Napoleon, Josephine and Maria Walewska: A Traingle for the Ages

Napoleon Bonaparte (public domain image)

Napoleon Bonaparte (public domain image)

The woman most associated with Napoleon Bonaparte is Josephine, whose real name was Marie Josephe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie.  Apparently, Napoleon did not like the name “Rose,” which is what Josephine’s family and friends called her, telling the attractive widow: “I don’t like your name; from now on I will call you Josephine.” (1) The pair met in 1795 when Napoleon was just beginning to make a name for himself in the French military and was seen as one of its greatest up-and-coming officers.

There are several stories as to how and where the two met, but it is most likely it happened at a social event.  At the time, Josephine – who was a well-known figure in French society – was the mistress of Paul Barras, Napoleon’s mentor and “de facto” governor of France.  Realizing that she was not getting any younger (Josephine was 32 in 1795) and with Barras’ attention being directed toward another woman, Josephine knew she was facing the possibility of losing financial support for herself and her two children, Eugene and Hortense.  Ever the smart and captivating woman, she set her eyes on the unrefined Napoleon, who, young and inexperienced, immediately fell for her advances.  Josephine could see that the young officer was destined for greatness.  The pair was married in March 1796 with Napoleon receiving a promotion to commander-in-chief of the army of Italy as a wedding present from Paul Barras. (2)

Josephine Bonaparte (public domain image)

Josephine Bonaparte (public domain image)

Three days after the wedding, Napoleon left for Nice leaving his beloved bride behind.  His love letters to Josephine at this time are quite passionate and reveal how love-sick he was without her.  However, Josephine, who unlike her new husband married as a matter of convenience, was back in Paris enjoying the companionship different lovers, most notably a lieutenant named Hippolyte Charles.  The news of Josephine’s indiscretions were eventually revealed to Napoleon who had remained completely devoted to his wife refusing to take on a mistress, like many of his officers had done.  After finally taking on a mistress while in Egypt, he resolved to divorce Josephine but when he returned to France in 1799, she again used her charms to reconcile with her husband.  Josephine, an infamous spender, had gone into deep debt while Napoleon had been away and she realized it behooved her to stay married.

Even though the couple seemingly worked things out, Napoleon’s initial passion for his wife was gone.  This is quite ironic as Josephine’s love for the man blossomed and grew.  This set the stage for a number of mistresses Napoleon would have over his career.  Being a man of growing power and eventually Emperor of France, he had no problems getting any woman he wanted.  At the height of his power in 1807, Napoleon met the Countess Maria Walewska in Warsaw, Poland.  The beautiful 20-year-old Maria quickly caught the wandering eye of Emperor Bonaparte who was quick to ask for a private meeting with the young noble woman.  Maria was married to 71-year-old Count Anastase Walewski who, allegedly, encouraged his young bride to do whatever it took to ingratiate herself to Napoleon with the goal of helping Poland become in independent state.

Marie Walewska (public domain image)

Maria Walewska (public domain image)

And so it was that Maria Walewska, much to Josephine’s chagrin, became not only Napoleon’s friend and confidant, but mistress.  In fact, she joined him for several weeks in Paris and then Vienna.  In May 1810, Alexandre Florian Joseph Walewski was born to Maria.  The baby was allegedly the illegitimate son of Napoleon, although Alexandre claimed in later years that his father was Count Walewski who had legally recognized him as his son.  Be that as it may, the birth of Maria’s son was seen as further proof that Josephine, and not Napoleon, was physically incapable of bearing a child.  This would eventually lead to the couple divorcing in 1809 so he could marry the young and fertile Marie-Louise of Austria who would give birth to a son in 1811, Napoleon François Joseph Charles.

Maria claimed her relationship with Napoleon was born solely out of patriotic duty.  Despite this, Maria’s devotion and love for Napoleon – however it began – was clear to all; Maria even visited Napoleon when he was in exile in Elba.  Although Poland did not reach the large independent state it hoped, it did reach independence as the smaller, but free, Grand Duchy of Warsaw, thanks to Emperor Bonaparte.

Alexandre Walewski (public domain image)

Alexandre Walewski (public domain image)

The final outcome of this triangle is very interesting and history-making.  Although it was proven, through the birth of Maria’s son, that Napoleon was not infertile thus making the case for his divorce from Josephine and the birth of a legitimate heir, Napoleon lost his most arduous supporter and “good luck charm” in Josephine.  Napoleon’s Grand Armee suffered extraordinary losses in Russia in 1812 and never fully recovered until he was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.  The once great Emperor of France died in exile on the British island of St. Helena in 1821.  But what of his son, Napoleon II, the King of Rome, as he was called?

After his father abdicated in 1814, Marie-Louise escaped with the boy to Austria and was given the title Duke of Reichstadt by his maternal grandfather.  Marie-Louise remarried Austrian General Count von Neipperg in 1821, only a few months after Bonaparte’s death.  Apparently, Marie-Louise had two illegitimate children by Count von Neipperg prior to their marriage, a fact that the young Napoleon François saw as a weakness in his mother allegedly saying, “If Josephine had been my mother, my father would not have been buried at Saint Helena, and I should not be at Vienna.  My mother is kind but weak; she was not the wife my father deserved.” (3)  Clearly, Josephine’s reputation as a strong woman preceded her, not being lost even in the eyes of the boy who was the reason for her divorce.  The young Napoleon II would die at age 21 of tuberculosis.

Napoleon II (public domain image)

Napoleon II (public domain image)

As far as Maria Walewska, she divorced Count Walewski and married a Count d’Ornano in 1816.  She died shortly after giving birth to a son in 1817.  Maria’s legacy is two-fold: first, her success in convincing Napoleon of Poland’s need to be independent.  Second, her giving birth of Napoleon’s illegitimate son, Alexandre.  It is through Alexandre that Napoleon Bonaparte’s direct lineage continues … ironically, it’s through several descendants of a child he had out-of-wedlock with an actress, Rachel Felix and whom he later adopted.

At Villa Finale’s upcoming La Fête Napoléon, a gala celebrating the Napoleonic era, costumed actors portraying Napoleon, Josephine and Maria Walewska will be in attendance greeting and interacting with guests.  Now that you know how this triangle affected the course of history, what would you ask?

La Fête Napoléon, a gala celebrating the Napoleonic era: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 7:00pm.  Admissions begin at $200 per person.  Proceeds support Villa Finale’s ongoing community efforts.  Call (210) 223-9800 for admissions or further information.

End Notes:
1. Proctor Patterson Jones, Napoleon: An Intimate Account of the Years of Supremacy (San Francisco, California: Proctor James Publishing Company, 1992), xxxiii.
2. Ibid.
3. Felix Markham,
Napoleon: A Startling New Interpretation of His Life and Legend Based on Recently Discovered Documents (New York, New York: Signet, 1966), 249.

Sources:
Jones, Proctor Patterson.  Napoleon: An Intimate Account of the Years of Supremacy.  San Francisco: Proctor Jones Publishing Company, 1992.

Markham, David J.  Napoleon for Dummies.  Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2005.

Markham, Felix.  Napoleon: A Startling New Interpretation of His Life and Legend Based on Recently Discovered Documents.  New York: Signet, 1963.

Second annual staff retreat: Galveston, Texas

On the Tall Ship Elissa

On the Tall Ship Elissa

Those of us who work at Villa Finale are fortunate to have leadership that encourages staff enrichment and development. For the second straight year, we loaded a mini van and all headed to Galveston to visit historic sites, places of interest and meet with other in the fields of museum and preservation.

As in 2013, our accommodations were once again at the Michel B. Menard House.  Built in 1838, the house is now the oldest surviving house in the city and is operated by the Galveston Historical Foundation.  After carefully picking out our rooms for our stay, we headed out to the Texas Seaport Museum to tour the Tall Ship Elissa.  Built

Boat tour of Galveston Bay

Boat tour of Galveston Bay

in Scotland in 1877, the barque is one of the oldest sailing ships in the world.  The ship is kept in tip-top shape by caring volunteers, many of whom have an opportunity to sail on the Elissa as a reward for number of hours served.  Many thanks to Rachel for the wonderful tour!  After our visit on the Elissa, the staff received its own private boat tour of Galveston Bay by the very entertaining Captain Wes and his one-woman crew.  The staff was enthralled by the amount of dolphins we saw frolicking throughout!  A highlight of the day was an Italian dinner with colleagues from the Galveston Historical Foundation.  Sharing stories about historic preservation over fine food and a glass of wine was a fitting way to end day one.

1504961_10203115961559100_930486206_n

At Shangri La

Day two began early the next day.  The staff, still tired from the boat ride and all the excitement of our arrival, stuffed itself in the van for a ferry ride that was the beginning of our trip to Orange, Texas and Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center.  The Center, a program of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, is sprawled out over 200 acres; the Botanical Gardens contain over 300 plant species, many of which are in meticulously maintained green houses.  For me, the Pond of the Blue Moon and the Children’s Garden were the most fascinating.  After lunch at Shangri La, the staff received a tour of the 1894 W.H. Stark House, also in Orange.  The three-story house is furnished with original family pieces and is definitely something to see if you’re ever in Orange.

McFaddin-Ward House

McFaddin-Ward House

Our historic homes tour did not end there.  Our next stop was Beaumont and the McFaddin-Ward House.  The house, built in 1905, was the home of W.P.H. and Ida Caldwell McFaddin and family who made their fortune from the cattle and oil business.  The entire house is lavishly decorated but I think the staff would agree that our favorite place in the house was in the third floor, where the McFaddin boys lived.  It was quite the “man cave!”  For those of us who have made our careers in the museum field, the curatorial storage was an incredible thing to see – everything is carefully stored with proper materials and using best practices.  I was like a kid in a candy store!  Thank you so much to the McFaddin-Ward staff for sharing the space

Bishop's Palace

Bishop’s Palace

with us!  After yet another long day, the staff enjoyed down-time back in Galveston with a delicious dinner at the Saltwater Grill: you can’t go to Galveston and not have sea food!

On our last day in Galveston, the staff made its way to the Bishop’s Palace.  This was a stop during last year’s trip, however, some of us were unable to travel so I am happy it was added to the agenda once again.  The Bishop’s Palace is an absolute must-see if you’re ever in Galveston!  Designed and built in 1892 by architect Nicholas Clayton for railroad magnate Walter Gresham, the unfurnished house is nearly 21,000 square

Inside the magnificent Bishop's Palace

Inside the magnificent Bishop’s Palace

feet on an incredibly small lot but, wow!  What an amazing structure!  From its intricate wood details to its beautiful windows, the Bishop’s Palace does not need any furnishings in order to shine.

Next stop after the grandeur of the Bishop’s Palace was The Menil Collection in Houston.  This was an opportunity for each staff member to wander on their own to enjoy their preferred forms of art.  The stop at the Menil was fitting before our visit to Rienzi – the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  Rienzi is actually a house museum for European decorative arts located in Houston’s historic River Oaks neighborhood.  The home itself was built in 1952 for philanthropists Carol Sterling Masterson and

Sunset in Galveston

Sunset in Galveston

Harris Masterson III who, among their many endeavors, were avid collectors, much like Walter Mathis who owned

Villa Finale.  Unlike Villa Finale, however, Rienzi continues to add to the collection for the purpose of displaying items that are the best examples of its European theme.  It is always a treat to visit unique sites like Rienzi.

Needless to say, the staff was tuckered out after our three days of nonstop visits!  We arrived back in San Antonio safe and sound, just ahead of a rare freeze.  I guess it was very fitting as we “cooled down” from a very busy and exciting trip.

Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens, full of Christmas cheer!

2013 has been Villa Finale’s most successful year of programs and events to date.  To close the year, we have a series of programs to celebrate the holiday season perfect for every member of the family.  To begin, the house is now decorated inside, and out, for Christmas.  Walter Mathis enjoyed decking out his home for the holidays and we are fortunate enough to have nearly all of his original Christmas decorations.  To read a past blog post by curator, Meg Nowack about the Mathis decorations, click here.

The holiday programming begins this week with the first of our two scheduled dates for the holiday version of our popular Music for Your Eyes tour (both dates of the Music for Your Eyes – Holiday are sold out).  Like our year-round version of the special evening tour, Music for Your Eyes – Holiday focuses on demonstrations and fun historic information on the music machines in Villa Finale’s collections but with a fun holiday twist.  At the end of the tour, guests enjoy a fifteen-minute concert of traditional Chirstmas classics provided by Villa Finale’s 1921 Bechstein-Welte reproducing piano, located in the grand Napoleon Parlors.  (The first date for the regular version of the tour is scheduled for February 6, 2014.  Click here for details.)

ImageOn Thursday, December 12th, we will be hosting the second annual outdoor holiday concert, The Sounds of Christmas at Villa Finale featuring the San Antonio Brass for 2013.  The San Antonio Brass will be playing upbeat favorites as well as classics from Villa Finale’s front porch.  Admission to the concert ($25.00 non-members, $20.00 members) includes light holiday refreshments.  Gate opens at 6:00pm and the concert will begin at 6:30pm.  The setting for the concert provides a holiday experience like no other!

To “wrap up” the holiday offerings, Villa Finale will be introducing its new series Silver Screen ImageClassics in the Garden with a FREE outdoor screening of the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life on Thursday, December 19th at 6:00pm.  Bring warm blankets, chairs, and pets on leash … we did say something for EVERY member of the family!  Villa Finale will have complimentary hot beverages and holiday treats available for purchase.  The screening begins at 6:00pm, but if you arrive early, you can secure a place next to one of our heaters.  Also, in the spirit of the film, we invite you to bring non-perishable food items as a collection for the San Antonio Food Bank.  Or, you may bring a new, unwrapped toy as a donation for the St. PJ’s Children’s Home.  (To see a wish list of items for St. PJ’s, click here.)  There will be a follow-up blog post about the Silver Screen Classics in the Garden series in the near future, so be on the look out!

For more information about these or future programs, or to make a reservation for the 2013 The Sounds of Christmas at Villa Finale featuring San Antonio Brass, call Visitor Services at (210) 223-9800.  Thank you for a wonderful year, San Antonio!

 

 

 

“Wild” Billy Keilman returns home

If you follow us on Facebook, check our website or receive our e-blasts then you know about our October 12th event, Billy Keilman’s Speakeasy: A celebration of Villa Finale’s bootleg history!  But just who is Billy Keilman and how does he tie into Villa Finale?

Some time ago, I wrote a five-part blog called The Perils of 401 King William which detailed Villa Finale’s past owners.  Part five touched upon Billy Keilman who owned the house briefly from 1924 – 1925.  Of all the “personalities” who resided in the house, Billy definitely is worthy of his own themed event, even though he didn’t own the home for very long.

billy keilman

From “Action Magazine.” Nov. 1980

William H. Keilman was born on July 9, 1875 the son of pious German immigrants, Rudolph and Eliza Keilman.  As a youth, he was feisty and impulsive – so much so that at a very young age, he ran off to Cuba to join Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.  Upon returning to San Antonio, he joined the police force.  Standing at well over 6-feet and 225 pounds, Officer Keilman was an imposing figure who gained the respect of many petty criminals throughout the city.  However, his new-found fame as one of the city’s toughest cops was not enough for Billy who yearned to be a businessman.  Around 1910, after allegedly moving in with a red-head girl from “the district,” Billy quit the police force and forged his father’s name on a $5,000 check (over $121,000 today) to buy “The Beauty Saloon” bar and a 15-room house of prostitution – known as a “crib” – located on the corner Matamoros and South Concho Street, in the heart of what was then San Antonio’s red light area.

The issue of prostitution in San Antonio had been settled in 1899 when Mayor Bryan Callaghan successfully convinced the city council that “sin had to be regulated to be profitable.”  An ordinance was passed restricting such businesses to a 10-block downtown area: the “district” roughly encompassed Durango Street to the south (now Chavez), Frio Street to the west, South Santa Rosa to the east and Buena Vista Street to the north.  These “businesses” were under police enforcement, required an annual licensing fee of $500.00 per house and were subject to health inspections.  Fines for non-compliance were strictly enforced.

keilmans-blue-book“The Beauty Saloon” and its adjoining brothel were a hit as the entire San Antonio police force became instant patrons.  Musician friends of Billy’s provided the entertainment while being paid with beer, much of which was donated by the Pearl Brewery after Keilmam personally promised them he would be their largest customer once the business was up and running.  In addition to income from The Beauty Saloon and his “crib,” Billy also published The Blue Book: For Visitors, Tourists and Those Seeking a Good Time While in San Antonio, Texas.  The 28-page nondescript booklet, available for only 25-cents, provided “safe” saloons for out-of-towners to visit as well as gambling houses, cock-fighting pits, and listed and categorized the best bordellos in town with an A, B or C rating.  Ratings were based on cleanliness, service, and honesty.  Madam Hattie Baxter’s place, for example, was given an “A” in the Blue Book.  Not only did Madam Baxter store her client’s belongings in a secured safe, all items – including untouched wallets – were promptly returned at the end of a “visit” and all patrons received a receipt.

blue book inside

Blue Book interior

By the early 1920s, Billy and his wife, Minnie – a local madam –  had sold the Beauty Saloon and focused most of their resources on the Horn Palace Bar and Cafe which was purchased around 1912.  Reportedly, the business was first located in the south-west part of town near Kelly Field and later moved to 312 East Houston.  The Horn Palace, as it was most commonly known, was meant to be a direct competitor to Albert Friedrich’s Buckhorn Saloon which had opened in 1881.  The Buckhorn promised patrons a shot of whiskey or a beer in exchange for deer antlers.  The Horn Palace, however, boasted a larger collection than the Buckhorn’s of antlers, horns and trophies including “Old Tex,” a world-record holding longhorn steer which had been stuffed and mounted.  By this time, Billy was one of the richest and most influential men in San Antonio; while he had a lot of “friends,” he also made many enemies.

In 1921, a man named Yancy Yeager entered the Horn Palace and keilman blue book adtried to murder Billy by shooting him five times – including once in the head!  Despite a fractured skull – skillfully repaired when a local surgeon implanted a silver plate in Billy’s head – the rough and tough Keilman survived the attack.  During his attacker’s trial, the defence tried to discredit Billy by presenting The Blue Book as evidence of Keilman’s “shadyness.”  Billy denied under oath that he was the author of the scandalous Blue Book, despite the fact that his nameless likeness appeared on the back cover with the caption, “For Information of the Red Light District Ask Me.  MEET ME AT THE BEAUTY SALOON.”  The incident led to the closing of the Horn Palace which was deemed “unsafe” to the community following the attack.  The Buckhorn’s Albert Friedrich purchased the Horn Palace’s collection and this, along with “Old Tex,” can still be seen today at its location on Houston and South Flores Streets.

401 1924 saleThe closing of the Horn Palace had very little effect on Billy’s wealth, however.  In 1924, Billy and Minnie Keilman took part of their wealth to purchase the opulent home at 401 King William Street (then “407” and now Villa Finale).  The Keilmans more than likely purchased the home from Dr. G. E. Gwynn who had bought it in July, 1922.  Prohibition had been enacted in 1919 with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment and thus the “dry movement” spread across the nation, but that did not deter many Americans from getting a drink including the business-minded Keilmans.

Billy and Minnie wasted very little time in making use of their new home’s 6,500 square feet.  Under the leadership of Minnie, the Keilmans operated a brothel in the home and bootlegged liquor from the basement.  Their new venture was known locally as the “Marathon Club.”  Just as it seemed Billy had more lives than a cat, fate finally caught up to him.

keilman death cert 1925

Keilman’s death certificate, 1925

In November 1925, Billy went on a hunting trip with a couple of friends.  It is unclear how an argument began or what the matter of discussion was but it eventually led to a fist fight between Billy and one of his companions.  While it seems that it had been broken up several times, Billy’s luck finally ran out as he was struck in the head with a blunt object and reportedly died instantly marking the end of one of San Antonio’s most infamous characters (in an earlier blog post, we had reported that Billy had died from a gun shot).  The house at 401 King William was inherited by Billy’s son, Rudy, who then gave it to his step-mother, Minnie, who in turn continued operating the Marathon Club after her husband’s death.  In 1967, Minnie’s grandson, James Campbell, who ran a boarding home at the location, sold the house to Walter Mathis and the rest, as they say, is history!

Billy Keilman’s Speakeasy: A celebration of Villa Finale’s bootleg history on October 12th sponsored by Alamo Beer, will be a fun remembrance of the home’s most colorful owner and San Antonio’s rough and tumble past.  During the event, people will partake of local beer, learn about home-brewing from San Antonio Cerveceros (Billy would be proud!), dance to jazz music, receive a souvenir mug, and enjoy finger food catered by Liberty Bar to compliment “suds.”  We also encourage everyone to get in the spirit and dress up in their 1920s best!  Prizes will be awarded to the most original costumes including one for the best Billy Keilman look-alike.  As a highlight for the first time, Villa Finale will be opening the basement for the public to view … the event would not be complete without this important room!

For more information about the Blue Book and its various issues, check out the Postcards from San Antonio website.  If you are as fascinated with Billy Keilman as Villa Finale’s staff is, you can take an iTour of the Alamo and old San Antonio hosted by the “ghost” of Billy Keilman.  If you click on the link, note that its authors point out that Villa Finale “does not mention Bill.”  Not only are we mentioning ol’ Bill, he will now have his own event … MEET US AT THE SPEAKEASY!

Billy Keilman’s Speakeasy: A celebration of Villa Finale’s bootleg history!  Saturday, October 12, 2013 from 5:30pm – 7:30pm on the grounds of Billy Keilman’s former home at 401 King William Street (now Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens).  Members: $35.00, Non-members $40.00.  Event for 21 and over only.  Call Villa Finale Visitor Services at (210) 223-9800 for reservations or more information.  Major credit cards and personal checks accepted.

The following sources were used as references for this article:
Bowser, David.  West of the Creek: Murder, Mayhem and Vice in Old San Antonio.  San Antonio: Maverick Publishing Company, 2003.
Bricktop, Jenny.  “The Buckhorn Saloon & Museum: San Antonio, Texas.”  The Butcher’s Floorhttp://butchersfloor.blogspot.com/2006/06/buckhorn-saloon-museum-san-antonio.html
Eckhardt, C.F.  “San Antonio’s Blue Book.”  Texas Escapeshttp://www.texasescapes.com/CFEckhardt/San-Antonios-Blue-Book.htm
Kindrick, Sam.  “Profile of a Red Light District King.”  Action Magazine.  November, 1980: 7 – 9, 30.  Print.
Morgan, Lael.  “The San Antonio Blue Book: Proof of a Secret Era.”  The Compass Rose: Special Collections, the University of Texas at Arlington.  Fall 2007: 1 – 3.  Print.
Rogers, Alan W.  “The National Texas Longhorn Museum: The Horn Palace and the Buckhorn.”  The National Texas Longhorn Museumhttp://www.longhornmuseum.com/BuckhornHornPalace.htm

A “saintly” mystery solved

san antonio prior to lampIf you have visited Villa Finale, you most-likely remember seeing the very unique “saint lamp” in the home’s Library.  The piece was not “born” a lamp; in fact, it is a Walter Mathis originale.  As he was known to do with several items in his collection, Mathis altered the item from church relic to a clever piece of home-decor by having a custom-made pedestal wired for use as a lamp.  The statue, which is the centerpiece of this “enlightened” piece, fits perfectly at the base and in fact, itself was not altered in any way, thereby maintaining its integrity other than the addition of a crucifix and timepiece by Mathis.

The “saint lamp” was an item Mathis acquired early on in his collecting endeavors.  In fact, there is an interior photograph (left) of the statue – before its conversion – proudly displayed in his home in Monte Vista, circa 1950s, years before his purchase of Villa Finale in King William.  The home, located at 705 East Mulberry, was razed for the Highway 281 project.

st anthony river walkIn all the years Mathis owned the lamp, he was quick to identify the statue as being that of Saint Anthony of Padua, something that would make perfect sense since San Antonio, Mathis’ hometown, is named after the saint.  (A Spanish expedition arrived here on June 13, 1691, St. Anthony’s feast day.)  However, there has been some question about who the likeness is truly representing, especially since opening the house to tours.  As some have pointed out, St. Anthony is normally depicted holding an open book on which sits the Christ-child, a reference to a vision had by Anthony.  (See photo at left: statue of St. Anthony along the River Walk.)  The statue on the lamp contains none of the symbolism normally associated with St. Anthony.  So who could the figure truly be?  A few people, even some of Villa Finale’s volunteers, have suggested it may be St. Francis Xavier.

St. Francis Xavier (1506 – 1552) was attending the University of Paris where he met Ignatius Loyola.  The pair, along with others, took monastic vows and were the first Jesuits after being ordained in Venice in 1537.  Due to his missionary work throughout Asia, where he converted over 2,000 people, St. Francis Xavier is known as the “Apostle of the Indies.”  Despite his work throughout the continent, he never accomplished his life-long dream of reaching China.  He took ill and died on the island of Shangchuan, less than nine miles from mainland China while waiting for the ship that would take him to his destination.

IMG_2997So how is Francis Xavier depicted in art?  Normally as a young, bearded Jesuit (humble) holding a torch and flame, cross and / or lily.  Other than the beard and Jesuit robe, the statue on the lamp has none of the other symbols, either but the hands, despite missing several digits, show clear indications of having something resting in them at one time (left).  Additionally, Dr. Marion Oettinger, Curator of Latin American Art at the San Antonio Museum of Art, identified the saint in question as being Francis Xavier on a recent visit to Villa Finale.

Although Walter Mathis was a great admirer of religious art as well as an avid collector of it, he cannot be faulted for mis-identifying Francis Xavier as St. Anthony of Padua.  With over 8,000 saints, blesseds and venerables recognized by the Catholic Church, many of us would have made the exact same assumption.

Cited: Jones, Alison.  Saints.  New York: W & R Chambers Ltd., 1992

A True Story: Meg and the Victorian Society in America American Summer School, Newport, Rhode Island

1. Lyman-Hazzard House

1. Lyman-Hazzard House

I am now an alumnus of the Summer School, Class of 2013.  I survived!  Upon acceptance, course director, Professor Richard Guy Wilson wrote, in a letter sent out to the class before we all gathered on June 9th, we were NOT to wear new shoes because we were to be on our feet for six to eight hours a day. 

But…but…I had a pair of new sandals I just had to wear.

He was right of course. It was intense.  All in all, the group of 31 saw 62 sites in nine days. Yup, that averages out to seven sites a day.  The roster included churches, mills, private homes and historic house museums, libraries and art societies.

The Victorian Society Summer Schools, yes there are two: American (Newport) and British (London) was established nearly 40 years ago.  Here is an excerpted description of the schools, taken from Society literature:

2. 1890's Marble House

2. 1890’s Marble House

Both schools focus on a variety of 19th and 20th century architecture and material culture. Through lectures (we had thirteen) site visits and tours (62) of important buildings – many of which are not open to the public – students acquire a comprehensive understanding of the aesthetic, social, economic and political forces that shaped our modern age.

I benefited greatly from further education about one of the most beauty-filled periods in our history, the Victorian era. This time in history was also highly interesting to Villa Finale’s Walter Mathis, as any of you who have visited know!  I like to believe Mathis surrounded himself with beauty because he derived a great deal of happiness and contentment from it.  Aesthetics should be a part of the lives of everyone, but the concept is often ignored. 

3. Ochre Court

3. Ochre Court

Mathis had the idea that visitors would be able to experience the home of a ‘Victorian gentleman’ when they visited Villa Finale.  As a result, the house appears as if there is not one square inch left uncovered.  The effect is dazzling and incredibly appropriate for the era. He was spot-on in his decoration.

On the more practical side, during the nine-day course, I examined the successes and challenges in historic preservation, collections management and historic house and landscape interpretation in Newport, a highly successful model of heritage tourism.

4. Breakers kitchen

4. Breakers kitchen

I was able to study houses and their collections not normally on view, and have access to the people who keep and interpret them.  Since I am responsible for a collection numbering 12,000, I was able to observe both stored and exposed collections in a variety of historic house museums and understand how to counter wear on buildings and collections caused by visitors. 

Professor Wilson took us through Newport chronologically, going from this – the 1690s Wanton-Lyman-Hazzard House (1) to this – 1890s Marble House (2).

I learned much about what is successful and what really just doesn’t work in historic houses: for example, the offices within Ochre Court (3) and the big plex boxes (4) in the beautiful Breakers kitchen.

I felt that Walter Mathis would have been pleased with the summer school, after all he was a long-time member of the Victorian Society and there were so many things that appeared in the tours that also appear in Villa Finale! Another pewter-filled Welsh dresser (5). Can you find Villa Finale’s oyster plate? (6). Lots of encaustic tiles on porches! (7). Enamel eggs, chalices (8) and micro-mosaics (9). A whole cabinet full of Wedgwood Fairyland Luster (10).

Volunteer Writings: Travels to Comfort, Texas

Villa Finale invites its volunteer staff to write articles about their interests and travels in our The Bee Line volunteer e-newsletter.  For your enjoyment, we would like to share this and future writings by our volunteer staff.  The following article is by Rebekah Bustamante, one of our Guides and member of Villa Finale’s Volunteer Council.  Thank you for sharing your travels, Rebekah!

Rebekah Bustamante

Rebekah Bustamante

It is interesting that as I sat here thinking of our visit to Comfort, Texas last week, and considering writing an article on it, I noticed an article in My SA Home Page June 12,2013. If you have not read it, you will find it an interesting read. What impressed me is the connections between Comfort and San Antonio. San Antonio and the King William area share results of efforts by architect Alfred Giles, Ernst Hermann Altgelt and Albert Steves with the town of Comfort, Texas.

Comfort is a forty-seven mile drive or forty-six minutes from downtown San Antonio. It was established Sept 3, 1854 by freethinking German immigrants. Some migrated from the collapsed Fisher-Miller Land Grant experimental colonies of the Darmstadt Society of Forty that had originally planned to establish socialistic communes in Wisconsin. Some were encouraged to come when the Adelsverein was organized. Still others followed Prince Solms from the Johann Dethard proceeding to New Braunfels. After a short time in New Braunfels, Fritz and Betty Holekamp began construction on their home, the first home in Comfort before the city was officially founded. Along with Ernst Altgelt age 22, Fritz Holekamp helped survey, lay out and found Comfort. Betty Holekamp is recognized for several “firsts.” She was the first-known white woman to cross the Guadalupe River on horseback. She was the first to sew an American flag when Texas was accepted into the Union, and she was the first to give birth to a white child in Kendall County.

DSC01977Ernst Algelt began lumber and grist mills without success. In 1855, he married Emma Murck and took up the practice of law. In 1866 he moved to San Antonio surveyed and platted King William, built the first house on King William St. and had the privilege of naming the Street after Wilhelm I of Prussia. His second home, which was more elaborate was built at 226 King William. He had nine children and died at his family ranch in Wassenburg, Texas. Architect Alfred Giles, who lived and designed homes in San Antonio would ride horses, stagecoach or train to check his building sites in Comfort. Seven of the over 100 structures dating back to the 1800s were designed by him.

DSC01972The Steves family farmed on the Guadalupe River near New Braunfels and then began a farm and stock ranch on Cypress Creek between Comfort and Kerrville. Albert Steves erected a bat roost on his family farm to attract bats and control mosquito populations by natural means. At one time there were sixteen in the US and Europe. The one in comfort and another in the Florida Keys are the only two remaining. There are three homes on King William that were built by the Steves when the Indian raids made it difficult to live near Comfort. Their lumber company has changed locations many times since it was first located behind the Menger Hotel, off Alamo Plaza, where the Joske’s Store now stands, to Walnut and then Buena Vista & South Medina. The Steves Family Lumber has grown to locations nationwide and is still making doors.

DSC01989When you visit Comfort you learn more about San Antonio. Should you wander that direction, on your way be sure to check out the Old Tunnel State Park where a colony of 1-3 million Mexican free-tailed bats reside seasonally May – Oct. This tunnel originally was a passage through the hills for the Southern Pacific RR. Be sure to see the Steves hygieostati bat roost and the Treuer der Union monument. This is the only monument in the state south of the Mason-Dixon Line to honor German settlers massacred by Confederates on the banks of the Nueces River as they tried to reach Union Troops via Mexico. There are more classic German stone home buildings in Comfort than almost anywhere else in Texas. Most of them are now housing antiques, restaurants or bed & breakfasts. You might find collectible objects that you enjoy in Villa Finale.

Interested in joining Villa Finale’s volunteer staff?  Contact Sharon Wallace, Lead Guide & Volunteer Coordinator at SWallace@savingplaces.org.

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