Notes from the past…

Cannibals in Fort Worth!

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Well, maybe not the real thing, but they are mentioned in an article in today’s paper:

This morning I took a quick glance at the online version of our local paper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, just to check the day’s weather report (will it ever quit raining in Fort-Worth-Turned-Seattle???). I happened on a very interesting article about a little-known gem to be found in our own Tarrant County Courthouse: the 1895 Room.

1895 Room holds Tarrant County’s historic treasures

FORT WORTH — In pure square footage, the little 1895 Room in the historic Tarrant County Courthouse might not stack up against major league destinations such as the Kimbell Art Museum and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

But the 1895 Room, named as a tribute to the year the courthouse opened, offers visitors a chance to check out several rarities. Among them:

An exhibit that tells the nearly forgotten story of an infantry of mostly Texans, including Tarrant County’s own Lt. Albert E. Gebert, sent to the Philippines after the Spanish-American War to rescue 27 men held by cannibals. (my emphasis)

An 8-foot-tall piece of timber from the original Fort Worth camp, built in 1849, and a rocking chair thought to be made by an Army soldier.

An exhibit about the role of Freemasons in building Tarrant County.

The 1895 Room is free and open to the public. On a typical day, one or two dozen people with business at the courthouse will take notice of the exhibits and step in for a closer look, according to sheriff’s deputies who operate a nearby metal detector.

“When we have courthouse tours, for the Parade of Lights or the arts festival, we’ll have 30 to 40 people come in at a time,” said Art Weinman, a Tarrant County Historical Commission member who serves as an unofficial curator of sorts for the room. “Gradually we’re going to be upgrading what is here.”

Room may be expanded

The 1895 Room is no bigger than a typical living room. There is no staff on duty, so on most days visitors must make their way through the exhibits. Alas, there isn’t even a gift shop.

However, there is talk about expanding the room in the next year or two to include some additional unused floor space at the courthouse — if room can be found in the county budget.

The Tarrant County Historical Commission has worked out loan agreements with several entities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, to bring in new pieces for visitors to see.

A place for history

In 1985, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court agreed to set aside a heritage room in the courthouse, which was due for a renovation. The room opened for tours in 1995 and was formally dedicated in 1997.

It began with a handful of display cases, with reproductions of firearms, clothing and other items used by settlers in the area before 1910.

Many items have been added since then, including Plexiglas cases for the rocking chair and fort timber.

The most recent addition came this year, when a restored painting by Oran McCormick of the Texas Spring Palace was loaned to the museum by the University of Texas at Arlington library’s special collections.

The Texas Spring Palace was an old railroad depot south of downtown, near the present-day T&P Depot and was a regionally significant tourist attraction before it burned to the ground in 1890.

Other upgrades have been made, including climate-control improvements.

“It meets Smithsonian standards, with ultraviolet and visible light and heat and humidity,” Weinman said.

‘They reckoned badly’

Materials for the Philippines display — known as the Gilmore Expedition — were loaned to the 1895 Room by descendants of Lt. Gebert, including Gebert’s grandson, Fort Worth lawyer James Wilson.

The rescue of 27 men held by cannibals is recounted in Gebert’s diary, which the family still has, Wilson said.

Wilson added that his grandfather “was originally recruited for the war in Cuba, but the war ended too soon,” so he instead was sent on the Philippines mission.

Included on the Gilmore Expedition display is a passage from Gebert’s diary, recounting how the infantry chased the cannibals through the island terrain, until the hostages were gradually freed.

“We learned that the insurgents were taking the remainder of the prisoners into the mountains where the American soldiers could not follow,” Gebert wrote. “In this they reckoned badly.”


If you go The 1895 Room, a museum at the historic Tarrant County Courthouse, is free and open to the public.Where: 100 W. Weatherford St., on the north end of downtown Fort Worth.

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Also open several times per year for Saturday courthouse tours.

Source: Tarrant County Historical Commission

GORDON DICKSON, 817-390-7796

Road trip time!

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