Beyond Main Street

For the last 7 years, I have been giving historical walking tours of my home village--Woodstock, Vermont. I try with each walk to turn this seemingly tidy and wholly unmysterious place upside down and inside out, to create perceptual surprises. That is what I would wish for this blogwalk to do as well. Thanks for joining me.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Austin landing

Walking from Montreal to Manhattan this past spring, it seemed that every day I was traversing old ground, crossing some paths of my own biography -- some recent, some long vanished. Never having been to Austin before, I have no past paths to cross, but tonight, walking out from the Ransom Center, knowing that my dad had been a law student here in 1952-3, I started to think about his paths. I was thinking it would be fun to find a historic photo on the Web, and so I did a Google image search for "University of Texas Austin Law School."
The photo above was one of the first images, and reminds me that this was a very different place when Dad arrived here over a half century ago. Only two years before, Heman Marion Sweatt stood in the registration line for classes at the University of Texas School of Law, after a 4-year legal battle which saw an NAACP legal team, led by Thurgood Marshall, prevail in the US Supreme Court in forcing the University to admit a black man. Dad, did you ever meet Heman Sweatt while you were here?

Sweat is what I get to do down here while all my friends and family shiver up north. I'd had cold weather all the way to New Orleans, and was happy to watch the thermometer climb to the high 40s on Sunday as I drove across the bayou country towards Austin. Monday morning I rose to discover that my new digs (with Brad Riley and his wife Tara) back up to the greenbelt that flanks Barton Creek, which just a short distance downstream widens out to the Barton Springs Pool, which has been the mecca for Austin bathers for generations.
Keen to get baptized in the local waters, I went for a swim yesterday morning in the 67 degree outdoor pool (free admission from 5 AM to 9 AM!); it felt almost warm compared to the 45 degree morning air. A regular told me that the temp used to be a steady 72 all year long -- quite refreshing in midsummer, and only tempting to a few hardy souls this time of year. They had turned off the water at the showers because of the freezing temps at night of late, but even so, the open air locker room in mid-January was a welcome treat!

Yes Dad, those are your swimming trunks!

The Harry Ransom Center is a sumptuous place to work, with an unparalleled collection of resources on the history of magic. I am going to do my disappearing act right now, as it's late, but I'll leave you with this poster from the heyday of Spiritualist showmanship. . .