Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thurber's Holy Day

By Cameron Mitchell
We all know Labor Day in the United States is the last big celebration as the unofficial end of summer. Officials supervising Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company's town of Thurber, Texas, made sure all of its residents had a great time in the summertime jubilee. Instead of loading the train cars at 6 am for work in the difficult conditions the mines had to offer until 5 pm, workers had this annual three-day weekend off full of rest and recreation. Known as one of the most important days in Thurber, the company's Labor Day festivities acknowledged the hard work and accomplishments of the miners, brick workers, and company staff over the prior year.

Group of men posed beside a union float in Thurber
Thurber's United Mine Workers of America union members
pose for a photo with their Labor Day Float.
Thomas Collection, W. K. Gordon Center
A grand parade was the biggest Labor Day tradition in Thurber. The Labor Day “Queen of Festivities,” usually a beautiful local girl and her “Maids of Honor” led this opening event. There were many decorated parade floats, especially from the local unions. Thousands of spectators lined the street for a view of the fun. The parade route started from the quadrangle, otherwise known as downtown, and continued east on Park Row to the pavilion. Once reaching the pavilion, the area was the scene to a massive community picnic.

Although the area did not have any trees to shade away the Texas summer sun, picnickers of all kinds flocked to the grounds. It seemed like the whole town was in attendance, including: miners and their families, families from nearby counties, and even Texas & Pacific superintendent W. K. Gordon and his wife were getting in on the fun. According to former resident Lilly Gibson, the picnic even hosted air balloon rides in which the balloon would ascend then the wind would "blow 'em across the to...the big mountain where they got the clay for the brick."

Men posed on float in Thurber Labor Day Parade
The parade was a highlight of the Labor Day festivities in Thurber.
Thomas Collection, W. K. Gordon Center
Since it seldom rained in September, the summer heat was great for business because sweltering picnickers were met by barrels of soda pop and pink lemonade for sale with salesmen hawking, "Sweet as honey dew, and cold as ice could make it!” Alcoholic beverages could not be sold at the picnic grounds since the picnic grounds were located in dry Erath County. Barbecue was also sold for those who did not bring a picnic basket. After the picnic, the all-American celebration included baseball exhibition games between Thurber's amateur club and a visiting amateur team.

Carnivals, another Labor Day tradition, also entertained the spectators in Thurber. Company advertisements seeking amusement attractions would fill the classified sections in regional newspapers weeks leading up to the event. This gave the company enough time to book the best acts. According to former resident John Spratt, "crowds flocked to a full array of sideshows filled with freaks, strange animals, and animals." Devices for testing strength flanked shooting galleries and games of chance where carnival barkers called out for the crowd to try their luck.
Crowds of people in downtown Thurber for Labor Day
People flocked to Thurber to participate in Labor Day festivities.
Thomas Collection, W. K. Gordon Center 




A firework display lit up the West Texas skyline once dusk arrived. Afterwards, a dance ended the day's festivities. Frequently held at the pavilion, the dance featured local and travelling bands ready to play the night away. Overall, Labor Day was the perfect opportunity for the company to encourage its diverse population to engage in these patriotic and Americanizing events. The company intended these festivities would unify the town's residents in order to promote loyalty, safety, and satisfaction among employees.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Double Take: Re-Opening the Thurber Mines


By Lea Hart
Historical interviews serve as a window into a past most of us will most likely never be able to fathom. Thurber interviews detail smaller bits of history not everyone thinks of: daily life. Some detail their favorite teacher with her long black skirt, white shirt with lace down the front, and hair in a bun on the top of her head (apparently a popular hair style in Thurber); others of the boy down the street who they would fight with about climbing a tree before later becoming best friends. A few interviews offer clues that lead historians on a hunt for buried history. On June 10, 2000, interviewer Curtis Tunnel sat down with a former Thurber resident Billy Gene McGinnis, during which McGinnis shared a tantalizing bit of information about the short- term reopening of the mines after Thurber closed. 
After the mines closed, steel, copper, and miners tools were left
behind, useful for later salvaging efforts.
Mine Number 1
Courtesy: Miles Hart Collection, Haley Library

Mr. McGinnis recalled that during his high school years, around World War II, a company re-opened the mines to salvage copper wire and steel left when the mines closed in 1920s.  McGinnis added that only one or two of the mines were opened and that this was done for military purposes. This retrieval process only went on for one or two years as a few people died due to the black damp (a mixture of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and other gasses) which suffocates those who inhale it. This was one of the first times some of the Gordon Center staff had heard of the reopening of the mines, sparking our interest.

An article from The Dublin Progress, of Dublin, Texas, published on January 14, 1938, sheds some light on this matter. The article, written prior to World War II, tells us that the Ab-Tex Equipment Company went into a few of the mines in order to salvage the mass amount of equipment, copper wire and other miscellaneous materials and tools left onsite when the miners left for the last time in 1923. The article lists Gomer Gower as head of the operation, as well as seven other former Thurber miners. After the mention of Gomer Gower we were able to piece just a bit more of this puzzle together with our own collections.
         
Gomer Gower, a former Texas and Pacific Coal
Company employee later worked for Ab-Tex to
salvage materials from the mines.
Courtesy: Miles Hart Collection, Haley Library 
In a letter to Mary Jane Gentry, Mr. Gower writes that Ab-Tex employed him from November 25 to December 31, 1937, to salvage the material left inside the mines by the Texas Pacific Coal Company; specifically in mines number 1, 3, and 10. Gower’s differences in opinion with Ab-Tex safety policies cut short his time with the company. Shortly after three deaths involving the black damp Ab-Tex packed up. He also writes that later the government took over and placed the job in the hands of the Federal Bureau of Mines.

            
If this is the case then not only was Mr. McGinnis correct about the opening of the mines during WWII to help with the war effort, but also that the mines were opened during the Great Depression to help provide more tools to other miners, across the nation, when needing mining  materials were at an all-time low. All this means that this long dead coal mining town was brought back to life, not once, but twice, if only for a short time. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Forgotten Traditions

By Katie Gaudette
Once upon a time, weddings were simple affairs laden with tradition that gave them great meaning. Today weddings are a multi-billion dollar industry. Every bride is convinced that she needs to spend thousands of dollars on this special event. In the rush to get every detail right, many have forgotten old wedding traditions that were once precious and meaningful. All of this comes to mind when stumbling upon a treasure in our collections vault.

Veronica Sue Galik's wedding dress in Gordon Center collections
Veronica Sue Galik's wedding dress, 1914.
Ritchey Collection, W. K. Gordon Center
This treasure is a dress that was once ivory colored. The detail is incredible, especially knowing that the wearer made it herself. Most of the dress is covered in tulle embroidery style lace. The hem catches the eye as the intricacy of embroidery lace increases. Venice lace in a Queen Anne pattern adorns cut outs all around the dress in a cascading circle pattern. The beauty of the dress is striking even with the discoloration caused by 103 years of storage. With the dress is a handkerchief that has a large “E” embroidered on one corner. This was carried by the bride on the day of her wedding.
Detailed view of wedding dress lace pattern
Detailed view of Veronica Sue Galik's wedding dress
Ritchey Collection, W. K. Gordon Center


The bride wore this beautiful dress in 1914, at sixteen years old; her name was Veronica Sue Galik, one of nine children. Born in Canada she was the product of an Austrian Polish father and a German Polish mother. Her father, Jacob Galik, worked as a coal miner for the Texas Pacific Coal Company. Most likely the family lived on Polander Hill in Thurber. Veronica’s groom was a coal miner named Frank Bida, a Polish immigrant. Bida spoke only Polish. One wonders how the pair spoke to each other considering Veronica most likely spoke English while Bida spoke only Polish, unless Veronica spoke two languages. This also begs the question of how well the two knew each other at the time of their marriage.

One of the things that the wedding industry has caused us to lose from our weddings are the traditions that were once the focus of these gatherings. Because of the recent immigration of Bida and the Galik’s, Veronica and Frank more than likely observed these traditions like the blessings of salted bread and wine and the ozepiny. In the blessing of salted bread and wine, each of the parents of both bride and groom give the couple a blessing followed by the couple biting into salted bread, taking a drink of wine, then smashing the glass for good luck. The bread represents prosperity. The salt represents the difficult times the couple will face, and the wine symbolizes that the couple will never thirst again.
Frank Bida and Veronica Sue Galik on their wedding day
Frank Bida and Veronica Sue Galik
on their wedding day, 1917
Ritchey Collection, W. K. Gordon Center

The ozepiny is a ritual in which single women stand in a circle around the bride, then one of the single women takes the veil off the bride. Finally a married woman pins a hat on the brides head as the circle around her becomes a circle of married women to signal the bride’s transition into a married woman. These are just a few of the many Polish wedding traditions that Veronica Galik and Frank Bida observed at their wedding.


Veronica and Frank more than likely had a simple wedding full of meaningful tradition, while most American weddings are now more about the decoration and the catered meal than the meaning of the wedding. This loss of heritage specific traditions speeds up as immigrant families assimilate into American culture with little more than their last name as a link to their family heritage. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

America’s Game on the Texas Plain

By Cameron Mitchell

As America’s favorite pastime, millions welcome baseball into their homes every season. Over the years, Thurber showed a love for the sport equal to modern-day spectators. Hershel Gibson, a former Thurber resident, once said that a woman’s hose would be sewn together to make a ball if a rubber one couldn't be found in the dry goods store for a nickel. The town boasted talented players through the generations and many experienced professional success.

      Thurber Tiger team photo. Ca. 1908-1910. Cooney Collection, W. K. Gordon Center.

Although many players earned a name for themselves, one stood out above the rest: Joe McKinnon. Thurber was excited to hear McKinnon was recruited onto the minor league Fort Worth Cats baseball team, but instead, he decided to remain working as a coal miner. Although deciding not to pursue a career in baseball, McKinnon didn't give up the sport and continued to play recreationally where his roots lay in Thurber.

When looking for experienced players in the 1920s, Thurber found one in Roswell ‘Little Hig’ Higginbotham. Before playing during the summers for Thurber, he played second base for the St Louis Cardinals. While a talented fielder, he became known for his speed as a base runner. When looking at the statistics, you could guarantee his name would be at the top for stealing bases every single year. In 1922, he held a batting average of .315 and reached 165 bases from 96 games.

Johnny Lucadello's baseball card during his time as an infielder for the St. Louis Browns. W. K. Gordon Center research files.

When it comes to big names in the area, the two Lucadello brothers - Johnny and Tony - made Thurber particularly proud of their achievements after the family left for opportunities in Chicago, Illinois. Johnny’s professional career led him to a second base position for the New York Yankees and St Louis Browns. Tony also found success in baseball, albeit as a scout rather than a player. During his time with the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, Tony Lucadello was responsible for securing some of the biggest names in the game, including Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Ferguson Jenkins. Together, the Lucadello brothers spent several decades involved in the game and certainly left behind a legacy.

Thurber’s baseball stars would not be complete without mentioning Tony Venzon who worked as an umpire in Major League Baseball between 1957 and 1971. Not only was he an umpire, but he was also a successful one, leading the line in the World Series in 1963, 1965, and 1970. With many All-Star events under his belt, Venzon certainly made his own mark on Thurber’s baseball history.


From small beginnings to professional heights, these men provided a sense of pride for Thurberites!