If peculiarities were plumes, San Antonio would be a rare ostrich*

*With apologies to William Sydney Porter (O. Henry) for lifting his sentence from “Retrospects and Prospects” and turning his porcupine into an ostrich to suit the Author’s own selfish purposes.

Few people pause to read acknowledgments at the end of a book, so the Author is plucking them out of An Ostrich-Plumed Hat, and Yes, She Shot Him Dead and plopping them right here, front and center. The Author wants you to understand her lengthy journey and who helped her along the way.

Acknowledgments

Arriving in San Antonio in the late 1970s, this Virginia girl found herself thrust into the heart of a state she knew absolutely nothing about. No time for much of a learning curve because Claire Regnier of the late Paseo del Rio Association tasked this greenhorn with writing a weekly column, Rio Ramblings, for the San Antonio Express-News, and a monthly feature about San Antonio for Showboat.

Via a well-worn 1959 edition of his San Antonio: A Historical and Pictorial Guide, Charles Ramsdell became my teacher. He first introduced me to the elegant Koehler House on the grounds of San Antonio College. I visited, took photos but found my story lacking. Desiring personal details, I naively telephoned a Koehler relative to inquire about Emma and Otto Koehler. Click. She hung up on me. That launched my obsession. 

With the development of Pearl on the grounds of Koehler’s former San Antonio Brewing Association, the story is far from secret. But in the late 1970s, it seemed San Antonio had forgotten completely about the sensational 1914 shooting that ended his life. Scrolling through rolls and rolls of microfiche in the Texana/Genealogy Department of the San Antonio Public Library, I found my answer. But much digging still was required to arrive at the trial of his shooter, Hedda Burgemeister.

Curious ostriches at Hot Wells resort

Curiosity about the roots of the tragic incident remained with me long after the feature for Showboat was put to bed. I picked it back up in the 1980s and began haunting the stacks in the library whenever a minute could be spared. Chapters emerged from the keyboard. Client deadlines, two other books and things such as the San Antonio River Improvements Project kept interrupting, but the “truthful novel” I started unearthing four decades earlier is finally complete.

I despised hunching over those microfiche screens but was so grateful for all the colorful language and rich details gleaned from the pages of the San Antonio Express and San Antonio Light. The interior of my book was swelling, but the introduction was not. I cannot remember what question of the hundreds I posed to Frank Faulkner and Andrew Crews in Texana could possibly have led Frank to believe a file on public hangings in San Antonio would appeal to me, but reports about the rapid trial and sentencing of Leon Johnson delivered my first chapter.

Tom Shelton of UTSA Libraries Special Collections first led me to the realization that Hedda Burgemeister, amazingly, remained living in San Antonio in the house where Otto Koehler died. In the latter years of my research, I was particularly grateful to the San Antonio Public Library for continually increasing remote online access to other century-old newspapers.

Fortunate to be from a family with colorful characters and marrying into one with fascinating oral traditions, I borrowed some of their stories for mine. Riding in the backseat to school with my father Connie Brennan and his best buddy, Tommy White, exchanging jokes and barbs led me to adapt their interactions to shape the tones used by the main male characters running the brewery. My favorite details about life during the Mexican Revolution came from listening to my husband’s late grandmother, Virginia Lamar Hornor, details which were fleshed out even farther by her brother, Lucius Lamar, in his wonderful memoir, Shards.

Most recently, I am indebted to feedback offered by my first readers – Clyde Ellis, Julia Rosenfeld and Florence Byham Weinberg. Elizabeth Cauthorn kindly directed me to Keith Snyder of Typeflow, who took a cumbersome manuscript and magically covered it and made it Kindle-friendly.

And what patience was required and generously given by my husband Lamar and our daughter Kate during all the years I selfishly devoted to my Ostrich-Plumed Hat!

Most of all, I thank San Antonio for welcoming me and making me fall in love with its rich history.

Oh, and in case you missed the 97 chapters preceding these acknowledgments, you can find them by clicking here.

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