Wednesday, 27 October 2021

G Guest Editorials

Celebrate Lit: A Giant Mystery

I’ve lived in Dallas, Texas, all my life. My mom and dad were both born here, and both sets of grandparents grew up in or near Dallas. I evenA Giant Murder instagram available have a photo of my maternal grandmother walking in downtown Dallas—very definitely from the twenties. She wore a cloche hat over a blonde bob, a buttoned wool coat hanging past her knees, and a cupid’s bow that accented her lips. Having spent her younger years on the family farm near Gatesville, Texas, she moved in with her older sister in Oak Cliff when she was fourteen. I bet she had a blast in the “big city” during her teenage years in the Roaring Twenties.

I had so much fun researching the history of Dallas for my book A Giant Mystery. It takes place in 1926, so I certainly had some digging to do. But I found such delights, and I shared many of them through the book.

For instance: I have my main character walk to church at First Baptist-Dallas down Ross Avenue. At the time, the street was lined with the Clyde Barrow first arrest in Dallas 1926biggest and most elaborate mansions that Dallas had to offer. Ross Avenue still has one of the mansions in place, but it seen some hard times in the 1970s and 80s and was considered one of the roughest areas of town. Still, using my map app and some old photos and drawings of the time period, I can almost picture it the way it was.

I feel the same way about the house that is the primary setting of my story. It’s a real house at 1408 Haskell Avenue. Up until a couple of years ago, it still had a huge field beside it, and I could picture it as the farmhouse that it likely had originally been. In the 1920s, it had a view of the back of gorgeous Ursaline Academy (a convent/girls’ school), across the street and beyond a small field to the left. Some of the taller buildings of downtown might have shown straight ahead, about two miles away. Though only a couple of them, the Adolphus Hotel and the Magnolia Petroleum Building, would likely have been tall enough to see. I’ll bet it was a lot quieter in that area. Large plots of land surrounded the houses and there were hardly any businesses straying that far from downtown.  

Though there were some pretty noisy places even back in the 1920s. Elm Street, in the heart of downtown, was called “Little Broadway” then, and the colorized postcard that I’ve seen had at least eleven cinemas and live theaters. The Palace Theatre was the grand-daddy for stage productions, and the Capitol Theater was the largest and grandest for cinemas, complete with pipe organ since these were the days of silentMarji Laine pictures.

There were also some . . . interesting folks peopling the streets of Dallas. Louis “Daddy” Blaylock was the mayor back then. He was the oldest mayor (elected at age seventy-four) and had a colorful past, from riding for the Pony Express to meeting Sam Houston in person. He was known as the “kissing” mayor because he took that advantage from every beautiful female celebrity and beauty pageant winner who ever came to Dallas. Likely, one of those was Joan “Rosebud” Blondell who was Miss Dallas in 1926. And then there was Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame. He was first arrested in the streets of downtown Dallas in 1926 for failing to return a rented car. It was a one-day rental that he’d kept for three weeks. Called “Babyface,” Clyde was nineteen at the time of his first arrest but looked like an adolescent.

When I started digging into Dallas history, I had no idea what I would find. I so enjoyed unearthing some gems. Though I normally write contemporary mysteries and suspense, I just might need to adjust my direction back a few decades and write from a different perspective. Sounds like fun!

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