Aha Henry!

While using Google maps to locate a potential lunch spot @ the TLA Conference yesterday in Austin, I was seredipitously surprised to see the O. Henry Museum located directly across from the Austin Convention center, quietly tucked away on its own semi-greenscaped block.

Not wanting to ignore this coincidence, I made a point today to take a midday conference pause, and have an exploratory lunch break across the street.  When I arrived out front to snap a few photos, the door opened, and the docent placed an “open” sign on its front–this time a direct sign inviting me in.  Being a small house, and being the first and only visitor at that moment, I had a personal one-on-one tour with the docent.

I knew from my previous life in Austin that there was an O. Henry museum somewhere, but didn’t know it was located downtown.  From what I learned on the tour, O. Henry lived in Austin from 1882 to 1898.  

It was in Austin where he began The Rolling Stone magazine, and where he was also accused of and sentenced with charges of embezzlement while working as a teller at the First National Bank of Austin! Oh, the scandal!

I wasn’t allowed to take any photos of the interior, but luckily there are some decent photos on the museum’s website. Not all of the pieces are original to the O. Henry house, but on display in the parlor is wife Athol’s piano, one of O. Henry’s writing desks is nestled in the dining room, and the bedroom hosts two wicker chairs that may have inspired the story “The Gift of the Magi.”

I asked the docent if the museum has considered creating a virtual tour online, since kids outside of Austin (as well as in Austin, too) wouldn’t necessarily get the opportunity to take a field trip to the museum.  She said she didn’t know of any plans for something like that, but indicated that the museum’s curators might be open to the idea in some capacity. Regardless, it was so fortuitous to see an example of a city honoring part of its cultural past in a physical form, rather than simply through an event–although I’ve heard that the annual Pun-Off is not something to be missed.

After taking this short but pleasant tour, I started to wonder why the same homage and support couldn’t happen in San Antonio? Would it be so difficult for the City of San Antonio to partner with the City of Austin on reviving the O. Henry House in some capacity–or at the least, borrow their curator for an afternoon to brainstorm possibilities?  Granted, O. Henry’s San Antonio stint was short lived compared to his life in Austin, but in terms of an historical timeline, the house and its significance are still worth preserving and cultivating in some way.  Maybe the house could be part of a larger tour of San Antonio’s historical landmarks, literary or not.  There are many possibilities, especially if kids and learning become part of the mix…it’s a matter of transforming them into probabilities.

In the literary style of O.Henry himself, this is where I would share a pun that would wittily and concisely convey the sentiment of this post, but I gist can’t seem to come up with one, so I leave you a humble pun-in-progress:

Along with his Austinite moniker, O. Henry also deserves the title of “Es-Say” as a notable San Antonian [SA] of the past.

Ransom of O. Henry

Driving to work this morning, I heard the TPR story on the O. Henry House downtown, not too far from Market Square.  While listening, I started thinking about how some of the cultural history and architecture of this city gets lost, especially if it’s not revived by some party or celebration.  How many San Antonians even know about this little house?  While walking back to my car after enchiladas at Mi Tierra probably a year or so ago, I remember spotting the small building, stopping to look in its curtained windows, and was surprised that this landmark was just stuck at the corner of a nondescript parking lot.

Fast forward to this morning, sitting in the school parking lot until the story finished, I thought about how this podcast could be used not just as a background builder for students before reading O. Henry stories, but speculated how the issues surrounding the house’s current status might inspire kids to develop some kind of service learning project, tying together preservation of cultural history with community involvement.

Instead of making a poster collage or even a Glogster about an O. Henry story, what about students raising money and petitioning the city to establish an O. Henry park? What about students becoming detectives about the artifacts that should or shouldn’t be in this space, or becoming docents of the little museum, figuratively or literally? What about creating online virtual tours/interactive exploration of a variety of city landmarks, especially for students whose field trip excursions are limited or completely eliminated, or simply live in another part of the city? What about the city sponsoring such an interactive site, using the brainpower and creativity of its young constituency to help design it?  Or what about giving kids a microphone and video camera, and have them document landmarks they feel need to be preserved in their community?

Antique meets Tech, a mash-up of old and new…just think of the essential questions you could pose:

In the way we live today, why should we preserve anything? What makes something worth saving? How do we deal with preserving the past in a throw-away society? Some say the past informs the future…what does the status of the O. Henry house say about the future?