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Speaking of Texas: R.I.P., Old Rip

By: Bobby Lynn Shehorn, Austin 

With its thick, reptilian skin, two horns pointing from itshead, and a back and tail speckled in spikes, the Texas horned lizard or “hornytoad” has, over time, gained a reputation for its durability and longevity. In 1897, Earnest Wood, the justice of the peace for the town of Eastland, took it upon himself to test the reptile’s fortitude by placing a live lizard in the cornerstone of the newly built Eastland County Courthouse to see what would happen.

More than 30 years passed before the corner-stone was reopened. Thousands gathered to see the spectacle and, sure enough, were greeted by the dusty lizard, which County Judge Ed Pritchard held up to the cheering crowd. According to witnesses’ accounts, the horned lizard’s hind leg began to twitch and, after a long slumber, the creature came back to life.

Named for Rip Van Winkle, a folk-tale character who awoke from a 20-year-sleep only to discover the world had changed, Old Rip gained celebrity status and embarked on a national tour that included a meeting with former President Calvin Coolidge. However, Rip’s good luck wouldn’t last long. Within a year of his miraculous rebirth, Old Rip died of pneumonia. His embalmed body now lies in a miniature coffin, which is on display at the Eastland County Courthouse.

Posthumously, Old Rip made headlines again in 1955, when Warner Brothers created a cartoon character named Michigan J. Frog, who burst into song and dance when he was pulled from a cornerstone. In 1962, Old Rip’s remains experienced a close encounter with gubernatorial candidate John Connally, who was accused of breaking Rip’s hind leg. And 11 years later, controversy arose when an anonymous person “toad-napped” Old Rip, who was eventually returned unharmed.

Durable and enduring indeed—perhaps this explains why, in 1993, the Texas Legislature named the horned lizard the state reptile.

 Culture Clubs

By: Regina Philip, Austin 

For Mexican-Americans in the 1920s and ’30s, social clubs didn’t involve apple martinis or strobe lights, but rather, young adults gathered in exquisite ballrooms for themed dances, dinners, and athletic events that raised money for local charities.

One of the Mexican-American social clubs that hosted ravishing events was Houston’s Club Cultural Recreativo México Bello. Founded in 1924, it recruited mainly first-generation-immigrant men under the age of 50 who were respected citizens in the community. The club’s philanthropy included helping new immigrants, raising money for the poor, and uniting people from Latin America and the United States. Its emphasis on Mexican culture unified members, bringing together the Mexican consul and influential journalists and scholars at plush events like the “Black and WhiteBall.”

Members of México Bello often attended programs held by other local clubs, including  Club Terpiscore. Begun in 1937, membership consisted of 13 single women, each in her late teens or early 20s. The grouporganized themed dances, such as “A Night in Old Mexico,” and  hosted various programs to raise money for the Salvation Army and other organizations.

Capturing the athletic side of Mexican-American women, Club Femenino Chapultepec provided social and recreational activities, which enabled young women to network within the community. The club also sold government bonds and provided sugar stamps during World War II. Through the sponsorship of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the club emphasized acquiring U.S. citizenship and advocated having careers, according to the book Las Tejanas: 300 Years of History by Teresa Palomo Acosta and Ruthe Winegarten.

Although few of the social clubs remain in existence, they did break ground for many young Mexican-Americans in Texas and beyond, and helped develop confidence and community for future generations through charity,elegance, and culture.


From the July 2008 issue.

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