Saturday, March 6, 2010

We'll Never Forget

Magnet # 185:  The Alamo, San Antonio

Material:  Brass, Pewter

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

This marks the anniversary of the day in 1836 when the defenders of Alamo were finally defeated after a 13 day siege. The story of these 200 or so brave fighters who stood up to over two thousand Mexican soldiers has become a modern legend, inspiring films and songs and perhaps turning the tide of the Texas Revolution.

We pretty much all know the story of these Texans who were gathered at this outpost that had been converted into a fort.  Legendary heroes like James Bowie, William Travis, and David Crockett all died in this battle, but not all of the facts are totally clear.  Some stories claim that Travis actually drew a line in the sand with his sword, and asked those who would join him in a likely fight to the death to cross it.  There's also a story that a group of defenders surrendered and were later executed and that Crockett was one of them, but another story holds that he was found dead with the bodies of over a dozen Mexicans surrounding him.  Clearly, however, one man chose to leave the Alamo before the final battle, Lewis Rose, a Frenchman.  Although he had fought for Napoleon Bonaparte and had even been at Waterloo, Rose decided not to act this time.  He later claimed that he did not want to leave his family and children behind, and he didn't want to die in a hopeless battle like those he had been through before.  But he never tried to hide his desertion of the forces there and continued to tell his account of what had happened there.  Thanks to him, we know much more than we might otherwise, for there were only a few survivors left in the Alamo, and none were soldiers.  Nonetheless, many hate Rose and he has the dubious title of the "Coward of the Alamo," and he may have even referred to himself using that nickname.  Even as recent as 2003, when France disagreed with the invasion of Iraq, he has been used in the United States as an example of French cowardice.  I'm not sure if that's completely merited, but he certainly isn't great in the way the brave men who choose to fight and die there are.  Those fighters did not back down, and their stories will never die so long as Texas - and the Alamo - stand. 

The Alamo is now the top tourist site in Texas and can draw in as many as 4 million people a year.  I have toured the Alamo, and, like many before me, found that's it's very different from what I expected. First off, it's location makes it very odd. It's right in the middle of downtown, urban San Antonio - you turn a corner and there, in the midst of high-rise buildings and a more modern city, is this curious old building and a little undeveloped land surrounding it. It almost feels like you're seeing a ghost of the past in this busy, modern city.  Also, it is much smaller than most people expect it to be.  I guess the legends make it seem bigger, but the mission church is truly a small building and it can be tough to get away from the crows that pile in there.  Finally, this is a humble dignity about this place - it has been restored, but it is not a great accomplishment of architecture or design.  There are still dirt floors in some parts, the walls are aged and undecorated, but it has a simple beauty nonetheless.  The exhibits feature artifacts from the Texas Revolution and items that once belonged to the heroes of the Alamo.  Obviously, this is not an opulent, impressive destination like Monticello or the Biltmore.  What makes the Alamo an important place to see is the lives that were lost there on this day so many years ago.  Some claim to still feel an unusual sense of solemnity within it.  If you're ever in San Antonio, you should definitely stop by and have a look for yourself, especially since it's free.  They do appreciate donations and have what is reported to be a pretty good gift store, though (I don't think I saw that part when I was there).  Be careful not to expect too much, but this old mission might surprise you - with just one visit, you'll likely always remember the Alamo. 

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