fiesta king 1913

An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Forty-Six

Above, King Rex or Selamat, San Antonio Express, April 23, 1913

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Forty-Five

Emma Bentzen Koehler, April 1913

The Colonel slaps Albert Steves on the back. “Mayor, you might as well put a gun to your head tonight and get it over with.”

“Please accept my apologies, Albert,” interjects Sophie. “I believe he meant to offer his congratulations.”

“No,” answers the new Mayor. “My wife agrees with him.”

“It appears,” chimes in Otto, “the job is extremely bad for your health. Five mayors died in office during the past 18 years. The law of averages is not in your favor.”

“Gus only made it a couple of months,” adds the Colonel.

“Drowned in those fiery discussions about the Waterworks,” quips Otto.

“Lost his temper, he did,” adds the Colonel. “Scolded the Aldermen for behaving like a bunch of children playing in the dark.”

“You and Gus,” continues Otto, “are about the same age, so you don’t have long.”

“Stop it,” snaps Emma. “Both of you.”

“Albert, thank you,” says Sophie, “for including us in your celebration.”

Emma glares at Otto. “At least Mayor Jones died peacefully in his apartments in the Saint Anthony after dining with his family. He laid his head on his pillow and was gone.”

Albert pats Emma’s hand. “Your husbands are right, ladies. I’m accustomed to standing, as the neighbors like to say, for King William Street against the world. My battles are about to become both more numerous and fierce, not a beneficial formula for extending my time on this earth. And how’s Frank Bosshardt recovering?”

“With all the attention Hettie is showering on him,” grunts Otto, “he will linger over his wounds as long as possible.”

Emma shoots Otto another stern glance. “You know very well, Otto, that isn’t the case. Frank already is back tending to his business and his campaign for alderman. An amazing recovery. That deep cut on his arm is two inches long, and he almost lost his finger.”

“That Mexican is insane!” exclaims the Colonel.

Albert gestures toward King William Street. “It certainly isn’t what you expect in this neighborhood when you hop off the streetcar on your way home from work. Mister Stith received the worst of the injuries. He and his daughter, Marie, were on their way to buy milk when the crazed maniac began slashing him in the neck and across his back. If Marie hadn’t banged on Mister Benson’s door, the number of victims would be higher.”

“How did that Mexican manage,” asks Otto, “to rise up and stab six others after Luck Benson shot him twice?”

“In the head and the groin?” winces the Colonel.

The Mayor’s eyes widen. “He was like a wounded bull. It took six men from the streetcar to corral him, beat him to the ground and hold him until the police arrived.” He turns toward his front door. “Please excuse me, but I believe royalty has entered the house.”

“Ah, those duchesses of Fiesta San Jacinto,” proclaims Otto as the Mayor leaves. He lowers his voice, “They ascend to royalty as those in the Old World. They don’t earn it; they’re born into it. And the men of the court attired in shiny satin Parisian creations dripping with jewels prance around like prissy lavender aunts.”

“The debutantes do have a purpose,” scolds Sophie. “Their parents are announcing they are ready to entertain proper suitors.”

Undeterred, Otto shakes his head. “Sometimes it feels as though San Antonio has airs more suited a monarchy than a democracy.”

Emma scowls at Otto. “The name of this year’s Rex demonstrates he does not take his crown too seriously.”

“Selamat I,” chortles the Colonel, “is definitely an inside joke among San Antonians. Tamales are unknown to the north and east of us, and to spell it backwards presents a puzzling riddle for visitors.”

“Instead of riding in a fancy gilded carriage,” suggests Otto, “it would be fitting for Selamat to sport a crown of corn shucks and to arrive astride one of the donkeys of the accompanying pair of jesters.”

Emma sighs. There they go again.

The Colonel continues. “He could lead the second donkey, adorned with ristras of chiles and bearing pots of chili con carne and frijoles.”

Otto flings one of his arms out. “Then he could toss fluffy tortillas to his subjects en route.”

Emma tries to put a stop to their back-and-forthing. “Tomfoolery such as that is why the city holds the burlesque parade. Perhaps you two simply attend the wrong events.”

“Tumultuous tooting horns and silly tickling feathers,” Sophie adds, “might be more appropriate for you than the Coronation of the Queen or the Battle of Flowers.”

Still unfazed, Otto grins. “Actually, I’m partial to those famous dancing girls at the Mexican village on Haymarket Plaza. Never tire of watching them twirl until their full skirts swirl up high above their thighs.”

“Philipino Midgets,” photo by Gerhard Sisters, Library of Congress

The Colonel puts his arm around Otto’s shoulders. “We must make a pilgrimage to Main Plaza—not for the Cathedral—but to enter Farley’s tent teeming with Filipino midgets.”

Emma rolls her eyes. “No telling what type of common behavior the pair of you would engage in were you not fortunate to have married women strong enough to rein in your baser instincts.”

Her husband ignores her. “So for excitement, Colonel, do you think we should head to Alamo Plaza and circle endlessly on Freed’s jumping horse carry-us-all?”

“That slowly spinning carousel is a bit tame for my tastes, but have you seen the motordome set up nearby? The devil’s saucer they call it. Pairs of motorcycle riders roar around its steeply inclined sides at death-defying, dizzying speeds.”  

“John’s postmaster office across from the post office,” adds Otto, “provides an ideal bird’s eye view of the water carnival.”

The Colonel pretends to include their wives in their conversation. “Ladies, we scarcely see John at the brewery since Neptune’s kingdom was established there.”

“I’m mystified, Colonel. How do those six shapely mermaids hold their breath underwater for so long?”

“Looking down from above,” answers the Colonel, “toward the overflowing bodices of their costumes, it appears they must be blessed with unnaturally large lung capacity.”

Emma casts a stern reprimanding gaze at the Ottos.

Otto chuckles. “But I promise, Emma, that the only reason I return to the scene is to see May.”

Emma’s eyebrow arches higher.

“May, the diving pony,” explains Otto.

“An amazing pony she is,” confirms the Colonel.

“Gentlemen,” Emma pronounces, “I suggest you seize this opportunity to take leave in search of some of Albert’s Rhine wine for Sophie and me. Immediately. Before I stop biting my tongue and exercise my own set of fine lungs.”

Footnotes

Mayor Jones did indeed die in his residence at the St. Anthony Hotel on April 7. Albert Steves took his place and hosted a party at his home on April 12. Having lived in the King William Historic District for a number of years, the Author is surprised longtime residents do not still consider “King William Street against the world” their motto.

The bizarre knifing incident involving Frank Bosshardt occurred the week before Fiesta San Jacinto got underway.

Until recent years, San Antonio stuffed every single nook and cranny downtown with carnival elements during Fiesta. Although some self-important politicos thought the practice disrespectful, having carnival rides operating next to City Hall and Bexar County Courthouse during business hours announced that this, this is a city that embraces its celebrations with gusto. Carnival rides often doubled as lodging for their operators at night. County officials insisted rides be moved to a new location the year after an early morning crowd gathered at a third-floor window to play peeping tom to a man and woman coupling in their “bedroom” at the top of a slide.

Continue to Chapter Forty-Seven

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