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September/2003* 09/19/03


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Curiosities in Fiesta Town

By Megan Kopp

"Remember the Alamo", but don't miss the sick gargoyles, ghost-hunting tour, or the alien in the Cowboy Museum. San Antonio, Texas may be renowned for being the birthplace of Texan independence and its reputation for taking a flood-prone river and transforming it into a scenic wonder... but there are a few other sidetrips worth taking.

Overlooking the Mission San Antonio de Valero (more commonly known as "The Alamo") stands Emily Morgan. No, it's not the "Yellow Rose of Texas", the loyal slave who according to lore played an important role in Texas' bid for independence in the Battle of San Jacinto.
Towering 13 storeys above East Houston street (and overlooking the grounds of the Alamo) is the Emily Morgan Hotel. Named after the legendary Yellow Rose, this Gothic Revivalist structure was designed by Ralph H. Cameron, a local architect, in the mid-1920's.

Opening its doors on April 1, 1926, the first, documented high-rise west of the Mississippi River was a medical arts building. Now you might think that a 13-storey building opening on April Fools Day held no superstitions. On the contrary, sick gargoyles, holding sore tummies and with toothaches, were placed above the ground floor windows... warding off illness one would presume. Just try not to get a sore neck gawking! And don't be surprised if passer-bys look at you a little strangely.

If your sense of curiosity is piqued by the unusual, take a evening stroll with Martin Leal on the San Antonio Ghost Hunt Tour. Leal promises to dish up the latest in ghostly sightings at the Emily Morgan (gargoyles can't be expected to keep everything paranormal at bay), the nearby historic Menger Hotel (a whole lot of ghostly history to be had) and the Alamo (one of the most haunted sites in all of the city). He'll even display current ghost-hunting paraphernalia. Goose bumps?

No? So you don't believe in ghosts? Well, step across the street for a sampling of Ripley's Haunted Adventure, one of San Antonio's newest attractions guaranteed to knock your socks off in fright! Well, maybe not guaranteed, but definitely spooky.

Doubters in the crowd need to spend time at Ripley's Believe it or Not! -- Robert Ridley's curious collection of more than 500 bizarre artifacts -- from the vampire killing kit to petrified raindrops. Curiosities abound in this attraction, but I'd like to know the name of the person responsible for building the toothpick Eiffel Tower (just so I can look them up and call them crazy).

Down the street from the Emily Morgan you'll find San Antonio's original oddity -- the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum. In 1881, Albert Friedrich opened Albert's Buckhorn Saloon. Standing out from the crowd, Albert sought to entice customers with an offer of free whisky or beer... in return for deer antlers.

Not surprisingly, the collection grew... and grew... and grew. Expanding its horizons with homemade antler furniture furnished by Albert's dad, a potpourri of other natural history remains (from stuffed animals to fins and feathers), beer cap artwork and a historic shooting gallery, you have an unparalleled, Texas-sized attraction to explore.

A note to the wise, leave the antlers at home. While you are still asked to please leave guns, horses and saddles outside, bringing an antler in won't get you so much as a free soda! The collection may have moved many times over the years, but it appears pretty settled on East Houston street today... although moving might be easier than dusting...

Hmm... I wonder if they've found a new home yet for the Hertzberg Circus Museum collection (more than 20,000 items) since the doors of the Old Library closed to the public? I'd love another peek into Tom Thumb's carriage and a glimpse of Jolly Maizie Fielder's dress (she was known as a "deluxe entertainer"). And what about the "alien" in the Cowboy Museum... is it still there, hidden back of the mock building fronts and the barbwire display?

Curiosity got the writer, time to book another flight. Adios!

If you go:

The Emily Morgan is an upscale hotel (705 East Houston), but you can check out the gargoyles hanging out just above the ground floor windows free of charge!

The Hauntings History of San Antonio Ghost Hunt begins at The Cenotaph on the Alamo Plaza and last about an hour and a half. Tickets ($10/adult; $5/ 6-17 year olds; under 6 free) are available from the Alamo Visitor Center (across from the Alamo).

Ripley's Haunted Adventure (329 Alamo Plaza) admission is $11.50/adult; $6.95/ 4-12 year olds. Ripleys Believe it or Not! (301 Alamo Plaza) admission is $13.95/adult; $5.95/ 4-12 year olds.

The Buckhorn Saloon & Museum (318 E. Houston) is open daily, admission charged ($9.99/adult; $7.50/ 3-11 year olds).

The Cowboy Museum (209 Alamo Plaza) charges a nominal admission ($3/adult; $2/ 6-12 year olds).

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