Tag Archive for Talkin’ ’bout Texas

Cure The Crazies in Mineral Wells

MineralWells1943

“Home of Crazy?” Mineral Wells is my kind of town! I got there as fast as I could. My original purpose of the visit was to investigate the history of a location that claims to be crazy haunted (not the Baker Hotel, but another house). However, when I got to town I was distracted by the “Crazy Water.” Supposedly, people once believed that water from certain wells in town could “cure the crazies,” and I felt I should probably know more about that … not that I really believe that there is hope for my kind of crazy.

The legend, dating from the 1880s, is that a “crazy” woman sat by a well (originally known as The Wiggins Well, for the owner, W.H. Wiggins) in town all day long. She continually asked people passing near her to draw her a pail of water to relieve the summer heat. This woman was said to be so addled that she had to be reminded to eat. That’s pretty doggone crazy! School children watched her daily through the windows, until lunchtime. That’s when the woman went back to a the small clinic owned by Dr. Yeager, which is where she lived. As she drank the water, “people slowly began to notice that the crazy old lady was not so crazy anymore.” Could it be the water that alleviated the old woman’s crazies? People didn’t know, but soon people were flocking to the well to try the magic water. They named the well, “The Crazy Lady Well,” but that was soon shortened to “The Crazy Well.”

A drinking pavilion was built over the well and expanded several times, even offering rooms for rent to those who wanted to stay and bathe in the healthful waters.

Crazy Well

The first Crazy Hotel was built in 1912, and enlarged in 1914. It burned in a fire in 1925, and was reconstructed in 1927. People from all over the world and from all walks of life gathered at the bar to sip that Crazy Water.

Crazy Hotel Fountain

Now, possibly that “crazy” woman of the legend was just experiencing menopause, and it got better naturally. Then again, that water is chock full of minerals including calcium, magnesium, sulfate, and a significant amount of lithium. It reportedly healed all kinds of ailments, with “the power to relieve or cure, dyspepsia, neuralgia, sore eyes, paralysis, insomnia, liver and kidney problems, rheumatism, scrofula, and improprieties of the blood.” The advertising of the time was rather amusing. Below is a postcard from those days long ago which would have certainly lured me to come there in hopes of curing arthritis.

We Lost Our Job in Mineral Wells

In the 1930s, the Food and Drug Administration banned this type of advertising, because there was no scientific data to verify the claims that mineral water was a “cure-all.” By the 1940s most of the water companies had closed down, which was a hard hit for the economy of Mineral Wells.

These days only one company, located at 209 W. 6th Street, seems to be in existence. They sell bottled water (I bought a case of it), they offer baths, and they even rent rooms at the Crazy Bath House. Stay there and you can bathe in mineral waters all day long if you would like.

Bath-House

A visit to the Crazy Bath House is on my list of things-to-do. I want to spend more time in Mineral Wells because the town and its history intrigues me. I’m sure I’ll tell you more about the town and its haunting on another day. For now, I need to go drink a quart or two of Crazy Water. If it works, you will be the first to know. Cheers!

  • [Postcard of Mineral Wells Welcome Sign], Postcard, n.d.; digital images, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth443466/ : accessed August 12, 2014), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Mineral Wells Heritage Association, Mineral Wells, Texas.
    Crazy Well, Mineral Wells, Texas, Photograph, 1890?; digital image, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth24974/ : accessed August 12, 2014), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Public Library, Mineral Wells, Texas.
  • the Crazy Hotel. Crazy Hotel, Mineral Wells, Texas – America’s Great Health Resort, Text, n.d.; digital images, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth16343/ : accessed August 12, 2014), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Public Library, Mineral Wells, Texas.
  • We lost our job at Mineral Wells, Texas, Photograph, 1920?-1930?; digital image, (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth38081/ : accessed August 12, 2014), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Public Library, Mineral Wells, Texas.
  • Photo of bath house courtesy of Crazy Bath House.

Murder and Mystery on the Austin Steam Train

Austin Steam Train

When I stumbled across the website for the Austin Steam Train Association, the first thing I noticed was a murder mystery tour! I squealed to my husband, “I wanna go!” Bless his heart, he bought me tickets that very day — five months in advance so we would be sure to get good seats. From what we could tell by looking at the website, he had bought some of the best seats on the train.

For the next five months, I bragged to everybody and their dog, “I get to take a train ride. Ninny, ninny boo boo.” I canceled my Ghosts of Denton tour for that night, willingly trading a night of work for a relaxing evening of fun. I waxed poetic for hours to anyone who would listen about the murder mystery show we would see and the thrill it would be to ride on a train through the Texas Hill Country. Beginning in Cedar Park, near Austin, the train would travel all the way to Burnet on a 66 mile round trip. We would be entertained by the highly acclaimed Penfold Players, who work in partnership with the Austin Steam Train Association, performing “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream… Murder!” The website boasted:

“While the story unfolds before them, passengers will test their sleuthing savvy as they attempt to catch the killer; enjoy a three hour train ride through the beautiful Texas hill country; and indulge in a variety of hors d’oeuvres, as well as wine and beer service, all included in the ticket price! “

Sounds like great fun, doesn’t it? We had great expectations.

Last weekend we took that train ride and I am almost reluctant to tell you about it. Almost. Our experience didn’t quite live up to the hype, and I want you to know some things before you book your own tour. My review is a mixed bag. Parts of the tour were very wonderful … then there were the parts that weren’t.

When we boarded our car, which was called The Eagle Cliff, I was pleased to see the lovely royal blue chairs scattered at the tables in the dining section of the car. Unfortunately, we weren’t seated at those tables. The spaces that had been reserved for us were two mismatched chairs slammed against the wall in the front of the car near a large floor fan. There was no table for us. Remember that I told you that we booked five months in advance? We shouldn’t have bothered. These seats looked like an afterthought, as if we had booked tickets that day and the ticket-master said, “Sure, we can cram you into that car.”

I sucked up my disappointment to try to make the best of it. After all, we probably wouldn’t be sitting the whole trip, because we would be up and down indulging “in a variety of hors d’oeuvres.”

Before the train even started down the tracks, the hostess passed out boxed suppers. We had to ask for a TV tray, but we still wound up eating out of our laps. The supper wasn’t bad (roast beef sandwich, macaroni salad, fruit, and an unidentifiable dessert with lots of whipped cream), but it wasn’t exactly what I had expected. There were no hors d’oeuvres. But, there was beer and wine.

Determined to enjoy ourselves despite the lackluster accommodations, we munched our meal as the train pulled out of the station and started chugging down the tracks. I truly enjoyed the motion of the train and watching the little towns as we rolled through them. The volunteers and staff on the train were very attentive to our needs.

Then, the play began.

Penfold Players 1

I have nothing but high praise for the Penfold Players! Those actors traveled from front car to back car performing a scene from the play and then from back to front with the next scene. It was wonderful melodrama.

Penfold Players 2

They performed in each car with high energy and excellent skill, and they knew how to work the crowd. I don’t see how they kept the same powerful level of performance throughout the night. I enjoyed the play, but unfortunately, since I had never been to a murder mystery play before, I didn’t think about writing down the clues that were given in each scene, so I didn’t figure out “whodunnit.” It didn’t matter. The play was great fun.

Penfold Players 3

Between scenes, my husband and I decided to walk to the front of the train and view the other cars. I envied the passengers on every other car … ours was not the best of the bunch! Of course, Mister Tucker had to get a photograph when we were between cars, because some of the scenery was quite lovely.

sunset from train

But, don’t tell anyone that he leaned out of the car, because there are signs everywhere that tell you not to extend any of the appendages you value outside of the train. Evidently he felt that his brain was expendable (but it’s not!).

snapping photos

Everything seemed to be going well, and then …[dun, dun, dunnnn] the air conditioner in The Eagle Cliff quit!! Yeah, I know! It was traumatic!

Penfold Players 4

We weren’t quite an hour into a three hour trip! The good news, for us, is that we were near the fan. Do you recall that I mentioned that floor fan? Ours was the only car that had a fan sitting smack dab in the middle of the floor … as if the folks expected that the air conditioner might blow.

To the credit of the volunteers and crew on the train, they worked valiantly to try to restore the air-conditioning to no avail. They served us ice water, and graciously did everything they could to keep us comfortable. They offered, after the play was finished, for us to move into seats in air-conditioned cars. Since there weren’t enough seats for all of us to move, and since I was already accustomed to the heat, we stayed put to allow those who needed it more (like the pregnant woman) to get comfort. In spite of the discomfort in the car, the actors still put on a great show to the end.

After dark, there was no opportunity to view the scenery. The play had ended. No more beer or wine was being served. There wasn’t anything else to do, so I sat in an uncomfortable chair and dozed the rest of the way back. But, that nap on the train was one of the best naps I’ve ever had.

Because I felt that we had not received the experience we paid (through the nose) to have, I called the Austin Steam Train Association when we got home. I told the new director (she has only been on the job three weeks) exactly what I just told you — except for the part about Mr. Tucker hanging out of the train.

She apologized for our experience, and said that they were working to make the website better so that people could tell what kind of seats they were buying. She said that, indeed, the Eagle Cliff had experienced air conditioning problems on the morning run that day, but that the early crew had not communicated that to the evening crew so that repairs could be made before the trip. She didn’t really have any suggestions about how you can book a trip experience that will be better than the one we had.

Would I go on the Austin Steam Train excursions again? I would give them a second chance. If the Penfold Players were aboard, I definitely would be enticed (they are worth seeing!). I enjoyed the ride itself, and was impressed by the volunteers and staff.

Before I booked a train ride, though, there are a few things I would do:

  1. I would NOT book on-line, but would call a ticket agent so I could ask questions about the car I’d be riding.
  2. I won’t be riding on The Eagle Cliff again. The executive director suggested riding in the car called The City of Chicago.
  3. I would definitely ask if I was going to be seated at a real table, if there was a meal involved on the trip!
  4. I would probably book a trip for the fall or the spring, so that if the air conditioner didn’t work then it wouldn’t be quite so traumatic.
  5. If I want to see the scenery, my trip would not be an evening one.

Even though I would take the Austin Steam Train Association’s tours again, I can tell you one darned thing for sure: If I step on that train and see a floor fan in my car, I’m going to scream, “Bloody Murder!”

Paying Respect To The Lawman, Not The Outlaw

The family of Alijah W. Grimes was reportedly infuriated that the outlaw, part of the gang who had murdered their loved one, would be buried in the same cemetery with his victim. They insisted that the outlaw be “planted” at the outskirts of the cemetery next to where the slaves had been buried before the Civil War, because in 1878 they considered that an insult for a white man.

So, the outlaw Sam Bass is buried on the western edge of Round Rock Cemetery. There is a historical marker beside Sam’s grave. A.W. Grimes, a former Texas Ranger, is buried across the way on the east side of the cemetery with a tiny metal cross (indicating his status as a Texas Ranger) beside his tombstone instead of a historical marker.

Texas ranger cross

My husband and I were traveling home from the Austin area today, and decided to go down Sam Bass Road in Round Rock to visit the cemetery. You see, today (July 21st) is the anniversary of both the birthday and death day of Sam Bass. After being wounded in a gun battle in Round Rock on July 19th, 1878 in a failed bank hold-up, Sam escaped down the road that now bears his name. Two days later, on Sam’s 27th birthday, he was found sprawled helplessly dying in a field north of town.

Because I tell ghost stories about Sam Bass on my Ghosts of Denton haunted tour, I came to see his grave out of curiosity. I wasn’t necessarily “paying respects,” because it’s hard for me to muster respect for a thief. Yes, I know that he was dubbed “The Robin Hood of Texas” because he stole from the “rich” and he gave to the poor … but he stole first. Probably the only reason Sam Bass wasn’t also considered a murderer is that folks he robbed got lucky.

As we snapped photos of the grave a stranger came striding toward us. He called out, “Thanks for remembering Sam on his birthday!” The man was dressed in Western style (boots, jeans, white shirt, vest, string tie, and a cowboy hat). That “long, tall drink-of-water” looked like he had just stepped out of a movie — and in fact “Tex” told us he had played bit parts in several well-known Western movies. He had come to take a photo of Sam’s grave for an elderly friend whose father knew Sam Bass. Tex knew a lot about Sam Bass, and he wanted to share it, not knowing that I already have studied the man.

I could match him fact for fact on Sam’s life story, but Tex told me about A.W. Grimes and the anguish of his family at the fact that Sam Bass would be buried in the same graveyard. I knew nothing about that story. Suddenly, I knew why I was in that cemetery. In open-toed shoes I sashayed across the cemetery, fending off the fire ants, to find Mr. Grimes. I noticed his original tombstone flat on the grass, broken of course.

A.W. Grimes original headstone

The tiny metal marker shown above is beside the older tombstone. More recently, another tombstone was added:

A.W. Grimes new headstone

The inscription reads:

Here lies A. W. Grimes, Williamson County Deputy Sheriff & former Texas Ranger who was killed in Koppells Store, Main Street, Round Rock, July 19, 1878 as he attempted to disarm gangmembers Sam Bass, Seaborn Barnes & Frank Jackson. It is not known who fired the fatal shot. He left a wife and three children. She received $200 & one of the Bass Gang horses as indemnity for her husband’s death.

I realize that $200 was a lot of money in 1878, but it still seems a small compensation for a man’s life.

I decided not to post the photos we took of Sam Bass’ grave today, even though one tiny wildflower bloomed to wish him, “Happy Birthday.” I will show you a picture of a road sign, though, because I made my husband turn around and stop the car so I could take the picture. If I don’t use it, he just might start refusing to give me any photo-ops! It’s at the junction of “Sam Bass Road” and “Hairy Man Road.” The Hairy Man is a spooky tale told in Round Rock that I’ll save for another day.

Hairy Man Road

I won’t post his grave, because I think that Sam has gotten enough of the glory. Sam had a road named for him many years ago, but A.W. Grimes didn’t get a road with his name on it until the year 2000. Sam is memorialized in song and story, but A.W. Grimes has been largely forgotten despite the words on his original tombstone.

Today I want to pay my respects to the lawman, not the outlaw. May Alijah W. Grimes rest in peace.

A.W. Grimes

Photo of A.W. Grimes courtesy of Find A Grave.