Monday, May 24, 2010

Aurora UFO Incident

Just got back from a trip that included a stop in Aurora, Texas, to do some research on a local legend that claims there was a UFO crash near the town -- in 1897! This partially in support of a chapter on the incident, whether it be hoax or fact, that will appear in the book I am currently working on, Texas Confidential: Sex, Scandal, Murder, and Mayhem in the Lone Star State.

One of the following pictures is of the marker at the supposed site of the the "spaceman's" grave. The other is the official Texas Historical Commission marker mentioning the incident.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

'True Grit' in Blanco, Texas

BLANCO, TEXAS -- Film crews, a pair of famous directors, and even a few stars descended on the historic town of Blanco in May 2010 to film some of the scenes that will appear in the upcoming remake of the 1969 film True Grit.

Modern trailers, old-fashioned wagons, and other equipment filled the town square; people clad in period garb struck poses in front of the old courthouse; and Blanco County sheriff’s deputies and police officers from nearby Johnson City redirected traffic on a detour around Main Street/Highway 281 and kept crowds of locals from getting in the way of the shoot.

Filming took place in Blanco Tuesday and Wednesday, May 11-12. In the scene being filmed the afternoon of the final day, a couple of wagons and some horsemen kept going back-and-forth along 4th Street, while aromatic smoke billowed, for some unexplained reason, out of strategically-located braziers (and only once did the director have to yell “Clear the set!” at a reporter who did not vacate the scene quickly enough.)

“You never know what you’re going to see,” said Blanco Postmaster Charles Landry, whose post office is right across the street from the courthouse. He said that the crowds had been pretty consistent since filming started and that people were interested in what was happening with the filming. That is not too surprising when you consider that this is the first time in his experience that anything of this sort has happened in Blanco.

And he was not the only one who was interested in what was happening.

“They’re here every day, and are just trying to see what’s going on and if they can see anybody,” he said of some of the locals who have been turning out the watch the filming. At least one of the film’s stars — Jeff Bridges, who is reprising the role of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn, played by John Wayne in the original — was believed to be on the scene. (One pair of local women were indeed keeping an eye out for Bridges, who they believed to be inside the courthouse, and were somewhat indignant that he would not come out and talk to his fans at least briefly.)

“For the most part, they’re just milling about and seeing what’s going on ... and how long it’s going to take,” Landry said. “Some of them just want to get back to their normal routine” and drive through the town square rather than detour around it.

True Grit is based on a 1968 novel by author Charles Portis and is about a young girl who recruits the aging and cynical Cogburn to help her track down and bring to justice the man who murdered her father. Wayne won a Best Actor Oscar for his depiction of the roll.

The new adaptation of the film is being directed by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen and being filmed at a number of locations in Texas and New Mexico (as was their 2007 release No Country for Old Men, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem).

Bridges recently won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in the 2009 film Crazy Heart. Also starring in True Grit is Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, The Bourne Ultimatum, Ocean’s Eleven), who plays Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, and who has recently been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in the 2009 film Invictus. The film will also feature actors Josh Brolin (W., Planet Terror, No Country for Old Men) and Barry Pepper (Seven Pounds, Saving Private Ryan).

True Grit is scheduled for release on Christmas Day 2010.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gruene, Texas

Anyone who has visited the historic village of Gruene on any given Saturday or evening in the summer, when it is thronged with tourists and local revelers alike, might be surprised to learn that it was once a genuine ghost town. Gruene was, however, virtually abandoned for more than two decades, from around 1950 until the early 1970s, when it was restored as a tourist attraction.

Located along the Guadalupe River at the north end of New Braunfels, the once-independent community was founded in the 1850s by German farmer Ernst Gruene and his sons, who purchased 6,000 acres of surrounding farmland, which they planted with cotton.

Gruene — both pronounced and meaning “green,” like the color — attracted two or three dozen sharecropper families and grew into a thriving commercial center. It was aided by its location along the stagecoach route between San Antonio and Austin at the point where it crossed the Guadalupe and, in the 1880s, by the establishment of the International-Great Northern Railroad line. Originally known as Goodwin Community, the town was eventually renamed for its most prominent family.

By the early 20th century, Gruene was a significant cotton ginning and shipping center that had two freight rail stations. But the good times were not to last indefinitely. A marker titled “Gruene Cotton Gin” that was placed by the Texas Historical Commission in 1989 sums up the early history, economic basis, and namesake of the village — and the cause of its initial demise.

“Built on the site of an earlier grist mill, the Gruene Cotton Gin was constructed in 1878 by H.D. Gruene,” the marker reads. “Powered by the Guadalupe River, the gin was steam-operated and served to process the vast amounts of cotton grown in the area. The gin played an important part in the economic development of Gruene, a community dependent upon the cotton crop. The gin was destroyed in a 1922 fire, and only part of the boiler room remains. A new electric gin was built at another location and served the community until the cotton crop was lost to a boll weevil infestation in 1925.”

The Great Depression followed hard on the heels of the weevils, a combination that was too much for Gruene, and all but one of its establishments — Gruene Hall — went out of business. Post-World War II highway construction bypassed the town, and within a few years it was almost completely deserted.

Gruene enjoyed a renaissance beginning in the 1970s, with the restoration of Gruene Hall, the old store, and a number of other local buildings.

When You Visit
Today, the bustling little community features a half-dozen restaurants, among them the sprawling Grist Mill, established in an old industrial structure; about two-dozen specialty stores of various sorts, making this a great place to hunt for gifts with local color; Gruene Hall, which today styles itself “the oldest dance hall in Texas;” and a couple of river rafting and tubing outfitters. Many of these businesses operate out of the village’s original structures.

There is almost always something going on in Gruene and the historic town sponsors a variety of special events throughout the year, including many food- and music-oriented activities and Old Gruene Market Days the third weekend of every month except December and January.

From Interstate 35, take Exit 191 and head west on FM 306 for 1.5 miles to Hunter Road. Turn left on Hunter Road and go about a half mile. When you see Gruene Hall and the Gristmill, you will know you are there!

Gruene, Texas