Townes Van Zandt was a drunk, a junkie, and deadbeat dad. His songs when mixed with the right combination of vodka and opiates can bring a grown man to tears. His voice was too nasal for Nashville and his vibe was too rough for LA. Willie bought his songs as a favor and Townes traded most his royalties away for various substances throughout his career. From fistfights with his old lady in the middle of Guadalupe across from the University of Texas Austin campus, to trading the rights to 4 of his records for $20, Townes truly spent the majority of his short life here on earth, waiting around to die. Visiting his grave made me want to search for the graves of other people who’ve influenced me. All my heroes were junkies. The future looks bleak.
The historic prison cemetery in Hunstville, Texas, Joe Byrd Cemetery, is the burial place of approximately 3,000 prisoners. Serial killers, Kenneth McDuff and Henry Lee Lucas are buried here due to the fact that nobody wanted to claim their bodies.
A Tour of Spaceflight Centers - From Michoud to Marshall
Lovers of history, spaceflight enthusiasts - I spent the first week of May traveling the southeast United States from Austin, Texas and stopping at Space Centers (among other locations of interest) with my significant other. This is what I experienced.
The first stop outside Texas on our first day of travel - Michoud Assembly Facility. This is not open to visitors and we knew this, but it was an extra 20 minutes out of a many hour trip.
There used to be a Saturn V S-IC, originally meant for Apollo 19, out front but it has been moved…
Just a hop and skip later and we ended up in Pearlington, Mississippi and Stennis Space Center’s visitor complex, the Infinity Science Center. There was a heavy emphasis on nature conservation and the environment as well getting students involved with experiments and hands-on learning. The highlight for me was the display of Wernher von Braun’s desk.
And the new home of that Saturn V S-IC that was at Michoud? Infinity Science Center. Recently moved, there is an ongoing effort to raise funds to restore and preserve it.
We drove most of a day to where I grew up, Saint Petersburg, Florida, where the first scheduled airline flight took place on January 1st, 1914. Tony Jannus flew a Benoist flying boat across the bay to Tampa in a trip that lasted a little over 20 minutes.
Walking around sunny St. Petersburg, we stopped at several museums including an old favorite, the St. Petersburg Museum of History, where they have a functional replica of the Benoist flying boat. An original Benoist pennant from 1914 flew aboard OV-103 Discovery on her final flight, STS-133, is also on display.
Following a stay with friends and family, it was off to Kennedy Space Center. There have been many changes since I had last been here, the new Astronaut Memorial and Hall of Fame being the most notable.
The Orion Capsule that flew EFT-1 was also on display, along with a CST-100 Starliner structural test article and Dragon capsule.
A trip though the rocket garden as always. The day had started as a torrential downpour but was now sunny. Florida, weird as always.
Of course, you can’t walk through the garden without getting a picture with the Saturn IB. She learned that you don’t really have a sense of scale to these without getting right up next to it. It was during this time that I learned my girlfriend has a fondness for the Mercury-Redstone - it’s what she pictures when she hears ‘rocket’. Quintessential!
OV-104 Atlantis is always my favorite stop. This time, I had brought my Atlantis flag, and with a friend who joined us we had a wonderful time with my favorite orbiter.
I have not been to KSC since the addition of the Challenger and Columbia display. It was an incredibly moving experience, seeing these pieces, as well as the displays of the Astronauts personal belongings that you see before entering this room.
We said our goodbyes and began a northerly drive up the Florida east coast, stopping in beautiful Saint Augustine for a night, seeing the Castillo and ancient city before going around the mess that is currently Atlanta, GA, and ending up in Huntsville, Alabama - Rocket City, USA. You can see that Saturn V, the only standing Saturn V, for miles.
It also happened to be Star Wars Day - what a lovely coincidence! It was quite a sight to see people dressed as Jedi, Sith, and Storm Troopers walking around a Space Center.
Of course, we were there for NASA, and I, to see Wernher von Braun’s legacy. I am of the belief that without von Braun’s vision, charisma and genius, we would have fallen so far behind on the dream of spaceflight as a nation, or at the very least, never made it to the moon at all. Look for an upcoming, detailed post on von Braun in the future.
Of course, there were many exhibits and displays of a historical nature, showcasing prototype gloves that were in development for Apollo, models of probes and satellites that have given us a more detailed look at our solar system, and Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar to really get a sense of how vast the universe is (this is also shown on the newer Cosmos series, hosted by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson). This History of Space Exploration timeline also gave perspective on the earliest efforts of rocketry by Robert Goddard, to where we are today. Comprehensive to say the least.
On display at the US Space & Rocket Center rocket garden is of course the Saturn V, a Saturn I, Mercury-Redstone, Juno I, among other military missiles.
We toured the Saturn V Center, enjoying the exhibits and displays, including one presented by IBM on the “brain” of the Saturn V, the quarantine trailer the Apollo Astronauts had to spend weeks in because of fears of “space germs”, and the Apollo 16 Capsule.
We concluded the day as it began to rain with a visit to OV-098 Pathfinder. Built in 1977, Pathfinder was a structural test article that weighted the same as the production orbiters would, and had roughly the same dimensions - she was used for fit-checking the various processing facilities that served the Space Shuttles. After her fit-check mission was complete, STA-098 was overhauled and made to look like a real orbiter (or as real as one could surmise), and was sent to Tokyo, Japan for the Great Space Shuttle Exposition in the early 1980s. After being brought back to the United States in the late 1980s, she was set up at the US Space and Rocket Center and given the honorary designation OV-098 and named Pathfinder.
We left as the rain began to fall, but not without stopping by for a visit to Miss Baker. It is customary to leave a banana.
A day later, we ended up in Vicksburg, MS and toured the Civil War battlefield, the USS Cairo gunboat, and stopped by some of the monuments and important sites. It was the last stop on our trip. We pulled into Austin, TX on Friday night, May 5th, exhausted and hungry. The next morning, after getting some breakfast, we visited a site we’ve been meaning to see - the Texas State Cemetery. Gene Cernan, Astronaut, Commander of Apollo 17, lunar land speed record holder, and last man on the moon, was first to be buried on the highest hill in the cemetary, closest to the moon. It was a solemn end to a long journey of history, spaceflight, celebration, tragedy, art, nature, science and exploration.
There are many more photos, and a lot more tales of this trip that aren’t directly related to spaceflight, but I hope my followers enjoy what I’ve shared and have tried to cram into a single posting. This was an incredible experience and it would not be possible without the support and patience of my fiancée, and her camerawork. Most of these photos are hers. Take a look at her blog, especially if you love history, live in Texas, or both!
Texas is a blessed land. I value Texas, and I like it. All these surprise water holes and rivers, cemeteries looking like souvenir shops and vice versa, deer on the streets of small towns, and numerous marvels and miracles.
An uninvited visitor of a cemetery, I am a museum’s rightful observer, but at once a curio-seeking subject breaching the privacy of a family boudoir. I am both deeply moved and perfectly indifferent. Unapologetically alive. Cemetery is a library with stone covers and stories that you have to invent yourself, with very little prompts–very little but just enough.
I was laughing today over the grave of a one-day child, laughing in horror of myself: the laughter emerged as a strange expression of the alleviation to learn that the baby was born in 1932. Both parents must be dead by now, there is no living being wrestling with this concrete, impossible, having a name, grief. Pure history. The baby was free to drift further and further away, into nonexistence. No one was wrenching her out of nonentity any more with their forever broken beyond repair hearts.
It was a custom of the community to bring toys to kids’ graves. Between angels, stuffed bears, and toy cars, a ceramic figure of a clown sat on an anonymous grave, like a strange overgrown mushroom.
The clown stared into the space in front of him (in front of it?) with eyes which lost their pupils to the years-long exposure to the sun and rain. What was conceived as a cute object, a tribute to unfulfilled memories, originally as a garden adornment, perhaps, become a statue of mourning strangely expressive in its supreme muteness, in its acquired blindness, in the irreparability of its discoloration.
It was a mute object, which had an air of finality to it. Fear-inducing even, perchance; one imagines that into such exact innocuous clowns, leprechauns were moving in, like hermit crabs into shell.
Evil spirits would mobilize such destitute objects as their possible bodies, dreadful tools, inhaling mobility in them, instilling a breath of a kind, life of sorts–is it not fearsome? I shivered looking. The thing served as an expression of despair. In whose thought a clown was to appear a befitting allegory of grief? Not sooner I was able to detach myself from looking at it, than several long minutes past. It is there now, this very moment, and would persevere in its thereness, soaking under rains, bleached by the merciless Texas sun, a sign of the mourning which lasts until one’s own death.
Van Alstyne Cemetery. Van Alstyne, Texas. Fall 2016.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Cemeteries around Texas. A LOT of time. I’ve occasionally seen pictures of the deceased included on the headstone, but this is the first actual Post Mortem baby photograph that I’ve come across.
By the late 1800′s photography was becoming more and more common and popular, however it was still enough of a luxury that most individual families didn’t own their own camera. For this reason, there were occasions when someone would die before there was a convenient opportunity to have them photographed. This was particularly true of children.
When this happened, families found themselves with no photographs to remember the departed by… Their solution to this problem was to have the deceased person photographed before burial. In this instance, poor little James Lucas passed away when just over a year old in 1898. The parents had his photo taken and transferred to a china/ceramic disk afixed to the front of the headstone.
An American politician and a leader of the Civil Rights movement. She was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction, the first southern black female elected to the United States House of Representatives, and the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous other honors. On her death, she became the first African-American woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetery.
In October 1867, a man was found wandering a yard. He was incoherent and very sick. He never was able to tell anyone who he was. He died October 4, 1867 and was buried in the Ladonia Cemetery in Texas.
Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, Dubina, Texas. This is another of the “Painted Churches” around Schulenburg.
We couldn’t walk the inside of this church when we visited, as they had an interior gate blocking the entrance. They did have an interesting little cemetery nearby, however. In the pics above you can see another Post Mortem photo of a baby from one of the headstones. As was sometimes the practice, the photographer painted in eyes on top of the closed eyelids in the picture to make it seem more “life like”.
I’ve always thought that doing that upped the creepy factor about a million percent.