I’m five years old, watching Magic World of Disney (Sunday night, dinner on a metal folding table, the black-and-white TV with rabbit ears). There he is, in living colour (except we had b/w TV, remember so only now is he in living colour): Davy Crockett. He of the ‘coonskin cap. I can still hum the song. As long as I remember the Alamo, Davy Crockett will still be fightin’ for li-ber-ty. Oh, Fess Parker.
Here. Go enjoy some Fess Parker yourself.
In any case, the Alamo has remained a shadowy presence in the back of my brain, a ticky box in the long list of “Things I’d Like to See”. San Antonio, famous for the River Walk and for the Alamo (and possibly for the Spurs, I suppose).
The River Walk, particularly the bit aptly named Museum Reach, is wonderful. Stuffed with art-filled turns of glowing sunfish and aural landscapes, it really has to be experienced. Avoid judging the whole experience, if you can, from the bustling downtown sector, replete with generic Tex-Mex restos and elbow-to-elbow tourists threatening to bustle you right into the drink.
As for the actual Alamo, you have to “go upstairs” from the River Walk, like a groundhog sticking its head up into possible winter. As one ought to do for childhood dreams, I was keeping expectations fairly low, same as one would for the food in a restaurant with a great view (like, at the top of the CN Tower, for example). A capital-A “Attraction” with heaps of history, so famous there’s a whole Disney special on it.
Tourists thronged the grounds and queued up in a snake to get in. I’m so Canadian: I see a line, I want to join a line. But this was entrance to the “Shrine”, and no line greeted us at the entrance to the Long Barrack. However, they shun photography in the actual Alamo, for reasons I don’t quite understand.
I’d been primed on Great Man History in Austin, and so knew the story of the Alamo (spoiler alert: Davy Crockett dies, something Walt and co. failed to show in the televised 1960 program). The attack and defence is presented very much as a tragic sacrifice along the lines of “they gave their lives so we could have our freedom”, neatly mirroring Christian ideology.
The interpretive methods were tried-and-true: a rousing video presentation, ample text panels, a number of artifacts, an expansive gift shop.
While more than adequately chronicling Texan deaths at the Alamo (a number ranging from 180-250), the Alamo interpretation soft-pedals Mexican casualties (numbering around 600 at the Alamo, and offering a staggering 650 deaths to Texas’s 11 during the 18-minute Battle of San Jacinto). History is indeed written by the victors.
I left the Alamo deflated, even with my low expectations. The surrounding environs didn’t help lift my spirits. Ringed with souvenir shops and tourist attractions, the Alamo is slowly circled by fairy-lit horse drawn carriages. Directly across the street, American super-heroes raise arms against potential foes in a bizarre counterpoint: plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose.