Alamo set will soon be his­tory

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro & State - JACQUIELYNN FLOYD jfloyd@dal­las­news.com

If you can imag­ine Davy Crock­ett without en­vi­sion­ing John Wayne, you’re a more dis­ci­plined his­to­rian than I.

If you can’t, it’s un­der­stand­able. Truth and myth emul­sify in Texas, nowhere more so than at our most revered shrine: the Alamo. The stir­ring bat­tle tale — gen­er­ally fac­tual, de­spite be­ing mas­saged and huck­ster­ized for nearly two cen­turies — in­forms a unique mind­set that en­tails a pleas­ant Texan sense of self-sat­is­fac­tion, and that tends to get on non-Texan nerves.

No mat­ter. It’s our iconic story, and when it be­came an iconic movie, Texas was not re-cre­ated in Hol­ly­wood. Hol­ly­wood came to Texas.

Gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­cans learned their ver­sion of Alamo his­tory not by vis­it­ing San An­to­nio, but by see­ing the 1960 film — Wayne’s pas­sion project, his di­rec­to­rial de­but, and maybe his most mem­o­rable role.

And for decades, the south­west Texas film set, built for the movie and used for count­less other pro­duc­tions, was a pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion — “realer” to some vis­i­tors than the ac­tual Alamo, hemmed in over the years by down­town San An­to­nio de­vel­op­ment.

It was built to last, and it did — for a while.

But noth­ing, pos­si­bly bar­ring Texas hubris, lasts for­ever. The old build­ings grew rick­ety and un­us­able. Re­cent pho­tos show the re­pro­duc­tion Alamo is crack­ing across its fa­cade; shrubs are grow­ing through its floor.

Now, the heir to the prop­erty — a Tar­rant County res­i­dent who prefers to be anony­mous — is ready to say good­bye. At the end of this month, a mas­sive week­end tag sale will liq­ui­date 50 years’ worth of movie his­tory: wag­ons, ar­row­heads, pho­tos, real and replica tools, knives, fur­ni­ture.

It’s an ac­cu­mu­lated col­lec­tion of enough Wild West props and bibelots big enough to fur­nish a dozen dude ranches. But is it real Texas his­tory?

Yes, it is. It’s his­tory built on myth, on re-imag­in­ing, on re­mem­ber­ing things the way we think they were. Like the Alamo it­self. Like Texas.

The movie, in its hey­day, got mixed re­views: It was long, talky, and rid­dled with his­tor­i­cal in­ac­cu­ra­cies. It’s hard to over­look such glar­ing anachro­nisms as teen idol Frankie Avalon in a skunk-skin cap and Wayne de­liv­er­ing pa­tri­otic mono­logues that re­flect Cold War ide­ol­ogy more than dis­putes be­tween Tex­ian rebels and the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment.

Movie­go­ers loved it any­way. And when some of them wanted to see the Alamo “for real,” they vis­ited not the old mis­sion, but the pre­served movie set near the south­west Texas town of Brack­ettville.

A tourist desti­na­tion for decades, the rein­vented

western fron­tier town was the set for count­less other films, com­mer­cials and videos. There were staged gun­fights, stage­coaches, pony rides. The big draw was al­ways the re­con­structed Alamo it­self.

“To many, it was more ‘real’ than the ac­tual site,” said Alamo his­to­rian and cu­ra­tor Bruce Win­ders in a ret­ro­spec­tive in­ter­view with the San An­to­nio-Ex­press-News.

And it’s in those props, those odds and ends, that we can most read­ily imag­ine Texas as the sprawl­ing ter­ri­tory where Mex­ico col­lided with the Amer­i­can fron­tier.

Old-timey whiskey bot­tles. Can­nons. Dusty church pews, an un­der­taker’s fu­neral wagon, a black­smith’s anvil, a ped­dler’s wagon ad­ver­tis­ing a tonic to cure all ills “of man and beast.” Alamo Vil­lage, corny though it might seem to tech-jaded mil­len­ni­als, was a stage set where Tex­ans could imag­ine their own stir­ring le­gends — from fiery bat­tles to homey hearth­side spoons and bar­rels and buck­ets.

With the death of the vil­lage’s long­time own­ers and op­er­a­tor, the at­trac­tion scaled back its op­er­a­tions. In 2010, it shut down for good, just a cou­ple of months short of the 50th an­niver­sary of the movie’s premiere.

It was mourned as more than a road­side tourist stop: The vil­lage long held the un­of­fi­cial seal of ap­proval from loosely knit groups of hard­core en­thu­si­asts some­times known as SAG’s: Se­ri­ous Alamo Guys (celebrity star: Phil Collins).

I was spoon-fed Alamo lore from in­fancy — a dis­tant un­cle per­ished in the sto­ried bat­tle — but some of th­ese his­to­ri­ans know vir­tu­ally ev­ery known de­tail: the types of weapons used, hourly weather changes dur­ing the siege, and Gen­eral Santa Anna’s per-head pro­vi­sion for women and chil­dren who sur­vived the bat­tle (two dol­lars and blan­ket apiece).

“Alamo Vil­lage was the only place on earth where vis­i­tors could get a sense of what it was like to be in the Alamo in 1836,” said Bill Che­merka, the founder of an all-things-Alamo or­ga­ni­za­tion called the Alamo So­ci­ety, and who was dubbed “the Google of Alamo buffs” by Texas Monthly. The re­mote south­west Texas land­scape, he told the Ex­pressNews, lent a 19th-cen­tury au­then­tic­ity to the site.

It’s a movie-set mish­mash of real and faux an­tiques; of work­ing ve­hi­cles and cutout props; of ar­ti­facts doc­u­ment­ing the film his­tory that shaped the fron­tier Texas of our imag­i­na­tions.

“We have a lot of stuff,” said Joanie Sell­ers-Ed­wards, who op­er­ates a Weather-ford­based es­tate liq­ui­da­tion firm over­see­ing the sale. “This has all been in my owner’s fam­ily for four gen­er­a­tions. All the mer­chan­dise was used in var­i­ous movies.”

It’s not an auc­tion, Sell­ers-Ed­wards said, be­cause not all the in­di­vid­ual items can be specif­i­cally traced as hav­ing been used in par­tic­u­lar films. It was a work­ing col­lec­tion of en­ter­tain­ment props and ex­hibits, used and reused over the years for movies, videos and the themed vis­i­tor at­trac­tion.

The sale will be held Jan. 27 and 28 (de­tails are avail­able at the Alamo Vil­lage Face­book page, where more than 4,000 users have ex­pressed in­ter­est).

So: Do all those odds and ends and movie props rep­re­sent “real” his­tory?

They cer­tainly rep­re­sent film his­tory. And they rep­re­sent the Alamo as it still stands, af­ter all th­ese years, in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion — an Amer­i­can Ther­mopy­lae, an ideal of pol­i­tics as noble and self-sac­ri­fic­ing, rather than greedy and self­deal­ing.

The re­al­ity, of course, of­ten doesn’t match the myth. But it’s the myth that makes us Tex­ans.

Pho­tos from Alamo Vil­lage/Face­book

Tp­n3o 7s2in 327ws3r7vin3t­n23­known as Alamo Vil­lage was used for many films, start­ing with John Wayne’s Tsp Alemo.

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