The Alamo has a claim to being not only the most resonant historical site in America but the most peculiar. Generations of visitors have stood in front of the old mission church in downtown San Antonio and scratched their head in confusion. For one thing, the Alamo itself seems far too small to support the unbounded legend that has grown up around it. The towering building that most people expect to see turns out to be a squat and oddly configured structure that is in almost every way inscrutable. What is this place? What really happened here? Why is it enveloped in an atmosphere of such oppressive solemnity? Why all these signs and plaques demanding that we remove our hats, that we “be silent,” that we regard this secularized church not just as an artifact of history but as an unparalleled shrine?
The Alamo has long been a place where casual visitors were almost guaranteed to get the wrong idea about the storied battle, along with a desperately blinkered interpretation of its meaning. In the past few years, however, things have changed significantly for the better. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the famously embattled custodians of both the Alamo and its legacy, are delicately shifting from an almost religious presentation of the site to one that showcases its factual history. The horrendous old paintings that once adorned the walls of the church have been relocated to the gift shop, plaques that had once seemed randomly placed have been strategically regrouped, and the sacristy rooms have been opened to the public for the first time in recent