Hopefully, you are enjoying our little junket through Austin. Promise not to beat a dead horse, but before we ride off into the sunset I will share one more interesting destination in this interesting destination. The Bullock State History Museum is a relatively new installation for Austin (opened 2001), and I was excited to check out this acclaimed celebration of all things Texas.
Unfortunately I was initially a bit perplexed by the museum’s focus. The pair of keynote temporary exhibits which occupied the entire first floor dwelt upon Nazi propaganda and the recovery of a wrecked ship attempting to deliver French immigrants around 1650.
At least the shipwreck had been salvaged off the Texas coastline. But there were no survivors, implying a net impact upon Texas history at zero. Thus I struggled to appreciate why this display occupied more space than any other within the museum. Nazi propaganda was runner up for square footage of any single installation and it caused me to feel disrespectful as I began hurrying through the litany of displays. Yes, a worthy topic, but I had paid admission to a “Texas History” museum and almost an hour later I had not glimpsed any cowboys, oil wells or anything else remotely connected to the Lone Star State???
Thankfully the Texas sidestepping ceased once ascending beyond the ground floor. The second and third floors of this huge building are entirely devoted to Texas and I would be happily awash in the Alamo, wildcatters, cowboys and Indians for the remainder of my visit. This really big state encompasses so much and I was relieved Bullock Museum had finally taken the bull by the horns, so to speak.
Exhibits were nicely done, artfully engaging visitors to learn about the state. There were several mini-theatres playing endless loops of five to ten minute short features highlighting various topics. While I do not expect any of these to be nominated for an Oscar, they were informational and simultaneously entertaining. To demonstrate the range, here are three I watched:
- testimony of the sole Texan surviving the Alamo (he had been dispatched to seek reinforcements);
- highlights of Austin City Limits, a wonderful chronological sequence from the vintage television show (featuring concerts from a musical performer each episode) that has captured an astonishing variety of talent across the years;
- “Texas in the Movies”. Predicated upon a somewhat faulty premise (i.e., they seemed to believe Texas was the driver for the entire genre of Western movies), this was a really fun visit to “yee-haw’s” on the silver screen.
Most Texas icons were well covered. I had utterly forgotten about NASA’s presence (“Houston, we have landed”), but Bullock does a nice job of capturing the relevance of this agency and its contributions. One facet which surprised me was the depth and variety of farming enterprises here. Before my visit to Bullock I never realized just how big agriculture is in Texas, nor how many failed attempts had been made to make it even bigger. My years in Texas were spent in Corpus Christi and Waco, so I guess I missed farming hot spots.
The agricultural miss is understandable because Texas is incredibly huge and I can share a story to reinforce the enormity. A former business associate tried to recruit me after we had relocated to Corpus Christi for a job in Memphis and I told him my days of long-distance commutes for work were done (once upon a time I lived in Maine and flew to Washington, DC, then Nashville, each week). Well, he replied, we have an opportunity in El Paso, Texas too. I was tickled to inform him Memphis was as close to Corpus Christi as El Paso! That was the moment I appreciated my state’s massive expanse.
But speaking of my time in the state, the one place where I felt Bullock dropped the ball was their failure to acknowledge Texas Rangers. In my opinion, this is a notable institution of the state which no self-respecting museum dedicated to Texas should overlook. At the same time, I recognize personal bias: there is a splendid Texas Ranger Museum in my other Texas hometown of Waco, which offers tasteful coverage to this unique group. The legacy of this team includes ending the spree of Bonnie & Clyde, but the more relevant aspect is how a small band of agents who devote themselves to unusual crimes can lend such valuable assistance to local officers for whom a serious crime may be a first-time event.
Artistically and informationally, the Bullock Museum offers great wealth. Perhaps what solidified this venue’s relevance was visiting on a game day for nearby Texas University. Being an American I can share great experience at tailgate celebrations for college football games – but they were always undertaken in a stadium parking lot. In Austin, I gather there is no monstrous parking lot around the stadium and I was amused by the multitude of fans seeping throughout surrounding neighbourhoods. This included Bullock, and when I exited at closing time I was delivered into a mass of humanity drinking beer, eating barbeque and sporting their home team’s burnt orange colours.
Though I had departed a museum about Texas, I clearly had not departed Texas.