Monday, April 16, 2012
This way to La Grange
More significant, though, was our Sunday road trip to La Grange itself for another round of on-site research. The Wife and I rolled into town around 1:30 p.m. and went straight to the Fayette Public Library, which houses the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives. I've visited several times before, and can only say that every county should be so lucky to have as thorough a historical collection. The scanned photo archive alone is a treasure trove. For my purposes, I'd come to review a couple of new items added to their Chicken Ranch archive, the biggest draw being an interview with Miss Edna conducted by Kathy Carter, the library/museum director, back in 2007. Miss Edna told me about that interview when I visited her in Phoenix, but I never could find it in any journals or other publications. The phantom interview baffled me and eluded me. Turns out, Carter agreed to keep it sealed until after Miss Edna's death to protect her privacy, which explained a lot. Donna Green, the curator/archivist helped me out with that interview and several other pieces I was looking for.
Schulenburg native Gary McKee, Fayette County Historical Commission vice-chair (pictured above), showed up shortly thereafter with a fantastic bag of goodies, including some very rare collectibles I'd never seen before. McKee's been a great help these last few months we've been in contact, and has put me on the trail of some wonderful stories. I even got in a quick interview with him regarding one story he had I'd not encountered before, one which I'll have to go back and insert in one of my earlier chapters. It's these colorful local anecdotes that truly bring the Chicken Ranch story to life, and I'd be going nowhere fast without them.
Once we finished up at the library, The Wife and I made the short drive over to the Chicken Ranch Dance Hall in Nechanitz for a look-see, simply because it's one of the few businesses in Fayette County that unabashedly embraces the history of the long-gone brothel. Interestingly, they use a variation on the old logo from the failed Chicken Ranch restaurant in Dallas on Greenville Avenue. Since the restaurant's been DOA for 35 years now and the logo's shown up on all sorts of unlicensed product, I suspect nobody's going to complain.
Then came the main event: We met up with Marc Speir, a graduate assistant of mine from many years ago who's since moved on to bigger and better things, and headed off to the Chicken Ranch. With the current owner's blessing, Speir, The Wife and I tromped around the grounds for several hours, taking photos and shooting video footage to eventually craft into a mini documentary/book trailer (my eventually publisher is going to absolutely love me). The ruins themselves are in much worse shape than when I last visited some 18 months ago. The western wing of added-on rooms has almost completely collapsed in on itself, and vandals had gone through kicking out window framed and tearing down paneling, smashing tile in the kitchen and ripping apart old duct work. It makes me sad that folks have nothing better to do than desecrate Texas history--even such neglected aspects of Texas history as the Chicken Ranch.
On the bright side, bluebonnets and prickly pear were in full bloom, a pretty, welcome change from the dry, brown drought conditions of my previous visits. We dug around in the brothel's old trash dump and found some stuff that would be meaningless garbage to anyone else, but fantastic historical documentation for us. We're strange that way. We also saw a five-foot coachwhip that wanted nothing more than to get away from us and hide in the big stands of prickly pear, and a gorgeous three-foot coral snake that, unfortunately, was too far back in the brush to get a good photo of. All in all, it turned out to be one of my most productive research trips to date. I am enthused and inspired. Time to write!
Now Playing: Six Mile Bridge No Reason
Chicken Ranch Central