An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Sixteen

ambrose bierce devil's dictionary

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Fifteen

Hedda Burgemeister, December 1911

My dearest Emmy,

True confession: I had not the patience to wait for Madame Toselli’s book from the library. I splurged and purchased it immediately. I am sure “her own story” will soon be forgotten, for her writing has little merit. However, the glimpse inside the life of royals proved irresistible. I opened a can of Campbell’s oxtail soup – giving in to the Campbell’s habit, sometimes asparagus or pepperpot, into which I lazily slip all too often – and read it cover to cover.

It is easy to understand how her book angered the upper crust of Saxony, whom she describes as so old-fashioned that antediluvian is the adjective most appropriate. She writes, “The Court circle at Dresden… was composed of the most narrow-minded, evil-speaking and conceited collection of human beings it is possible to imagine.”

Continue reading “An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Sixteen”

Biannual roundup of what you are reading on this blog

You have done it again. No wonder I wander around flitting arbitrarily from subject to subject. My readers flit, too.

During the past year, you have remained as Alamobsessive as I, particularly focusing on the guns  Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson let be drawn in front of the Alamo. You joined me in remembering my father-in-law, George Spencer, and photographer Rick Hunter. You have demonstrated your interest in photography by two artists, Richard Nitschke and Sarah Brooke Lyons. You have let me take you traveling to San Miguel de Allende, and shown interest in the reign of Maximilian and Carlota in Mexico.

You refuse to let two old posts, one about David Sedaris’ “Nuit of the Living Dead” and one about Sandy Skoglund’s cheesy “Cocktail Party,” fade off of the top 12 list. It makes me particularly happy that you still show interest in the San Antonio Song and have given life to my true tale providing a ghost to inhabit Brackenridge Park.

The number in parentheses represents the rankings from six months ago:

  1. Please come and take them away from San Antonio, (1) 2013

    “They say Sam Maverick forged the bell for St. Mark’s from a cannon used during the Battle of the Alamo. If only the concept proved contagious….” Postcards from San Antonio – No. 12, “Peace be with you.” http://postcardssanantonio.com/other-themes.html
  2. George Hutchings Spencer, 1923-2013 (3), 2013
  3. The State surrenders the Alamo; Run for Cover, (4) 2013
  4. Richard Nitschke: Seeing Agave in a Different Light, (8) 2013
  5. Please put this song on Tony’s pony, and make it ride away (10), 2010
  6. Sarah’s faces more than a thousand times better, (11) 2013
  7. The Madarasz Murder Mystery: Might Helen Haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012
  8. “Nuit of the Living Dead” (9), 2010
  9. Postcard from San Miguel de Allende: Sun rises again at La Aurora, 2014
  10. The Tragic Rule of Maximilian and Carlota in Mexico, 2014
  11. Cheez Doodles as Art (12), 2011
  12. Rick Hunter lives here. And many other places., 2013

Thanks for hanging out here some and for giving me permission to keep on rambling on about whatever I’m currently pondering.

The Tragic Rule of Maximilian and Carlota in Mexico

Empress Carlota and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, circa 1864, from the Lusher Collection and included in exhibit at the Witte Museum February 1 through March 30
Empress Carlota and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, circa 1864, from the Lusher Collection and included in exhibit at the Witte Museum February 1 through March 30

City of Mexico, Thursday, Jan. 10, 3 p.m., 1867 – Yesterday morning Col. Paulino Gomez Lanadrid, commanding 700 reinforcements of Imperial troops sent to succor the besieged garrison at Cuernavaca, was killed near that place during an attack by a body of Liberals, who were lying in ambuscade….

More than 500 families, mostly Mochos and French, will leave here on the 20th with 4,000 French troops….

Maximilian is waiting for the last French soldier to leave. The shadow of the last of the expeditionary corps will not be lost sight of by the Archduke, who is now residing in a humble house between here and the Castle of Chapultepec.

The New York Times

And so, Maximilian, the falling emperor of Mexico, awaited his fate.

"Execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico" by Edouard Manet, 1868
“Execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico” by Edouard Manet, 1868 (not part of exhibit at the Witte)

The French installation of the Archduke Maximilian and his Belgian-born wife Charlotte to reign over the politically unstable Mexico of 1864 was bound not to end well. But the story is a rich one of international intrigue on both sides of the Atlantic.

m-and-c-galley-coverAs Trinity University Press prepares to release Maximilian and Carlota: Europe’s Last Empire in Mexico by Mary Margaret McAllen, the Witte Museum is opening a companion exhibit, “Maximilian and Carlota: Last Empire in Mexico,” focusing on the fascinating lives of the ill-fated royal couple. The exhibit of portraits, photographs and artifacts opens on February 1, while the author will read from her book and be available to sign copies during a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 8, at The Twig Book Shop.

Fell in love a few year’s ago with C.M. Mayo’s masterful novel, The Last Prince of the Mexico Empire, focusing on a child caught up in the political turmoil – Principe Agustin de Iturbide y Green. A Library Journal review in 2009 perhaps summarizes the complexities involved most succinctly:

Once upon a time, there was a little half-American boy who briefly became heir to the Mexican throne—until his distraught parents sued the doomed Emperor Maximilian for his return.

I highly recommend Mayo’s book, and am looking forward to reading McAllen’s. And if these and the exhibit leave you thirsting for even more glimpses into the lives of Maximilian and Carlota, Mayo maintains an ongoing blog Maximilian ~ Carlota, described as “resources for researchers of the tumultuous period of Mexican history known as the Second Empire, or ‘French Intervention.'”

I’m hoping one of the two authors will suddenly contact me with a sliver of information (a very unlikely record to stumble upon, so am certainly not holding my breath) about a San Antonio connection to the royal rulers. Among the Austro-Hungarians enlisted to serve in support of their reign in Mexico was Baron George Ritter von Tomasini (1818-1912). As the Second Empire of Mexico collapsed, Tomasini and his wife made their way to New Orleans and to San Antonio by 1872. Here, they joined the community of dairy farmers at the Coker Settlement, about which I am writing a book for the Coker Cemetery Association. Geographically, the heart of the Tomasini farm was located where the cluster of shops and restaurants known as The Alley on Bitters are found today.

Eva and George Tomasini, photo from www.thealleyonbitters.com
Eva and George Tomasini, photo from http://www.thealleyonbitters.com

February 3, 2014, Update: Read Steve Bennett’s review of McAllen’s book in the San Antonio Express-News

March 19, 2014, Update: David Martin Davies will moderate a discussion with McAllen from 10 to 10:45 a.m. in the Story Room on the 3rd floor of the Central Library during the San Antonio Book Festival on Saturday, April 5.

January 5, 2016, Update: C.M. Mayo has posted a podcast of a conversation with McAllen recorded in The Twig in October 2015.