This Old House

A few years ago I spent a long weekend in San Antonio, which I quickly learned is a difficult city in which to spend a long weekend without a car. I visited the Alamo, twice, and did the river-boat tour, twice; eventually I broke down, violated the tourist’s code, and went to go see a movie. (March of the Penguins, I think; it was miserably hot in San Antonio too.) One evening, on the way to dinner, I happened past a shed-like building that turned out to be the home of O. Henry from 1895 to 1896. Various signs marked the spot as the Henry home, but either due to its tiny size or lack of interest, nobody staffs the site for visitors. Stephen J. Gertz, who had a similar experience in the city, writes in Book Patrol about a recent visit to the Henry house:

There is welcome sign inviting visitors but in a strange plot twist I discovered that when you push the buzzer, ostensibly to gain entry, one is instead treated to a recording, a disembodied voice narrating the story of the house and O. Henry’s occupancy. In a further plot twist, no online biography of O. Henry makes any mention whatsoever of his residence in San Antonio; the only information on O. Henry in San Antonio is found on San Antonio-related sites and there are factual conflicts. Houston, Austin, and San Antonio appear to be locked in a struggle for bragging rights.

From there Gertz calls to have the Henry home moved from its perch on downtown’s outskirts to Alamo Plaza. Good idea: It would precisely double the number of interesting things to see there. For what it’s worth, Henry (born William Sydney Porter) didn’t seem to think too much of the place either. His short story “The Higher Abdication” describes Curly, a drifter stuck in the city for a while:

San Antonio puzzled and disturbed him. Three days he had been a non- paying guest of the town, having dropped off there from a box car of an I. & G.N. freight, because Greaser Johnny had told him in Des Moines that the Alamo City was manna fallen, gathered, cooked, and served free with cream and sugar. Curly had found the tip partly a good one. There was hospitality in plenty of a careless, liberal, irregular sort. But the town itself was a weight upon his spirits after his experience with the rushing, business-like, systematised cities of the North and East. Here he was often flung a dollar, but too frequently a good-natured kick would follow it. Once a band of hilarious cowboys had roped him on Military Plaza and dragged him across the black soil until no respectable rag-bag would have stood sponsor for his clothes. The winding, doubling streets, leading nowhere, bewildered him. And then there was a little river, crooked as a pot-hook, that crawled through the middle of the town, crossed by a hundred little bridges so nearly alike that they got on Curly’s nerves. And the last bartender wore a number nine shoe.

One thought on “This Old House

  1. You’ve piqued my interest. I’ve seen that house there for many years but never stepped onto it’s lonely entrance way. I will be doing so soon. I’ll get back to you if the situation has changed and if I find any more definitive proof of his residency there.
    I wish you’d called me before your visit, I’d gladly have given you a tour of some of the MANY intriguing things in San Antonio.

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