19-teens Labor: Major holiday marches, brewing concerns and Colonel dogs

Above: 1914 Labor Day photograph of workers in front of Maverick Building on Alamo Plaza provided by Connie Fuller to Paula Allen for The History Column appearing in the November 7, 2013, issue of the San Antonio Express-News

Labor Day was the only national holiday between July 4 and Christmas.”

Carol Boyd Leon, “The Life of American Workers in 1915,” Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Typical 1911 Fat Men’s Race from Kickass Fact Encyclopedia

With a dearth of holidays, it should come as no surprise that more than 50 unions turned out for San Antonio’s Labor Day Parade in 1911. A crowd of 5,000 gathered at the fairgrounds. “Colonel” Otto Wahrmund, vice president of the San Antonio Brewing Association which produced Pearl Beer, remarks in An Ostrich-Plumed Hat, and Yes, She Shot Him Dead, that there they encountered the excitement of the beer drivers’ union striving to have their candidate crowned queen; sporting events such as the fat men racing for 75 yards or the old men (50 years and up, how insulting!) crawling 50 yards to win a purse of $2; and fiery political speeches.

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Mobs employing limbs of live oaks to mete out ‘justice’ were not uncommon

Above, “The Reason” by Albert A. Smith, 1920

Spent a lot of time with my nose buried in the pages of newspapers of a century ago while researching An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: And Yes, She Shot Him Dead and found myself often shocked by the stories I encountered.

Racism was not only entrenched, but there appeared little shame in embracing it openly in print. Ways were found to prevent Black men from affecting elections: poll taxes to discourage participation and refusal to allow Blacks to vote in the Democrats’ primaries. If no Blacks could vote in primaries, Black candidates would not be listed on the ballot. Mainstream white Democrat candidates boasted about this practice on the campaign trail. But that is all so minor compared to the accepted bias in the system of justice.

The truthful novel opens with the very public hanging of Leon Johnson for killing Dr. Augustus Maverick (1885-1913), an example clearly illustrating to Hedda Burgemeister what could happen to someone found guilty of shooting a powerful man in San Antonio, as she had done to brewery owner Otto Koehler (1855-1914). Executions attracted large crowds downtown.

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Diving down rabbit holes: Fledgling 19-teens’ silent film industry proved distracting

Above: “Boy Playwright Shows Talent,” San Antonio Express, July 6, 1913, UNT Libraries, The Portal to Texas History

Seeking the feel of an era when trying to write historic fiction requires time-consuming research, but distracting detours are so seductive and somewhat justified as snippets gleaned slip into the pages you type.

Take Oliver Perry Wilson Bailey (1897-1978), tagged with an ambitious-sounding name. The 1910 Census, when he was but a lad of 12, recorded him as a professional rabbit-raiser living on South Alamo Street, now part of Hemisfair, in San Antonio. By 1913, he was an accomplished screen writer. Yes, the son of a reporter of the San Antonio Express already had sold screenplays to three different companies.

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