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Corpus Christi History
By Murphy Givens

Wednesday, Dec. 16, 1998

Too short to save


   I once read that a box filled with bits of string was found among the effects of a New England spinster. The box was carefully labeled: "Pieces of string too short to save." In that spirit, I have pieces of historical items that are too short to save but too good to throw away, such as:
   The Corpus Christi City Council passed its first ordinance on Sept. 9, 1852. The ordinance leveled a $10 fine for holding any "Fandango, Dance or Ball" without getting a $1 license from the mayor. At the next meeting, the ordinance was amended to read that the parties had to end by 3 a.m. and it set a fine of $5 for anyone caught carrying a deadly weapon at such gatherings. It was called the Fandango ordinance.
   Fifty years later, around the turn of the century, there was a newspaper here called the Corpus Christi Crony (and what a name for a paper!). The paper's sharp-witted editor, J. S. Henderson, wrote, "The dance at Banquete was a tame affair -- nobody killed and only a few injured." He wrote a few weeks later that, "The three driest things in the world are the Yuma desert, Death Valley, and the Alice Echo."
   While we're on the subject of newspapers, the Corpus Christi Caller on Oct. 4, 1885 reported on a novel invention. A Belgian invented a coffin, the paper reported, that made it impossible for anyone to be buried alive.
   The pressure of the earth on the coffin lid would trigger a stiletto-like device, causing it to pierce the heart of the occupant. The Caller noted that this new invention "is not calculated to reassure those who fear that they may be buried alive."
   The roads were not as bad as they could be, a writer noted in 1915. If they were repaired in the middle and on both sides, they would be passable. The writer said that a local doctor lost his automobile in the mud on the road between Bluntzer and San Patricio. "He says it went down until the bed rested on the tower of a pagoda in China. The doctor is in a quandary. He can't decide which plan is cheapest -- to buy a new automobile or have the old one shipped back from China."
   I had a query about the origin of the name Baffin Bay. Here is what I found: J. L. Allhands in a history of the Missouri Pacific Railroad -- "The Gringo Builders" -- called it "Baffins Bay" and Tom Lea in his history of King Ranch also places an "s" at the end of the name.
   If it was originally Baffins Bay, years of local usage reduced it to Baffin Bay, as it is called in the "New Handbook of Texas" and on all the maps and atlases. The original name, according to the Handbook, was Lago de la Santisima Trinidad. Sometimes it was called Salt Lagoon.
   Where Baffins or Baffin came from is anybody's guess. The inlet's south shore formed the boundary of Mifflin Kenedy's ranch and some think Kenedy named it, as a joke, after Baffin Bay near Greenland, one of the coldest places on Earth.
   Another question came up on names. When I was writing a series of columns on Zachary Taylor, I was confused about when St. Joseph's Island became San Jose Island. The name was changed by an act of the Legislature on Jan. 11, 1973. But there's more to this story than the name change.
   The late legendary oilman Sid Richardson, who died in 1959, used to visit his friend Clint Murchison Sr., another Texas oil titan, who owned most of Matagorda Island. (It was Murchison's son, Clint Jr., who owned the Cowboys.)
   While on one of those visits, Murchison, joshing Richardson, said, "Why don't you quit sponging off me, Sid, and go buy your own island."
   So Richardson looked around and bought St. Joseph's Island in 1936. Having bought his island, Richardson needed to build a house on it. He went back to Murchison and asked him, "How much did you spend building this place?"
   "About $35,000," Murchison said.
   This was a put-on. Murchison had probably spent that much on the glass alone in his Matagorda mansion.
   But Richardson went off to see if he could build a home on his new island for $35,000. He traveled up and down the beach, collecting mahogany logs which had been swept off ships over the years. He set up a sawmill and hired a succession of architects.
   Finally, he went back to Murchison and said, "How much did you say you spent on this house?"
   "Oh, $35,000 or so," Murchison said.
   "Well," said Richardson, "I guess mine will cost a little more. I may have to spent about $75,000."
   When it was finished, Murchison visited his friend's new place and, looking over the impressive home, with its wrought-iron staircase, he knew Richardson had spent at least $200,000 on it.
   "Say, Sid, how much did you say this house cost you?"
   "I'm not going to tell you," Richardson said. "You got me into this, you SOB."
   

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  © 1998 Corpus Christi Caller Times, a Scripps Howard newspaper. All rights reserved.


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