Remember the Alamo and remembering the Menger


I am not a native Texan, but I respect and appreciate Texas history — especially when it comes to the Texas Revolutionary period from 1835-36.

I used to have a bumper sticker on my vehicle which said, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as quick as I could.”

I have read the lore about the Battle of Gonzales, the siege and fall of the Alamo, about the Goliad massacre, about the Runaway Scrape and the defeat of Santa Anna at San Jacinto.

This past weekend, however, was the first time I ever got to take part in the Dawn at the Alamo remembrance in San Antonio and it was a moving experience for me, watching as men, women and children took part in honoring those who lost their lives in defense of the mission.

As a board member of the Crystal Theatre, I was invited to stay overnight Saturday, March 5, at the historic Menger Hotel, practically next door to the Alamo. I would then go to the Dawn at the Alamo ceremonies, which would start at 6 a.m. Sunday, March 6, where some of our Young Texians who are descendants of Alamo defenders would lay a wreath to honor their ancestors’ bravery and sacrifice.

Betty and I made the trip to San Antonio Saturday afternoon and when we got downtown, traffic was insane! It seemed like everyone else was trying to get to the Menger as well, or at least, take advantage of the Menger’s valet parking so they could go to the Alamo.

If you are familiar with the Menger, you know that the hotel bar is the place where Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. organized the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry — better known as the “Rough Riders” — who became famous for their daring charge at the Battle of San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. You also may be aware of the reputation of the Menger for being haunted by a number of spirits who stalk its hallowed halls — as many as 30 have been reported.

After we checked in at the front desk, we passed by the Teddy Roosevelt memorabilia on our way to the elevator that would take us to our fourth-floor room.

Betty, who is a medium and is very in tune with the spiritual plane, also saw a female apparition in the corridor, a woman garbed in either a pale-blue or white dress. This possibly could have been the ghost of Mary Menger, the widow of hotel founder William Menger, who ran the operation as a sole proprietress after his death. There is also a report of a woman who has been seen in the lobby, wearing a blue dress with metal-framed glasses and a beret, sometimes working on her knitting.

We got on the elevator, and as it passed the third floor, Betty saw another apparition — this one a male with wavy hair and a bushy beard on his chin that would have been stylish in the late 1800s. A search of Google would later show this was most likely Capt. Richard King, the founder of the King Ranch, who died of stomach cancer in his suite at the Menger in April 1885. King has been known to roam various floors of the Menger, perhaps looking to make one last deal to increase the vast acreage at his spread.

After dropping off our bag in the room and freshening up, we went down to the Menger Hotel bar to get a drink and soak in some history. Behind the bar, Betty said she could see what appeared to be a third bartender who seemed a bit more translucent than the two flesh-and-blood men who were serving vodka martinis and beers to the afternoon crowd.

It could have been the spirit of someone who worked at the bar, or perhaps one of several men who died in the establishment, including Special Police Officer Jim Magner, who took his own life by shooting himself in the head in the bar on May 25, 1897. I don’t think it was Teddy, although his spirit has been seen as well, drinking up and looking for new recruits.

After we finished our drinks, Betty went upstairs to rest a little and I walked down to the Alamo, where I shot photos and videos of the Alamo church (the most familiar building of the old mission) as well as the Susanna Dickinson statue and the Alamo cenotaph.

I walked back to the hotel in time to meet up with two women from Gonzales, Linda Gray and Glennece Beckett, who were bringing a wreath to honor the Immortal 32 as well as the nine other Alamo defenders from Gonzales who died there. That was the wreath our Young Texians would help place at the Alamo.

That evening, Betty and I ordered delicious room service burgers and fries and watched some TV before turning in since I had to get up at 4 a.m. Sunday. Sleep was fitful being in an uncomfortable bed and, at one point, Betty saw what appeared to be a mixed-race woman wearing a lace apron with a bandanna holding back her lovely long locks.

This is considered to be the “Holy Grail” of sightings at the Menger — the ghost of Sallie White, a beautiful chambermaid who worked at the hotel in the 1870s and was shot by her jealous common-law husband, Henry Wheeler, on March 28, 1876.

Sallie was brought to a third-floor room by Mrs. Menger and died two days later from her wounds. Wheeler was never arrested or charged with her murder. The beloved Sallie’s funeral costs were paid for by Mrs. Menger and it is said Sallie still shows up in rooms with sheets and towels for guests as she works to repay the kindness shown to her by the Menger family.

Early Sunday morning, I got up, showered and went to the Alamo for the dawn ceremony. I met several of the re-enactors taking part, including Gary Luinstra, who portrayed Santa Anna, as well as Ricky Reyes and Sally Avila, who performed a Native American blessing prior to the start of the official observance.

I was also able to see two groups from Gonzales, including our Young Texians and former County Judge David Bird and members of the Sons of the Republic of Texas, lay wreaths at the Alamo and watch the live musket volley which ended the ceremony. I loved hearing the recitation of William Travis’ letter vowing to defend the Alamo to the death as well as the funeral oration of Juan Seguin, for whom the city of Seguin in neighboring Guadalupe County, was named.

Betty and I also got to eat brunch in the Colonial Room restaurant at the Menger Hotel, featuring top-notch prime rib roast, London broil, garlic rolls and their world-famous bread pudding with rum sauce — which was every bit as good as advertised. We left the hotel that afternoon and went home to a well-earned nap.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to visit the Alamo and learn more about the history of the Menger Hotel and it is a memory that will stay with me always.