Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Lush park ringed with handsome leftovers from 1929 world’s fair

Infanta Maria Luisa Fernanda (1832-1897) was the youngest daughter of King Ferdinand VII (1784-1833) and his fourth wife. Following the death of her father, her older sister, herself but an infant, assumed the throne. The right of Queen Isabella II (1830-1904) to the throne was oft-disputed by other would-be kings.

The sisters suffered the same fate as many a royal princess – marriages arranged for political purpose. King Louis Philippe (1773-1850) of France managed to arrange a double wedding for the sisters, with 16-year-old Isabella marrying the Duke of Cadiz who was presumed to be homosexual and unlikely to conceive heirs and 14-year-old Maria Luisa wedding one of his sons who the king believed would provide heirs who would eventually inherit the Spanish throne.

Things did not turn out as King Louis Philippe schemed, but this post is not going to delve into paternity debates because the topic at hand is the result of the will of Maria Luisa, the Duchess of Montpensier. Upon her death, Seville’s Palace of San Telmo was left to the Archdiocese (Today it is the seat of the government of Andalusia). She left the extensive grounds of the palace to the city of Seville for use as a public park. The park was landscaped lushly and filled with fountains and benches.

Eager to celebrate its glory days of exploration and rich cultural heritage, Spain and the city of Seville spent 19 years planning a world’s fair, the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929-1930, utilizing portions of the immense park. Certainly the dominant structure built for the fair is Plaza de Espana, echoing the region’s Renaissance-Mudejar architectural traditions. The plaza fronting the structure is more than 12 acres in size. Forty-eight tiled alcoves around it represent the provinces of Spain.

The United States built three pavilions for the fair; llamas grazed outside the Peruvian pavilion filled with pre-Columbian artifacts; Brazil’s pavilion including coffee cultivation; Chile’s centered around replicas of a nitrate mine and copper plant. A replica of Christopher Columbus’ “Santa Maria” was docked on the Guadalquivir River. Things were looking bright for visitation at the fair until an unpredicted event out of the organizers’ control occurred – Black Tuesday. The stock market crash of 1929.

Some of the handsome leftover international pavilions now accommodate museums, including the Museum of Archaeology and the Museum of Art and Popular Costume. Plaza de Espana houses government offices but appears underutilized. Found myself wishing it would be rehabilitated into apartments so the plaza would be filled with locals enjoying the space instead of mainly tourists snapping selfies on the colorful azulejos benches. The gorgeous park and buildings seem removed from the fabric of daily life in Seville.

Postcard from the Coker Settlement: Following long gestation, book finally due to arrive

haunting the graveyard

cover designed by Andréa Caillouet; cover photo courtesy of Virginia Heimer Ohlenbusch

Birthing a book can be a long process, but to say the gestation period for Haunting the Graveyard: Unearthing the Story of the Coker Settlement has proved elephantine is no exaggeration. A female elephant’s pregnancy only lasts two years. This birth has taken much longer.

But labor has been induced, and the hefty 400-page baby will be delivered at 5 p.m. for a signing/reading celebration at The Twig Book Shop at the Pearl on Wednesday, September 10.

A lady’s handbag was my first introduction to the Coker Settlement more than a decade ago. As I sat on the carpet of a conference room on the 30th floor of a downtown office building surrounded by stacks of ephemera-filled boxes, the purse was the first thing to catch my eye. So I opened it. The pocketbook belonged to Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker (1904-2000).

last farm standing on buttermilk hillMy nosiness was at the invitation of attorney Banks Smith, a trustee of the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund. I continued digging through those boxes for some time, uncovering the couple’s relationships with the dairy farmers clustered around them. That led to the 2010 birth of Haunting the Graveyard’s older sibling – Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill: Voelcker Roots Run Deep in Hardberger Park.

Many of those who lived around the Coker Settlement, including Minnie and Max, remained neighbors after their deaths. They were buried in intimate groupings under the spreading live oaks of the Coker Cemetery. The trustees of the Coker Cemetery Association approached me to write a prequel/sequel of sorts to Last Farm to chronicle the lives of more of these early residents.

I revisited the cemetery. Inconspicuously tucked away north of Loop 410 and in the shadow of Wurzbach Parkway, it appeared so peaceful. The Coker Cemetery contains the graves of more than 600 people, but I assumed I already was well acquainted with them from my work on the first book. So my answer was yes.

I failed to heed the obvious warning signs – several Texas Ranger and Texas Historical markers indicating this turf is fertile with tales. At first their “voices” were mere whispered tidbits here and there. As I poked through mountains of information and interviewed their descendants, more and more of the occupants of those graves seemed to be shouting at me to include them. I heeded the call of as many as possible while trying to remain sane.

So in the near future, expect an invitation to make their acquaintance.* You will encounter some heart-breaking tragedies, a bit of mayhem and even an unsolved murder as their lives unfold in Haunting the Graveyard. Whether focused on the good or skeletons that popped out of the closet, the stories are shared with love for the entire community of farmers I have come to know over the past decade.

haunting the graveyard photos
lila banks cockrell, phil hardberger, scott j. baird*In addition to availability at The Twig Book Shop at the signing, pre-publication orders are being accepted now at Material Media Press.

Biannual Roundup: Kind of like beating a dead horse

All one needs to do to drive up readership in San Antonio is mention the Alamo. The top three posts attracting attention to this blog during the past 12 months were all Alamobsessive.

Unfortunately, the main concern drawing you in, the fencing in of Alamo Plaza, is a horse already out of the barn. The city agreed to turn over San Antonio’s management to the State of Texas and allow them to corral it.

The next two were complaints about the Texas GLO’s non-reverential management of their new acquisition with its addition of a shiny red faux Alamo. Even those images have failed to spur any action; powers that be must be wearing blinders.

Welcome to the faux red Alamo plopped down in the middle of Alamo Plaza.

Sometimes it feels as though sharing concerns for Alamo Plaza is like beating a dead horse, but you apparently are interested in dead horses as well because fifth on the list of most-read posts this year was a postcard “to” San Antonio from Italy featuring an embalmed horse hung by artist Maurizio Cattelan in the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in Rivoli.

Without further horsing around, the following list represents the posts you clicked most, with the numbers in parentheses representing rankings from six months ago:

  1. Alamo CEO applying armtwisting pressure to secure gated plaza, 2018 (1)
  2. Has Alamo Plaza fallen in the hands of ‘reverential’ caretakers, 2019
  3. How’s the GLO managing Alamo Plaza? Welcome to the faux Alamo, 2019
  4. King William Home Tour: Historic houses whisper stories of early residents, 2018 (4)
  5. Postcard from Castello di Rivoli, Turin, Italy: History with a horse hanging overhead (2019)
  6. Please put this song on Tony’s pony, and make it ride away, 2010 (6)
  7. The Madarasz murder mystery: Might Helen haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (5)
  8. Street art entices venturing under the overpass, 2018 (7)

    detail of Marilyn Lanfear’s buttonwork, “Uncle Clarence’s Three Wives”

  9. Marilyn Lanfear buttons up a collection of family stories, 2018 (8)
  10. Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: ‘I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.’ 2019
  11. Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Foods steeped in tradition, 2019
  12. Postcard from Genoa, Italy: Hey, don’t knock peanuts, 2018 (12)

street art in Oaxaca, Mexico

Thanks for putting up with my horse feathers, and please feel free to comment anytime.