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.

2018 Roundup: Remember Alamo Plaza

Every six months this blogger reviews what posts people have been reading most during the past year.

San Antonians’ Alamoobsessiveness was ignited by the state’s determination to fence in a designated city park – Alamo Plaza. Related posts dominate this year-end list. A battle lost. Time to move on as the plaza’s fate appears sealed. Hopefully the New Year will bring glad tidings about preserving historic landmarks on the west side of the plaza.

On a more upbeat note, cannot wait for the completion of Margarita Cabrera’s “Arbol de la Vida: Voces de Tierra” on the river near Mission San Francisco de la Espada.

The following list represents the posts you clicked on most, with the numbers in parentheses representing rankings from six months ago:

  1. Alamo CEO applying armtwisting pressure to secure gated plaza, 2018
  2. Forging consensus for the Alamo Comprehensive Plan: Don’t fence us out, 2018 (2)
  3. ‘Tree of Life’ bears bountiful crop of tales from the past, 2018 (4)
  4. King William Home Tour: Historic houses whisper stories of early residents, 2018

    523 King William Street, riverside

  5. The Madarasz murder mystery: Might Helen haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (1)
  6. Please put this song on Tony’s pony, and make it ride away, 2010 (5)
  7. Street art entices venturing under the overpass, 2018 
  8. Marilyn Lanfear buttons up a collection of family stories, 2018
  9. Centenarian Santa still burning bright, 2018 
  10. Postcard from Rome, Italy: A numbers game sparked by the baths, 2018
  11. Postcard from Mexico City: Shimmering with colorful experiences, 2018
  12. Postcard from Genoa, Italy: Hey, don’t knock the peanuts, 2018

Thanks for visiting and your patience with my wanderings via this blog.

Would love to hear from you, so please feel free to “chat back” some. Every post has a comment box at the bottom.

All tuckered out now. Thinking I might need a post-eve-celebration nap.

Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, Genoa, Italy

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere! (my trusty friend)
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught, (good-will draught)
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

“Auld Lang Syne,” Robert Burns, 1788

Postcard from Turin, Italy: Letting the graveyard provide introductions

Carlo Tancredi Falletti (1782-1838), Marquis of Barolo, was mayor of Turin in 1827 when he determined the city needed an elegant new cemetery. At the time, Turin was the capital of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.

The Monumental Cemetery of Turin (Cimitero Monumentale di Torino) occupies almost 150 acres of land. And, once again, this taphophile is introducing you to a city via a visit to its residents of yore.

A woman after my own heart, Manuela Vetrano has written a book on this particular cemetery – Torino Silenziosa.

It was 2011 and I was walking through the most ancient part of the Cemetery of Turin, surrounded by magnificent works of art by important names in Italian history. I started wondering why there was no one else but me. Superstition? Fear? I thought it would be nice to let others know about this rich and important place. I started looking for books and documents about the Cemetery and I spent many hours inside it to observe and study tombs and monuments. I collected so much material that it allowed me to open my blog, lead guided tours, and write a book, too. The stories that struck me the most refer to almost unknown personalities.

“The Monumental Cemetery of Turin: Interview with Manuela Vetrano,” Emanuela Borgatta Dunnett, Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2018