The Five People You Meet on Twitter (No. 1)

The Celebrity

Whether they’re promoting a flick/show, a cause, a campaign, a product/career or just trying to save face, these  tend to be the tweeple that provide fodder for the tired theory that Twitter’s an exercise in narcissism. Politicians, talk show hosts, novelists, sports figures, celebrity chefs and garden gurus, moviestars*… with a few noteworthy exceptions**  their tweeting is driven more by a desire “to control the message” than to actually share connect.

Never mind the fact that in the age of micro-sharing/blogging or whatever we’re saying Twitter is this week, being authentic matters more than being a spinmeister. So if good spin is your sole motivation, you’re in trouble from the get-go. And, oh lordy, if it’s a staffer writing your tweets and you’re not upfront about it, start praying now that it never gets out. Because you will be mocked and, gasp,  unfollowed. 

Subcategories: Famous bloggers and minor local celebrities, including preachers, newspaper columnists, metro-area lifestyle show hosts. 

Word to the Wise: Remember: everyone is “famous” to their own Twitter flock o’ followers. So if you want us mere mortals to pay attention to your feed (and “your message”) with regularity and respect, consider employing the occasional retweet or response to a direct question. For the time-strapped, you can set aside a specific day or time to correspond with followers in real time. Alyssa Milano  (@Alyssa_Milano) did this just last night, as one of my followers (@starbreiz) notified me this morning. Whoa… did you catch that? People will keep talking about your tweets for a day or two if you play right. Do that kind of thing once or twice a month and you can legitimately claim that you “use Twitter”–as opposed to just employing it to send out teeny-tiny press releases. Yay, you!

Got a fave celebrity worth following? Tell us why.

Next in the Five People series: The Real Deal

*No, I’m not naming names of ne’er do-wells. Besides if you use Twitter, then you already know of whom I speak. And if you don’t, then you likely don’t care.

**Example: Lance Armstrong ( @lancearmstrong) blends his personal and professional tweets exceptionally well. I don’t follow him daily, but I do pop in to read his feed regularly.

Postscript: Requiem for a Greek Revival

For years, I’ve wrestled with the many stories that I wove together for this single article. Two of them in particular stay on my mind, but in very different ways. More on one of them in a moment…

But first, a bit of personal anecdote. For a long time, I thought I discovered The Cottage on a Sunday drive down River Road the first year we lived in Baton Rouge. In truth, my mother had first mentioned it to me years ago, while she read from Frances Parkinson Keyes’ novel, mentioned above. It seems my paternal grandfather’s late first wife had purchased a copy and kept it in her private Texas hill country library for my mom to discover decades later. After the story came out, my mother reminded me that she’d read the book and told part of the story to me as a child. In retrospect, I wonder how much of those stories of the Deep South compelled me to respond so strongly to the ruins upon first seeing them? The book is in my possession now, a reminder of how we’re all connected.

Back on track…Since I tend to find that people with whom I tell this story are interested in updates–especially with regard to the late Margaret Rosamond McMillan, here are a few:

– The McMillan murder case is receiving a bit of press again, thanks in part to Malcolm Shurman‘s new book, The Levee: A Novel of Baton Rouge (Academy Chicago Publishers, 2008). He’s also giving an interesting series of public lectures regarding how this case brought Baton Rouge into the ’60s. I’d be curious to know what he says, given that he’s an anthropologist by training. (I’ve ordered the book.)

– It seems that television-generated interest in old murder mysteries led to a revisiting of the story in 2005. That April, Chris White, a writer for the LSU Legacy, published an article, “Cold Case Files: Mickey and the Mysterious Murder.” There are a few interesting morsels in the story.

– An old article from 1960, The Dean and the Professor, is up now on the Time magazine site.

Life Magazine now has a few photos online from the investigation. Note that in the caption to the image of police inspecting the accused’s car, Mickey is referred to as “Dr. George Mickey” but Margaret Rosamund McMillan is not afforded the same respect. While retyping my story, I noticed the opposite is true here. It’s probably trivial and unintentional in both cases… and yet a telling clue as to how different people bring their own perspective/bias to stories.

Although I do not profess to know who killed McMillan, I do confess to feeling empathy for her plight as a young female academic at the dawn of the ’60s. Given the nature of the attack–a blunt instrument (perhaps a tire iron) was used to strike her head and there was no evidence of theft, it seems to have been a crime of passion. Or was it a premeditated act designed to look like a crime of passion? Hmmm… This was long before DNA tests. Just because blood matching her type was found on Mickey’s car doesn’t mean it was her blood–though it’s certainly provocative. Then again, who knows if he was anywhere near the car when the blood got on it.

– On a separate tangent and not so much an update as a footnote… A friend with whom I shared the ruins’ secrets once–long before this article was published–sought to encourage me and sent along a beautiful book, Vestiges of Grandeur: The Plantations of Louisiana’s River Road, by Richard Sexton. In it, the author/photographer includes this quote opposite a photograph of The Cottage:

“The scale of civilization and, indeed, of American frontier topography, was changing beyond the capacity of a temple form to control it…. [W]here those demands were least felt or most resisted, the old classic ideal could be longest retained in its romanticized form. The late Greek Revival plantation houses of the Deep South best embodied that condition and intention. Their softly gleaming column screens furnished the symbolic image around which Southern apologetics of the immediately pre-Civil War period and Southern mythology of the interminably postwar period were both to be fashioned. The more in ruin, the more Greek they seemed.” – Vincent Scully, American Architecture and Urbanism

Local road offers glimpse into the past


This story appeared in June 2007.

Feed Your Oats on the OST

By Pamela Price
Contributing Writer
Hill Country View

History is tricky. It can fashion one aspect of culture into an icon and obscure almost entirely another facet worthy of acclaim. Take for instance, the Old Spanish Trail (OST), a 1920s era auto highway, and precursor to modern IH-10, that traversed the nation from Florida to California. However, unlike Route 66, which was created in the same decade, there’s no unforgettable mid-century song to sing off-key about the OST, no collection of “Made in China” commemorative plastic doodads to clutter your fridge.

That may change soon.

San Antonio-area historians and conservationists are eager to educate locals about the OST’s historic 32-mile “Headquarter’s Section” that runs from downtown San Antonio to Boerne. For example, on June 10, members of the Old Spanish Trail Centennial Celebration Association (or, as they refer succinctly to themselves, the “OST 100”) hosted a JuneOSTour, part of a series of public events in keeping with the group’s effort to preserve and promote the historic route. Lead organizer Charlotte Kahl believes such experiences will help people “visualize the ambiance of early auto travel through the Hill Country, before it is totally hidden by development.”

By way of background, the roots of the almost 3000-mile OST reach back to before World War I. The notion was to create the shortest route between both the Atlantic and Pacific, with St. Augustine and San Diego serving as endpoints. Through a series of conferences held along the eventual route, citizens and business leaders gradually built local and federal support.

Initially, there was a military rational for creating the roadway. General John J. Pershing, having been forced to use motorized vehicles on uneven, muddy and gravely roads in pursuit of Pancho Villa in 1916 and in Europe during WWI, argued for a highway across the South that could be used to for defense. Later, the case for making a pleasurable, easy-to-drive path across the southern half of the country gained greater traction.

The OST wasn’t completed until 1929. “There were three main reasons why it was time consuming to build the OST,” says Kahl, a San Antonio resident. ”First, there was the terrain. Bridges to span waterways along the Gulf Coast and canyons in the West, in particular, were expensive. And in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, the OST cut through some of the poorest counties in the poorest states in the nation. Then you’ve got the tumultuous times of the First World War. Toward the end of completion, you’ve got the start of the Great Depression. So there were pauses, starts and stops, that were problematic all along the way.”

Crucial to building public support for the project was a bit of creative public relations work undertaken by Harral B. Ayres, a successful former East Coast financier. Working first locally on the OST for the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and later as managing director of the Old Spanish Trail Association, Ayres drew connections between the proposed modern roadway and Spanish history. Furthermore, “the development and marketing of the OST had much to do with tourism and the family car,” observes Dennis Medina, UTSA special collections librarian. “When the family car became a staple of middle-class life (in the ‘20s), there was an explosion of ‘opportunities’ to exploit it.”

Some estimates for the final cost of construction on the OST exceed $100 million dollars, a staggering sum given the era. “It’s very difficult to know for certain how much money went into the project,” says Kahl. “In the beginning, the OST budget covered building costs, but as time went on, the budget was more for promotion than for gravel, trees, etcetera. Much of the major costs were hidden in state budgets.”

Although regional travel offices continued to promote the OST off-and-on well into the ‘60s, new fangled interstates and air travel resulted in the route being largely forgotten. Yet along the path the roadway cut, historic restaurants, gas stations, hotels and other vestiges of the OST’s impact on the nations’ economy remain, many of them now in disrepair.

Flash forward to the end of the 20th century. Already a decade into efforts to revitalize San Antonio’s Fredericksburg Road corridor, local conservationists were perplexed to encounter a bench on Vance Jackson bearing the letters “O-S-T”. With a bit of research, the OST revealed its secrets one by one. “It wasn’t a major, earth-shattering revelation,” recalls Marianna Jones, a long-time San Antonio Conservation Association member and former president. She continues, “But it did add a whole new aspect to what we knew about San Antonio history.”

Currently, Kahl and Jones are working to preserve remaining Bexar County OST artifacts and sites while undertaking the arduous work of increasing awareness of the OST Centennial, including a proposed 2029 cross-country motorcade. “We began in 2000 and are taking our time with this project because all of the urban OST corridors are in the oldest sections of town. They are often economically forgotten areas of our communities that need real help and a long time to turn around,” says Kahl, adding that by 2029 she and other OST 100 members hope to have “every business along the route freshly painted, looking good, fully stocked and ready to greet people.”

That’s a tall order, and organizers aren’t planning to go it alone. By reaching out to civic organizations, community leaders and even neighborhood associations along the roadway, the OST 100 is replicating many of the grassroots techniques and strategies Ayres and others applied almost one hundred years ago. “We don’t want to impose what we think ‘should’ happen along the OST from the top down,” says Kahl. “And (the plan) is working. Take the Boerne Stage Road corridor. That was one of the area’s where we couldn’t get any footing on economic development efforts or beautification efforts. And we tried. But something has changed and now people are asking for us.”

Kahl expresses pleasure that nascent efforts to protect Boerne Stage Road and Scenic Loop from further sprawl are being pinned, in large part, to the historic value of the roadways and their vistas. “I hope that what is happening now will trigger even further interest in the OST,” adds Jones. “Too often, when you mention the Old Spanish Trail, people think you are talking about the Camino Real or Old San Antonio Road. But through the work of (Kahl) in particular, people are becoming more aware. She is the sparkplug in this project, you know.”

Hmm… a tenacious sparkplug. A forgotten highway steeped in American history. Add a forgotten lover, an old truck, a clever songwriter and look out Route 66.

Open Book

By Pamela Price
Contributing writer, The Hill Country View

For some of us, it may be difficult to imagine folks developing a strong sense of community around such a humble thing as building a schoolhouse.

Yet in the 1880s, led by three ranchers named Max Aue, Arthur Blinker and H.W. Toepperwein, early Leon Springs residents did precisely that. Motivated by a desire to provide their children with a proper education, several families pulled together to raise funds for the new building, which opened in 1881. Over the next century, the original school would be replaced several times due to fires and changing needs. In the meantime, the school served as a catalyst for social interaction (weekend Bunco parties were popular at one point) and spurred the creation of other entities, including Leon Springs Presbyterian Church and Northside Independent School District.

One might argue that the history of the school and the community are one and the same. Now, thanks to the efforts of administrators, local historians and long-time residents, current Leon Springs Elementary (LSE) students have the opportunity to learn and celebrate their educational heritage.

The LSE History Project came about two years ago, when principal Kathy Dodge-Clay attended an NISD meeting regarding the district’s new museum, now situated on Bandera Road in Leon Valley.

“We were asked to select one or two individuals that we felt would be able to write our school’s history, as well as put together a collection of artifacts (for the district’s museum),” said Dodge-Clay. “I knew that Lou Ann Horne was a walking, talking encyclopedia regarding the history of the Leon Springs community.”

At the time, Horne, a recently retired educator, served as a volunteer tutor. She vividly recalls Dodge-Clay flagging her down in the LSE hallway and presenting her with the idea.

“NISD wanted to set up a museum that would hold a lot of memorabilia and be a top-notch field trip destination for the district, especially for fifth grade social studies classes,” said Horne, who leapt at the opportunity to become the Leon Springs school’s official, albeit voluntary, historian and curator. She soon initiated contact with alumni and other long-time residents who could provide first-hand accounts of the school’s history.

From mundane to charming, the stories Horne collected reveal a great deal about Leon Springs before HEB and Starbucks arrived, and they offer much more than a glimpse into school life. There are descriptions of myriad, everyday activities, including playing marbles, bathing in the area’s springs with Life Buoy soap, surviving hard times and interacting with soldiers at Camp Stanley.

“We have former students from as far back as the 1920s,” said Horne. “We collected stories and photographs and placed them in large scrapbooks that are housed in the school’s library. We also have a complete history on the web site that runs up until 1990.”

In addition to the on-campus archive and Web presence, there is a project CD, too. Anyone may access the Web site, and all of the materials are available for on-site classroom use.

“I think the relevance of this project is that it gives our students a great deal of pride to know the history of their school,” said Dodge-Clay. “It allows them to develop a sense of community pride and greater appreciation of the history of the school. We have a deep rooted history of family and education on this piece of land.”

Currently, Horne is drafting a history of the 1990s. The era is particularly rich with information not only because memories are fresh, but because of a particular crafting craze. “We have so much to work with, thanks to school secretaries and PTA members who kept scrapbooks during that time,” said Horne.

According to Dodge-Clay, a former school secretary named Marcia Merrit created the original, comprehensive archival scrapbooks to which Horne added what she collected. For now, the books will remain in the school’s library.

However, as the NISD school museum was the impetus for the expanded history project, it is plausible they may be moved off-site.

“The scrapbooks will remain in our library for the time being but may eventually be archived with the museum association (in Leon Valley), “ said Dodge-Clay. “This is only the second year of this project and therefore we are still in the process of writing policies and procedures.” Patricia Blattman, NISD school museum association president, concurred with Dodge-Clay, saying that it is premature to state definitively where archival materials will end up.

“We just got our building,” said Blattman, “and we have begun the process of sorting through material that we have already received, distributing copies of pictures and other materials back to specific campuses. It is my hope that all (archival) information will be equally found at the campus and museum levels. Because the museum is dedicated to the bigger picture of the entire district, I suspect individual schools will likely have their own historical displays.”

“It is our intention that all (LSE history project) materials be made available to interested parties,” said Dodge-Clay, who welcomes the opportunity to share information with the new Julia Newton Aue Elementary when it opens this fall.

“We will be happy to share our knowledge of the area as well as our historical keepsakes with (Aue). We certainly do share a common heritage in this area. I’m sure that Mrs. Horne will be happy to share her knowledge of the area with Aue staff, once they are in place.”

One suspects that Max Aue and his 1880s cohort, together with their generations of successors, would be eager to see that happen, too.