1913 royal wedding

An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Forty-Eight

Royal Wedding of Victoria Louise and Ernest Augustus, postcard from One Last Dance

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Forty-Seven

Andrew Stevens, July 1913

“Just hold your horses a minute, Otto,” pleads Sheriff Tobin.

“Hold my horses? Hold my horses?” Mr. K’s head appears poised to explode. “Your men seized 3,600 quarts of beer yesterday.”

“It’s not like we confiscated it from the brewery, Otto,” explains the sheriff. “That was beer you already sold.”

“Probably on account,” grouses Mr. K.

“Otto, you have to understand the pressure I’m under to enforce that damn new law the governor signed.”

John comes to Sheriff Tobin’s defense. “The first week of the 9:30 closing law barely made a dent in our sales, Otto. We’re capping 200,000 bottles of Pearl a day.”

“The law merely gets barkeeps home a little earlier,” adds the Colonel. “At 25 minutes past nine, they whistle a five-minute warning. Every customer still able to keep his foot on the brass rail orders a couple more bottles wrapped up and slipped under the counter to him.”

The sheriff mops his brow. “Otto, it’s not as though we went after any Class A operations. We only crashed a couple of dives in the red-light district—places so unsavory they give prostitution a bad name. A couple of these unlicensed ‘social clubs’ had to go, or the Pros were going to tar and feather me like a runaway slave.” The sheriff certainly is sweating like one.

“All the girls on Santa Rosa,” nods Mr. Koehler, “and one in particular, complain continually about Felix Mendez’s operation.”

The sheriff looks relieved. “Yesterday was hot and felt as dry as a desert, so Señor Mendez had a full house of guzzling scumbags. The second the toe of my boot crossed the threshold, they skedaddled like rats out every door and window. Some of them hopped down the street on one leg trying to pull their trousers up. Didn’t even pause to grab their change off the bar. Service at the neighboring emporium was more subtle. The proprietress dispensed Pearl out of a carpenter’s chest in the back room. Those two holes were the only places we raided in the sporting district.”

“But you certainly scared the daylights out of the entire entertainment district,” says the Colonel. “It’ll be days before customers dare return.”

“Nothing. Not even stabbings or shootings,” counters Sheriff Tobin, “ever dampens customers’ enthusiasm for our west side offerings for more than a day. Next, we moved our token clean-up campaign over to an east side negro ‘resort’ of sorts. On Walnut Street. Absolutely have no idea what voodoo brew was in some of the bottles we seized at that blind tiger. None of my men were brave enough to take a swig to make sure it was even alcohol. Probably saved some customers’ lives by seizing it.”

The Colonel nods. “Indeed! And saved your own hide as well.”

“Sheriff, we understand your need to put on a show for the Pros,” says John. “We could probably nominate a few seedy joints for you to consider should a second round of raids be deemed necessary.”

“Hope not. The one yesterday made me miss the Schuetzen Verein on River Avenue.”

Mr. K’s eyebrows begin to unknit themselves. “Heard Albert Steves won.”

“Our former Mayor put on a major shooting show,” adds the Colonel. “Couldn’t miss the target. C.A. Goeth presented him with the grand skidoo medal.”

The Sheriff returns his Stetson to his head. “Now, gentlemen, I must beg my leave. Those pesky reporters are buzzing around my stockroom full of beer thicker than flies around a honeypot.”

“The Sheriff’s right,” admits Mr. K after Sheriff Tobin leaves. “He had no choice. And he certainly plucked out the most rotten fruit from the dregs at the bottom of the barrel.”

John sits back down after walking the sheriff to the door. “Dregs are about all that is left the Postmaster General after Tom Campbell and some of his friends went calling on the President. They demanded only those forty delegates who supported President Wilson initially should be able to award postmasterships as plums. We have congressmen in Texas who are blackballed from the process. They submit names for empty posts, but their nominees, no matter how qualified, are rejected. The whole process has ground to a halt.”   

“The plum Campbell really is reaching for is an ambassadorship,” complains Mr. K. “But he’s had no luck shaking that tree.”

The Colonel twists the tip of his moustache and winks. “John, I noticed you have a continual parade of applicants lined up outside the door of your Postmaster office. They appear eager to serve you as clerks and even mail carriers. And they appear qualified to me, if shapeliness is the requisite criterion.”

John places his hands on the side of his head. “They are driving me bonkers! Just because women are now eligible for those positions does not mean we are hiring only women. They ambush me on the sidewalk. Their fathers, brothers and even lovers keep our telephone lines swamped, ringing over and over to bend my ear about the qualifications of their favorite ladies. Some of the ladies are such featherweights they appear unable to lift a stamp, much less haul around a heavy sack of mail.”

“All the brouhaha about appointing Postmasters,” says the Colonel, “attracted the attention of San Antonio’s 15-year-old playwright. He’s working on a thriller about an old negro watchman arbitrarily discharged by the new Postmaster.”

Mr. K snorts. “That hardly sounds a thrilling story.”

“Oliver Bailey is the lad’s name,” says John. “He telephoned me with some interesting questions. His father’s a reporter at the Express. Brought him up reading the newspaper, and he scans the pages for inspiration.”

Jean the Vitagraph dog, photo from post on Silent Room

The Colonel continues. “Maybe the story of the post office watchman might not be his most successful, but he turns out a play a week in the summer. Vitagraph Company bought The Mysterious Thief from him. No one can figure out who is stealing things from guests in a hotel. Turns out the guilty party was a lady who trained her clever dog to go in and out transoms and windows to fetch the valuables for her. A tri-color collie, Jean the dog, is now starring in a series of movies with Florence Turner.”

“A clever plot,” admits Mr. K. “Maybe he can make the postal intrigue interesting after all.”

John sighs. “This Postmaster has found being hounded by job applicants far from entertaining. It was a welcome relief to escape to Long Island for the polo championships.”

“And how’d your ponies perform, John?” asks Mr. K.

“Harry Whitney had several of mine in his string. The American team did so well, the entire crowd was abuzz with praise for Texas ponies. Many are beginning to think them superior to those bred in Ireland and England. Even the Duke of Westminster sauntered in to examine them in the stables.”

“John, if you want to move in the polo set,” advises Mr. K, “you should have followed Mister Whitney’s lead and married a Vanderbilt. Racing may be the sport of kings, but polo? Polo is reserved for millionaires with millions to spare.”

The Colonel shakes his head. “And spending all that money for a string of ponies that might, if you are fortunate, bring you one trophy worth $4,000. Why, adding in thousands of dollars for box seats and appropriately fashionable attire for the womenfolk, Harry Whitney probably dropped $20,000 dollars on the series at Meadow Brook. There’s no return on that investment. Only expense.”

“I will confess,” agrees John, “Bettie’s immense chapeau for the match did set me back a pretty penny. But owning polo ponies is not my goal. I raise them to sell. At a handsome profit. Harry Whitney has shelled out $125,000 for his string of ponies over the past five years. If I can attract the Duke’s interest, I’ll be in high cotton. The one flaw with my ponies is their speed. In their enthusiasm, they overrun the ball. They need to stop on a dime. Yesterday, I hired this man from the charro ranch near the second mission. He trains horses for their Mexican rodeos. The mounts he works with go from a full gallop to an absolute stop. And never have I seen horses turn 180 degrees, even a full circle, faster in a smaller radius than they. Hoping he can work the same magic with mine.”

The death of Suffragette Emily Davison

“King George’s horse,” says the Colonel, “certainly ran over the ball at the Epson Derby. That crazy Suffragette, Emily Davison, was crushed. I can’t possibly comprehend how she thought ducking onto the track in front of horses racing at thity-five miles an hour would propel women’s suffrage forward.”

“She could have ended the racing career of a valuable horse.” John leaves no doubt where his sympathies lie.

“Her mind probably was addled by all her hunger strikes,” Mr. K grunts. “She was arrested for her militant stunts repeatedly. Breaking windows. Setting fire to postboxes. Sneaking in and hiding overnight in Westminster Palace. Her antics kept escalating. Every time she went to jail, the wardens ended up force-feeding her to keep her alive.”

“Her death did succeed in attracting worldwide attention,” observes John. “Five-thousand Suffragettes donned white and purple to march in Emily Davison’s funeral procession, and they say 50,000 people lined the route as her coffin wound its way through London.”

The Colonel wags a finger. “Our wives might want to vote, but Sophie said, ‘Das ist doch Wahnsinn.’ Endangering the lives of all the horses and jockeys on their backs is complete and utter madness.”

“As is pardoning a horse thief and murderer in Texas.” Mr. K wags a finger back at the Colonel. “Colonel Chapa is embarrassing your governor yet again.”

“But a lot of Mexican voters consider Gregorio Cortez their hero,” answers the Colonel.

“Hah!” exclaims John. “They only love him because he has a catchy tune aggrandizing his escapades. Mexicans love their corridos.”

Mr. K shakes his head. “They all sound like polkas played by a river bottom full of pickled toads. Amazing that mob in Gonzalez failed to lynch that Cortez after that sensational trial.”

The Colonel nods agreement. “Francisco Chapa has been leading the charge to secure Gregorio’s pardon for more than a decade.”

“Colonel Chapa claims that all of Cortez’ troubles were due to poor translation,” says John. “Asked whether he recently traded a ‘caballo’ to a man, he answered no. The sheriff thought he was lying, but Cortez was telling the truth. He hadn’t traded a caballo—a male horse; he had traded a yegua—a mare.”

The Colonel waves his had dismissively. “Horse. Caballo. Pferd. Governor Colquitt does not care anything about that argument. He simply is steadfastly loyal. Oscar will never forget Francisco Chapa’s delivery of the Mexican vote during the election.”

“How hard is it,” asks Mr. K, “to deliver a bunch of wetback votes for a wet candidate? They certainly were not going to fall into Tom Campbell’s prohibition camp.”

“Otto,” says the Colonel, “we know why you’re angry with Colonel Chapa. Campaigning to pardon Cortez is not it. He led the charge at City Hall the other day to glorify George Brackenridge.”

“He doesn’t know the history,” grumbles Mr. Koehler. “He only recently was elected alderman.”

John shakes his head. “Apparently the only alderman with any memory at all is Alderman Lambert. He reminded all that the park was not donated to the city by George Brackenridge but by the Waterworks Company.”

Mr. K’s hackles are up now. “So now, those dotty old Confederate veterans San Antonio props up for every parade can cheer because they have a park named to honor a man who betrayed Texas to make his fortune selling cotton to the North throughout the war. I might never understand Americans. Your governor, still fighting with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas over the crumbling ruins of the Alamo.”

The Colonel rubs his hands together. “Right now, Governor Colquitt is grinning like a little boy with a new pile of building blocks. With the injunction filed by the ladies lifted, his restoration project is underway. And half a carload of historical relics have been donated to the San Antonio Scientific Society by Captain Collins. Traveled everywhere in Texas selling windmills and pumps, and, along the way, collected unrecognized treasures gathering dust in farmers’ barns and attics. The governor plans on using the captain’s donation as the foundation for turning the Alamo into one of the greatest museums in the country.”

“Hrumph!” utters Mr. K. “Americans consider anything older than we are an antique.”

John turns toward the Colonel. “Noticed your horse was missing from its stall in the stable this morning, Colonel.”

“Replaced by a herd of about fifty,” adds Mr. K.

Chalmers Motor Company hood ornament

The Colonel grins with pride. “Six cylinders and the power of 54 horses do make her zip along. Picked up the Chalmers Torpedo from Alamo Auto yesterday afternoon.”

John waves his hand back and forth like a duchess on a float. “A shiny new automobile is perfect for waving to potential voters for a future senator motoring back and forth to Fredericksburg.”

The Colonel shakes his bowed head. “A campaign for Senate I cannot enter. Not only has Sophie vetoed the prospect, she sought to galvanize support for her position among relatives gathered for my niece’s wedding reception this past weekend. Her steadfast nay vote represents an obstacle impossible to budge.”

“And did Ollie’s wedding at St. Mark’s rival that of Victoria Louise and Ernest Augustus?” asks the Colonel.

“The largest gathering of ruling monarchs in Germany in the past 40 years? Not at all. Although the pews of St. Mark’s were packed with five generations of Wahrmunds. And my little princess Ottie sang a solo.”

“Imagine,” says John, “the wedding guests assembled in Berlin for the wedding of the Kaiser’s daughter rule a third of the world. Kaiser Wilhelm II himself; King George V; even Tsar Nicholas II.”

“Finally,” observes the Colonel, “the marriage match has brought an end to the feud between the House of Hanover and the Prussian royals. It’s probably too much to hope for that their love and the celebration feast can force Europe to enter a more extended period of peace.”

Mr. K shakes his head. “Pinning your prayers for peace on the rest of Europe when the Balkans keep stirring the pot is doomed for disappointment. At the conclusion of the First Balkan War, the Treaty of London signed in May marked the end of the Ottoman Empire’s control of European provinces. But the treaty satisfied no one. The alliance of the Balkan League is tenuous at best, cursed by infighting to see who gets the territory lost by the Ottomans. They ganged up on Bulgaria in this second war only weeks after the treaty for the first was signed, and now Serbia has emerged strong enough to threaten the balance of power throughout the entire continent.”

“Unfortunately that is true,” agrees the Colonel. “With Serbia so closely allied with the Russian Empire, Emperor Franz Joseph is now nervous.”

“Sixty years is a long time for anyone to remain on the throne,” says John.

Mr. K nods. “Emperor Franz Joseph still tries to operate in the old-school ways. He thinks all foreign policy is personal, that he merely needs to reach out and visit one-on-one with his dynastic peers to solve problems. Leadership in most countries has passed onto a younger generation.”

“International politics resembles a house of cards. Someone sneezes,” John smacks his hands together, “and everything collapses. The rapid chain of events is beyond anyone’s control.”

“Well,” sighs Mr. Koehler, “let’s hope the current armistice holds the fragile Balkan house of cards together.”

Footnotes

Sheriff Tobin interrupted some of San Antonio’s flourishing businesses with his “cleanup campaign” on the first Sunday in July. Comprehending prohibition politics is one thing, but the postmaster politics were strange. There were some 56,000 postmasters positions in the country, and legislators cherished their unwritten right to reward loyal constituents with appointments. Tom Campbell called on President Wilson in March, and blackballed legislators beefed about his successful injection of restrictive partisanship in the process for months afterwards.

The Author loved stumbling across the story of San Antonio’s teenage writer of screenplays. She learned via a later census that Oliver Bailey became a horticulturalist instead of a Hollywood mogul.

Impressive that John Stevens raised polo ponies that made their way to the June championship games at Meadow Brook Long Island. Only guessing (duh) Bettie would need a fancy hat for the games, and the hiring of a charro trainer is the Author’s belated suggestion for him. The trampling of the militant Suffragette by King George’s horse occurred during the June 1913 Epsom Derby.

The simultaneous prominent political roles Francisco Chapa played openly in the gringo land of Austin, in San Antonio and in border politics make him such an interesting anomaly for the times. That one person would lead the charge to name a park after George Brackenridge at the same time as heading the effort to free Gregorio Cortez from prison seems hard to comprehend.

Alamo politics always simmer. The Author is not sure if anything donated by Captain Finis F. Collins ever made it into the hallowed halls of the Alamo. If so, it probably left with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas more than a century later.

The May 1913 wedding of Victoria Louise and Ernest Augustus is regarded as one of last great social events for the royal set of Europe before the onset of World War I. Russian meddling in the Balkans must have had all on edge. On July 7, the San Antonio Light reported that as many as 40,000 men were wounded or killed during the prior week’s fierce fighting in the Balkans.

Continue to Chapter Forty-Nine

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