Texas Myth #14
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IT’S ILLEGAL TO DRIVE BAREFOOT.
Every summer, as thousands of teenagers complete driver’s ed, this bit of automotive folklore hits the word-of-mouth accelerator. But Texas has never had a sole such law. Because of the Depression, many people came to associate bare feet with poverty, indolence, or general white-trashery. As car ownership grew ever more common, high schoolers received a clutch of warnings about the consequences of driving shoeless. Never fear: You won’t get a ticket for it, much less be shod on sight.
Q: I say Mickey Mantle was born in Commerce, which is why he was once dubbed the Commerce Comet. But friends claim he isn’t even a native Texan.
A: Nice of you to go to bat for Mantle, but it’s a swing and a miss. The switch-hitter and Baseball Hall of Famer was raised in Commerce, all right—Commerce, Oklahoma (he was born in that state’s town of Spavinaw). From 1951 to 1968 the injury-plagued Mantle enjoyed a celebrated career with the New York Yankees—he still holds five World Series records, among others—but in 1956 he bought a house in Dallas, a city he ended up living in for 39 years, surely long enough to qualify him as a homeboy. It was there that, at age 64, the hard-drinking Mantle underwent a controversial liver transplant. The surgery revealed advanced liver cancer, and the Mick struck out for good ten years ago, on August 13, 1995.
Q: A friend who’s been to South Korea says that a suburb of Seoul is called Texas Village. How did it get the name?
A: Yes, for 25 years or so a section of the country’s capital city has been known as Texas Village, but it’s not a residential area. It’s a huge red-light district that reportedly encompasses as many as 250 brothels. The quarter has come under fire internationally for trafficking in underage workers. The popularity of Larry L. King’s play The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1978) is believed to have inspired the name.
Q: Have you ever heard the story that two presidents of the Republic of Texas killed themselves on the same day?
A: True or false—or schmaltz? Some of each: This rural legend is a conflation of stories about two places, two eras, and four men. In 1826 the United States’ second and third presidents, John Adams (aged 90) and Thomas Jefferson (83), died on the same day. The coincidence unsettled Americans, especially because (oo-wee-oo) the date in question was July 4. Thirty-one years later, Texans were shocked to learn of the death of another Thomas Jefferson: Thomas Jefferson Rusk, a San Jacinto veteran who, for the previous eleven years, had been one of the young state’s U.S. senators. Depressed over the loss of his wife to tuberculosis and feverish because of a “ravenous carbuncle at the base of the skull,” Rusk fatally shot himself at his Nacogdoches home on July 29, 1857. Six months later, another prominent Texas statesman also committed suicide: Anson Jones, a San Jac vet himself and the last president of the Republic. He had become a bitter man; for one thing, Rusk and the great Sam Houston had won the U.S. Senate seats he coveted. Leaving his family behind at their Brazoria plantation, Jones checked into Houston’s Capitol Hotel, where, according to a newspaper article, he was found on January 9, 1858, sprawled on his bed, “a discharged pistol in his hand and his brains blown out.” Hmm…do you suppose fellow guests thought the noise was a horse backfiring?