Dig This

Amateur archeologist Alex Troup has some advice for those who would bring life back to downtown Dallas: The answers are under your feet.

But Hughes says its naïve to think that downtown can be renovated at a cost that will leave room for wage slaves.

"I don't think anybody should be so idealistic as to be unrealistic as to what drives real estate development in any city," Hughes says.

That's not to say, Nix adds, that people of all income levels won't have a good reason to go downtown. "The working people who can't afford to live there can always take public transportation down there for various forms of employment."

Amateur archeologist Alex Troup believes Dallasites once used these rocks as toilet paper. He has other thoughts on Dallas history just as likely to rub some the wrong way.
Mark Graham
Amateur archeologist Alex Troup believes Dallasites once used these rocks as toilet paper. He has other thoughts on Dallas history just as likely to rub some the wrong way.
Want to know what a vibrant downtown Dallas looks like? This turn-of-the-19th-century street scene gives you a clue.
Want to know what a vibrant downtown Dallas looks like? This turn-of-the-19th-century street scene gives you a clue.


Back in his apartment, Troup says he is not an advocate for drugs and prostitution, but he doesn't think downtown will ever be vibrant until its boosters embrace people like Fannie Howard. Then maybe, Troup says, they could stop being so hypocritical about what goes in this city.

Take, for example, the WFAA-TV reports that had city leaders in a tizzy this fall: Convention-center officials took clients to a strip club on the taxpayers' dimes. What, Troup wonders, do people think is the reason conventioneers come to Dallas? To visit the grassy knoll and eat barbecue ribs in the West End?

And, Troup continues, it wouldn't hurt things one bit if Dallas residents would stop pretending that they were born into some sort of European nobility that happens to be located in Texas. They either weren't born here at all or, if they were, their ancestors were poor, backward folk. In fact, Troup theorizes they were so backward that they used to wipe their butts with rocks.

Troup disappears into a back room and returns with a tiny basket filled with rocks he excavated.

"Here's my butt rock," Troup says, offering the specimen up for inspection. "See that brown stuff there, it's kind of yellow? That's your traditional 120-year-old feces. It's harmless. I wouldn't stick it in your mouth."

The rock is not like those he usually finds in Dallas because it appears to have been handcrafted. At first he didn't pay much attention to it, or others like it, but when he realized he was digging in an old outhouse, he got to thinking. What if they didn't have toilet paper or leaves or rags handy? Wouldn't they have just used whatever was lying around? The more he thought about it, the more he was certain. His rocks, Troup says, are butt rocks.

Kathleen Wheeler is the director of Independent Archaeological Consulting, a New Hampshire-based consulting firm that specializes in urban archeology, including the excavation of outhouses. Wheeler says she has never come across any references to butt rocks.

"Everybody's heard about the Sears catalog and other perishable materials that seem to be more butt-friendly. People talk about using the left hand. People talk about using leaves. But I can't think of a one who has ever used a rock," Wheeler says. "The whole notion of butt rocks sounds odious to me."

Wheeler was, however, very interested to hear about the red light district Troup discovered. At the time she spoke with the Dallas Observer, Gangs of New York had just opened in movie theaters across the country. The movie is based, in part, on urban archeology that shed new light on the lives of poor immigrants who settled in the Five Points region of New York. The research is part of a new trend in urban archeology, Wheeler says.

"Archeologists have been guilty for a long time of studying the dead white men who were important. That has changed in the last 10, 20 years. We have begun looking at more black sites. Now we're looking at more poor, immigrant sites," Wheeler says.

The butt rocks aside, Wheeler says Troup's discovery could put him at the forefront of current urban archeological research, provided his findings could withstand peer review.

"If we have a madam who's part Cherokee and park black, the first question I ask myself is who were the clients?" Wheeler says. "Who were her prostitutes?"

Troup has the same questions and no answers. He was, however, able to find out what happened to Fannie Howard.

According to the Times Heraldarticle about Albert Grant's death, Howard was a well-known madam, but Troup wanted to know how notorious she really was.

Very, it turns out.

Howard died on April 13, 1917. At the time, she was a relatively wealthy woman: Her estate was worth $24,500, equivalent to about $320,000 today. "For a black woman, that's a lot of money," Troup says.

The estate included a home at 3505 Griffin, in the same neighborhood that later became the Reservation. Howard, along with the rest of the city's prostitutes, had moved to the Reservation after the city designated it a red-light district. But unlike most of the prostitutes, who were evicted in 1913 when the city shut down the Reservation, Howard stayed behind.

Apparently, Howard continued to entertain until her death. Shortly before she died, she had invested in a Wurlitzer piano--a coin-operated amusement that was common in saloons and bordellos. She also had $2,200 in diamonds and jewelry.

"You know what precious stones were back then? Stolen goods, which she pawned," Troup says. "The Wurlitzer. The diamonds. She was a known criminal."

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