Going to the Chapel
In 1845 R.E.B. Baylor founded the university that bears his name; in 1886 the Baptist General Convention established the Waco campus. Originally, students had to pray in chapel every day to graduate from this Baptist university. Chapel requirements have since shrunk to twice a week for two semesters. Baylor’s NoZe Brotherhood recently released four thousand Ping-Pong balls during a ten o’clock chapel service.
Bill Beall coached the Baylor Bears football team to an unholy 3-28 record from 1969-1971. The Bears went 0-10 in 1969 and scored 74 points in the entire 1971 season. Beall almost resorted to the Hail Mary.
Those Were the Days
By the 1890’s, Waco badly needed prayer. Cowboys called the town Six-Shooter Junction, and gamblers called it home. By popular demand Waco legalized prostitution in 1889, only the second U.S. city to do so after Omaha, Nebraska. The Army put a stop to the red-light district (called the “Reservation”) and opened up Camp MacArthur during World War I.
Tell It Like It Is
On April 1, 1898, a foolish real estate investor named Tom Davis snuck up on local editor William Cowper Brann on Fourth Street. Brann was recovering from injuries he received a few months earlier—a gang of students had clubbed him for blasting Baylor’s “ministers and Magdalens” in his newspaper, The Iconoclast. Davis, a proud Baylor parent, blasted Brann in the groin, foot, and back with his six-shooter. The crowds and the cops hit the dust as Brann turned and aimed his wrath (and his Colt revolver) at an “intellectual eunuch” one last time. O. Henry’s mentor, the oracle of Six-Shooter Junction, bled to death early the next morning. Davis died of his injuries soon after Brann. A bullet chip distinguishes Brann’s tombstone from others in Oakwood Cemetery. The stone reads simply “TRUTH.”
Burton, Texas Ranger
In 1922 Texas Ranger Marvin “Red” Burton testified in the defense of two men wrongly accused of rape and murder in the Waco area. After their conviction, Burton kept following his gut. The next year, he found the real ax-murderer. Twenty years later, the new Texas Rangers Company F joined Burton in Waco. The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum opened in 1968. Among the exhibits in the museum: “Women and the Texas Rangers: Mothers, Daughters, Sweethearts, and Wives,” the three Texas Ranger badges that went to space in the shuttle in June 2002, and a Colt Walker and a Colt Patterson (Ranger trademark guns).
In 1885 spicy bubbles must have hovered mysteriously around Wade Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store. In the back room pharmacist Charles Alderton was conducting Frankensteinian experiments, working his white coat off to capture the smell of the drug store—fruit, medicine, and soda-sugar—in the form of a drink. Alderton’s creation, Dr Pepper, made Alderton’s boss, Morrison, and entrepreneur Robert Lazenby very rich.
The first couple of English poetry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, did not put Waco at the top of their “please bequeath” list. Yet somehow more of their volumes of original poetry and love-letter-pressed-flowers live here than in their native town. A. J. Armstrong, the head of Baylor’s English department from 1912 to 1952, fancied Robert Browning so much that he hunted everything the poet signed and opened the Armstrong Browning Library.
Waco scion Madison Cooper’s 1952 exposé of local high society, Sironia, Texas, was the longest single-volume novel ever published in the United States. Sironia, Texas is a 1,731 pager, but it might have been twice that if Cooper had included articles or possessive pronouns.
For the Luv of Guv
Waco has buried two governors and birthed one more: Richard Coke signed the Texas Constitution in 1876, and Lawrence Sullivan Ross cut the ribbon on the State Capitol in 1888 (both are now in Oakwood Cemetery). Ann Richards was sworn into office in 1991.