“Dr. Dante” — do not look directly into his eyes…
by Paula Bosse
Another year has zipped by, which means it’s time to foist “best of” lists upon the public. Today, in the second of three “Best of Flashback Dallas, 2018” posts, I choose my personal favorite posts of the year — the things I most enjoyed researching, writing about, and, yes, even reading! I’ve listed them in chronological order, except for the first two, which are my favorite favorites. (Click titles to see original post.)
1. “‘DR. DANTE’ DODGES BULLETS IN DALLAS — 1970” (May)
I think this was destined to be my favorite post of the year from the instant I began watching the old Ch. 8 news footage, part of the ongoing digitization work being done by the G. William Jones Film & Video Collection at Southern Methodist University (the Dallas-history gift that keeps on giving). The only thing SMU knew about the clip was the date it was filmed. Who WAS this strange man telling an outrageous story of being shot at near the Mrs. Baird’s plant in the wee small hours of the night (on orders from Frank Sinatra)? It took some digging, but it was worth it — learning about the notorious hypnotist-slash-fraudster-slash-seventh-husband-of-Lana-Turner was one of the high points of 2018 for me. I absolutely LOVED writing this one.
2. “GHOST RAILS OF THE BELMONT STREETCAR LINE” (April)
I wrote about the old interurban and streetcar rails which once ran up and down Matilda in the Lower Greenville neighborhood I grew up in. I feel like I read about this rail line for days and days and days, and I enjoyed all of it. I wish I had known what the interurban was as a child so I could have appreciated how close I lived to an important historical thoroughfare. This post resulted in the arrival of photos sent in by a family friend, showing city crews working on the paving of Matilda; I loved those photos and put them in what I consider the “part 2” of the post linked above: “PAVING MATILDA — 1971.”
3. “‘ALL THE BEER YOU CAN DRINK IN AN HOUR FOR 60 CENTS’ — 1935” (January)
I can’t remember if I saw the newsreel footage first or the photograph, but both are great, and it’s always kind of thrilling to see Dallas pop up in old newsreels. I don’t want to say Dallas drinkers in 1935 were lightweights, but only one imbiber came out ahead on the challenge — and he was in Fort Worth.
4. “THE ECCENTRIC MEDFORD COMPOUND ON THE OLD EAGLE FORD ROAD: 1945-1950” (March)
This photo sent me off on a wild research path: the person who was responsible for this ramshackle collection of buildings (in what is now hipster-haven Trinity Groves) is just the sort of unconventional person you’d hope he’d be.
5. “‘THE CEDARS’ MATERNITY SANITARIUM, OAK CLIFF — ca. 1923-1944” (April)
This Oak Cliff home for unwed mothers/”unfortunate women” was just one of the many private hospitals in residential settings where women could live in comfortable seclusion while awaiting the birth of a child. Following the birth, the child would probably be put up for adoption by mothers who felt they had no other socially acceptable option.
6. “NO NECKING ALONG COUNTRY ROADS UNTIL BONNIE & CLYDE ARE KILLED OR CAPTURED — 1934” (June)
Dallas school superintendent Norman Crozier issued a warning to high school students to refrain from pursuing amorous activities in cars parked along deserted country roads — at least while the Barrow Gang was at large — for fear they might run the risk of being caught in deadly crossfire. The “teen angle” on the well-worn Bonnie and Clyde saga.
7. “SAM VENTURA’S ITALIAN VILLAGE, OAK LAWN” (July)
I spent a crazy amount of time researching this place — which I had never heard of until I came across the piece of ephemera seen below, which was collecting dust, packed away in a relative’s belongings. In fact, I spent so much time reading about the Italian Village (and its later incarnations) that I now feel as if the extended Ventura family and I should be spending holidays together.
8. “‘DALLAS IS A MAJOR TARGET AREA!’ — KNOW WHERE YOUR NEAREST FALLOUT SHELTER IS” (July)
I’m glad I missed this panicky era, but I have to say, it was pretty interesting to learn about … from a distance.
9. “SANTOS RODRIGUEZ, 1960-1973” and “SANTOS RODRIGUEZ: THE MARCH OF JUSTICE — 1973” (July)
It was only in recent years that I heard the name “Santos Rodriguez,” and even then I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened. The story of a handcuffed 12-year-old boy shot in the head by a Russian-roulette-playing police officer in Dallas’ Little Mexico neighborhood is both tragic and infuriating; it was also the impetus that spurred political activism and a demand for social justice within the Hispanic community. Everyone should know this story. I spread my telling of it over two posts, both of which contain as-the-aftermath-was-unfolding news footage, which helps to make the 45-year-old event feel immediate and “real,” especially to those of us who did not experience it first-hand. I owe a lot to Jeremy Spracklen of SMU’s Jones Film Collection for providing me with amazing film footage of this shocking moment in Dallas’ history.
10. “DALLAS IN ‘THE WESTERN ARCHITECT,’ 1914” (7 separate posts) (August)
This series of posts just about killed me. I had no idea when I started that I would end up writing mini-histories of over 50 buildings and houses, and that what I originally thought might be three posts (which would have been a lot) ended up spreading over seven. *I* was getting tired of the whole thing, and I worried that readers themselves would, quite reasonably, grow weary of it as well — but people seemed to like it. The photos were really great, and once I started, I couldn’t stop until I got through the whole thing. Even though it was fairly exhausting, I probably learned more about Dallas’ important early-20th-century buildings and houses by dragging myself through this slog than by approaching the subject in a more easily-digestible manner. Immersion learning! The two greatest take-away words I have from this laborious experience which capture this period of Dallas’ astronomical growth more than any others: “Lang” and “Witchell.”
11. “OAK CLIFF: ‘A CITY WITHIN A CITY’ — 1929” (September)
This look at a gem of a little promotional booklet touting the wonders of Oak Cliff’s business climate was packed with really, really great photos I’d never seen.
12. “A DRIVE THROUGH DOWNTOWN — 1970” (September)
Basically all this post consists of are screen-captures from spectacularly clean 35mm color film footage shot around downtown Dallas under the auspices of the Dallas Theater Center in 1970 and recently digitized by SMU. (I keep meaning to get around to writing about this DTC project but 1.) I’m a huge procrastinator, and 2.) I keep hoping the ever-fabulous Jeremy Spracklen will continue to find more and more footage. I will write about this one day, though!) But really, it’s all about the film, which captures downtown in a delightful little color time-capsule — and that film is embedded in this very popular post.
13. “LIFE ON HALL STREET — 1947” (October)
One of the things that frustrates me most in writing this blog is the difficulty in finding historical photos of everyday life in Dallas’ black and Hispanic neighborhoods. (If anyone reading this has access to great photos of these neighborhoods, please contact me!) I’ve always loved vintage advertisements, because not only do they feature styles and fashions and products of the past which are inherently interesting, they also often allow us a window into social and cultural history. When I come across old ads targeted specifically to, say, Dallas’ African-American community — especially those with photographs — I get pretty excited. Several such ads are in this post, and they’re great.
14. “THE STATE FAIR OF TEXAS OVER THE DECADES” (October)
The task: find an image from each decade of the SFOT’s history from the 1880s to the 1980s. Not a problem! That well will never run dry.
15. “BRUCE CHANNEL, DELBERT McCLINTON, AND THE BEATLES — 1962” (November)
I really loved writing this.
BONUS FAVE: “FLASHBACK DALLAS IN D MAGAZINE: ‘THE TRINITY BRIDGE-JUMPERS'” (February)
I was pretty thrilled to be invited to write a Dallas-history article for D Magazine’s “Lost Dallas” issue this past February (I wrote a short piece for the print-edition of the magazine, and a longer version which appeared on the magazine’s website). I wrote about a competition involving diving/jumping from a bridge into the Trinity River in 1897. It was a pretty big deal at the time, attracting thousands of spectators. The very idea for the event was unusual — especially if you’ve seen what the Trinity looks like unless it’s at flood-stage — but what drew me to the story was the wonderful, very funny color-commentary written by an un-bylined reporter for The Dallas Morning News. I loved writing about this and trying to imagine what such an odd event must have been like back in 1897, when one’s entertainment options were somewhat limited. The piece I wrote for D Magazine is here, and an accompanying post I wrote with additional historical background (including the original line drawings of the participants which appeared in The News, as well as photos and a map) is in the post linked above.
I never get tired of researching and writing about all aspects of Dallas’ history — both well-known and forgotten, important and trivial, serious and ridiculous. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these posts as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.
Sources & Notes
See all three 2018 “Best of Flashback Dallas” lists here.
See all Flashback Dallas Year-End lists — past and present — here.
Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.