Ten “Lesser-Known” Notable & Influential Hispanic-American Figures

Villa Finale is observing Hispanic Heritage Month with a series of blog posts and videos highlighting different aspects of Hispanic culture in the United States. We begin with a blog post by Villa Finale’s Executive Director, Jane Lewis, who will spotlight influential figures some may not be familiar with.

Jane Lewis

Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15.  National Hispanic Heritage Month commemorates the contributions Hispanic-Americans have made to American society and culture at large, and honors five of our Central American neighbors who celebrate their independence in September. 

The observation started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson and was expanded by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 to cover a 30-day period starting on September 15 and ending on October 15. It was enacted into law on August 17, 1988, upon the approval of Public Law 100-402.

The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September18, respectively.

The following, lesser-known Hispanic-Americans have played key roles in elevating the experiences, culture and art of Latinos and weaving them into American society through their service and bodies of work. Their service and work have broken barriers, helped tell the civil rights struggles and expanded the understanding of Latinos in the U.S., and added to the many dimensions of the American international culture.

  1. Rudolfo Anaya
Rudolfo Anaya (from Flickr)

Rudolfo Anaya was considered the godfather of contemporary Chicano literature. Noted for his 1972 novel “Bless Me, Ultima”, the themes and cultural references of the story had a lasting impression on fellow Latino writers. It was subsequently adapted into a film and an opera. His father, Martín Anaya, was a vaquero from a family of cattle workers and sheepherders. His mother, Rafaelita (Mares), was from a family of farmers from Puerto De Luna in the Pecos River Valley of New Mexico. The beauty of the desert flatlands of New Mexico, referenced as the llano in Anaya’s writings, had a profound influence on his early childhood.

Anaya’s family relocated from rural New Mexico to Albuquerque when he was in the eighth grade, where he graduated from high school in 1956. This experience later appeared as an autobiographical allusion in his novel “Tortuga.” Following high school, he earned a B.A. in English and American Literature from the University of New Mexico in 1963, after which he went on to complete two master’s degrees.  In 2016, Anaya received the National Humanities Medal for his portrayal of the American southwest and the depiction of the Chicano experience.

2. Macario Garcia

Macario Garcia (from guideposts.org)

Macario Garcia was born in Mexico in 1920 before his family immigrated to Texas in search of a better life. He grew up working as a cotton farmer before World War II broke out, prompting him to enlist. On November 27, 1944, García’s platoon was trapped by enemy fire in Grosshau, Germany. Realizing that his company could not advance because it was pinned down, Garcia went alone and destroyed two enemy emplacements and captured four prisoners. Despite being wounded himself, he continued to fight on with his unit until the battle was over. He became the first Mexican immigrant to receive the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military decoration. Just a few years later he was granted American citizenship.

3. Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales

Rodolfo Gonzales (from UNO Grace Abbott School of Social Work’s Facebook page)

Rodolfo Gonzalez grew up in a tough neighborhood in Denver, Colorado, during the Great Depression, which took an especially heavy toll on Mexican Americans. His father instilled a sharp sense of history from his native Mexico and encouraged his son to take pride in his heritage. Considered one of the founders of the Chicano Movement of the 1960’s, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales helped organize Mexican Americans in the fight for equality, including the right to unionize, access to education and voting rights. As an activist, Gonzales founded Crusade for Justice, a civil rights and cultural organization that advocated for the rights of Hispanic-Americans.

Gonzalez is perhaps most widely known for his poem “Yo Soy Joaquín (“I Am Joaquín”), which confronts cultural multiplicity and the oppression of Chicano Americans in the U.S.  Gonzales was a talented boxer prior to his activist career, winning the Golden Glove championships in his youth. He died in April 2005, leaving behind a legacy of Chicano empowerment and pride.

4. Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera (from in.pinterest.com)

Juan Felipe Herrera grew up in a family of migrant workers who traveled throughout California, taking work where they could and often living in tents. Settling in San Diego, Herrera graduated from high school and received a scholarship to UCLA, later earning a master’s degree from Stanford and an MFA from the renowned Iowa Writer’s Workshop. As his career flourished, Herrara’s experiences as a poor campesino continued to influence his writing. The 21st U.S. Poet Laureate and the first Hispanic-American Poet Laureate, Herrera held this esteemed position from 2015–2017. During his time as California’s Poet Laureate in 2012, Herrera created the I-Promise Joanna/Yo te Prometo Joanna Project, which focuses on anti-bullying and advocacy of the arts for children.

5. Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta (from doloreshuerta.org)

Born as Dolores Clara Fernandez in northern New Mexico in 1930, Dolores Huerta followed a family tradition of activism. Her father was a farmworker and union activist, while her mother was involved in numerous civic organizations. Huerta found her voice while serving as an organizer for the Stockton (California) Community Service Organization (CSO). It was during this time that she met a fellow organizer, Cesar Chavez. The two bonded and in 1962, they formed the National Farm Worker’s Association (NFWA). Throughout her long career, Huerta has advocated for workers’ rights, women’s rights, and Latinx rights, and continues to do so to this day at age 90. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan was taken from Huerta’s words from NFWA strikes: “Si se puede,” which translates to “Yes we can.”

6. Octaviano Larrazolo

Octaviano Larrazolo (from commons.wikimedia.org)

Born in 1859 in Allende, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, Octaviano Larrazolo would go on to influence U.S. thinking on Hispanic issues. Larrazolo moved to Arizona in 1875 with Reverend J.B. Salpointe, who taught him theology. Larrazolo taught in Tucson for a year before eventually settling in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and becoming involved with the state’s Democratic Party. Working his way up the political chain, Larrazolo was elected Governor of New Mexico in 1918. He was then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1928, becoming the first Hispanic to accomplish such a feat. Larrazolo fell ill soon after taking office and died just six months into his Senate term, but his unfortunate end didn’t prevent Larrazolo from making his permanent mark on Hispanic-American history.

7. Joseph Phillip Martinez

Joseph P. Martinez (from casa-ucberkeley.org)

Joseph Phillip Martinez was the first Hispanic-American to receive a Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University in the 20th century. He was the founding Dean at The New School of Architecture, previously teaching at the University of California at Berkeley. Martinez’s broad professional practice has garnered many awards including a National AIA Presidential Award and a National AIA Citation. He was named by the National Association of Land Grant Universities and Colleges as Alumni of the Century for the University of California San Diego (the only other Hispanic-American honored was Henry Cisneros from Texas A&M University). Martinez’s more than 40 years of professional practice using his Eclectic Design Methodology has resulted in a portfolio of unique works of architecture, earning him recognition as the “Father of Chicano Architecture.

8. Gabriela Mistral

Gabriela Mistral (from latercera.com)

Born as Lucila de María del Perpetuo Socorro Godoy Alcayaga in Chile in 1889, poet and educator Gabriela Mistral was the first Hispanic-American person to win a Nobel Prize in Literature. Although she was no stranger to tragedy, she used her pain to create lasting works of poetry. Throughout her career, Mistral traveled the world as a writer and educator, teaching at Columbia University, Vassar College, and the University of Puerto Rico. She died in New York in 1957, twelve years after winning the Nobel Prize.

9. Ruben Salazar

Ruben Salazar (from en.wikipedia.org)

Ruben Salazar was just an infant when his family immigrated across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to El Paso, Texas. He would go on to become one of the first Hispanic-American journalists in mainstream media. His work was particularly significant because it focused on injustices being done to those in the Chicano community. Salazar served in the United States army before becoming a journalist for the Los Angeles Times.  In “Who is A Chicano,” Salazar explained the plight of Hispanic-Americans struggling to find identity and equality: “Chicanos feel cheated. They want to effect change. Now.” While covering a protest of the Vietnam War, the Chicano Moratorium in 1970, his life was cut short by a tear gas projectile thrown by the police.

10. Luis Valdez

Luis Valdez (from kazu.org)

Luis Valdez, a director, playwright, actor and writer, received the 2015 National Medal of the Arts for bringing Chicano culture to the American public through works like “Zoot Suit,” which told the trial of Chicanos who were beaten and stripped of their zoot suits in racially-motivated attacks and the award-winning movie “La Bamba,” a biopic about rock ‘n roll musician Ritchie Valens.

Valdez also founded “Teatro Campesino” which created and performed actos or short skits on flatbed trucks, and helped dramatize the struggles of the nation’s farmworkers. First staged during the California grape boycotts organized by Cesar Chávez and Dolores Huerta, the Teatro performed across the U.S. and Mexico. Teatro Campesino is considered an integral part of the Chicano civil rights struggle.

Napoleon & “Egyptomania”: The Rosetta Stone

This is Villa Finale’s first post in our “Egyptomania” series. Join Interpretive Guide, Sara Breshears, as she takes us through the birth of this craze in Europe beginning with the discovery of the famed Rosetta Stone.

Sara Breshears

The Rosetta Stone

Chances are you have heard of the Rosetta Stone and how it was the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. But did you ever wonder how it was found, how exactly this language was deciphered and who did it? Well you have Napoleon to thank for that. Napoleon is credited with awakening interest in ancient Egypt and its monuments and setting the spark for ‘Egyptomania’ in Europe in the 19th and 20th century.

The Discovery

In July 1798, Napoleon launched the beginning of his campaign in Egypt in an attempt to protect French interest and trade routes in the Mediterranean. In what was a first for the time period, along with his legions and battalions of soldiers, Napoleon also brought a corps of 167 savants or technical experts called the Commission des Sciences e des Arts, which produced the Description de l’Egypte, a series of publications about Egypt. This text covered everything, from Egyptian flora, fauna, and history and was critical for making many Egyptian sources and materials widely available to Europeans for the first time ever.

Discovery of the Rosetta Stone (from knappily.com)

In the Egyptian port city of Rosetta, now modern-day Rashid, French soldiers working on the defenses of Fort Julien, stumbled upon the now-famous stone quite by accident. Built into a very old wall, officer Pierre-Francois Bouchard spotted a slab with inscriptions. He and his superior officer reported the find to General Jacques- Francois Menou, who happened to be at the Fort. The discovery was announced to Napoleon’s scientific association in Cairo, the Institut d’Egypte and it was noted in the report the stone contained three inscriptions, the first in hieroglyphics and the third in Greek and it was transferred to Cairo for further study.

Napoleon himself inspected the Stone before his return to France in August 1799. In 1800, an expert charged with discovering ways to copies of the text on the stone, Jean-Joseph Marcel, a printer and linguist was the first to suggest the middle text was Egyptian demotic script, which was rarely used for stone inscriptions and had been rarely seen by scholars at the time of the stone’s discovery. In fact, until this point the middle text had been misidentified as Syriac.

Jean-Joseph Marcel (from egyptophile.blogspot.com)

After their eventual defeat at the hands of the British and the Ottomans and the signing of the Treaty of Alexandria in 1801, the Stone along with many other artifacts were handed over to the British, who immediately shipped it to the United Kingdom for further study.

Cracking the Code

In 1802 after arriving in Portsmouth, the Rosetta Stone was placed in the British Museum under the orders of King George III and scholars raced to crack the code. A crucial key to understanding the Rosetta Stone and what it said was that it had three different languages written on it.

Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, 1874 (from readerwiki.com)

Demotic, from the Greek meaning ‘popular’, was the ‘everyday’ or administrative language of Ancient Egyptians in the later periods, while Hieroglyphics were considered the language of the gods, and thus more formal. The stone also had a section written in ancient Greek, because at the time of the stone was carved, Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemies (of whom the infamous Cleopatra was one) originated from Macedonia, and took control of Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great.

English physicist Thomas Young was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta stone wrote the sounds of a royal name, which it turns out was Ptolemy.

Jean-Francois Champollion (from en.wikipedia.org)

A major breakthrough came when Champollion pieced together the hieroglyphics that were used to write the names of non-Egyptian rulers. He announced his discovery, based on the Rosetta stone and other texts in a paper presented at the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres in 1822 to an audience that included Thomas Young. A second crucial discovery came two years later in 1824 when Champollion realized the alphabetic signs were not only used for foreign names but also for the Egyptian language and names. Using his knowledge of ancient Greek and the Coptic language, which is derived from the ancient Egyptian language, he began to piece together the puzzle and he began to read hieroglyphic inscriptions in full.

What does the Rosetta Stone Say?

Ptolemy V Epiphanes came to the throne at the tender age of five. Being so young, he had a series of regents who were either reviled or incompetent and led to the loss of Egypt’s territories and general unrest. In 196 BCE Ptolemy V came of age and was crowned Pharaoh.

The Rosetta stone commemorated this event. Once part of a larger stone stele, the Stone was commissioned by the High Priests of Memphis, the text commemorates the coronation of King Ptolemy V, lists his accomplishments, and establishes his divine cult. Egyptian rulers were seen to be semi-divine and had cults to worship them as a living deity. The text on the stone goes on to command that every temple have a similar stone with text written in Hieroglyphics, Demotic, and Greek.

Ptolemy V Epiphanes (from touregypt.net)

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics were used well into the 4th century AD and with the final closing of the pagan temples in the 5th century knowledge of hieroglyphic writing was lost.

While all three texts were largely incomplete, Champollion was able to use the text to begin identifying hieroglyphics and their meanings leading to the creation of an Egyptian grammar and dictionary, which was published after his death in 1832, making Champollion the Father of Modern-day Egyptology! Once scholars could understand ancient Egyptian’s writing system, they began to develop a greater understanding of the ancient Egyptian culture and this sparked further interest in Egypt itself!

Rosetta Stone (from britishmuseum.org)

Since Champollion’s groundbreaking discovery, Egyptologists have made major progress in further understanding ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and the ancient Egyptian language and its rules.

These days the Rosetta Stone sits pride of place in the Egyptian galleries in The British Museum, where thousands of tourists see it every day. Looking at it now it’s hard to believe that this is what kicked off the Egyptomania craze in the 19th century and all the way up to today, and we’ll explore more of that  in later posts in our Egyptomania series!

Click here to see The British Museum’s “The Rosetta Stone” on Google Arts & Culture. https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-rosetta-stone/DgH6pMM1guUUPA?hl=en

“Collecting History”: General Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren Miniature Wedding Album

This item was meant to be a souvenir commemorating the wedding of Charles Sherwood Stratton (stage name, General Tom Thumb) to Lavinia Warren in February of 1863. Both were performers for P.T. Barnum. Although the event took place during the height of the American Civil War, the wedding pushed the raging war off the front page. Thousands attended the wedding reception in New York – Barnum sold tickets to the event at $75.00 per person – and the newlyweds were even received at the White House by President Abraham Lincoln.

Barnum with his star, “General Tom Thumb” (Pinterest)

Charles, aka “Tom” was born in Connecticut in 1838. By all accounts he was a large baby but stopped growing at about five months and didn’t grow any taller than about 3’. He was still four years old when P.T. Barnum – a distant relative of Stratton – began “exhibiting” him at his American Museum in New York. Barnum taught him to sing, dance, and do impressions of famous people like Napoleon. Because Charles turned out to be a natural performer, he became all the rage with audiences in New York. Tom Thumb became a millionaire under Barnum.

Lavinia Warren (Wikipedia)

Lavinia was born in Massachusetts in 1842 to a well-respected New England family. Both she and her sister Minnie had dwarfism, a condition caused by pituitary disorder, one of the possible occurrences of family intermarriage. When Lavinia was 16, she began her career as a teacher but was lured into show business, especially after following the success of “General Tom Thumb”; first as a dancer onboard a Mississippi showboat, and later managed by Barnum as one of his performers. Reportedly, she fell for Charles Stratton – “Tom” – during their first meeting.

Wedding party, 1863. Lavinia’s sister, Minnie is at the far right and “Commodore Nutt,” who had pursued Lavinia, is at the far left. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.52223

Photographer Mathew Brady took the image of the couple that would be turned into a bestselling carte-de-visite – or calling card – that was licensed to other photographers and lithographers. This little locket was shaped to look like a suitcase with the words “Somebody’s Luggage” which is a reference to an 1862 short story by Charles Dickens. The 12 images inside were taken by Brady. Note: the baby in the photographs was not theirs. It was meant to show Lavinia had good domestic skills and therefore would be a great wife to “Tom.” Charles died in 1883 (he was 45). Lavinia remarried ten years later and died in 1919.

Photographer Mathew Brady (Britannica.com)

You can see the video that accompanies this blog post here:

Introducing “Collecting History”: Stories Inspired by Villa Finale’s Most Weird & Wonderful Curiosities

When we buy an item from an antique store, we are getting more than whatever object is on our receipts. We are acquiring stories, some of which we not even be aware of.

Paperweight housed in Villa Finale’s Green Sitting Room.

Take this cranberry glass paperweight purchased at the Texas State Fair in 1906. How far did it originally travel? What child did “Mama” gift this to? If it could talk, what sort of wonderful stories could this object tell us?

The Post at Mittenwald, ca. 1900.

What about this charming little painting called ‘The Post in Mittenwald, Bavaria,” by German artist, Georg Hemmrich (1874 – 1939). This painting is nearly lost among the dozens of other Continental paintings hanging on the Walls of Villa Finale’s Pewter Room. Why did Hemmrich choose this subject for his painting? Did this place have a significant meaning to him? If we explore the artist’s other works, we find many of his other paintings capture many of the same type of scenes. Why?

Any object can lead us to ask many questions, and what we can discover if we take the time to dig deeper, is truly fascinating! Our new video and blog series, “Collecting History”: Stories Inspired by Villa Finale’s Most Weird & Wonderful Curiosities, will highlight objects in the collection that aren’t always highlighted during our regular tours, but have more stories to tell than the eye can behold. The series will have a short video – viewable on our social media platforms and website – where we take a closer look at an object accompanied by a blog post that can be found here where we go into further detail.

Be on the lookout for this fun series. We’re looking forward to bringing it to you as well as all the fun and entertaining stories that come from it!

“The Pueblo Grande Museum: Uncovering the History of the Hohokam” by Doug Daye

Doug Daye

Hello, friends. We’re glad you could join us again as Villa Finale’s Museum Attendant, Doug Daye, takes a look at the Hohokam people who lived in the area of what is now Phoenix, Arizona. The Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park, which has been in operation for over 80 years, includes an interpretive trail where one can view the prehistoric remains of the Hohokem’s platform mound, replicated dwellings, native plants, and more. Do enjoy this “trip” to the Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix from the comfort of your home! ——————————————–

Imagine going back in time and experiencing living in a mud-covered pithouse, roaming the fields to hunt for food, crafting a necklace from shells, or playing a game in the ballcourt! This was everyday life for the Hohokam tribe of Arizona. Learn about their way of life by touring the Pueblo Grande Museum!

Platform mound at Pueblo Grande. From Tempe.gov

The Hohokam
The Hohokam people are believed to have lived in the south-central part of Arizona from A.D. 450 to 1450. Their territory expanded from the south of Flagstaff to the Mexican border. They constructed many elaborate structures such as mud and adobe covered homes called “pithouses” and oval “ballcourts” that were used for recreational games. (It was also believed that they studied stars in a great compound called a “Big House”!) By using rustic tools, they built an enhanced irrigation network that produced many crops and attracted many animals to hunt. They were also known to have crafted many utensils and jewelry from materials that included bone, shell, clay, and wood. Though the reason for their disappearance is unclear, much can be determined about their culture from the structures and relics they left behind.

Pueblo Grande from Scottsdale, Arizona’s Pinterest.

Exploring the Pueblo Grande Museum
Constructed in 1933 the Pueblo Grande Museum preserves the ancient history of the Salt
and Gaia River Valley and the Hohokam that inhabited the area. Both the indoor and outdoor
exhibits contain fascinating displays that can all be viewed virtually !!!

● Main Gallery: Learn about the Hohokam culture by examining artifacts and their innovative creations including clay pottery and maps of their extensive canal systems!
● Outdoor Trial: Observe Hohokam structures and agricultural exhibits e.g. The Adobe Compound, The Pit House, and the Agricultural Garden!
● Children’s Gallery: Hands-on exhibits educate children on the process of archaeology like identifying artifacts and even drawing their own!

Take the virtual tour and view their online exhibits here: https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/arts-culture-history/pueblo-grande/exhibits/upcoming-exhibits

Find out more about the history of the Hohokam and the Pueblo Grande Museum and National Park here: https://www.phoenix.gov/parks/arts-culture-history/pueblo-grande/about-the-museum

Villa Lewaro: A Virtual Tour

Hello friends! It has been a while since Villa Finale has posted to our blog. These are certainly different times we are living in and we realize that many folks are looking for entertainment from the comfort and safety of their homes. As such, our staff would like to highlight places of interest, objects in our own collections, or even little-known stories of history you may not know too much about. This month, Doug Daye, Museum Attendant at Villa Finale, brings us a review of the virtual tour of Madam C.J. Walker’s Villa Lewaro!

“Villa Lewaro” by Doug Daye

Doug Daye

Did you ever wonder how America’s first self-made female millionaire lived? Where did she entertain her guests? Did she host any well-known visitors at her estate? For answers, take a virtual tour of the Villa Lewaro, the divine home of trailblazer Madam C.J. Walker!

A Brief History of Madam C.J Walker

Born in 1867 as Sara Breedlove to an enslaved family, in Delta Louisiana, she worked her way up into becoming a successful business pioneer in hair care for black women. After losing much of her hair to a scalp condition, she experimented with different remedies and treatments to seek a cure. With the help of her husband, Charles Walker, she went on to advertise her hair care treatments for African Americans. As business progressed, she had numerous amounts of trained sales agents to serve customers throughout the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean. She had Villa Lewaro constructed in 1918 by successful African American architect, Vertner Tandy, in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City.

Virtual Tour Highlights

Madam C.J. Walker from Britannica.com

Narrated by Madam Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Leia Bundles, the viewer is taken on a historical, detailed virtual journey through the grand estate. Here are a few highlights from the tour:

. The Music Room – Decorated with gold leaf- trim, Madam Walker entertained guests with live music from notable musicians including violinist Joseph Douglass, grandson of Frederick Douglass.

. Christmas in the Dining Room – With an astonishing ceiling decorated with paintings of mermaids and other mythical creatures, guests were served an elaborate breakfast on Christmas morning. Sadly, it was Madam Walker’s only Christmas celebrated at the Villa Lewaro before her death two months later.

. Independence Day Celebration – As the Villa Lerwaro’s magnificent patio and garden are displayed, the tour explains the grand Independence Day event held during the President of Liberia’s visit to the home. Since he was not welcome in the White House, President C.D.B King was invited to the Villa Lewrao by Walker’s daughter for Independence Day where he enjoyed all the festivities!

By offering a detailed history and magnificent views of the property, the Villa Lewaro virtual tour permits the viewer to learn about the life of Madam C.J. Walker and the legacy she left behind.

The tour can be viewed on the National Trust website by clicking here:

https://savingplaces.org/places/villa-lewaro-madam-c-j-walker-estate/updates/take-a-virtual-tour-of-villa-lewaro

More information on Villa Lewaro can be viewed by clicking here:

https://savingplaces.org/places/villa-lewaro-madam-c-j-walker-estate

If you haven’t watched it already, check out the Netflix limited series “Self Made,” based on Madam C.J. Walker’s life!

Victorians and Their Parlor Amusements

Victorians have a reputation for being stuffy and quite hung up on the strict rules of etiquette of their time. However, they loved to have fun and enjoyed a variety of leisure activities, especially the middle and upper classes. There were many outdoor activities they enjoyed, like lawn tennis and cycling, but there were a lot of indoor amusements – like parlor games – Victorians loved to take part in.

9d833eef481c4b39ce9d89700e397f31--victorian-games-victorian-toysThese games would take place in what we commonly know today as the “living,” “great,” or “family” room. In Victorian times (1837 – 1901) the “parlor” in a family’s home was host to these activities. “Parlor” comes from the French word parloir or parler which means “to speak.” Originally, the word “parlor” was the name of a place where people “debated.” In its original usage, a “parlor” denoted a place set aside for debating people, a chamber for an “audience” gathering. In a Victorian home, it became a room for the family or guest gatherings, a perfect place to play the popular games of the day and have “nanty narking” (Victorian slang for “a great time”)!

And what were those games? Here are just some of them:

“Similes”

For this group game, a list of similes is compiled and one person – a “simile keeper” – is chosen to, in turn, pick other people who must complete a simile chosen by the keeper. The simile keeper informs players if they are right or wrong, or if they come close. Players could choose to be creative. The simile keeper was well versed in similes. Here are some simile examples: as bold as brass; as bright as a button; as blind as a bat.

the-book-of-parlour-games-3“The Sorcerer Behind the Door”

A person stands behind the door of a room where the group is gathered. The group will have on their persons several belongings. The game “leader” or “questioner” asks the person behind the door – the “sorcerer” – if he / she is ready. Then, the questioner asks that person if he knows Mr. or Ms. whomever they choose and begins to call out a list of the belongings they are wearing (jewelry, clothing, etc.). After calling out the list, the questioner will ask “what am I holding him / her by?” If the person behind the door – or “the sorcerer” – does not name the right item from the list called out before, he /she must surrender one of their own belongings. When the sorcerer knows who it is, he / she says “you are holding (person’s name) by the (personal item).” The sorcerer then picks a new sorcerer.

“Forfeits”

One person in the group playing is chosen to leave the room: this person will play the role of the “auctioneer.” Everyone who stays behind forms a circle and must “forfeit” a personal item and place it in the center. The auctioneer comes back in, picks up one of the items forfeited, and begins to describe the item as if it would be sold at auction. In order NOT to forfeit their item, the owner must speak up and admit the item is theirs and do something amusing – such as sing, dance, do an imitation, etc. – in order to win back their belonging. That person then becomes the next auctioneer.

scans0007If you would like to have an opportunity to go “nanty narking” in a real Victorian parlor, don’t miss out on Villa Finale’s upcoming event, Nanty Narking: Parlor Game Night at the Edward Steves Homestead on Friday, February 1st from 7:00pm – 9:00pm. Guests will play games in the Steves family parlors while enjoying finger foods and adult beverages, all for only $15.00. Guests need not worry: they will not have to be experts in similes or “forfeit” any personal belongings! Instead, more modern group games such as a card game version of “Oregon Trail” will be played. Just don’t “die of dysentery.”

Bring your friends or make new ones! Nanty Narking: Parlor Game Night at the Edward Steves Homestead. Friday, February 1, 2019 from 7:00pm – 9:00pm (gate opens 15 minutes prior to event time). Guests 21 and over only. Smoking not permitted.

Visit http://www.VillaFinale.org to purchase or for more information. You may also call Villa Finale at (210) 223-9800.

“Spiritual Weekend” Featuring Three Historic Properties in October

If you have been following Villa Finale’s events and programs, then you are probably aware that we will be hosting our second seance in 2018. But this year it’s more than just one night, it’s an entire weekend for those who are interested in spiritualism and the mystery behind historic homes. Our “spiritual weekend” – Friday, October 12 and Saturday, October 13 – will feature two seances and a pendulum workshop at three different historic homes in the King William neighborhood, each with its own stories of loss and sadness.

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“Hello From the Other Side” seance at Villa Finale, 2017.

The weekend begins on Friday, October 12th at Villa Finale with night one of “Hello From the Other Side: 75 Years of Spiritualism and a Live Seance.” Seance-goers will be treated to light refreshments and bar drinks themed to the evening’s occasion before being led into the house for the main event being presented by the duo of Austin Seance. Built in 1876 and remodeled at least four different times, Villa Finale has seen its share of people come and go throughout its 142-year history. Those of us who were in the house during last year’s seance “heard” footsteps in the rooms directly above us and on the main staircase. Could these sounds have been figments of our imagination? Or maybe it was the Polk family who lost the house through foreclosure in 1895 and have never really left? Could it have been Billy Keilman who owned the home and ran a brothel and speakeasy here in the mid 1920s, and was murdered off-site during his tenure? Perhaps it was one of Keilman’s disgruntled customers? We may never find out!

Otto

Otto Meusebach, ca. 1890s.

On Saturday, October 13 at 2:00pm, the weekend’s activities continue with “Pendulums: A Workshop for the Mind and Spirit” being held at Villa Finale’s Meusebach House, located across the street at 414 King William Street. Participants will learn about the history of pendulums and how to make and use them. Pendulums are simple devices that have long been used to communicate with spirits, and folks will get a chance to do just that at this historic house. Built in 1886 by Smith and Josie Ellis, the couple sold the house to Otto Carl and Martha Meusebach in 1889. Otto and his brother, Max who lived in the house briefly in the 1890s, were sons of German pioneer John O. Meusebach, founder of Fredericksburg. Both Otto and Max were known for participating in raucous saloon brawls throughout town. On November 4, 1900, the Meusebach’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Anita, died in the house after days of being ill with peritonitis. As was the custom at the time, Anita’s funeral was held in the Meusebach home. Does the spirit of Anita remain in her family’s home? Or do the rough and tough souls of Otto and Max refuse to rest? Participants at the pendulum workshop may find out!

Johanna Steves undated

Johanna Steves, undated. Courtesy of the San Antonio Conservation Society.

The last of the weekend’s activities happens later on Saturday evening with seance number two being held at the Edward Steves Homestead located one block from Villa Finale and the Meusebach house. Edward and Johanna Steves built their home in 1876 following the success of their lumber company. Just like Villa Finale and the Meusebach house, the Steves home has also seen its share of sorrow. Following Edward’s death in 1890, family members talk about Johanna sleeping in the hallway outside of the master bedroom during her period of mourning. But Johanna was a tough German woman who, despite being under 5-feet tall, was master of her home and lived there for forty years following her husband’s death. Although she baked cookies for the neighborhood kids and allowed them to swim in her pool, Johanna expected her pool cleared for her own private swim as soon as she rang a bell from her back porch.

 

Johanna died in 1930 within two weeks of her beloved son Ernest’s death. Ernest, who was the youngest, had been admitted to the hospital to get his appendix removed but, as was not too uncommon at the time, didn’t survive the procedure. Newspapers speculated Johanna died of a “broken heart” but, certainly, being 90 years old also didn’t make coping with the sorrow any easier. Like Anita Meusebach, Johanna’s casket lay in state in her home, right in front of the formal parlor’s bay window. During night two of the seance, will Johanna announce her private swim by ringing her bell? Will laughter from neighborhood children of bygone days be heard again? Join us and find out!

You can purchase each of the three events of Villa Finale’s “spiritual weekend” separately: “Hello From the Other Side” seance night one at Villa Finale ($55.00 per person), “Pendulums: A Workshop for the Mind and Spirit” at the Meusebach House ($10.00 per person), or the “Hello From the Other Side” seance night two at the Steves Homestead ($55.00 per person). If choosing just one is difficult, you can participate in all three with the “spiritual weekend bundle”: $100.00 for a chance to see “who” says “hello” from the spirit world in each of these fascinating historic homes! Come experience it for yourself.

Seance nights include light refreshments and alcoholic beverages. Seances are for audiences 18 and older only. Space is limited for all three. Click on the links below to purchase admissions or call (210) 223-9800 during business hours for tickets or more information.

Seance nights one and two and “spiritual bundle”

Workshop only – “Pendulums:  A Workshop for the Mind and Spirit”

The Story of the Holy Child of Atocha

The Mathis collections at Villa Finale contain so much religious art that one would naturally think Walter Mathis, its collector, was a very religious man.  In fact, his collecting of such items was for the mere admiration of the items as art, and they can be found throughout the house.  Of course, he displayed all of them together in different parts of the house according to their provenance like with the Spanish colonial “retablos” found in the upstairs hallway.

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Retablos in Villa Finale’s upstairs hallway.

A “retablo,” called a  “lamina” in Mexico, is an oil paiting of a Catholic saint painted on wood or tin, and sometimes on bronze.  These retablos, which means “behind the altar,” mostly adorned altars in people’s homes.  As a kid, I remember my grandmother in Tijuana, Mexico having many of these images at home.  There were some that were quite frightening – like one of the devil coming to pick up a man on his deathbed … but I guess they were meant to scare kids straight – and one that always caught my attention, as it did my other cousins, of the Holy Child of Atocha or El Santo Niño de Atocha.  One of my cousins asked my grandmother one day what made this child a saint.  My grandmother, in what was her usual comedic way, answered simply, “Beats me, but he’s a very saintly child!”

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Walter Mathis’ Holy Child of Atocha

When I came to work at Villa Finale in 2008, the image of the Holy Child of Atocha in my grandmother’s house popped in my head when I saw that Mr. Mathis had an Atocha child retablo in his upstairs hallway collection.  Of course, I was very excited because this saint has always been one of my favorites!  Funny thing was, just like my grandmother, I didn’t know what made this child a saint until I began researching the collections for my interpretive duties at Villa Finale.  Well, now I can tell you what makes the Holy Child of Atocha a saint!

It all begins back in 711 AD with the invasion by the northern African Moors of the Iberian Peninsula, which included most of modern Spain.  In the 13th century, after the Moors took over the town of Atocha, a central suburb in today’s Madrid, they encarcerated Catholic males and prevented their families from giving them food and water. The only exception to that rule was children under 12 who were allowed to visit and feed family members.  This left jailed men without young children – or children altogether – in quite a quandary.  Their relatives began to pray for help from Our Lady of Atocha, the local name of the holy Virgin Mary and Christ Child located in the town’s chapel.

One day, the local children who were out feeding their captive relatives returned with reports of an unidentified boy who the Moors were allowing to feed all the men who had not been previously attended to.  This boy, reported the children, appeared to be under 12 years old, was dressed in pilgrim attire (with a plumed hat and cloak) and carried a basket of food and gourd full of water.  The miraculous thing was no matter how many prisoners the child fed, his gourd and his basket remained full.  As sightings of the child continued, the people of Atocha ran to the chapel to give thanks.  There, they discovered that the little sandals worn by the Christ Child figure in the arms of Our Lady of Atocha were worn and dusty.  They replaced the sandals only to find them worn and dusty again as the child feeding the prisoners continued his rounds day after day.

The Muslim rule by the Moors finally ended in 1492, but by then the miracles of the Holy Child of Atocha were well known and revered throughout Iberia.  Eventually, the reverence of the Holy Child of Atocha made its way to the New World with the arrival of the Spanish.  By 1554 there was a statue of the Child brought from Atocha to Zacatecas, Mexico where the villagers immediately began reporting sightings of the boy.  And thus the Santo Niño’s adventures in the Americas began.

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Traditional portrayal

In religious art, the Holy Child is typically depicted wearing a large-brimmed plumed pilgrim’s hat, cloak, and sandals.  Sometimes he is barefoot to denote the wearing out of his sandals from walking.  He carries a basket in one hand and staff in the other.  The gourd for water is fastened to the end of the staff.  Other symbolism associated with the image are stalks of wheat, flowers and scallop shell meant to represent holy pilgrimages.  Today, there are two main shrines in the Americas to the Holy Child of Atocha: one in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Mexico and the other is in the Sanctuario in Chimayo, New Mexico.  The Holy Child is the patron saint of the unjustly imprisoned, the protector of travelers and rescuer of those in danger.

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Holy Child of Atocha in Zacatecas, Mexico.  (From screen capture, YouTube user Viajero981)

 

Next time you come to Villa Finale, take a good look at all the religious art in the collection.  What kind of symbolism do you see?  What part of a story do you think it tells?  And make sure you look for El Santo Niño de Atocha in the upstairs hallway now that you know what makes him a “very saintly child.”  My grandmother would be proud!

San Antonio and the Rise of Chili

As you may or may not have heard, San Antonio and Austin have been involved in what has been called the Texas Taco War.  The “first shot” was fired when the Austin Eater’s website published a story that gave Austin credit as the “home of the breakfast taco.”  For San Antonians, it may as well have been the shot fired at Fort Sumnter because there are several things sacred to the people of this city, among them are its baskeball team, its river and its food.  Mayors from both cities met for a “Taco Summit” in which they both brought 50 tacos from their favorite taco joints.  Personally, I would declare San Antonio the winner of this battle in the Texas Taco War.  The Alamo City’s Mayor Taylor presented tacos made with hand-made tortillas as opposed to the tacos made with store-bought tortillas brought by Austin’s Mayor Adler.

As the Texas Taco War continues – there will be a “taco throwdown” where a chef representing each city will bring their best taco-making skills to the table – it made me think of not only the importance of food to a place and its people, but also of cultural appropriation.  In the past, the people of San Antonio have “accused” Austinites of taking credit for Tex-Mex food made popular here.  Now, this “taking credit” for food isn’t a new phenomenon.  One instance happened several generations ago and it involved chili.

No one can say for sure who “invented” chili, it is most likely a delicious fusion of cultures that came together.  The indigenous people of Mexico and South America, like the Incas and Aztecs, were known to cook dishes mixing meat, herbs and peppers long before the arrival of the Spanish.  For their part, the Spanish had been creating spicy meat dishes with pungent smells in their country long before arriving in Texas.  When the Canary Islanders settled in San Antonio, they devised a way to continue making the dishes they so enjoyed using local spices, onions, garlic, peppers and meats.  And so a cooking tradition came to be!

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Chili market, San Antonio, ca. 1890s.

Long before Texas joined the Union, groups of women called “Chili Queens” could be found throughout San Antonio’s plazas serving up their own spicy creations and hand-made tortillas to locals and visitors alike.  From dusk until dawn, these women worked hard to serve the hungry masses; and when darkness came, their patrons were more than happy to eat by the faint light of oil lamps.  Many visitors to San Antonio were “charmed” by the young ladies and their savory fare.  Author O. Henry wrote in his story “The Enchanted Kiss” about the city’s Chili Queens.  He wrote, “Drawn by the coquettish senoritas, the music of the weird Spanish minstrels, and the strange piquant Mexican dishes served at a hundred competing tables, crowds thronged the Alamo Plaza all night.”

 

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William G. Tobin

Enter William Gerard Tobin, a great-grandfather many times over of Walter Mathis, the last private owner of Villa Finale.  A native of South Carolina, Tobin arrived in San Antonio at age 20 in 1853 and two months later met, fell in love and married Josephine Augusta Smith, daughter of the city’s first American-born mayor John W. Smith and the lastmessenger to leave the Alamo.   In 1855, Tobin was city marshal before joining the Texas Rangers in 1859.  When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the Confederate Army where he was made a captain.  Although Tobin had a long career in law-enforcement and the military, his true calling was in the business world.  In the 1870s, he leased the Vance Building – which had been headquarters of the Confederacy during the war – near the corner of Travis and St. Mary’s Streets.  He turned the building into a hotel he named Vance House (today it is the site of the Gunter Hotel).  However, Tobin’s business ventures didn’t end there.

By this time, Tobin had spent nearly 30 years in San Antonio assimilating and taking in the local culture, including the food.  His wife’s family, who no doubt had some influence in his newly acquired tastes, could trace its roots to the Spanish Canary Islanders that arrived in San Antonio in 1731.  It is no surprise that Tobin took a great liking to Tex-Mex food and was an early supporter of its consumption.  In the 1880s he had a bright idea: to can San Antonio’s famous chili con carne for sale.  In 1881, he negotiated a contract with the United States government to sell his canned chili to the army and navy.  In 1884, he began to organize an aggressive venture with the Range Canning Company located in Fort McKavett, Texas for the manufacture and canning of chili con carne and other “Mexican” delicacies.  Now, this is where the “Americanization” of chili began for understandable business reasons.

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Reproduction of Tobin’s Chili-con-Carne labels in Villa Finale’s kitchen.

“Carne” is meat in Spanish.  While beef or pork were the meats of choice for the Chili Queens, Tobin opted to use goat and more than likely, made changes to the recipe and ingredients to better suit the American palate.  While the people of San Antonio welcomed and were used to the many colorful herbs, aromas and higher levels of spiciness, as far as the business, the food had to be attractive to consumers from all over the nation.  On July 28, 1884, just days after Tobin’s dream got off the ground and the manufacturing process began, he died at home never seeing his venture fulfilled.  The development of the project also died with Tobin.

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Lyman Davis

It wasn’t until 1893 that the rest of the world was introduced to chili con carne at the San Antonio Chili Stand during the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  But it wasn’t until 1921 that an attempt to can chili con carne, by then simply known as “chili”, was reattempted by Lyman Davis of Corsicana, Texas who developed his recipe in the 1890s and sold it to oil workers for .5 cents per bowl from the back of a horse-drawn wagon.  Davis’ early canning machinery was simple, but by 1923 his improved operation was producing 2,000 cans per day.  Davis’ chili became known as Wolf Brand Chili, named after his pet wolf, Kaiser Bill … and the rest is chili history!

So while San Antonio and Austin duke it out during the Texas Taco War of 2016, let’s remember the Chili Queens and people like William Gerard Tobin whose interest in filling our tummies with tasty Tex-Mex dishes eventually helped make chili the official Texas State Dish.  “Viva chili con carne!”

Here is a recipe for “Original San Antonio Chili” (from a Chili Queen) taken from the Institute of Texan Cultures research library, with updated changes by the International Chili Society for shopping convenience:

2 pounds beef shoulder, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 pound pork shoulder, cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ cup suet
¼ cup pork fat
3 medium-sized onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 quart water
4 ancho chiles
1 serrano chile
6 dried red chiles
1 tablespoon comino seeds, freshly ground
2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
Salt to taste

Place lightly floured beef and pork cubes in with suet and pork fat in heavy chili pot and cook quickly, stirring often. Add onions and garlic and cook until they are tender and limp. Add water to mixture and simmer slowly while preparing chiles. Remove stems and seeds from chiles and chop very finely. Grind chiles in molcajete and add oregano with salt to mixture. Simmer another 2 hours. Remove suet casing and skim off some fat. Never cook frijoles with chiles and meat. Serve as separate dish.