963 and was greeted with "Herzlich Wilkommen". Throughout LBJ's vice presidency and presidency, Fredericksburg prospered from the tourism trade, and it changed from an isolated community into one catering to the tourist dollar. Additionally, the National Museum of the Pacific War has become a big draw to military history buffs like myself.

That's where we found ourselves on a wonderful breezy afternoon. After a long drive and awash in a sea of historical anecdotes, we needed sustenance and, utilizing a recommendation by our driver, saddled up to the bar at the Ausländer Biergarten on Main Street. I had Opa's Sausage sandwich and Dianna had the Sampler Plate with ample amounts of the sausage as well. Fredericksburg is also wine central for Texas wines and a cultural center for the famous Texas Hill Country. Due to our overwhelming rainy season this year, crops were booming as well as the greenery of this very scenic and gently rolling part of Texas.

So of course we (I should say Dianna with me in tow) wandered along the overflowing tourist crowds lining the sidewalks and entering shops of who-knows-what latest and greatest curio and crafty goings-on along Main Street.

There is an unwritten rule of grandparents that all new tourist and/or cultural stops requires the purchase of some brightly colored T-shirt which memorializes the location for the grandkid (who, of course, wasn't ever there). I want to assure all of you we (I should say Dianna) did not violate the code during this or any other stop we made. Fredericksburg was as delightful as the first time we went there and will be the focus of a future Bed and Breakfast mini-vacation in the future.

Our next stop was little Luckenbach, Texas. Fredericksburg has profited from spill-over tourism of nearby Luckenbach ever since a couple of events propelled the little town with a population of three to global fame.

Originally called South Grape Creek for a nearby waterway, the town was named for founding resident Jacob Luckenbach. In the 1830's, Jacob is known to have been among the Texans, including many Texas-Germans, who helped to win Texas’ independence from Mexico. after service in the Republic of Texas Army, he returned home and by 1845 had returned with his family back to Texas and settled in the Hill Country.



There is much controversy over who really established Luckenbach first another family named Engel or the Luckenbachs but we can surmise the town was established sometime in the 1850s by former Fredericksburg residents and a Post Office was established in the town along with a general merchandise store, blacksmith shop, cotton gin, saloon, warehouses and some homes. A dancehall (Tanz Halle) also located there was a center for social gatherings (a mainstay in German culture).


Sometime in the late 1800s, the post office closed. When it reopened in 1886, August Engel (there is some banjo playing in the background....there was a lot of intermarriage among the Engels and Luckenbachs by this time) served as postmaster and renamed the town Luckenbach. William Engel became the next postmaster and opened the general store, which remains today in its original building.


The dance hall was rebuilt by the early 1930s, and the new structure included a beautiful maple dance floor. Never achieving a population of more than 500, by the 1960s, it was almost a ghost town. The last vestige of the town, the original 1886 Post Office, closed in 1970.

A newspaper advertisement offering the little over nine acre town (it read "town — pop. 3 — for sale") led Hondo Crouch, a rancher and Texas folklorist, to buy Luckenbach for $30,000.



He began to utilize the land and dance hall as an open-air music venue. This drew many early Country singer-songwriters to play and the place took off. Especially after  Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson memorialized Luckenbach with the song "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)". It's now just three buildings (Dancehall, General Store/Saloon and an outdoor stage) but it still draws in the tourists.

Our last stop was a little wine tasting room and entertainment venue like many that dot old Texas Highway 290 (referred to as the Wine Road 290 Trail).  Few know that Texas is the 5th largest grape producing state in the nation and has given both France and California a run for their money winning several wine competitions here and across the pond and the Hill Country is ground zero for most of that wine production Four Point Wine Cellars is a tasting room dedicated to showcasing Brennan Vineyards, Lost Oak Winery, and McPherson Cellars wines.

Our tour all sat together and sampled several varietal wines which were comparable to many more expensive wines we've had in the past (I do not include myself with wine aficionados, I just knows what I likes). Returning (or stumbling) back to our tour limo, wine in hand, listening to the deep breathing of our now slumbering comrades, we made the long trek back to our hotel and blissful sleep.

Before checking-out, it began to rain buckets so we delayed our departure to imbibe in one of San Antonios best breakfast buffets. The Menger holds what can only be described as the freshest breakfast buffet I've had the honor of attending.

The way to serve Butter

Gorgeous fruit platters intermingled with the best meat and egg dishes, not those "under the heat lamp" variety but a constantly changing landscape of vittles by servers who never seem to cease their movement. It was worth the layover to take in. Full to the brim, we made our way to the Valet and once we discharged our luggage and trinkets into the suddenly insufficient trunk of the Rogue,we wended our way back to Frisco and home.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

LBJ Home and Ranch

For day two of our San Antonio trek I decided to do a tour with  Grayline Tours. It was a day long tour but would take us out of San Antonio to Fredricksburg with stops at Lyndon Johnson's boyhood home and ranch. We were in luck in that it turned out to be a small group of adults (no little ones....well there was a Canadian couple...but they were OK). It was a nice limo bus with good air conditioning and our driver was very well read. I entertained myself trading history notes with him as we drove around downtown picking up the other guests.

It was a long hours drive to Johnson City and Johnson's boyhood home. Lyndon Johnson's grandfather Sam Sr. and great-uncle established a cattle droving headquarters in the 1860s on land that is now part of Johnson City, Texas. The Johnson Settlement is part of the boyhood home park and has volunteers who act out roles as the townspeople in period garb (Debbie you need to come live here...Victorian Era!). Though Lyndon was born in the family home on what is now Johnson Ranch, Sam Jr. moved them to Johnson City when he was five and lived there until graduation in 1924.

Smoke House
The home was originally built by Blanco County Sheriff W.C. Russell in 1901 and the Johnson's purchased it in 1913. It had a shotgun hallway to cool the house in summer and a sleeping (screened in) porch for those hot summer nights. Johnson ran it as a cattle ranch but when times were bad, he switched to cotton or corn.

The Presidents mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson, was a very interesting woman who had a profound impact on Lyndon. Rebekah was one of the few educated women at the time having attended Baylor College. For a time she taught and was a reporter for several newspapers. That's how she met Sam Jr. She was doing a story on the young legislator and they fell in love. They married in 1907 and she became a ranchers wife. Problem was, Rebekah was very refined and had never done manual labor of the kind to run a working ranch and farm. She was overwhelmed and had to make do as Sam went off on business and sessions in Austin. Besides attending regular school. she continued to tutor her family as well as other children in the town.

Life in the Johnson home was tough. From the time he was two, Rebekah would teach Lyndon his ABCs and he was an accomplished reader by four. A typical night would have the children listening to the evening news on the radio in their family room. They were then told to write essays on what they heard and after the parents reviewed them for content, two children were chosen to debate each other on the subject in front of the fireplace. Ambivalent about his own studies, Lyndon made his way through school and became a teacher by attending the Southwest Texas State Teachers College at San Marcos (now Texas State University, San Marcos Go...Bobcats).

Johnson also learned from his father. From the time he was 10 years old, Sam would take young Lyndon to Austin to sit in on legislative sessions. He watched his dad and others make deals and move political agendas throughout the state. So you can see he was an accomplished debater and political insider long before he ran in 1937.

For a time he taught but politics called to him and after a stint in the Texas Legislature, he went to Washington to serve as an aide in Congress. He made fast friends and endeared himself to many important members of Congress including the great Sam Rayburn.
Johnson married Claudia Alta Taylor, (Lady Bird was a childhood nickname), of Karnack, Texas on November 17, 1934. On their first date, which was breakfast the next morning at the Driskill Hotel (been there...very cool restaurant) and a long drive in the country, Johnson proposed. Lady Bird did not want to rush into marriage, but Lyndon Johnson was persistent and did not want to wait. Lady Bird accepted his proposal 10 weeks later and were married at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in San Antonio, Texas.. They had two daughters, Lynda Bird, born in 1944, and Luci Baines, born in 1947. Ok.....weird factoid, Johnson had a practice of giving people and animals names with his and his wife's initials, as he did with his daughters and with his dog, Little Beagle Johnson.

We moved to the Ranch in Stonewall, Texas. This was his actual birthplace and a restoration of that home is on the property. Of note is the one room schoolhouse he attended in his youth. The Junction School was the backdrop for Johnson signing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Landmark legislation which brought needed funds for "educationally deprived" children. The money could be used for purposes such as reducing class size, hiring remedial teachers, and providing school breakfasts a part of over 60 education bills he passed in his term and a half, more than any other President before or after him. The Junction School was purchased, restored and moved in 1972 to the ranch entrance as part of the National Park. A classic example of a one room rural schoolhouse.


The ranch is based on the original family ranch house which was expanded over time. The Park Service restored and maintained the house to appear as it did in 1967. MAP. The original section of the home (far left section in photo below) was built out of the native limestone fieldstone by a German immigrant, William "Polecat" (I love that name) Meier in 1894. In 1909, the President's aunt and uncle, Frank and Clarence Martin, bought the house and added the main central portion of the home. The Johnson's bought the home from Lyndon's aunt in 1951.


The two story house has a very 60s feel to it right down to the three big picture tube Admiral color TVs in every room (remember....before cable...there were only three networks) and a multi line phone in each room the President used constantly. It had a huge kitchen his cook Mary Davis whipped up dinners for family and international guests alike. There were lots of stories of Johnson getting a world leader or Congressman out to the ranch and, now isolated from civilization, strong arming them to do his bidding.

LBJ was famous for his powers of persuasion, dispensing them with what became known as "the Johnson Treatment." He used his imposing physical size and intimidating personality to emphasize his point. He often towered over those he meant to intimidate using a "teacher's stance" he learned while teaching. Hands behind the back while leaning forward from the waist.


That was accomplished with a 6,300 foot runway Johnson used to fly himself, family and visitors in an out of the ranch. It couldn't handle Air Force One so Johnson would fly into San Antonio or Austin and transfer into his Lockheed Jetstar twin engine jet or in a helicopter. He referred to the jet as "Air Force 1/2". Locals said there were days when it seemed there was a continuous stream of aircraft flying in and out of the ranch at all hours.

Hangar/souvenir shop

Secret Service quarters
Still there are the outbuildings containing the headquarters of the Secret Service Detail, quarters for the military aircrew and the hangar which is now a museum and souvenir shop. It was fun to watch the kids handling the old rotary dial phones which told the listener about things that happened at the ranch. They didn't know to put their finger in the dialer and turned them like knobs. Held the receivers like luggage handles and pulled on the cords like accordions. I leaned in to one of the grandparents and asked if they were going to tell them what to do with them....she just smiled and whispered that, like me, it was just too much fun to watch so why interrupt the moment.

There were examples of Johnson's famous Lincoln Continentals. Every year, an Austin Lincoln-Mercury Dealer would deliver the first new four-door convertible Lincoln to the Johnson Ranch. It was always white with brown and white leather interior, AM-FM radio and two-way radio so he could always be in contact with ranch staff and the house. It was no secret that the Secret Service Detail hated when Johnson would roam the ranch in his cars, while drinking Cutty Sark Scotch and soda.

From the National Park Service website: "Periodically, Johnson would slow down and hold his left arm outside the car, shaking the cup and ice. A Secret Service agent would run up to the car, take the cup and go back to the station wagon. There another agent would refill it with ice, scotch, and soda as the first agent trotted behind the wagon. Then the first agent would run the refilled cup up to LBJ's outstretched and waiting hand, as the President's car moved slowly along."

He often forded the great Pedernales or some lesser stream to get to the other side. So much so they had a new earthen dam bridge built south of the original driveway to keep the cars dry as they crossed.


A walk around the house was a step back in history. The house was restored to the time at the height of his term as President (1967) and a walk around the grounds brings back a sense that you're still there. Johnson had many visitors and famous people during that time and is evidenced by a cool little memorial to all that visited. He had his workers pour small stepping stone size concrete pads where he had many of those visitors sign their names. It was a nice touch and a friend maker I'm sure. Astronauts to world leaders penned their names to the stones which will remain long after their gone.


As we departed for our time in Fredricksburg, I reflected on our tour of the Johnson homes and Ranch. We stopped by the family cemetery on the banks of the Pedernales. So much history occurred here with echoes of Vietnam and the assassination of a President which suddenly thrust an initially reluctant Vice President a grand stage to push his new agenda for America which we still feel today and the thing I ended up taking away from this visit was....looking around as we walked, although we all try very hard to leave our mark on the places and people around us (and I know I'm going to get emails about this), no matter what we do or how famous we get, are we really just a bed, a phone or a chair we once sat in?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

San Antonio

In 1536, Álvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, a shipwrecked Spanish explorer who was enslaved by Native Americans for a period, visited the interior of what would later be called Texas. He was probably the first European to take in the valley and the meandering waterway, which the Payaya Indians called "Yanaguana" (meaning refreshing waters), later to be called the San Antonio River.

By 1675, the Spanish realized the strategic value of this land and, feeling pressure from their rivals, the French next door in Louisiana, decided to send missionaries and colonists to occupy Tejas. Interestingly, believing they would acclimate well to the region, the King of Spain initially sent many settlers from the Canary Islands to settle San Antonio.

In 1691, a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries came upon the river and Native American settlement on June 13. As many of you may know.....that's the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padova, Italy, so they named the place and river San Antonio in his honor.

On May 1, 1718, a mission was completed and the responsibility for the establishment of the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar (Ok...pronounced Be-har...but in Texas it's pronounced "Bar". It's a Texanism...don't get me started), to the new governor. That mission, called San Antonio de Valero, (a name derived from "San Antonio de Padua" and Viceroy of New Spain, Marquess of Valero of course), will become today's "Alamo". By the way...the word Alamo does mean something too. In the early years, part of the old mission complex was used as the headquarters of a Spanish cavalry unit. During this time, the Spanish word alamo, meaning "cottonwood," was introduced by soldiers garrisoned there to honor their home at Alamo de Parras in the Mexican province of Coahuila. Now you know.

By 1821, Mexico had won independence from Spain and invited American settlers brought in by guys like Stephen Austin to settle the land and by 1833, then El President'e Antonio de Santa Anna (yep...the future General who retakes the Alamo) had mucked things up for the Mexicans and a civil war broke out. In Texas, the Anglo settlers joined many Hispanic Texans, who called themselves Tejanos, in demanding a return to the Mexican Constitution of 1824. In a series of battles the Anglo Texans, who called themselves "Texians", supported by a significant number of Tejano allies, initially succeeded in forcing the Mexican military to retreat from Texas. And so we come to the Battle of the Alamo.

By April of 1836, Santa Anna had had enough of those rabblerouser Texians and decided to make a political statement by defeating the insurgents and returning Texas back to Mexican control. By now, the Texian movement had moved from a political revolt to a full fledged secession of Texas from Mexico. Sam Houston was the leader of a small army of Anglos and Tejanos fighting a disparate war of attrition against the well-armed Mexican army. The Alamo was a shell of the original Mission having been abandoned back in 1793. It was basically four walls with no roof and a built-up dirt artillery platform for a cannon on the north end where the altar had been. Houston pleaded with William Travis not to defend the Alamo and fall back to Houston's lines but Travis, Bowie, Crockett, his Tennesseans and some Tejano volunteers numbering about 260 men decided to hold the fort anyway against an estimated 1,800 Mexican Army regulars.

The adobe walls were no match for Mexican artillery and gunfire and, after 12 days of siege, was overrun in a massive attack that wiped out all the male defenders leaving only the women and children of the defenders to be sent back to Houston to tell him of the battle and defeat. A message to them to quit the fight and surrender.

History shows the message was ignored and after rallying his forces under the famous battle cry, "Remember the Alamo", one of his Lieutenants, Juan Sequin, defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto a month later assuring Texas independence that same year. Interesting factoid, Juan was later elected Mayor of San Antonio but forced out of office at gun point by an Anglo mob. There would not be another Hispanic Mayor in San Antonio until Henry Cisneros in 1981.

Dianna and I have now been in Texas for about 9 years and had not been to San Antonio so we made it our 40th wedding anniversary destination. Yes, a mere 40 years ago we were young and impressionable without a care in the world. Now, two kids, a couple of houses, a grandson and several dogs later we are still together and trying to enjoy our later years as best we can.

As many of you (and to my wife's chagrin) have learned, I tend to make reservations at older historic hotels so I picked the oldest, the Menger in Alamo Plaza. Killing two birds with one stone in that it is literally steps away from the Alamo Memorial site. On our arrival, Texas was in the midst of its record setting rainy season and had just stopped as we checked in.

Menger Courtyard
The Menger Hotel was built in 1859 but was the result of German immigrant, William Menger's brewery, the first beer brewery in Texas. He decided to build a hotel to accommodate the many carousers who frequented his brewery. The beer was chilled by the Alamo Madre ditch, which passed through the hotel courtyard. Said to have been the finest hotel west of the Mississippi River, it once hosted such notables as Sam Houston, Generals Lee and Grant (no..not at the same time) and Presidents McKinley, Taft, Eisenhower, and Roosevelt; Babe Ruth, and Mae West.

River Walk view toward back of Menger
Little known fact is that the famous River Walk is based on a ditch dug by the Missionaries to move water from the San Antonio River to the farms adjacent to the Presidio. The ditch (Acequia Madre de Valero), is 6 miles long and was built to irrigate about 400 hectares. It was vital to the missions in order to grow crops and to supply water to the people in the area. Acequia Madre de Valero ran from the area currently known as Brackenridge Park and southward to what is now Hemisfair Plaza and South Alamo Street. Part of it that is not viewable by the public runs beneath the Menger Hotel.

Once settled in our room overlooking Alamo Plaza, we quickly walked over to the Alamo to get our vacation rolling. As we made our way around the front I was immediately struck by two things. The first was how small the Alamo Mission is. When you see the tourist literature or commercials on TV, you get the impression it's this big adobe monument to the heroism of the martyrs of the Texas Revolution. It turns out to be rather diminutive in size (which many friends had warned me about) but still revered as a sacred site by native Texans. I think I figured it out. When you shoot upward and keep the fence posts and people out of the picture, you skew the image and it looks bigger.


No matter your politics or where your from, Texans do hold this place in high esteem. You know...like when you overhear people speaking in hushed voices as they tell the tale of the Alamo to their children or guests as though they were in church. There's even a sign at the entrance reminding visitors the site is sacred, to speak softly, remove hats and absolutely no photography.


The inside is unremarkable except for the museum-like exhibits throughout. It's walls are clearly scarred with the remnants of battle, bullet holes and gouges from flying debris. Again the interior is not original in that the original Mission was converted by several inhabitants over the years to suit their needs. Recall that the building was roofless during its use by the Texians in the 1830s.

Different color roofline
After secession, in 1849, the U.S. Army leased the old Mission and added its current roof and made it a warehouse. They even split the space and made a second floor which was taken down for the restoration. It was used for the same purpose during the Civil War (TWONA). After the war, the Army got it back but abandoned it when Fort Sam Houston was established nearby in 1876. It was even a city jail for a time. It wasn't until 1892 that the Daughters of the Republic of Texas took over the property and began restoring the site.


The second thing that struck me was what surrounds the sacred Alamo historic site. Tourist traps. Not one but two Ripley's Believe it or not Museums among other touristy notables reside directly across the street from the Alamo. There are several prominent statues and memorials there as well but it's kind of cheesy, if you know what I mean.
When we got back to the hotel, we booked a Ghost tour that starts at the historic Colonial Room restaurant in the Victorian original wing of the Menger. It's a beautiful example of Victorian era architecture.

The original hotel space was originally two floors and 50 rooms but subsequent additions and remodels added floors and rooms which now hold 316 rooms. It was dinner and a walking tour of the haunted portions of the hotel as well as some hot spots by the Alamo and surrounding streets. Turns out the Menger is the most haunted hotel in America. Lots of crazy stuff happened in the hotel and significant figures have passed away within its walls. The historic Menger Hotel is said be called home or visited regularly by some 32 different entities.

Teddy's negotiation table 2nd floor
One of the Menger's most famous guests is that of former President Teddy Roosevelt. It was here, in the Menger Bar, that Roosevelt recruited hard-living cowboys fresh from the Chisholm Trail, to his detachment of Rough Riders. Reportedly, Teddy would sit at the bar and as the cowboys came in, he would jovially offer them a free drink (or several) as he worked his recruiting strategy upon the unsuspecting cowpoke. Many sobered up the next morning to find themselves on their way to basic military training at Fort Sam Houston before joining in the Spanish American War.

After a wonderful meal and the Menger's signature dessert, an incredible dish of Mango ice cream, we wandered around the three main floors of the old hotel and heard stories of apparitions who wander the same halls and bother the guests. We then walked out the front of the hotel for our street tour. First stop the Alamo. We were reminded of the horrific battle which took so many lives and that, while we walked on the street in front of the Alamo, we were actually walking on top of a mass grave which had been found when the street was excavated before paving. Excavations throughout San Antonio still expose graves of the fallen today.
Our capable guide Bethany of Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours reminded us of an incident which sparked the haunted history of the Alamo. Ghostly tales about the Alamo can be traced all the way back to 1836. Several weeks after the Battle of the Alamo, Santa Anna ordered General Andrade to raise the Alamo and in doing so ensure that nothing was left standing. Like any military commander holding the rank of general, Andrade delegated this unwholesome task to a trusted subordinate, Colonel Sanchez.

Upon the arrival of Colonel Sanchez and his men, all that remained of the old mission was the chapel. Resolute to carry out Santa Anna's demands, Colonel Sanchez instructed his troops to begin tearing down the church. As the detail set about preparing to carry out the order, work was abruptly halted when six ghostly monks materialized from the walls of the chapel.

The soldiers watched in stunned silence as these "diablos" slowly advanced waving flaming swords over their heads, while all the time issuing a warning in an inhuman screech, "Do not touch the walls of the Alamo" (I wonder if it was in English or Spanish). Heading the ghostly advice, Colonel Sanchez and his men retreated with their tails between their legs.

We traveled to several haunted locations some more interesting than others. One such location was a Holiday Inn Express. The building was multi-storied and rather box-like in construction. Bethany pointed out the metal bars which adorn the exterior windows. It wasn't just decoration, but the result of its former life as the Bexar County Jail between 1870 and 1960. The building often housed serious criminals and served for a time as a place of execution for convicted murderers. It was abandoned and purchased by Comfort Suites in the late sixties.

Nighttime carriages light the darkness
They renovated it into a hotel but were soon receiving complaints of apparitions around the third and fourth floors, one particular ghost seemed to be missing his head. What the realtor failed to disclose was that the hangings occurred on the fourth floor where the accused would fall through to the third floor. On occasion, the fall would cause the heads of some of these men to separate from their bodies (no doubt incorrect tension on the knots). The best tidbit was that the jail had a cemetery where they buried the unclaimed bodies in a side yard of the jail. Right where Comfort Suites (now Holiday Inn Express) have their pool. Fortunately, they stopped hangings in 1923 and went to an electric chair. Today, guests often call the front desk reporting what they believe to be a smell of burning wire or electrical equipment around the 3rd and 4th floors.

An interesting stop was the Cathedral of San Fernando. It is the mother church of the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the seat of its archbishop. The original church of San Fernando was built between 1738 and 1750. The walls of that church today form the sanctuary of the cathedral, which gives rise to its claim as the oldest cathedral in the State of Texas. In 1836, the cathedral, still a parish church, played a role in the Battle of the Alamo when Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna hoisted a flag of "no quarter" from the church's tower, marking the beginning of the siege. Bones of some of the fallen are entombed in the walls of the church raising spectors of those men seen walking or standing by the church by passerbys.


We were drawn to the church by a  video art installation spectacular on the facade of the Cathedral created by renowned French artist, Xavier De Richemontartist. It's a beautiful montage of the history of Texas and specifically a segment on the Alamo. Very cool.

Kind of like the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland
Then back to the hotel for rest and re cooperation before our marathon second day of historic tours and wine sampling. Oh...in case you're wondering, I did have trouble sleeping and around two a.m. I got dressed and wandered around the hotel hotspots. The eerie silence was only punctuated by the sound of an unseen lone vacuum cleaner wailing in the distance. Sorry no sightings but I did get a chance to take some photos without dodging people to get the shot.