Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

March 31, 2013

“THE MOSS HOTEL” BY: NEAL MURPHY

 

 

I had just walked out of the Augus Theatre that Saturday afternoon in March of 1946.  As I adjusted my eyesight from the darkness of the theatre to the bright light, I noted some people running toward the Chevrolet dealership south of the courthouse square.  Then I heard the fire siren atop the city hall building wail its signal to the volunteer firemen.  Something was on fire.

I was only nine years old, but I still recall the sights and smell of that large structure fire.  The Moss Hotel was on fire and the city’s two ancient fire trucks and volunteer firemen were no match for the inferno.  I stood on the southeast corner of the courthouse square watching with mouth agape as ashes and cinders floated overhead imbedded in the thick smoke.  I was soon surrounded by many other people watching this fire event.

The Moss Hotel was located approximately where the car lot for Mike Perry Chevrolet dealership now stands.  It was a rambling two-story frame structure and was known far and wide.  It was a favorite stopping place for travelers in the days before the automobile.

The fire was discovered around five o’clock when Mrs. J. J. Mitchell, who with her husband operated the hotel, went to investigate an odor of smoke.  A fire was found inside a box containing four gallons of turpentine which was stored on the back porch.  The hotel was in the process of being painted.

moss_hotel_1946

One of San Augustine’s familiar landmarks, the Moss Hotel was purchased in 1938 by Mr. J. J. Mitchell and had been operated by him and his wife since that time.  The Hotel was built in 1908 by Mr. Louis Thomas, who at that time operated a saw mill a few miles from town.  It was known as the Caney Creek Lumber Company.  When the building was completed it was taken in charge by Mr. J. W. Moss, who came here from Rusk County.

Mr. Mitchell stated that an estimate of the value of the property loss would be around $10,000 total.  The loss of the Moss Hotel was the second time that Mr. Mitchell’s home had been destroyed by fire.  Their home burned around 1931 when some gasoline exploded near an open fire.

The loss of this landmark hotel left San Augustine’s already critical housing situation further strained.

That event left an indelible mark on my young memory.  I had never seen such a large structure burn to the ground before.  In fact, I recall that I decided I wanted to become a fireman when I got old enough.  However, as I aged that desire waned.  I, instead, became an insurance man who would ultimately reimburse property owners for their fire losses.

“THE  MOSS HOTEL”

 

BY: NEAL MURPHY

 

107 HEMLOCK STREET

PO BOX 511

SAN AUGUSTINE, TX 75972

May 27, 2012

“CRAZY WATER CRYSTALS” BY: NEAL MURPHY

“CRAZY  WATER  CRYSTALS”

 

BY: NEAL MURPHY

(sugarbear@netdot.com)

 

 

My grandmother, Mary, decided that this would be a great question to send in to the Crazy Water Crystal Program – “What is the horizon?”  My grandmother listened faithfully to this radio program which was broadcast  from the lobby of the Crazy Water Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas from 1935 through 1941.

I was around five years old at the time.  My grandmother baby sat with me  while my mother worked in her beauty shop, and she listened to her favorite radio program which the NBC radio network broadcast  nationwide.  As I recall the program consisted of a variety of early country western and Bluegrass music, along with a few comedians.  And then there was a part of the daily program which invited listeners to send them hard-to-answer posers.

Of course I was too young to appreciate from whence the program emanated, or anything about the “Crazy Water” or the hotel.  The majestic Crazy Water Hotel was built in 1927 by Carr Collins at a cost of $1,000,000, a tidy sum in those days.  It was built on the site of the third well dug in Mineral Wells in 1881. The hotel contained over 200 guest rooms, a spacious lobby and incorporated the Crazy Water Pavilion.  The top floor of the hotel had a glass enclosed ballroom  which opened onto a rooftop garden.

Local legend holds that an insane woman was cured after drinking from the “Crazy Spring” located at the pavilion.  Thus the name Crazy Water and the “Crazy Well” came into use.  During the depression era, The Crazy Water Company focused on sales of their crystals – a snowy white residue left from the evaporation of their waters.  Their “Crazy Gang” explained how their elixir could be reconstituted with tap water, giving folks all the benefits without having to leave home.   The company’s motto was “Every Home Needs Crazy Crystals” and appeared on their box which sold for sixty cents.

The company claimed that its miracle crystals could cure hysteria, insomnia, rheumatism, diabetes, gout, Bright’s disease, malaria, or high blood pressure.

Mary Martin, a native of Weatherford, Texas, appeared in Crazy shows before she attained Broadway and Hollywood  stardom.  The hotel hosted numerous dignitaries to listen to prominent big-band orchestras.  It was also the site for weekly radio shows, weddings, galas, cotillions, and dinners.  A few guests who failed to correctly sign the guest register include Machine Gun Kelly as well as Bonnie and Clyde.

While all this history about the hotel was interesting, I was interested only in having my question “What, Is The Horizon?” answered and my name heard on the radio.  So, we mailed the letter and waited, and waited some more.  Finally, one day my grandmother received a letter from Mineral Wells which contained unwelcome news.  The Crazy Water Crystal Program had declined use of our question.  I was sorely disappointed as I knew the answer – “The horizon is the place where the earth and sky appear to come together.”

To add insult to injury several weeks later we heard our question being asked by another person on the program.  I felt sure that we had been done an injustice.  It never occurred to me that they probably already had the question from someone else when they received mine.  So much for my escapade into radio programs.  But, even today, when I recall that event of so long ago I feel a slight rush of disappointment that our plan did not work out.

For over one hundred years, the Crazy Hotel has served four strengths of water from its pavilion.  It can no longer claim that it cures many illnesses that plague man.  It also cannot claim a letter from a young boy and his grandmother who asked a simple question.

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About the Author

Neal Murphy resides in his birthplace, San Augustine, Texas, with his wife Clara. He has two children, Kay Fatheree, a pastor’s wife now living in Abilene, Texas, and Douglas Murphy, a police officer in North Carolina, and has five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Neal earned a bachelor of business administration degree from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master’s degree in insurance from the Insurance Institute of America. He also attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he studied religion courses. He is a deacon at a Baptist Church, has taught Sunday school classes, and directed church choirs for many years. He began his writing in 2005, and many of his short stories about his life growing up in a small Texas town have been published in Reminisce Magazine, Good Old Days Magazine, Looking Back Magazine, and the Town Square Magazine. He had a story included in Memories of Mother, a book published by Xulon Press. Another story was published in the book Dear Old Golden School Days published by the DRG Publishing Group. He published a book, From the Heart of a Country Preacher, by Xulon Press in 2006. His second book entitled Those Were the Days was published by Xlibris Inc. in 2007. In 2008 he published another book, The Psalms—From the Heart of a Country Preacher, by Xlibris Inc. He is a founding member of the Deep East Texas Literary Guild of San Augustine, Texas, founded in 2009. He has weekly stories in the San Augustine Tribune and the Toledo Chronicle, an online newspaper. He has a monthly story in the Shelby County Today online newspaper.

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