The Daughters of Texas Have a Curt Rebuke for a Yankee Who Remembers the Alamo—forget It
06/04/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT
06/04/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Down in Texas they're bracing for the rerun of a celebrated piece of history, and this time Davy Crockett won't be around to help out. The Alamo, that ultimate shrine to Lone Star machismo, is under siege again. On the inside are the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, a band of doughty matrons who have controlled the monument since 1905. Storming the ramparts is Gary Foreman—a Yankee, for goodness' sake—who is armed with a 20-page renovation scheme and the gall to suggest he knows what's best for the San Antonio fort. Not since 1836, when Crockett, Jim Bowie and a garrison of fewer than 200 men were besieged and eventually slaughtered by an army of Mexicans, has the Alamo drawn such fire.
"I've been to historical sites where people come away touched and informed," says Foreman, 33, a specialist in multimedia historical presentations who lives in Naperville, Ill. "I want to enhance the Alamo so people go there and consider it more than a wayside, more than a place to buy a Coke and go to the bathroom." To the women who have been running the show, those are fighting words. "Mr. Foreman doesn't understand that this is a sacred shrine," retorts Peggy Dibrell, chairman of the Alamo Committee of the Daughters. "He wants to turn the Alamo into a tourist trap." And besides, she says pointedly, "Mr. Foreman is not a Texan." As it happens, of the 187 men who died in the original 13-day siege, only eight were Texans.
There are those, Texans included, who contend that the Alamo has already been overwhelmed by the blight of commercialism. Its neighbors include a tattoo parlor, a video arcade and a military surplus store. The Alamo gift shop offers such kitschware as "Kiss the Cook" hot plates and giant Texas mosquitoes in brightly colored felt. One of the popular exhibits in the museum features Davy Crockett's famous coonskin cap, which would be fine except that it's the replica worn by John Wayne when he played Crockett in the 1960 movie The Alamo.
One of Foreman's criticisms is that history is obscured at the modern day Alamo. There are no signs in the Alamo chapel to inform the two million annual visitors that 12 women and children huddled there during the siege. One nod to history is a 10-minute film on the battle. The movie is so poorly acted and produced that even the Daughters agree it needs to be replaced.
The Daughters are unlikely, however, to relinquish the control they were granted by the state legislature nearly 80 years ago, after they rescued the Alamo from its fate as a hotel. "You can't do everything at once at a site like that," says Curtis Tunnell, executive director of the Texas Historical Commission. "The fact is, whatever is done has to be done with the cooperation of the Daughters."
Foreman approached the Daughters in 1982, five years after his first visit to the site, when he was inspired to draw up a list of recommendations. "They told me I was out of my mind," he recalls. A history buff who spends many weekends reenacting Revolutionary War battles in one of his three authentic period uniforms, Foreman did not give up. He has invested $12,000 in his ideas, and estimates that restoring the mission would cost between $2 million and $10 million. "If money is a problem," he says, "then you tell me what Texas millionaire would not like his name associated with a tax-deductible fund-raising effort for the Alamo."
Pat Osborne, head of San Antonio's Historical Preservation Office, credits Foreman with highlighting a legitimate issue. "He made us think about the problems. Without his proposal we probably wouldn't have stopped to look at the situation," Osborne says. But if his siege is to be successful, Foreman will need limitless time and patience. Drawn from the same Texan stock as the Alamo's original defenders, the Daughters are stubborn enough to send any would-be attacker climbing the walls—in frustration.