• Telling old stories in new ways: The 175th Anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo

    San Antonio Express-News Alamo Front Page

    In the news business, sometimes the worst part about major events is writing about their anniversaries. They arrive year after year with all the predictability and excitement of receiving Christmas fruitcake from your Aunt Helga. There’s usually no new information to offer, and the hapless journalist gets stuck trying to come up with an interesting story.

    So I was pleasantly surprised by the Alamo Immortal project published by the San Antonio Express-News, which put a creative twist on the old story of the Battle of the Alamo and its 175h anniversary.

    The idea was the brainchild of Dean Lockwood, director of news production at the newspaper. A history buff who knew the big anniversary for the Alamo was coming up, Dean started brainstorming a few months ago about new, original ways to cover the event.

    “Sad to say, it’s something that can get a little taken for granted in the media,” Dean told me. “It’s something we cover year after year. You know, the same picture — Dawn at the Alamo.

    “We could have gone that route and done the obligatory feature and a couple of other little things and everybody would have been fine with that,” he said. But Dean wanted to try something new, and he brainstormed with art director Adrian Alvarez.

  • Alamo custodians oust two members

    The Alamo, photo by Nan Palmero
    Photo Credit: Nan Palmero

    Yesterday I mentioned the clash that occurred in 1908 between Adina De Zavala and Clara Driscoll, both members of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the custodians of the Alamo. Zavala barricaded herself in the Long Barrack to ensure its preservation.

    Over the years, members of the nonprofit organization have at times disagreed about how best to preserve the historic shrine, and today, Scott Huddleston wrote a story about the latest rift:

    The Daughters of the Republic of Texas have taken the dramatic step of expelling two members who formed their own nonprofit organization and criticized the group that cares for the Alamo.

    In a news release, the DRT said a “distracting and negative event” has come to an end, allowing the lineage group to refocus on care of the shrine and other sites across the state.

    It remains to be seen whether the DRT and the organization formed by the ousted members, Erin Bowman and Dianne MacDiarmid, will coexist peacefully, as each seeks to promote the Alamo’s best interests. Bowman and MacDiarmid both declined to comment Monday.

    “We’re trying to decide where we’re going from here,” Bowman said.

    You can check out Scott’s original story about the controversy here. “I think the split has been a long time coming,” Bowman said in July.

    (Photo credit: Rafael Resendiz)

  • How much did it cost to save the Alamo?

    The Alamo at Night

    One of the cool features of Bexar County’s digital archive is that you can do crazy keyword searches for people like “David Crockett” and other historic figures in San Antonio to discover deeds and other public records filed in their name. Some of these records document important events in the city’s history.

    Out of curiosity, I ran a search for “Daughters of the Republic of Texas” and sorted the results by date to look for deeds filed in 1905, when the nonprofit group became the custodians of the Alamo.

    I found this deed describing how the Daughters, with the financial help of Texas lawmakers and wealthy benefactor Clara Driscoll, had paid $75,000 to the merchants who owned the Long Barrack on the Alamo grounds. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $1.8 million in today’s dollars.

    The deed says the Daughters were incorporated for “the patriotic purpose of acquiring historic ground and perpetuating the memory and spirit of the men and women who achieved and maintained the independence of Texas and cherishing and preserving the unity of Texas.” The deed describes how the Daughters released the property to the state of Texas. The state owns the Alamo; the Daughters take care of it.

    If you’re a history buff, you could enjoy hours of nerdy fun finding these kinds of primary documents.

    Notice how this record is just a piece of the story. Clara Driscoll helped save the Alamo’s Long Barrack by opening her pocketbook, so her name is in the deed. But there’s no mention of Adina De Zavala, who persuaded Driscoll to join the cause of preserving the Alamo, and later famously clashed with Driscoll about what to do with it.

    For tips about looking up historical records on the county’s Web site, there’s a FAQ page that offers search tips, and I blogged here about some pointers.

  • Following the money at the Alamo: License-plate sales spent elsewhere

    Texas License Plate Scott Huddleston continues to dig up interesting stories about the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the caretakers of the Alamo. In today’s story, Scott looked at how the nonprofit organization spends proceeds from the sale of Texas license plates. Scott discovered the Alamo isn’t getting a very big cut:

    Since the sale of the Native Texan license plates began in 2003, the DRT has collected $22 per plate. Of the $213,452.30 it reported spending in license plate proceeds from early 2005 through August 2008, just over $37,000 — 17 percent — supported the Alamo, according to records from the governor’s office …

    A lesser-known site, the French Legation Museum, an 1841 house near downtown Austin, drew the largest share of license plate funds — $50,004.89. And the DRT spent $18,214.46 on its Republic of Texas Museum, also in Austin.

    I hadn’t known the DRT got a cut of license-plate sales so it was interesting to see how the money is being spent. Where the money goes is important — a rift is growing between DRT members who disagree about fundraising efforts to maintain and protect the Texas shrine.

    Somehow, “Remember the French Legation Museum!” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue in the heat of battle like “Remember the Alamo!”

  • Alamo caretakers discuss how to control ‘misinformation’

    The Alamo at Night

    Express-News Reporter Scott Huddleston, who’s been covering the turmoil within the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, wrote a follow-up story about a discussion to prohibit the nonprofit’s employees from talking to the media — even after the employees no longer work for the group:

    The women who run the Alamo deny that they’re trying to muzzle anyone.

    But the Daughters of the Republic of Texas have mulled a plan to deter Alamo employees from talking to the media, even after they’ve moved on.

    Patti Atkins, DRT president-general, said the group is trying to stop a flow of “misinformation.”

    “We have no intention of putting a gag order on anybody,” Atkins said.

    According to minutes of an Aug. 12 meeting, the DRT’s Alamo Committee sent a proposed policy on media access to a lawyer for review. It would require new Alamo employees to acknowledge that when their employment ended, they’d be forbidden from giving interviews or making any “representations of the Alamo.”