Previously on Friday Night Videos... Roy Orbison.
Chicken Ranch Central
Suspicious of the Chicken Ranch, Miss Edna instead headed to Austin, where legendary Texas madam Hattie Valdes operated several houses catering to horny University of Texas students and Texas legislators in equal measure.There's more where that came from--a lot more, but it's getting late, so I'll wait until tomorrow to write up that part of the story. Now, it's off to bed for me!
“She didn’t have any openings at that moment, but she asked me if I knew about La Grange,” Miss Edna said. “The lady in Austin was telling me about it, then she called down there and they said somebody’s going to be gone a week. I said, ‘Well, at least I’ll go down there and see what it’s about. I may not even want to stay.’ But you can tolerate almost anything for a week.
“It was pleasant driving up to that old thing, seeing the trees and everything, you know?” she said. “After having looked at the city for a few years, that white house in the distance, among those green trees, it looked real pleasant. I didn’t know how it’d be like inside, you know, but I went from there.”
"There’s more hockypoo about that place than anything else."Seriously, how many other writers get to use "hockeypoo" in their book with a straight face? Okay, I'll admit I cracked a grin while writing it, but still. That quote aside, here's a sample of last night's output, quite possibly the single most well-known aspect of the Chicken Ranch:
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Miss Jessie hit upon a solution almost as old as the oldest profession, itself: Barter. Area farmers didn’t have money, but they did have livestock, and the brothel began accepting stock in trade. Before long, the going exchange rate became jokingly known as the “poultry standard,” that is, one chicken, one screw. Needless to say, Miss Jessie’s girls were up to their eyeballs in chickens in no time.Printing out the draft of the chapter for my files, it suddenly strikes me that I've already written quite a bit. Curiosity got the better of me, and I compared my page count to that of Jan Hutson's Chicken Ranch book from 1980. Now, there's not a 1:1 correlation between manuscript pages and a published book, but I'll wager my wordcount at this early stage isn't that far off her's in its entirety. And I know for certain I have more facts in mine--at least, facts that can be attributed and verified.
One of the first opportunities to ingratiate herself with the community came with America’s entry into World War I. As plenty of young Fayette County men headed overseas with the legendary doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force, Miss Jessie had her handful of girls write encouraging letters to the lads, sometimes even sending along care packages filled with home-baked cookies.I'll have my work cut out for me when it comes to revisions, of course. I find all matter of historical minutiae fascinating, much of which cause other people's eyes to glaze over. Ensuring the book is a lively, engaging read is an ongoing concern for me (yet you are thinking "It's a book about a brothel? How could it not be fascinating?" Trust me, anything can be boring if the writing is bad enough. This is my personal nightmare).
That show of compassion went over well in La Grange. Unfortunately, the War Department wasn’t nearly as impressed. Concerned with the debilitating impact venereal disease could have on the troops, the U.S. government launched a full-on war against prostitution. Following the advice of Teddy Roosevelt, Secretary of War Newton Baker spoke softly and carried a very big stick: any Texas city that wanted an army post (or wanted to keep one they already had) must shutter their vice districts, period.
Cooperation, mostly, seemed to be the key in forming a lasting alliance between the brothel and the sheriff’s office. Law enforcement everywhere maintained useful networks of informants who’d pass along information overheard from the underworld. In La Grange, this boiled down to the fact that petty criminals tended to brag about their exploits to whatever pretty whore they happened to be bedding. Miss Jessie made sure to pass any such confessions along.And yes, I am still on track to finish this chapter by the 15th, which will give me an even-money shot at wrapping up the next chapter by New Year's Eve. Momentum, as they say, is a wonderful thing.
Neither version is accurate, but the first tale is unique in its almost complete disconnect from reality.Yes, I do demolish the wrongheaded, misguided and just downright bad writings of a writer who hath trod this ground before me. I confess to enjoying it a bit too much.
Although the system offered a degree of protection, a woman’s value only amounted to her ability to bring in money. One Austin police officer took note of a well-known prostitute, Georgetown Ella, who’d fallen deathly ill. With their mother unable to work, Ella’s four children faced the likelihood of starvation, and the brothel’s owner, Charley Cooney, was not the type of man to show compassion to any of them. Society in general was not apt to show much compassion, either.On a brighter note, I picked up two pieces of Chicken Ranch memorabilia off Ebay this week. Neither item was ever actually produced by or sold at the real Chicken Ranch. One was a money clip, which are pretty common, but this showed up at a cheap price and I couldn't resist. The other, a wine glass, features a Chicken Ranch logo. I've never seen such a glass before, so it's an intriguing find. I figure this was either sold as a souvenir at the failed Dallas restaurant or marketed in La Grange in the mid-80s, during the very brief time when they attempted to commercialize the defunct brothel. Either way, they're nice additions to my collection.
The ideas that sanctioned prostitution prevented rape and the spread of venereal disease were perhaps the most persistent arguments used by those in favor of a regulated sex trade, and ones that were commonly invoked to defend the Chicken Ranch as late as 1973. These "regulationists" were often police and medical practitioners, those who interacted and dealt with prostitution on an ongoing basis. From their perspective, the world's oldest profession had persisted and even thrived despite centuries of eradication efforts by countless cultures. The prohibition approach had undeniably failed. If prostitution could not be eliminated, then perhaps it could be contained and segregated so as to not corrupt polite society.It also doesn't help my daily progress when I come across items in my notes and research materials that absolutely needs to go in a previous chapter. That means going back before I forget, inserting the stray material, rewriting the surrounding copy to fit, revising citations...
Emelia Blaschke, 89, of Nordheim, passed away Tuesday Nov. 29, 2011. She was born April 7, 1922 in DeWitt County to the late John and Martha Skloss Gaida. She was a member of Holy Cross Catholic Church.I hadn't seen much of her for the past 2-plus decades because of a feud my father has perpetuated with that part of our family. Because of a wrong they did to him, my father cut off all contact with his mother, father and brothers as well as their respective families (a wrong I suspect, viewed through the wisdom of years, may actually be the other way around). He refused to attend his own father's funeral when Grandpa Joe died a few years back. He won't be attending his mother's funeral. He won't bury the hatchet because he'd rather nurse this hard lump of bitterness within him and play the victim, even though his siblings and parents have tried over and over again to make amends.
She is survived by her sons Joe Blaschke of Spring, TX, James Blaschke of Houston, TX and Nolan Blaschke of Columbus, TX, sister Adelene Decker, seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
She is preceded in death by her parents, husband Joseph Blaschke and brother E.G. Gaida.
A rosary will be 7:00 pm Wed. Nov. 30, 2011 at Finch Funeral Chapel. Funeral Mass will be 10:00 am Thurday Dec. 1, 2011 at Holy Cross Catholic Church. Intement will follow at Holy Cross Cemetery.
Pallbearers will be Frankie Seifert, Flavis Kozielski, Gervis Blaschke, Gary Rangnow, Glenn Mueller, Keith Blaschke, Jayme Blaschke, John Blaschke and Christopher Blaschke.
Memorial may be given to Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery Fund or Masses.
Arrangements by Finch Funeral Chapel-Yorktown 361-564-2277
Prostitution may have established itself in La Grange in the days of the Republic, but the frontier was a dusty memory, as was the “anything goes” attitude that accompanied it. La Grange had grown into a modern town of more than 2,000 residents, with electric and water utilities, an opera house, four schools, three banks and five churches. With the progressive era of a new century dawning, there seemed little chance that the status quo the brothels had enjoyed for so long could continue.Now Playing: Miles Davis Kind of Blue
Along the south banks of the Brazos River near Waco’s famed suspension bridge, a red-light district alternately known as “The Reservation” or “Two Street” existed for more than 40 years, as Waco blazed a trail by becoming the first city in Texas to legalize prostitution. Brothels had business permits and were taxed while prostitutes were licensed and--much as the women of the Chicken Ranch would do decades later--submitted to regular, mandatory medical examinations. Although the Reservation was ostensibly supported by the political establishment as a means of keeping vice segregated from more respectable parts of the city, the vast amounts of revenue generated by taxes and licensing fees levied upon commercial sex held far more sway over public policy than moral concerns.Hoping to get the current chapter put to bed by this weekend. Wish me luck!
If the widowed Mrs. Swine is a fiction, then she is a convenient one. Prostitution certainly flourished in 19th century La Grange, as it did throughout Texas and the Old West. Somebody had to be first, it stands to reason, and if nothing else, the homely, crude widow dressed in black makes for a good story.I've said it before, and I'll say it again: For being the world's most famous brothel, the Chicken Ranch has had a mind-boggling amount not written about it. My list of 19th century sources is vanishingly short. Still, I persevere. It's what I do.
The saloon was in a prime location to take advantage of the abundance of thirsty, road-weary travelers, and as a matter of course offered several rooms to rent. It is here Mrs. Swine took up residence with her girls, and the saloon operated continuously as a brothel for at least the next 50 years.The good news is that I'm back on track. The bad news is that I'm already behind my self-imposed schedule. I need to double-time it this week if I'm going to finish the current chapter and the next before the end of the month. And I suspect Thanksgiving won't let me have a whole lot of free time for writing...
Rivers are a major part of Earth's circulatory system, supplying nutrients to support the oceans' biological productivity, plus other important natural and cultural functions. But rivers are also used for consumptive uses and waste disposal in ways that reduce their essential flows and otherwise hinder their crucial functions. Recreation and tourism are increasingly important uses of rivers. These are essential human activities that can be instrumental in helping people understand and support proper river stewardship.Sounds like a win-win for everyone involved. That is, of course, assuming one side is more concerned with the greater public good, as opposed to establishing a private waterfront for the well-heeled in New Braunfels.
The Research Center for River Recreation and Tourism will encourage and facilitate research from all relevant disciplines and will foster a holistic perspective on river systems. The Center will particularly focus on developing and disseminating an understanding of the processes and methods by which recreation and tourism can lead to better stewardship.
The very first madam to run a brothel in La Grange arrived in 1844 on La Bahia Road from New Orleans, that infamous Sodom-On-The-Mississippi, with a covey of three "soiled doves" in tow. Of their lives in New Orleans, or whether they made any detours along the way, nothing is known. It strains credibility to suggest that these women set out from New Orleans with the actual intent to settle in La Grange, a tiny frontier town barely known to anyone east of Nacogdoches, if even that. It is far more likely that their intended destination was San Antonio or possibly even the new capital of Austin. In any event, circumstances caused them to stop in La Grange, and in La Grange is where they stayed.Yeppers, it does indeed appear that we're finally getting into some of the good stuff. I find history and background and worldbuilding fascinating (I am a Tolkien fan, after all) but I know good and well what folks will buy this book for!
"Most of the population was German or Czech," said Oliver Kitzman, a former District Attorney who served Fayette County. "If you look around the country, you’ll see when the Czechs came over they settled in the blackland prairies, and the Germans settled in the hills, the more rolling places. I don't know why that is, but it's true. They were a frugal, hard-working people."Nothing Earth-shaking, I'll grant you that. But those Czechs and Germans are a big reason why the Chicken Ranch became the enduring institution that it did. And Kitzman has a lot of interesting things to say later on. Stay tuned.
Near the end of Spanish colonial rule through the Mexican revolution, the important La Bahia Road cut through the area, crossing the Colorado near the present site of La Grange. The Spanish never settled the region, though, and it wasn’t until 1822 that European settlers--members of Austin’s “Old Three Hundred”--arrived in significant numbers.I'm somewhat conflicted right now by terminology in this section. In my sources, "whites" and "Indians" are used almost exclusively. "Native American" sounds entirely too modern and jarring for the most part, and "settlers" and "Europeans" become tedious after a dozen or so uses. Fortunately, it's a small section only a few pages long, and after that I shouldn't have to worry about that particular word-choice issue again. I imagine I'll sort it out eventually--that's what second drafts are for!
Almost from the start there were clashes between the whites and the natives. The first recorded battle occurred in 1823 on Skull Creek, when a hastily assembled troop of 22 settlers destroyed a Karankawa camp harassing whites along the river. The Karankawas, a tribe more commonly associated with the Texas Coastal Bend, were generally reviled by settlers and rival tribes alike for their reputed cannibalism. At the end of the fight, 23 Karankawas lay dead, without the loss of a single settler.
What set the Chicken Ranch apart was its venerable history. By 1973, it was the last man standing, the lone holdout against changing times that had shuttered pretty much all of its one-time contemporaries.In case you're wondering, those words were helped along by Pumpkin Ale from Buffalo Bill's Brewery. I highly recommend it--of the various pumpkin ales I've tried over the years, this one strikes the right balance between the pumpkin and hoppy malt flavors of the beer. Not that it has anything directly to do with the Chicken Ranch, but I felt like sharing.
From the earliest days of the Republic, long before vast oilfields covered the landscape and “black gold” made the state rich, the Texas economy depended on three industries: cattle, cotton and timber. A casual observer of the time could not be blamed, though, for thinking of prostitution as a fourth major cash crop.
Frankenstein’s moon: Astronomers vindicate account of masterwork
Victor Frankenstein’s infamous monster led a brief, tragic existence, blazing a trail of death and destruction that prompted mobs of angry villagers to take up torches and pitchforks against him on the silver screen. Never once during his rampage, however, did the monster question the honesty of his ultimate creator, author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
That bit of horror was left to the scholars.
Now, a team of astronomers from Texas State University-San Marcos has applied its unique brand of celestial sleuthing to a long-simmering controversy surrounding the events that inspired Shelley to write her legendary novel Frankenstein. Their results shed new light on the question of whether or not Shelley’s account of the episode is merely a romantic fiction.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (played by Douglas Walton) and Lord Byron (played by Gavin Gordon) listen as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (played by Elsa Lanchester) tells her tale of horror. [Bride of Frankenstein]
Texas State physics faculty members Donald Olson and Russell Doescher, English professor Marilynn S. Olson and Honors Program students Ava G. Pope and Kelly D. Schnarr publish their findings in the November 2011 edition of Sky & Telescope magazine, on newsstands now.
“Shelley gave a very detailed account of that summer in the introduction to an early edition of Frankenstein, but was she telling the truth?” Olson said. “Was she honest when she told her story of that summer and how she came up with the idea, and the sequence of events?”
A Dark and Stormy Night
The story begins, literally, in June 1816 at Villa Diodati overlooking Switzerland’s Lake Geneva. Here, on a dark and stormy night, Shelley—merely 18 at the time—attended a gathering with her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, her stepsister Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron and John Polidori. To pass the time, the group read a volume of ghost stories aloud, at which point Byron posed a challenge in which each member of the group would attempt to write such a tale.
Villa Diodati sits on a steep slope overlooking Lake Geneva. Relatively clear views prevail to the west, but the view of the eastern sky is partially blocked by the hill. A rainbow greeted the Texas State researchers upon their arrival at Lake Geneva. [Photo by Russell Doescher]
“The chronology that’s in most books says Byron suggested they come up with ghost stories on June 16, and by June 17 she’s writing a scary story,” Olson said. “But Shelley has a very definite memory of several days passing where she couldn’t come up with an idea. If this chronology is correct, then she embellished and maybe fabricated her account of how it all happened.
“There’s another, different version of the chronology in which Byron makes his suggestion on June 16, and Shelley didn’t come up with her idea until June 22, which gives a gap of five or six days for conceiving a story,” he said. “But our calculations show that can’t be right, because there wouldn’t be any moonlight on the night that she says the moon was shining.”
Moonlight is the key. In Shelley’s account, she was unable to come up with a suitable idea until another late-night conversation--a philosophical discussion of the nature of life--that continued past the witching hour (midnight). When she finally went to bed, she experienced a terrifying waking dream in which a man attempted to bring life to a cadaverous figure via the engines of science. Shelley awoke from the horrific vision to find moonlight streaming in through her window, and by the next day was hard at work on her story.
Although the original gathering and ghost story challenge issued by Byron is well-documented, academic scholars and researchers have questioned the accuracy of Mary Shelley’s version of events to the extent of labeling them outright fabrications. The traditionally accepted date for the ghost story challenge is June 16, based on an entry from Polidori’s diary, which indicates the entire party had gathered at Villa Diodati that night. In Polidori’s entry for June 17, however, he reports “The ghost-stories are begun by all but me.”
Russell Doescher and Ava Pope take measurements in the garden of Villa Diodati. [Photo by Marilynn Olson]
Critics have used those diary entries to argue Shelley didn’t agonize over her story for days before beginning it, but rather started within a span of hours. Others have suggested Shelley fabricated a romanticized version for the preface of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein solely to sell more books. Key, however, is the fact that none of Polidori’s entries make reference to Byron’s ghost story proposal.
“There is no explicit mention of a date for the ghost story suggestion in any of the primary sources–the letters, the documents, the diaries, things like that,” Olson said. “Nobody knows that date, despite the assumption that it happened on the 16th.”
Surviving letters and journals establish that Byron and Polidori arrived at Villa Diodati on June 10, narrowing the possible dates for the evening of Byron’s ghost story proposition to a June 10-16 window. To further refine the dates, Shelley’s reference of moonlight on the night of her inspirational dream provided an astronomical clue for the Texas State researchers. To determine which nights in June 1816 bright moonlight could’ve shone through Shelley’s window after midnight, the team of Texas State researchers traveled in Aug. 2010 to Switzerland, where Villa Diodati still stands above Lake Geneva.
Ava Pope, Kelly Schnarr and Donald Olson on the steep slope just below Villa Diodati. [Photo by Roger Sinnott]
The research team made extensive topographic measurements of the terrain and Villa Diodati, then combed through weather records from June of 1816. The Texas State researchers then calculated that a bright, gibbous moon would have cleared the hillside to shine into Shelley’s bedroom window just before 2 a.m. on June 16. This calculated time is in agreement with Shelley’s witching hour reference. Furthermore, a Polidori diary entry backs up Shelley’s claim of a late-night philosophical “conversation about principles” of life taking place June 15.
Had there been no moonlight visible that night, the astronomical analysis would indicate fabrication on her part. Instead, evidence supports Byron’s ghost story suggestion taking place June 10-13 and Shelley’s waking dream occurring between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on June 16, 1816.
“Mary Shelley wrote about moonlight shining through her window, and for 15 years I wondered if we could recreate that night,” Olson said. “We did recreate it. We see no reason to doubt her account, based on what we see in the primary sources and using the astronomical clue.”
For additional information, visit the Sky & Telescope web gallery at www.skyandtelescope.com/Frankenstein.