Sunday, January 4, 2009

Oh, Pioneer Museum!

That was a treat – yesterday at Fredericksburg’s Pioneer Museum. I had a talk and a discussion for an hour, with a group of interested historians and readers, and then sat behind a small table the visitor center, between a shelf of scented candles, cowboy postcards and other souvenirs, and a large rack of maps and information about Fredericksburg and the Hill Country and signed copies of the Adelsverein Trilogy for two hours. All in all, exhausted, happy and talked hoarse. Richard Bristol, the event manager was a little disappointed that it was not standing room only – but alas, it seemed that an elderly retired admiral, who was very much a big wheel in local historical circles had died this week, and his memorial service was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. And Kenn Knopp, who is also very big in the local historical society, was ill and in the hospital … so not as many of the local enthusiasts were in attendance, but those who were, were very keen. One of them had seen the write-up in the Fredericksburg paper, had driven 200 miles.

They had set up a podium and folding chairs, in the old parish hall, which is now part of the museum complex, but I would have felt so stupid, standing up and talking to barely a dozen people, so I just said, heck with it; we pulled some chairs around in a circle, and I rattled on for a bit about how I came to write the books, what was so fascinating about the 19th century, and how I did research, then I read a bit from Book One (the part where the first party of settlers had a bonfire and celebrated among the trees on the first night after arriving at the site of Fredericksburg.) After that – question time!

Not terribly difficult ones; most about Fredericksburg, and the Civil War, and the Mainzer Adelsverein. All those present were interested and knowledgeable, and I have been so steeped in the original sources over the last two years that I could hold my own. Brief discussion of how many murders there actually had been on Main Street (only two, of the Itz brothers during the Civil War – J.P. Waldrip was killed a little way off Main, Louis Scheutze was taken from his house on Main and killed elsewhere), of the ways in which Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels was an idiot (a practically endless list), the origin of the Easter bonfires on the hilltops around Fredericksburg (transplanted regional folk-way, nothing much to do with Indians) and the fact that long-trail cattle drives from Texas to Kansas only went on for barely ten years.

And the most gratifying part was that almost everyone at the discussion had either already bought a set of the Trilogy, or went and bought one directly afterwards, and brought it back for me to sign. As I had hoped, many of them have some connection or special interest: the lady who came 200 miles now owns the house which was built by the Itz family. Richard has ancestors on either side who are mentioned; Lt. Wilke, who went with John Meusebach on his peace mission to the Comanche, and the Stielers of Comfort who were strong Unionists – and still have a large ranch property on the road between IH-10 and Fredericksburg.

After that – two hours, as noted in the new museum reception center. Well, not exactly new, it’s an old historic stone house which became a restaurant at the other end of town, then painstakingly disassembled and put together again on the museum grounds. According to Richard, it took so long that the numbers on some of the stones had weathered away, and it was the very dickens to put it all back together again. It’s much lighter and more open than the house in which it first was – that house was very dim and cramped. Good for working up a mental picture of what the inside of the original houses must have been like, but a bit cave-like to spend two hours in. And the resident cats have moved one: one of them vanished, and the other made such a hit at the local ASPCA that she is now a foster-mother for kittens needing socializing, and lives there permanently. The Museum now has a crying need for some resident cats; the mice are insatiable, even though there isn’t any food kept in most of the structures.
There was a constant trickle of visitors, since this is the last weekend of the holidays. Most of the shops along Main had very serious after-holiday sales going on. After we were done at the Museum – all the complete sets of the Trilogy sold, BTW – and Richard bought the last set himself, Blondie and I walked down Main, and stopped in at a little bookstore specializing in Texiana, where I have hopes of them carrying the Trilogy also. It used to be situated in a nook of a store specializing in Christmas paraphernalia, but the owner has sold the stock and goodwill to another shop-owner a little way along. We spoke to the new owner, who is busy setting up all the books in a larger and more comfortable space. She was very interested about carrying the Trilogy, and wanted to know where and how to order them. (She also turns out to be a descendant of the Nimitz family - yay! Another local connection in the Trilogy!) Berkman’s, at the other end of Main, where I had a signing two weeks ago, sold out of the last copies they had within a day or two; as predicted, the people who bought Book One came back to get the subsequent volumes. We finished up with hamburgers and fries at a little joint called “Buffalo Nickel”. A good day – exhausting, but a good day.

1 comment:

tsolms said...

I wish I could have been invited. Color commentary on my ancestors is always interesting.