Tag Archive for History

Crush, Texas–A Town for One Day

There is no evidence to suggest that a famous publicity stunt took place in the bucolic field south of the town of West, Texas, except a lonely historical marker. There are no other signs of the town of Crush, Texas. But, in 1896, the town of Crush was headline news.
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That year, an employee of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (better known as the Katy Railroad) had an idea for a publicity stunt. He had noticed how people gathered around an accidental train wreck. People loved a good disaster. He concluded that surely a staged train wreck would draw a crowd.

The man convinced his employers that staging a collision between two trains would be a wonderful marketing opportunity. Special excursion trains could bring spectators at $2.00 a person. Paid advertising could be displayed on the trains. The event would get nationwide publicity. This would be the greatest publicity stunt of all time. Brilliant!

The man’s name was William George Crush [I am not lying]. He chose a crash site about three miles south of the town of West, TX. With Waco, Austin, Dallas and Temple not too far away, he knew he could draw the crowds there. The area had a good slope nearby that made a natural amphitheater. In that area, a second set of tracks was built alongside the regular tracks as a stage for the show to come.

Two steam engines that were about to be retired were readied for the event. Engine 999 was painted green with red trim, and Engine 1001 was painted red with green trim. Each engine pulled several stock cars with canvas advertising billboards for the Dallas Fair and Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Mr. Crush knew that with the size of the crowd he expected, he had to be ready to entertain (and to control) the people. He rented a Ringling Brothers tent for a dining hall, built concessions stands, had water provided by eight tank cars, built a jail for the inevitable pickpockets and thieves, and hired 200 lawmen to help keep the peace. For days before the event, the trains chugged on the track for practice runs so they could get the timing right.

September 18th, 1896 was the big day. Crowds started arriving early in the morning at the newly-named “Crush, Texas.”  A newspaper account from the time said that the excursion trains were arriving at a rate of one every 12 minutes. Buggies, wagons, and horses brought spectators, too. By the time of the event, the crowd was estimated to be between 30,000-50,000 men, women, and children, all decked out in their Sunday best.

The trains were nose-to-nose on the track, their cow catchers touching. As the event was about to begin, the organizers realized that the spectators were too close to the track, and it took an hour to move them back. The trains slowly huffed and puffed as they backed apart until there was a distance of two miles between them. William George Crush, on horseback, raised his arm high and dropped it as a signal for the trains to begin.

The engineers started the 35 ton locomotives towards each other, full steam ahead. One engineer jumped off the train after about 500 yards, but the other didn’t jump off the train until his had gone half a mile. The crowd was thrilled by his daredevil antics.

At 60 mph, the trains collided with a deafening roar. Then, the unexpected happened (oh come on, I know you expected it). The boiler of one of the trains exploded with a second ear-splitting roar, sending a shower of metal debris into the crowd. Well, duh.

One newspaper reporter of the time said, “Words bend and break in an attempt to describe it.” A smokestack sailed through the air for a quarter of a mile. Yes, people got hurt. Two people were killed by the flying metal, many were wounded or crippled. A photographer from Waco was stuck in the eye by a flying metal bolt.

The event made the news, for sure. As any good catastrophe deserves a song, Scott Joplin, the ragtime musician, quickly wrote a tune. He called it “The Great Crush Collision March.” I can’t imagine what it would sound like.

George Crush was fired immediately. But, the name of the Katy railroad was on everyone’s lips across the nation. It did get the publicity that the railroad wanted. So, Mr. Crush was later rehired.

The town of Crush was dismantled as quickly as it appeared. Farmers in the area occasionally plow up bits of iron from the locomotives. Other than that, the Great Crash at Crush is rarely remembered or talked about today. It did have its fifteen minutes of fame.

“Mirror, Mirror On The Wall”

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Out flew the web and floated wide-
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.
“The Lady of Shalott” Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Whew! I tripped on the enormous oval mirror that stands in our bedroom. Fortunately, I caught it just before it crashed. As big as that thing is, I know it would bring a curse of more than seven years of bad luck if it cracked.

As I sat down with a sigh of relief, I wondered about that silly superstition. Where did it originate and why? I began researching and reflecting on mirrors. I found so many superstitions about mirrors that I can’t see how people kept up with them.

When ancient people saw their reflections in pools of water, they thought it was a vision of their soul. They believed the soul leaves the body and enters the reflective surface. From this idea stem many of the superstitions that various cultures have had about mirrors.

When people were sleeping or ill, mirrors were covered to prevent their wandering souls from entering the glass and becoming trapped—thus causing their death. If a person died, the mirrors had to be covered to keep the dead person’s soul from entering the mirror instead of going on to the afterlife. Worse, the departed souls might snatch away any living person who was reflected in the mirror. In some cultures, a mirror or a jar of water was buried with the dead to keep their souls safely in the grave where they belonged.

Remember “Bloody Mary?” She might have been a queen who was beheaded, or perhaps a witch. “They” say she can be called from a mirror, though why anyone would want to do that, I can’t say. I also want to know who “they” are. The rituals differ, but kids for years have gone into a darkened room and stared into the mirror chanting “Bloody Mary” several hundred times. Supposedly, she will appear in the mirror. I never chanted long enough because I’m a chicken, so I don’t know that for a fact. Besides, the only Bloody Mary I care about has vodka tomato juice, and a stalk of celery … and chanting before a mirror has not yet caused one to appear for me!

Because a vampire has no soul, there is no reflection in the mirror. Perhaps that is because there are no vampires. Long ago, people believed that if you looked in a mirror and saw no reflection it meant that your death was just around the corner. Or, could it mean you are a vampire? Surely that is something you would already know.

Old wives’ tales rumored that a baby should not be allowed to look in a mirror until they were a year old. Doing so could variously stunt the child’s growth, result in crossed eyes, cause epilepsy, make the child stutter, or result in early death. It’s bad luck for a cat to look in the mirror, though it will keep them occupied for hours. If anyone gazes into a mirror for too long, they are sure to see the Devil’s face staring back at them. And, I thought that was just me getting old!

Mirrors were believed to be gateways to another world, therefore were used to tell the future. The practice of “scrying,” or gazing in a mirror to divine information (remember the Queen in Snow White?) was common throughout the world for centuries. In Europe during Elizabethan and Jacobean times, scryers could be found at any fair or market. Supposedly, Queen Elizabeth’s court magician, John Dees, predicted the Gunpowder Plot to kill King James in 1605 just by looking in the mirror. If you believe that, I have a bridge you might be interested in purchasing.

Another superstition is that a woman could look into a mirror while eating an apple and brushing her hair to see the face of her future husband over her shoulder. I’m not making this up. Or, she could go out on night of a full moon with a mirror. She must stand on a stone on which she has never stood and look into the mirror with her back to the moon. She might see the real moon and many smaller moons. If she counted how many moons she saw in the mirror, it told her how many years until she would marry. I’m presuming a lot of brides got married in one year.

Actors and actresses supposedly believe it is bad luck to have a mirror on the stage. I’m not sure why. But, then actors and actresses have so many superstitions to remember that it’s amazing they can remember any lines.

Any couples who meet after seeing one another in a mirror are destined to be together. However, a bride who sees her reflection in full wedding regalia on her wedding day will have an unhappy marriage. Once safely married, if a bride and groom gaze at each other in the mirror they will live happily ever after.

That “seven years of bad luck” superstition may have originated with the ancient Romans. They believed that life renewed itself every seven years. Breaking a mirror was “breaking one’s health,” and it wouldn’t be renewed for seven years.

On the upside, that curse can be overcome in several ways. You can avert bad luck by grinding all the glass shards to dust so they can never reflect anything again, or wash the broken pieces in a south running river so the bad luck flows away, or bury the bits and pieces deeply on sacred ground under a full moon. Better yet, don’t break the mirror in the first place.

I’m glad I’m not superstitious. Although I would consider that it would be bad luck to believe in those tales.

Old Jigsaw Puzzlers Never Die…They Just Go To Pieces

There is that “blonde joke” about the gal who said, “I bought a puzzle that said ‘2-4 years.’ I don’t know why they think it’s that hard…I finished it in 6 months.”starrynight

That was funny until my husband and I sat down to work a jigsaw puzzle, produced by The Puzzle House, called “Starry Night.” It depicted the famous painting by Vincent Van Gogh painted in June 1889. Since that is my favorite Van Gogh painting, I thought the puzzle would be fun to work. I was wrong.

It took us an excruciating month to put that thing together. When we were done we were so proud we took a picture of it. Pathetic aren’t we? But, don’t laugh at me…my grandmother put together jigsaw puzzles and then glued them to a board to hang on the wall (hey, it was inexpensive “wall art”). I can see now why she was so proud of her accomplishments.

Well, you might be guessing that I had to look up the history of jigsaw puzzles. I shouldn’t have been surprised that there are actually organizations of people hooked on puzzles. Anne D. Williams seems to be a leading authority on the history of jigsaw puzzles. I found a site that had reprinted some of her information.

Evidently jigsaw puzzles originated in the 1760s as educational toys for the wealthy classes. Mapmakers pasted their maps on wooden boards and cut them into small pieces to teach children geography (I thought that was a novel new approach when my children were small).

By about 1900, puzzles began being created for adults as well. By 1908, according to Williams, “a full-blown craze was in progress in the United States.” Those early wooden puzzles were expensive, because they were cut one piece at a time. High society loved them, and bought them for entertainment during weekend house parties. Marion Davies (an actress who became William Randolph Hearst’s mistress) was reputedly addicted to working them.

Puzzles in those days were NOT easy to work. Unlike puzzles for children, there was no picture on the box to clue you to what you were putting together. The pieces didn’t interlock! One hard sneeze could blow a weekend of work (so to speak). Worst of all, the pieces were cut along the color lines, so you couldn’t see that, for instance, the tree branch overlapped the roof of a house. Why was I complaining about my silly puzzle?

In the next few years, Parker Brothers began manufacturing puzzles with interlocking pieces and die-cut cardboard. This made puzzles a lot more inexpensive. In 1932, weekly jigsaws began to be popular. At the newsstand on Wednesdays, one could buy the “Jig of the Week” for 25 cents, rush home, and be the first on the block to solve the puzzle. Advertising puzzles were popular in the 1930’s. Buy a toothbrush or flashlight, and you could get a free jigsaw puzzle (featuring the product).

After WWII, wooden jigsaw puzzles became a lot less popular. They took a long time to make, and wages were rising. It drove up the prices on them. Improving lithography and die-cutting methods helped those cardboard puzzles dominate the market.

When I was growing up, I don’t remember seeing any wooden jigsaw puzzles. But, my grandmother almost always had a cardboard one on the coffee table. I’ve always enjoyed working them.

The last few years, I didn’t get much opportunity to put out a jigsaw puzzle. I have five cats. Nothing is sacred…especially not tiny puzzle pieces. But, my husband, bless his heart, made a puzzle board for me. He cut a large piece of plywood and framed a “lip” around it. He built a frame around a piece of Plexiglas for the cover. I can finally enjoy jigsaw puzzles again.

My web search led to some interesting sites. I found a man who is making wooden puzzles that are fantastic. There are also sites that publish jigsaw puzzles to work on-line.

My favorite puzzles are by Springbok. In 1965, they reproduced Jackson Pollock’s “Convergence” on a puzzle and billed it “the world’s most difficult.” After my experience with “Starry Night”…I have no interest in trying it.