Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Chicken Ranch road show!

Deborah Duncan and Jayme Blaschke
If you ever get the notion to have book-related events in Houston and Waco on the same day, I suggest you reconsider. Particularly if you are starting out from New Braunfels at 4 a.m. Exhaustion is a thing. Other than that, yesterday was a blast!

A quick recap: Months ago I scheduled a book signing with Fabled Bookshop & Cafe in Waco to promote the 50th anniversary edition of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch. Shortly thereafter, I received an invitation from KHOU-TV to appear on the morning show, Great Day Houston to promote my upcoming book signing at Murder By The Book (which is 3-5 p.m. on Saturday, August. 26. Thanks for asking!). Trouble is, Great Day is a morning show and I'd have to be there by 8 a.m. Because of Houston's notorious rush-hour traffic and the fact that New Braunfels is 150 miles away, I had to depart shortly after 4 a.m. I'll confess I am not a morning person, friends. That was rough.

But never let it be said I do not rise to a challenge. I made it to KHOU-TV studios with time to spare, hung out in the green room while various producers and guests came by to chat about the Chicken Ranch and Marvin Zindler. Then it was showtime and I'll tell you there wasn't a wasted moment, with host Deborah Duncan jumping right into the interview as soon the national programming ended. She's worked with Marvin Zindler in her formative years as a television journalist, so she had stories. She was also quite adept at keeping me on track and nipping any tangential ramblings in the bud (I'll admit I tend to take the long way around when relating any type of story). It was a fun experience and I am flattered they decided I was interesting enough to warrant two segments on their show (separated by a commercial break). If you want to see for yourself, the whole shebang is online: Jayme's Great Day Houston Chicken Ranch Interview.

Then I headed up Highway 6 to Waco. Because my signing wasn't until 7 p.m. I was able to take my time. I pulled over in Hempstead to marvel at the sprawling monument to garden statuary that is Frazier's Concrete. I hadn't driven this way for more than 30 years, so seeing all those life-sized concrete dinosaurs caught my attention, see? After working up a sweat (literally) hiking around their property, I continued on to College Station where I had a late lunch at Freebird's World Burrito. At least I assume that's still the name. Tavistock has watered that place down so much, and cut so many corners since they purchased the chain that it's barely one step removed from Chipotle at this point. I remember when Freebird's was a great place to eat. Now, it's merely adequate. Sad. After lunch, I headed up to Waco and was baffled to see the locally famous "Aggie barn" was now closer to the road and on the opposite (?) side of the highway. Is that just me? Am I misremembering geography? Is the old barn gone and replaced by a facsimilie? Getting old sucks when you can no longer trust your memory. In Waco I had some time to kill, so I wandered around a couple of antique malls for a bit before heading over to Fabled for the signing.

Folks, I have to say I was blown away. I've been to more than a few indy bookstores, and by and large they have to make do with a retail space that is far too small for a full-blown bookstore. Not Fabled. It's spacious (see below). Actual stacks. Wall shelves. Display tables. Reading and work spaces. Plus a beer and wine bar that's coupled with an actual cafe. I'm telling you, Waco is lucky to have it. I'd be over the moon if San Marcos or New Braunfels had something even half as nice. And the staff was great as well--my host for the eveing, Kai, was delightfully enthusiastic and led a Q&A session with me before the 20 or so folks who'd turned out for the event. I signed lots of books--some brought multiple copies to give as gifts--and then signed all the remaining stock in the store. Hey, I may not have Neil Gaiman's drawing power with folks lined up around the block, but any time I can help a bookstore sell a few copies, I count that as a win.

Speaking of which, I hope to see you folks at Murder By The Book on Saturday!

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Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, August 18, 2023

Speaking of the Chicken Ranch...

Dr. Stephen Sloan and Jayme Blaschke discuss the Chicken Ranch on Waco History Podcast.
Interest in the story of the Chicken Ranch continues to run high. Next Tuesday, Aug. 22 is going to be packed for me. First up, I am appearing on Great Day Houston, KHOU-TV's morning show in Houston where I will discuss the 50th anniversary closure of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange. I'm looking forward to it, although I'm not looking forward to getting up quite a bit earlier than I'm used to in order to make it to Houston on time! But that's not all, because that evening starting at 7 p.m., I'll attend a book signing at Fabled Bookshop and Cafe in Waco. There's already been a great deal of interest in the signing and I'm looking forward to meeting history buffs from Waco, Temple, Hillsboro and beyond. As if that wasn't enough, on Saturday, Aug. 26, I'll be back in Houston for a signing at the great Murder By The Book 3-5 p.m. The last time I was there we had a packed house and sold out, so I'm looking forward to my return engagement. My appearance on Great Day Houston may alert a few more folks to the shindig. At least, that's my hope.

Waco History Podcast logo American History Hit Podcast logo
My signing at Fabled Bookshop is not without media attention, either. I am interviewed by Dr. Stephen Sloan of Baylor’s Institute for Oral History on the current episode of Waco History Podcast from Rogue Media. Dr. Sloan is known for his discussions with others about Waco’s known and unknown past, and this time out we do a deep dive into the life of Fay Stewart, aka Jessie Williams, aka Aunt Jessie, the madam who made the Chicken Ranch into the most important brothel in Texas. She was also born and raised in Waco, so there's a lot to unpack. (That's Dr. Sloan and myself in the photo at the top of this post.)

I am also a guest on American History Hit Podcast, an international production that delves into all manner of historical curiosities large and small, hosted by Don Wildman. I was humbled to be invited onto their show, and despite some initial concerns on my part that I'd babbled like a fool, I'm quite surprised by my rational-sounding self in the end result. Give it a listen if you have a chance!

Finally, if you're looking to get your own autographed copy of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse 50th anniversary edition, but cannot attend one of my bookstore signings, you can order it here, from my Big Cartel site.

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Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Happy birthday Marvin Zindler!

On this date in 1921, KTRK consumer affairs reporter Marvin Zindler was born.

Zindler, of course, is forever linked with the Chicken Ranch, as his series of exposés on the brothel directly led to its closure. Marvin clashed with his father (who owned the well-regarded Zindler's clothing store in Houston) growing up and went on to try his hand at a host of different career options. He was a drum major (briefly) at Tarleton State, served in the Marines (again, briefly) before being discharged as 4F, was a radio reporter for defunct Houston radio station KATL, was a reporter for the defunct Houston Press, ran for mayor of Bellaire, was fired by one TV station because he was "too ugly for television" and was a Harris County deputy sheriff for years, where he worked in civil fraud and fugitive extradition before setting up the consumer fraud division.

Had he not died of pancreatic cancer in 2007, Zindler would've been 102 today.

Autographed copies of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse 50th anniversary edition are available at

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Monday, August 07, 2023

Armadillocon in the rearview mirror

Jayme Lynn Blaschke (left) and Howard Waldrop at Armadillocon in Austin, 2023
Armadillocon this year was a great deal of fun. I went in with the intent of taking a bunch of photos, and the image to the right of myself with the incomparable Howard Waldrop is the only one I managed the entire three days. Best laid plans and all that. Jennifer Juday and Marshall Ryan Maresca put on an excellent, well-balanced convention that offered seemingly something for everyone. The only real hiccups that occurred were an unusual number of panels swapping rooms at the last minute which led to a great deal of confusion. I'm sure they'll get that sorted out, because it was weird and I can't recall anything similar happening in recent history.

One thing I want to bring up before I forget about it is the fact that a significant percentage of the attendees were 30 somethings, and more than a few folks looked to be in their 20s. There's been a great deal of hand-wringing about the graying of fandom in recent decades, for good reason. Armadillocon itself has lost some of the oldguard to the ravages of time in recent years, and even more of the regulars have endured health scares. We won't be around forever to shake our fists at clouds. Whatever Armadillocon is doing, they're doing it right, because the next generation of fandom is here and engaged. That makes me happy.

Beyond that, a few highlights that stood out for me was Toastmaster Tonia Ransom, who turned out to be a funny, witty dynamo on every panel she was on; outstanding readings from Sim Kern and Jessica Reisman; running into old college friends, some I've seen recently and others not for 30 years; late-night conversations with Joe R. Lansdale and snarky banter with Mark Finn; and too many others for my age-addled memory to recall with any degree of accuracy. The absolute highlight of the weekend had to be the screening of "Night of the Cooters," a 30-minute film based on Howard Waldrop's 1987 short story (which also inspired the anthology, War of the Worlds: The Global Dispatches), produced by George R.R. Martin, starring and directed by Vincent D'Onofrio, from a script adapted by Lansdale. The animated film is just as weird and wonderful as one would expect from Waldrop's brand of Texas Weird, and I was happy to learn more about no fewer than four other Waldrop works currently in various stages of production. The reception to "Night of the Cooters" has been so positive that there are negotiations to develop into a limited run series for streaming. That'd be fun.

Can I wait until the next Armadillocon rolls around? No. No, I cannot.

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Friday, August 04, 2023

Armadillocon weekend

Armadillocon 2023 guest of honor lineup

Starting this evening I'll be attending Armadillocon in Austin. This is my favorite science fiction/fantasy convention to attend every year and they've got a great guest lineup this year. If you're in the area and this piques your interest, drop in to say hi and meet an incredible group of talented authors and artists. My weekend schedule is below. And yes, I'll have copies of the the 50th anniversary edition of Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch with me:

4 p.m. Welcome to ArmadilloCon 2023! (Ballroom D)
10 p.m. Monster Mash-Up (Conference Center)

2 p.m. Reading (Conference Center)
5 p.m. Fannish Feud (Ballroom D)

11 a.m. Autographing (Dealers Room)
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Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

The Chicken Ranch looks at fifty

Edna Milton in parlour of the Chicken Ranch brothel, La Grange, Texas
Fifty years ago today the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas, closed forever. If you're a regular around here, you may know I wrote a book about it. Unsurprisingly, Texas media has put together a number of stories to mark the occasion. There's one here. And here. And here. I'm sure there will be more before the day's out.

Honestly, 50 years is a long time. That a small, no-frills country brothel generated such attention at the time of its closure and continues to maintain a grip on the public's imagination half a century later confounds all logic. I feel like I should write something profound but averything that comes to mind strikes me as trite. I don't actually remember the closure--I was three years old at the time, after all. Instead, I share below an excerpt from the book, chapter 12 to be specific. It may not qualify as profound but I like to think it is insightful and offers a more detailed an nuanced account of the actual events that transpired 50 years ago than anything else that's likely to appear online today:

“Why don’t you call Sheriff Flournoy yourself, Dolph?” Colonel Speir suggested out of the blue.

As the trying day turned into an equally trying night, Governor Briscoe continued to talk with Colonel Speir to find some way out of the impasse. During their discussion, the governor—a long-time South Texas rancher—realized he’d known Big Jim from way back, when the sheriff worked as the foreman of the McGill Brothers Ranch. Big Jim clearly resented outside interference in what he considered a strictly local matter, but Marvin had shone a glaring spotlight on it. Clearly, things could never go back to the wink-and-nod tolerance of before. The sheriff didn’t accept that the DPS had any authority over him, but if Governor Briscoe himself gave the order...

“Sheriff, it’s just too much. We’ll just have to close it down,” Governor Briscoe said as soon as he got Big Jim on the line.

“You know, there’s a lot of furniture out there and we have to get those girls moved out,” Big Jim answered in his slow drawl. “Why don’t you let us run two more weeks just to let things taper off?”

“No sheriff, you’re just going to have to shut it down. That’s all there is to it. There’s too much heat. Everybody’s embarrassed by this thing,” Governor Briscoe said. “Sheriff, I am ordering you to close what is known as the Chicken Ranch.”

Big Jim paused a long moment, then answered with a simple, tired, “Okay.”

“He and I both knew that I had no authority to order him to close the place, but it was a practical way for us to get the law enforced in that county,” Governor Briscoe said later. “For several days afterward I kept waiting for someone to point out that I had no legal authority to close the place down, but no one did.”

All that remained was for Big Jim to inform Miss Edna, a phone call he loathed to make. Miss Edna’s nephew, Robert Kleffman, was visiting the evening of July 31 when his aunt disappeared into her office to take the call. When she returned, her mood was grim.

“She said, ‘Dang it Robert, Mr. Jim’s got to shut us down. He’s got to. The Governor’s on his way,’” Kleffman said. “She sent all the girls home except for two. I went and got a shirt—Edna’d bought me some new shirts, she was always buying me clothes—and I pulled the cardboard out of it and I drew the block letters of CLOSED. I stuck it on the front screen door with a bobby pin and shut the door and locked it.

“Edna had everybody get their cars and took ’em around back. In a little bit, there was a knock on the door, and we just didn’t answer it,” he said. “We sat back in the back. There was a bottle of Cold Duck, and me and those two girls sat back there drinking that bottle of grape juice, watching TV in the dining room.

“Edna sat back there, kinda daydreaming and looking out the window, thinking the way she does. We just refused to answer the door,” he said. “That was the end of it, because we were told the Governor and the Texas Rangers—that’s the story as I remember it—were coming down and were going to close the place. So we just put a closed sign on the front and didn’t answer. We made like we weren’t there.”

The news hit Miss Edna like a ton of bricks. She sent the few customers there that night home, then called the girls together and told them the story. Most of the women packed their bags that night and left by morning.

“One or two little girls—they were young but they were not kids—I got tickled with them. They came in and got in my lap and put their arms around my shoulders and neck and everything. I had to kind of grin,” Miss Edna said, smiling at the bittersweet memory. “It was sweet of them, you know. They’d been there long enough where I was family to them. Those little girls, I’ll remember forever.

“Later, another one came in I wasn’t expecting and did the same thing, nearly. It wasn’t quite rehearsed, but nevertheless it could’ve been,” she said. “If something had happened and I could’ve reopened and gotten those girls back... well, I wouldn’t have made pets out of them, but it would’ve been hard for me to ever raise hell with them [if they misbehaved].”

Despite all of Marvin’s publicity, Miss Edna never truly believed the Chicken Ranch might close down. Since the brothel claimed origins dating back to the 1840s—before Texas became a state—she believed the Chicken Ranch had a grandfathered exemption to any modern anti-prostitution laws. Armed with that, as well as a long list of powerful business and political clients that stretched from Austin to Washington, D.C., she considered fighting the order that long, dark night following Big Jim’s call. Even if she didn’t win, she could bring a whole bunch of cowardly hypocrites down with her—and probably take out half the Texas legislature and congressional delegations. By morning, though, Miss Edna threw in the towel.

“The whole damn thing, in a nut shell, was that I didn’t want to keep it open and I sure didn’t want to guilt somebody to mess up or sell to somebody even if they got somebody to finance it or otherwise. I was just tired,” Miss Edna said. “It needed more hours than is humanly possible for a person to do. If you’re putting in 14, 16 and 18 some days 20 hours. You get a little tired after a while. And it doesn’t take very many years to kill you.

“After awhile you get so tired, and I did. Toward the last, so damn tired of everything. I was ready to get the hell out of there,” she said. “If I hadn’t been so terribly tired I might’ve fought them, to keep it open. But I was just tired.”

~excerpted from Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse 50th anniversary edition.

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