Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lone Star eccentrics

Twenty-three million people, give or take a few, live in Texas. And some of them are not like you and me. In fact, some of them are downright eccentric.

While eccentric can be a nice word for weird, not all eccentrics are weird. But all eccentrics are different, marching to the proverbial beat of their own drummer.

Mineral Wells educator-writer John Kuhn is just out with his first book, a look at a hundred or so living and dead Lone Star eccentrics, from the poker playing Amarillo Slim to the late border blaster radio personality Wolfman Jack. Fittingly enough, he calls the book “Texas Eccentrics.” (Atriad Press, 272 pages, $19.95.)

For organizational purposes, Kuhn grouped his characters into five broad moderately alliterative categories: Bizarre Businesspeople, Peculiar Personalities, Strange Sports Figures, Atypical Artists and Other Oddballs.

To put things in perspective, Kuhn starts the book with an introductory essay on eccentricism Texas-style, which is definitely more noticeable here than some other places. He does not miss the irony that he lives and works in a town once famous for a hotel called the Crazy Water.

Reading “Texas Eccentrics” will give you plenty of material for witty chit chat and possibly serve to remind you that compared with some others, you’re downright normal.

One downside to the book is that it offers no list of sources, a slight eccentricity than can be forgiven in favor of the interesting reading it offers.

Ghost Stories

The weather’s cool and the Halloween decorations are up. What better time to sit by the fire place and read a few ghost stories?

Ghost stories have been around since Shakespeare struggled as a budding young playwright and even before, but for generations, the majority of the tales passed by word of mouth. Finally, folklorists and others began capturing them and giving them true immortality in print.

Over the last decade or so, ghost books have become something of a haunted cottage industry. We still speak of spooks, but now we write of frights. A quick count of Texas ghost books shows at least 16, though I’m sure I’ve missed some titles.

One of the newest in this growing boo-oeuvre is Brian Righi’s “Spirits of Dallas: The Haunting of Big D.” (Schiffer, 176 pages, $14.95.)

No book on Dallas ghosts would be complete with a chapter on the White Rock Lake Ghost, one of Texas’ prime ghost tales. I won’t spoil the story here, but if you visit that part of Dallas at night, best not to pick up any hitchhikers.

Righi also writes about Hotel Adolphus, Big D’s finest hostelry since 1912. Yep, it’s haunted, but no doubt by the more affluent of the spirit set. They seem to favor where the old ballroom used to be on the 19th floor.

He also covers supposedly haunted Preston Road, a busy thoroughfare first blazed by pre-Columbian people and later declared the national road of the Republic of Texas as well as assorted other haunted buildings, houses and of course cemeteries.

In addition to telling all the ghost stories connected to Dallas he could, pardon the expression, dig up, Righi lists area paranormal investigation groups, ghost tours and commercial and fund-raising haunted houses.

To borrow from one of the author’s sub-titles, a reader gets plenty of “boo for the buck” with this book.