Picnickers with Pearl Beer in Koehler Park, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. R. San Miguel, UTSA Libraries Special Collections
Emma Bentzen Koehler, December 1915
“Otto’s revenge, this is. I never thought of myself as the vengeful type, but, I must confess, this is the best Christmas present I have ever given or received.”
“Ah, Emma,” says Judge Newton, “I believe it was best expressed in Beowulf: ‘It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.’”
“Maybe, Gallie, that is indeed why this feels so good.”
“Aunt Emma,” says Corwin Priest, “eleven acres along the river is a Christmas gift for all of San Antonio. Otto Koehler Park. Uncle Otto must be kicking his heels together up above us. Is it true that part of that land might be haunted?”
“Hogwash, Corwin. Where did you hear such nonsense? Although, the Hungarian woman who used to live there, Helen Madarasz, was robbed and murdered in her home about 15 years ago.”
Gallie nods. “They say the men who killed her had their way with her first and then set her house afire to hide any evidence.”
“I fear they were successful in that effort, as they were never caught.”
“If there were such creatures as ghosts,” says Corwin, “Missus Madarasz would be justified in hanging around.”
“And I remember an old man from Fredericksburg somehow drowned there about 1906,” adds Gallie.
“Oh, dear. And there was a proprietor who managed the park for Otto that same summer. Mister Goetz, he was. He was not a happy man. Took his own life.”
“Well, Emma, the fate of Otto’s next proprietor was not much improved,” says Gallie. “Remember, Sam Wigodsky and his employee were trying to retrieve an empty keg that was floating midstream when their boat capsized.”
“They drowned?” asks Corwin.
“Maybe. Their deaths were ruled accidental. But Otto said they should have had close to $1,000 in their possession at the time. The money was never found.”
Corwin shakes his head. “That land sounds cursed, Aunt Emma. I’m relieved you are giving it away.”
“There’s no such thing as cursed land, Corwin. Although that was quite a string of unfortunate occurrences. Ghosts have nothing to do with my desires to dispose of the property. Unless it’s Otto’s ghost prodding me to needle old George Brackenridge.”
“When the city voted to give credit for land donated to the city by the Waterworks Company to George Brackenridge,” explains Gallie, “your uncle Otto was appalled. Then George Brackenridge retained access points to the park, forcing the city to buy property from him.”
Emma signs. “Why they named the park after him always mystified me. Gallie, you do have the access issues to Otto’s park addressed in the deed?”
“Yes, Emma,” says Gallie. “The city must tarviate the Rock Quarry Road to your land. Plus, the city must acquire any reservations in the 1899 deed that will prevent free access from the so-called Brackenridge Park to Otto Koehler Park. The city already has received a commitment from most of the foreigners who own the water company now, save one or two who are unreachable in Belgium because of the intense fighting. But the board majority has pledged to donate the twenty-five-foot strips of land on both sides of the river that were reserved by the Waterworks.”
“Thank you, Gallie. And what of the most important restriction?”
“No need to worry, Emma,” chuckles the Judge. “I structured the deed to this gift to be the complete opposite of restrictions mandating Waterworks Park remain dry: ‘The City of San Antonio shall ever hereafter issue permits to sell malt liquors and non-intoxicating drinks only on said premises so long as it is not a violation of any laws of the State of Texas.’”
Emma claps her hands together. “Perfect revenge. Otto always griped over the absurdity of having a city park where a man couldn’t relax with a beer in hand. And is there a strong reversionary clause if the city does not abide by any of these stipulations?”
Gallie gives an emphatic nod. “Yes. Ironclad. I think Corwin here hopes to inherit that haunted spot for his homestead.”
“No, siree,” says Corwin. “No way.”
“It’s a beautiful tract of land, Emma.” Gallie reaches his hand across the desk to pat her hand. “Otto will be proud to have his name on it. Would you like for me to pick you up tomorrow for the presentation at City Hall?”
“No, no. I am not going. Corwin, can you ask Andy to join us in here? Gallie, I would prefer you and Corwin attend on my behalf.”
“Of course, Emma,” says Gallie as Corwin reenters the room with Andy.
“Andy, I hope I’m not interrupting anything important.”
“No, ma’am. I’m here to serve you.”
“Please address this to our city fathers for Judge Newton and Corwin to deliver tomorrow: ‘Gentlemen—I take great pleasure in handing you herewith a deed to certain property adjoining Waterworks Park.’ Gallie, do I have to use his name?”
“I’m afraid so, Emma.”
“Oh, if you insist. ‘Adjoining Brackenridge Park, or Waterworks Park, which I hope you will accept as a Christmas gift to the City of San Antonio, to be used as a public park, subject to certain conditions and restrictions mentioned in said deed. In presenting you this park, I am carrying out not only my own wishes, but also those of my deceased husband, who very frequently expressed the intention of conveying this property to the City of San Antonio. With best wishes and the compliments of the season, I am, yours very truly, Missus Emma Koehler.’”
Emma Koehler’s gift of parkland to the City of San Antonio was reported on Christmas Eve. The attached deed restrictions stand in contrast to those of adjacent Brackenridge Park.
The deaths noted all did occur in the Madarasz Park section of the gift. However, the Author believes the only sightings of their ghosts appear to be here and elsewhere in the Author’s own blog.