Memories of one of America’s Most Unusual Circuses
In 1930, local newspaper editor A. Morton Smith organized Gainesville residents into a small circus to raise funds for the community theater. Housewives stitched costumes, men hammered trapeze riggings, and teenagers practiced horseback acts. The homegrown show was such a hit that, during the next quarter century, the Gainesville Community Circus performed some 360 shows locally and in nearly 60 cities in Texas and nearby states.
The all-volunteer circus had three rings with bareback riders, trapeze and high-wire artists, acrobats, jugglers, and clowns. The largest of its seven tents could seat 2,500 wide-eyed fans.
The circus boasted ornamental tableau wagons, a calliope, a circus band, and trained animals that included horses, chimpanzees, a lion, and an elephant named Gerry.
Some 1,500 Gainesville residents eventually joined the circus, performing for hundreds of thousands of spectators. In the 1950s, a fire destroyed the big top and equipment, and eventually, the circus folded. Its animals spent their remaining years in the town’s fledgling Frank Buck Zoo.
Today, visitors to the Museum at Santa Fe Depot and the Morton Museum of Cooke County can view costumes, photographs, performance equipment, and newsreels recalling the circus’ heyday. Nearby, the Frank Buck Zoo honors the native son, film star, and animal collector who once served as honorary ringmaster of the Gainesville Community Circus.
Restoration at the Sam Rayburn House Museum near Bonham honors one of the 20th Century’s most influential Texas politicians.
A plainspoken “man of the people,” Sam Rayburn served 17 of his 48 years in Congress (1912-1961) as Speaker of the House. In 1947, though, Democrats lost the house majority, and Rayburn found himself without his government-provided automobile. His fellow Democratic congressmen—all 142 of them—pitched in $25 each to buy him a shiny black 1947 Cadillac Fleetwood, now restored as the star artifact at Bonham’s Sam Rayburn House Museum.
Mr. Sam built the white, two-story farmhouse in 1916 as a family home and Texas retreat. The house museum reopened in March after a year-long restoration of the home, which now appears as it did in 1961 when Mr. Sam died.
A new exhibit details the restoration of the house, which serves as a time capsule of Rayburn family heirlooms. Now that the car is once again street-worthy, Mr. Sam’s Cadillac will participate in area parades and events. The Sam Rayburn House Museum is at 890 W. TX 56, two miles west of Bonham. Call 903/583-5558; www.visitsamrayburnhouse.com.
Let the Race Begin!
As The Circuit of the Americas racetrack shapes up southeast of Austin and the momentum builds for November’s hotly anticipated Formula 1 Grand Prix, organizers recognize that—despite Formula 1 racing’s international popularity—most Texans remain unclear about the sport’s history and appeal.
Texas businessman and racing fan Ian Weightman joined up with The Circuit of the Americas to change that: On June 15-17 at the Austin Convention Center, a preview event called Formula Expo will offer the public the opportunity to meet drivers, ex-perience the new track through simulators, learn about the sport’s nearly century-long history, and become familiar with the technology that makes the sport possible.
“Formula 1 racing is not only an automotive event,” says Weightman, “but a technology competition as well.”
Formula Expo’s four “zones” include a Race Zone (interactive exhibits featuring cars, pit crews, and race simulators), a Technology Zone (featuring many innovations with real-world applications), a History Zone (with profiles of drivers, historic cars, and photo displays), and an Austin Zone (highlighting live music and local food and drink). Tickets to Formula Expo cost $15 in advance. See www.FormulaExpo.com, and start your engines!
Houston’s Museum of Natural Science pays tribute to the famous 1912 shipwreck
A century ago in April, the British passenger ship RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage en route to New York, killing more than 1,500 passengers. While the wreck of the Titanic remains on the seabed even today, in 1987 crews began to recover artifacts from the debris field, fueling a number of exhibitions at museums worldwide.
In honor of the shipwreck’s 100th anniversary, the Museum of Natural Science in Houston welcomes Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition through mid-September. The more than 200 pieces on display include jewelry, china bearing the ship’s White Star Line logo, perfume bottles, currency, and interestingly, many personal effects made of leather.
Theresa Nelson, a member of the education team entrusted with interpreting the exhibition, explains: “Our conservation team preserves these items, but we don’t restore the items. As the ship broke in half and sank, it traveled 2.5 miles to its final resting place, and many items were ripped from the ship. As you can imagine, in many cases, the items are very worn. But some of the best-preserved pieces, such as currency and jewelry, were found in leather suitcases, trunks, or wallets. Why is this? Well, in the early 1900s, the process used to tan leather included chemicals that repelled microorganisms at the bottom of the sea. And with the pressure of the water at the bottom of the sea, these suitcases and such were sealed shut. When we bring up a leather suitcase or trunk, it’s like a time capsule.”
Call 713/639-4629; www.hmns.org. —Lori Moffatt
A Daytrip to North Texas Highlights German Food and Culture
By Randy Mallory
A north Texas restaurateur once told me, “Those Muenster women sure know how to cook!” Turns out he was only half right.
The men of Muenster also know a thing or two about hearty eating, as my wife, Sallie Evans, and I discovered on a recent exploration of this German-flavored town. Fortunately for our waistlines, Muenster also offers a diverse mix of shops and museums dedicated to local history.
We start our Muenster adventure with breakfast at Rohmer’s Restaurant, a family-owned eatery that for 50 years has tempted diners with German bratwurst, schnitzel, and Reuben sandwiches, plus made-from-scratch pies. Rohmer’s housemade apricot jam, slathered on toast, nicely tops off our substantial breakfast of eggs, bacon, ham, and hashbrowns. I pledge to pace myself but can’t resist a buttery cinnamon roll, with no regrets.
We walk off breakfast along Main Street to Muenster’s culinary claim to fame, Fischer’s Meat Market and Grocery, which opened in 1927. Our jaws drop at meat and cheese counters spanning half the building. More than 30 kinds of sausages—smoked German sausage (top seller), knackwurst, Polish links, and kiel-basa—snuggle by slabs of sugar-cured bacon and hams. We ogle two dozen or so cheeses, some flavored with spices and peppers and smoked on site.
The adjacent specialty department boasts at least 100 kinds of dressings and pickles, preserves and syrups, relishes and sauces, mixes and marinades. “We’re sort of a giant picnic basket,” says manager Steve Taylor. We pack up smoked German sausage and peppered cheddar to enjoy later with French bread and fruit. As we leave, the market’s Glockenspiel chimes the hour with animated characters—including a milkmaid, butcher, and cow—rotating from a 45-foot-tall clock tower outside.
We fill the morning exploring nearby shops. At The Bird Nest, housed in a former 1910 dry goods store, fresh flowers and garden supplies complement a collection of eclectic antiques. “Plants and antiques, that’s what I love,” says owner Cindy Bartush, “so I put them all into one place.” We love her funky bench on the sidewalk out front—two bears made out of cedar holding a bench seat between them. “A fellow came by a couple of years ago looking for work and pulled out a chainsaw to carve this and a few other pieces around town,” Bartush explains.
Later we run across another of the artisan’s works, a totem-like sculpture behind Fischer’s that turns a dead cedar tree into an owl habitat.
In Muenster’s oldest business—Gehrig’s Hardware, which dates to the 1890s—proprietor Jim Gehrig walks me through his jumble of sporting goods, cookware, hardware, and oddities such as a working treadle-powered stitching machine once used to repair harnesses.
Down the street, a clutter of model trains, toys, tools, and a lapidary collection draws me, improbably, into the front room of Bob’s Automotive.
My favorite surprise: a copper whiskey still that owner Bob Walterscheid’s grandfather employed a century ago.
We heed a local recommendation and have lunch at Doc’s Bar & Grill, a tavern-style restaurant with a biergarten out back and an upstairs bar and gameroom. Sallie picks a garden salad and a bowl of brothy chicken-tortilla soup, and I grab a grilled Reuben sandwich. Re-energized, we share a colossal slice of moist, nutty carrot cake, and we once again hit the streets.
Doc’s building housed Muenster’s medical clinic in the 1940s, a fact we confirm at the Muenster Museum. A period hospital bed, medical equipment, and nurse uniforms recall the old clinic. We marvel at a working 1870s pump organ from Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and we tour the museum’s re-creation of a 1940s kitchen, complete with a wood-burning stove, sausage stuffers, and blackened waffle irons.
We chance upon a convenience store on US 82 to find a busy bakery called Bayer’s Kolonialwaren und Backerei (German for grocery wares and bakery), where customers line up to purchase donuts, kolaches, and decorated cookies, plus seven styles of German bread and 11 flavors of Viennese strudel. In fact, owners John and Darla Pollard deliver strudels to 14 restaurants within a 75-mile radius. We pick the most popular flavor, apple and Danish cream cheese, and revel in its cinnamon-rich taste and flaky crust.
Next, we browse the collections at the nearby Muenster Antique Mall. Jeannine Flusche operates the 50-vendor emporium in a former grocery built by her father in 1956. We enjoy sifting through toys, tools, and cookware items, some cleverly displayed in former meat lockers. Several booths offer German items such as beer steins, wooden nutcrackers, and lead crystal vases.
A few blocks west, we slip into the tasting room of Weinhof Winery, which also offers a tasting room at the nearby town of Forestburg. Larry Thompson touts his sweet fruit wines—pear, plum, and blackberry—and small-batch grape wines made from traditional German recipes. Our favorite is an exotic-sounding blend of blackberry wine and Merlot, called Muenster Red, which we find surprisingly dry and refreshing.
We finish our Muenster excursion at The Center Restaurant, which has specialized in homestyle German fare since 1988. We settle into the eatery’s wood-paneled tavern overlooking the biergarten, and Sallie chooses a wienerschnitzel (think German chicken-fried steak) topped with grilled onions and bell peppers. I go for the sausage platter, served with warm German potato salad and tangy red cabbage. Our waiter delivers a glass of Chardonnay for Sallie and a yeasty German beer for me, and we raise a toast to our successful day. “Prosit!”
Corpus Christi’s Naval Station Ingleside will take on the appearance of an historic port of call as four tall sailing ships hailing from four countries in the Western Hemisphere arrive in early July. The ships range in size from the 205-foot staysail schooner Capitan Miranda from Uruguay to the 371-foot, four-masted barquentine Esmeralda from Chile. The other two historic ships are the 270-foot barque Cuahtémoc from Mexico and the 295-foot barque USCG Eagle from New London, Connecticut. Each ship serves in its respective country’s navy and is commissioned primarily for training sailors.
Needing an escape from city stress, I packed a bag and drove 45 minutes west of my hometown of Fort Worth for a stay at the new Double J Hacienda, a 12-acre retreat just outside Mineral Wells. Almost as soon as I arrived, I realized I had found a favorite getaway destination.