Saturday, February 18, 2006

No Naughty Nurses Here

Okay, this needs to be said, because several search engine hits have directed people to this site looking for something that... well... you just won't find here:

Nurse sluts.

That's right, this is a "nurse slut" free zone. In fact (and this is the reason I'm getting these hits), I have specifically formulated a rule against "nurse sluts", in so far as Halloween costumes are concerned.

Now, I'm certain that there are many fine Internet resources that can provide the... er.... "information" that you're looking for, and so, I offer you a helpful link to Google, which should set you on your way.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Forgotten Austin: Barton Springs Cemetery

Click Title for Photo Set

Austin strikes me as a city not entirely comfortable with its own history. Oh, to be sure, there is much vaunting of the achievements of the brief-lived Texas Republic, colonist Stephen F. Austin was naturally granted apotheosis long ago, and various restaurants proudly display artifacts left casually behind by U.S. Presidents who put in their Austin years as governor (LBJ’s hat, a myriad of Christmas cards and thank-you letters from the Shrub), but aside from this narrow slice of the past, much of Austin’s heritage seems to have been left to quietly fade away.

However, it IS still there, if you know where to look. There are quiet, decaying corners where the last vestiges of the all-but-forgotten linger on, eschewing the notice of the casual observer, and severed from context. Blocks of granite scattered across an island that now serves as a dog park turn out to be the last remnants of Austin’s colossally unsuccessful first dam; a low stone wall in the woods happens to be one of the few pieces of physical evidence of 18th century Spanish missions to the area; and, of course, the town is saturated with hidden and neglected cemeteries.

Take, for instance, Barton Springs Cemetery. Nestled in the Zilker Park neighborhood behind an inconspicuous, dilapidated building, most people would pass it by without a second glance; this despite the recent erection of a small historical site marker. Indeed, there is little to see. An empty acre or so of fairly-recently mowed grass and a few broken unmarked stones cresting the weeds are all there is to tell the story of a vanished community. The historic marker tells us a little more: the lot is one of the oldest African-American cemeteries in central Texas; the building at the front of the lot was a Baptist church erected in the 1940’s, replacing an older one that burned down. Tantalizing hints, but that is all.

If you turn to the Internet and the local library, you can find a little more. A bit of digging, and some other facts reveal themselves in the form of old articles from the Statesman, a brief mention at a City Council meeting, the text from a small pamphlet put out by the Zilker Neighborhood Association in the 1980’s. It turns out that the cemetery was not just an African-American interment ground, but was, in fact, started as a slave cemetery for a nearby plantation, whose grounds once encompassed most of the surrounding subdivision. After Juneteenth (which, if you recall, is when the Federal government finally got around to freeing Texas slaves some two years after the Emancipation Proclamation), the cemetery and church formed the center of the nascent freedman community and remained so for many decades. Indeed, by the 1940’s, the site had supposedly seen the burial of over 1,000 persons, and attempts to find a spot for even one new grave were utterly unsuccessful.

After the original church was destroyed by fire, it seemed that, due to a combination of factors, not the least of which was a government strategy of segregating the city along its East/West axis, the African-American community in South Austin began to disperse. By the 1980’s, little remained of it, and in the 1990’s the church closed its doors for the final time. The grounds continued to be tended by a group of caretakers who had grown up around the church and cemetery, but as they aged, their efforts became intermittent at best. Vandals shattered and stole markers, records of burials disappeared in the teeth of bureaucracy, weeds covered the grounds.

Today, the neighborhood, as with much of South Austin, has steadily grown whiter and more affluent; mushrooming real-estate taxes have forced many of the remaining older residents out, time marches on and the cemetery and church, once the very heart of a vibrant community, now sit quiet and forgotten, perhaps an unwelcome reminder of a history modern-day Austin is uncomfortable with.

Working

Got a stomach flu today, so I've got nothing better to do than work on another cemetery entry. Expect it soon.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Crashinated

The car, she is dead.

Adjuster #626, after much dithering and weighing of options, with grim voice and the indefatigable coldness of the fiscally oriented mind, declared it so on Friday.

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"Alas, alas, alas!"

The cries echo from the cliffs, grown grey beneath the clouded sky.

"Alas, alas, alas!"

The birds are silent, the seas are still, the sun is in hiding. A thing of beauty is no more.







Cheer up, little birdies! We have another car now!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Donuts and the Land of the Dead

Click title for photo-set.

Last week, I hopped a fence behind a Krispy Kreme and explored William's Creek Cemetery, a handful of acreage where several hundred people, many of them slaves, were buried in the mid-to-late 19th century.

Once upon a time, this was a pastoral landscape, perfectly suited for all of our "Rest In Peace" pretensions. Now, progress has marched forward and the cemetery is a forgotten wooded lot surrounded on four sides by the worst suburban sprawl has to offer: family dining establishments and a multiplex movie theater. Amid the tangled weeds and trees, most of the graves have fallen into a state of serious neglect, or had their headstones smashed by vandals. The air is sick with the smell of donuts from Krispy Kreme and rotting pasta from the Macaroni Grill's dumpster; the sound of traffic is an ever-present assault on any meditative mood.

Still, its fate is better than that of some of Austin's older burial grounds. Walmart recently provoked controversy when it exhumed an entire Slaughter Lane cemetery in order to open a new store on the land.

Rest In Peace, indeed.