Texans Versus Shapes

Nearly a mile away, a woman in a wet suit rides on the back of Shamu the killer whale. But here, at the opposite end of Sea World in San Antonio, on a gentle slope shaded by mesquites and live oaks, sixteen statues of notable Texans stand along a curving walkway lined with flowers.

The life size statues are mounted on black marble stands less than a foot tall so you can look them right in the eye. There are no prohibitions against touching them either. Small children crawl between the legs of Charles Goodnight and Quanah Parker; older people in particular seem to like to touch the statues’ hands, squeezing a finger or rubbing a palm. Whole families stand on the pedestals to have their picture taken with the statue of, say, Sam Houston, just as if he were their stern old grandfather, which for Texans he pretty much is. Smart alecks who come upon the statue of astronaut Ed White like to put their head in the space helmet he holds in the crook of his right arm, then shout and wave for attention. More-solemn spirits bend down to learn the title of the book Walter Prescott Webb is reading from—Webb’s own The Great Plains—or try to decipher the graphs and mathematical formulas on the notes held by Robert Wilson, a Houstonian and a Rice graduate who won the Nobel prize for physics in 1978, the only native Texan to become a Nobel laureate. Other responses reveal a huge cultural confusion. A crew of boys about ten years old stopped briefly in front of the statue of Eisenhower. He has the famous Ike grin and is dressed in his World War II uniform and peaked hat and Eisenhower jacket. “Who’s this?” one of the boys asked. “Bob Hope?”

In addition to Goodnight, Parker, Houston, White, Webb, Wilson, and Eisenhower, the Texas Walk has statues of Barbara Jordan, Katherine Anne Porter, William Barret Travis, Henry B. Gonzalez, Howard Hughes (not the nutty billionaire but his father), Lyndon Johnson, Babe Zaharias, José Navarro, and Admiral Chester Nimitz. Elsewhere on the park grounds are statues of Stephen F. Austin and Scott Joplin.

Some people might have quibbles with this list. I thought I did, but as I substituted my names

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