The Rambling Boy
Readers remember Alamo issue differently
By LONN TAYLOR
Occasionally I have to write a column to pass on to readers comments that I have received concerning earlier columns, and this is such a column. Week before last’s “Rambling Boy,” about the General Land Office, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and the Alamo, brought me so many e-mails that they would have filled a good-sized mailbag if they had not been e-mails.
The first to arrive was a long and informative message from Sarah Reveley, the (former) member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas who went to the Attorney General of Texas with complaints about the way the Daughters were managing the Alamo. She wanted me to know that she and her friend Erin Bowman, the former member who was expelled from the Daughters for raising a million dollars for them without jumping through all of their procedural hoops, were not “allies,” as I described them, nor were they expelled together, as I implied. Bowman, it seems, was only expelled, but Reveley was “permanently terminated,” a much more serious punishment and one that sounds like what happened to people in Stalinist Russia. Reveley, however, does not sound permanently terminated. In several subsequent e-mails she provided me with information about ongoing issues concerning the Daughters that she is involved in, and she reminded me that her first name spelled backwards is “harass.” Reveley is a tough Texas lady with German ancestors from New Braunfels and she is not about to be silenced by anybody.
About three minutes after Reveley’s first e-mail arrived I got a message from Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who told me that the Alamo roof, which I had said was still leaking, had been fixed and implied that I was some sort of goofus for not knowing that. With the help of San Antonio Express-News reporter Scott Huddleston, who has been covering developments at the Alamo for the past six years, I think I now have all of the facts about the roof. Like everything concerning leaking roofs, the situation is more complicated than it appears on the surface.
In the first place, there were actually two leaking roofs, a cruciform concrete and steel barrel-vault roof over the sanctuary and a flat concrete slab roof over the northwest side chapel, which is known to the Daughters as the Monks Burial Room. Both the 2007 master plan for the Alamo and a 2010 examination by Datum Engineers of Austin found that the barrel-vault roof had cracks in it wide enough to expose the steel beams and that the flat roof had a significant sag in it. Both reports recommended that the entire Alamo roof be “repaired or replaced.” In May 2011, four months before the General Land Office took over responsibility for the building and after a good deal of prodding from the governor’s office, the Daughters agreed to structurally reinforce the roof over the Monks Burial Room and to coat both roofs with an acrylic waterproofing substance called HydroStop at a cost of $378,000, to be paid for from funds raised for the Daughters by Erin Bowman from the Ewing Halsell Foundation. The work was completed last month, and Scott Huddleston of the Express-News tells me that in spite of recent heavy rains, no leaks have been reported so far. The cracks in the barrel-vault roof are still there, but the engineers have concluded that they do not pose a significant threat. They just look bad. So, Commissioner Patterson, I apologize for saying that the Alamo’s roof is still leaking, even though I am not sure that the General Land Office can take complete credit for fixing it.
Patterson’s e-mail was followed by one from Elaine Vetter, who first of all wanted to make it clear that she was writing as an individual and not a member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (only the president-general is authorized to speak for the Daughters). She went on to say that she was the person who thought up the Native Texan License Plate “while standing under the olive tree in front of the Alamo” and she wanted me to understand that it was never her intention, nor the intent of the legislation that authorized the sale of the plates, for the proceeds to be devoted exclusively to the maintenance of the Alamo. The money was intended, she said, to be spent by the Daughters on the preservation of historic sites all over Texas and for funding education projects that teach Texas history. I was aware of that and it is certainly not Vetter’s fault that the Daughters chose to spend only seventeen percent of their income from the plates on the Alamo.
Finally, a note from David Haynes of San Antonio gently pointed out that the building that was the focus of the fuss about serving alcohol at the Alamo was not the old firehouse across East Houston Street from the Alamo, as I had thought, but Alamo Hall, which stands directly behind the Alamo Library on the site of another old firehouse. Like the building across East Houston Street, it, too, is on ground that was outside of the original mission enclosure but was part of the 1836 battlefield.
Shortly after receiving all of these e-mails, I was having dinner in Marfa with Lannan Foundation fellow Gabrielle Calvocaressi and I remarked that sometimes I considered becoming a hermit. Texas had a hermit in the1860s, a fellow named Peter Berg, who was disappointed in love and retreated to a site on Cave Creek near Fredericksburg. He built a stone tower against the creek bank, where he made whiskey and built an organ with pipes made of rolled newspapers glued together. He would trundle the organ into Fredericksburg on a wheelbarrow and play it on the town square, using the coins he collected to buy sugar and coffee. I told Calvocaressi that his sometimes seemed like an attractive life. She informed me that there is now a website and a newsletter for hermits. The website is ravensbreadministries.com and the newsletter is Ravens Bread, published, according to its masthead, “to meet the needs of hermits, especially their desire to connect with others who share their values.” It seems that there is just no way to get completely away from it all any more.
Lonn Taylor is a writer and historian who lives in Fort Davis. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Story filed under: West Texas Talk