National Geographic : 1944 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine Half-wild pigs roamed the streets then, rooting up gardens and melon patches. The jail was the hulk of an old wreck. Once the bay froze over, men and animals walking over ice to the mainland. It took Galveston some years to rebuild after the hurricane and tidal wave of 1900. My brother-in-law lived there then. His house was swept away so completely that later he couldn't even identify the lot on which it had stood. Now a high sea wall protects the city. As the wall went up, big brick buildings were jacked up and lifted bodily-every brick in place-to higher levels (page 14). Now Galveston looms large in Gulf trade. Many railroads end here. Switchyards on the island will hold 11,300 freight cars. Fine wharves accommodate tankers and steamers. Templelike elevators help make Galveston a great grain-exporting center. Summer vacationists swarm here from as far away as Canada. Prize fish stories abound all along this coast. You hear of one leaping tarpon that struck the boatman in the head and killed him. From Corpus Christi comes a yarn of a woman who hooked a 16-foot sawfish. Four men helped her land it. Then they loaded it into a wagon, and started to the taxidermist's. Thought to be dead, the fish gave a sudden flop, turned the wagon over, and so frightened the mules that they ran away! One of Nation's Biggest Playgrounds Hosts of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC readers are among the millions who know this 2,028-mile coastal playground from halcyon days of peace and gasoline. How nostalgic its sights, sounds, and smells! What happy memories they conjure! Key West's Duval Street on Saturday night, lime pies, and "turtleburgers"; seagoing motorbuses on that long viaduct across the Florida Keys. . . . Sponge auctions, green shuttered old wooden houses shipped over from the Bahamas long ago. . . . Barelegged, sunburnt girls on bicycles. . . . Navy men in whites; submarines, destroyers. Fort Myers' royal palms, and that historic garden where Thomas A. Edison worked with myriad weeds, hunting one that might yield rubber. St. Petersburg, community singing, open air prayers, sidewalk benches to which, like swallows, the same winter visitors return year after year. Sarasota, where acrobatic blondes turn somersaults on white horses, swing in ele phants' trunks, and walk with tigers at circus winter quarters. Tampa, Cuban cafes crowded with diners calling for pdmpano en papillo. Spangled pants fandango girls, gay caballeros playing La Golondrina or La Cucaracha on guitars inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Tarpon Springs, Greek spongers, a Bishop blessing the fleet and then tossing his crucifix into the sea, to be retrieved by one of the swift-diving boys. Pensacola, mother-in-law of the Navy, whose favorite dish is fish throats. An old, old town of many flags-and Spanish families who still own plantations granted them by the crown. Mobile, city of Azaleas, proud of its new underriver tunnel, busy port of cotton, lum ber, Alabama iron, aluminum ore from South America. Bombers over Biloxi Biloxi, where in 1699 d'Iberville, French explorer, set up the Louisiana colony's first capital; once winter training ground for big league ball teams; overshadowed now by Keesler Field and its roaring bombers. But if you remember the Gulf Coast from Mississippi Delta on to Texas, it is only be cause you flew over it. No roads along those low, swampy tide flats. Rails and highways skirt these marshlands only along their north ern edges, past Evangeline's country, through lush Louisiana cane fields, past sugar centrals with tall smokestacks and huge piles of crushed cane stalks, past oil well derricks and the works of sulphur mines. Beaumont, Texas City, Port Arthur-more oil wells, tank farms, and shipyards. San Jacinto Battlefield, near Houston, where Sam Houston whipped Santa Anna to help free Texas, and so on to Galveston, with its Buc caneer Hotel, curvaceous bathing beauties, bingo parlors, and soldiers, soldiers. Freeport, with more sulphur piles. Corpus Christi, trailer camps, ducks, fish, some streets named for wild animals, with Mexican barber shops where you can still get a shine for a dime. Brownsville, loading citrus fruit by tons and tons, pioneer fiestas, trips over the Rio Grande to Mexican Matamoros for enchiladas, serapes, and burlesque bullfights that amuse Sunday visitors. "When the lights come on again," vaca tionists will be back, from "all over the world." In how many kindly ways this Gulf is good to us!