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25 Things You Should Know About San Antonio

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Mark Twain once declared that San Antonio is one of only four truly unique towns in the country (the others being San Francisco, Boston, and New Orleans). Currently America’s seventh-largest city, the metropolis looks poised to climb even higher in the rankings. Historic, diverse, and home to some incredible landmarks, San Antonio's charms have attracted more than 350,000 new residents since 2004. Read on for 25 facts to file away about the Alamo City.

1. In January 1691, Spain appointed Domingo Terán de los Ríos as the first governor of its Texas province. Later that year, he traveled widely across his new domain. On June 13, the governor made a fateful stop. As it happens, Catholics recognize this date as a holiday—specifically, St. Anthony’s Feast Day. To honor the occasion, Terán named the locale he’d just arrived in “San Antonio.”

2. Worried that France might expand into the territory, Spain convinced a few of its colonial subjects to pack up and begin new lives in Texas. On March 9, 1731, 16 families from the Canary Islands landed in what’s now San Antonio. It’s generally agreed among historians that these were the first Spanish civilians to settle there—though a small military community had been present since 1715.

3. Theatergoers in modern San Antonio can get their fix at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts. This facility is named after philanthropist Robin Lynn Batts Tobin—who was directly descended from the town’s original Canary Island transplants.

4. Famously, San Antonio is the home of the Alamo, where a key Texas Revolution battle broke out in 1836. Raging on for 13 days, the bloody event claimed at least 521 lives. You probably know that one of the fallen was American legend Davy Crockett. But did you know that there’s a debate about how he died there? San Antonio mayor Franco Ruiz claimed to have spotted Crockett’s body sprawled out on the battleground. If true, he most likely perished in the melee. Yet, Mexican Lieutenant Colonel José Enrique de la Peña told a different story. According to his diary, Crockett was captured after the fight and killed by a firing squad.

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5.
Future president Theodore Roosevelt came to San Antonioin 1898 to train alongside the rest of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry during the Spanish American War. This group would, of course, eventually come to be known as Roosevelt's "Rough Riders."

6. The word maverick means “independent-thinker” or “one who bears no man’s brand.” It can be traced back to Samuel Maverick, a Texas rancher who prided himself on doing things differently. Unlike most men in his business, Maverick refused to brand his cattle. Allegedly, this choice allowed him to claim that pretty much any unbranded cow in sight was his. Late in life, Maverick would serve two non-consecutive terms as the mayor of San Antonio.

7. Founded in 1729, San Pedro Springs Park is the oldest municipal park in Texas—and the tenth-oldest in America. [PDF]

8. Located just 25 miles away from town, Bracken Cave hosts the world’s biggest bat colony for about eight months out of every year. Between 15 and 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats arrive each March. Many are pregnant mothers, who give birth inside this temporary home before the whole group flies back down to Mexico in October.

Onlookers at Bracken Cave, USFWS/Ann Froschauer, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0


9.
An estimated 225 couples tie the knot on heart-shaped Marriage Island, located on the San Antonio River, every year. 

10. In 1972, a white rhino gave birth at the San Antonio Zoo. Her calf, a little male, was the first of his species to ever be born in the Western Hemisphere.

11. This year, the St. Louis Rams relocated to Los Angeles—meaning San Antonio is now the largest U.S. city without an NFL team. Still, the league does have a bit of history there. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina temporarily forced the Saints out of New Orleans. Their next eight “home” games were played far away from the Crescent City. Three of those contests took place in San Antonio’s Alamodome—in which the Saints put up a 1-2 record. 

12.  Native San Antonian J. Robert Cade went on to work as an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s medical college. In 1965, he and his colleagues developed a new drink that would help UF football players rehydrate on the field more easily. Cade’s wife, Mary, named the magic elixir “Gatorade.”

13. Was San Antonio the birthplace of chili? You could definitely make that case. In 1828, one J.C. Clopper wrote what might be the earliest-known chili recipe. As this document explains, Clopper first encountered the dish in San Antonio, where less affluent citizens were known to cut their beef “into a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat” and stew it all together. By the 1880s, chili had spread from Hawaii to Washington, D.C.

14. San Antonio is synonymous with two things: The Alamo and Spurs basketball. In 2014, this storied team became the first NBA club to hire a female assistant coach. Previously, Becky Hammon had played for the Silver Stars—San Antonio’s WNBA franchise. Before retiring from that league, she made six All-Star game appearances.

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15.
 “Tallest cowboy boot sculpture” is an actual Guinness World Records category. We kid you not.The distinction belongs to a pair of 35-foot, 3-inch giants that stand outside of the North Star Mall. Sculptor Bob Wade gave each one a crisscrossed steel skeleton, over which a concrete-fiberglass mixture was poured.

16. Pope John Paul II visited San Antonio in 1987, where he held mass in Westover Hills. 400,000 people showed up, making this the most well-attended single event in Texas history.

17. Wings (1927) won “Best Picture” at the very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.  A silent-era epic, the plot concerns a pair of WWI pilots—who also happen to be chasing the same girl. Many scenes were shot at San Antonio’s Kelly Field, where Charles Lindbergh had honed his craft as a student of the Army’s flight-training school.

18. Retired master plumber Barney Smith has an unorthodox hobby: Toilet seat artwork. The 94-year-old San Antonian has used more than 1100 lids as his personal canvasses. Some are collages fitted with themed objects (e.g. Pokemon cards) and many feature original paintings. You can see his collection at the Toilet Seat Artwork Museum—located in Smith’s garage. Admission is free, but if you’d like to compensate the owner, he’ll never turn down a lid. Plus, if you donate one, Smith will engrave your name on it.


19. 
In 1954, San Antonio-based civil rights attorneys Carlos Cadena and Gus Garcia became the first Mexican-Americans to ever win a case that was decided by the Supreme Court. Together, they represented Pete Hernandez, who’d been convicted of murder in Jackson County, Texas—a place where Mexican-Americans were forbidden from serving on juries. Over the next few years, Hernandez v. The State of Texasmade it all the way to America’s highest court. There, the nine justices unanimously agreed that Jackson County’s exclusionary practice violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

20. Are you a Johnny Cash fan? Anyone who is should make a pilgrimage to the Alamo City. Cash married his first wife, Vivian Liberto, in her hometown of San Antonio on August 7, 1954. Their courtship began there as well—in fact, the future country star once carved a declaration of love into a bench near the river. Sadly, that engraving has mostly worn away, but “their” bench can now be seen at the Witte Museum on Broadway Street.

21. In 2014, Amazon named San Antonio the most romantic city in the United States, based on sales of steamy romance novels, romantic comedies, relationship advice books, and love-focused music. (It was knocked from the top spot last year by Knoxville, Tennessee.)

22. Buildings don’t get much more conspicuous than the Tower of the Americas. Standing some 750 feet in height, it’s easily the city’s tallest building—and taller than Seattle's similarly-shaped Space Needle. Just beneath the antennae is a top house, which weighs 700 tons and boasts a rotating restaurant.

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23. 
Chicago isn’t the only U.S. city that dyes its namesake waterway green once a year. On every St. Patrick’s Day since 1969, a section of the San Antonio River has turned emerald in color and been renamed “The River Shannon” for a 24-hour period. These days, the city uses eco-friendly dye.

24. According to its official website, San Antonio’s annual Battle of Flowers Parade is “the only parade in the United States produced entirely by women, all of whom are volunteers.” 

25. The aforementioned Battle of Flowers Parade is part of a huge springtime phenomenon called Fiesta San Antonio. An 11-day celebration, it currently features 108 separate events and draws as many as 3.5 million attendees. By the way, if somebody cracks an egg over your head there, consider yourself lucky. Many spectators tout confetti-filled eggshells called cascarones. Breaking one upon a person’s noggin is said to bring good luck to the recipient.

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Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY
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Art
A New Exhibit Celebrates New York City's Public Art Legacy
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Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Walking through New York City could be likened to strolling through a smog-filled gallery. For the past 50 years and more, artists have brightened its streets, subways, and buildings with vibrant mosaics, installations, sculptures, and murals. To celebrate their creativity—and the pioneering public art initiatives that made these works possible—the Museum of the City of New York has created a new exhibit, "Art in the Open: Fifty Years of Public Art."

"Art in the Open" features over 125 works by artists such as Kara Walker, Keith Haring, and Roy Lichtenstein, among others, all of which once graced the city's five boroughs. The exhibit explores the social and historical motivation behind outdoor art, and also connects it with overarching urban themes.

“The ubiquity of public art is a big part of what makes New York City so special,” said Museum of the City of New York director Whitney Donhauser in a statement. “From parks to the subways, from Staten Island to the Bronx, creativity is all around us. Experiencing the wide variety of art created for public spaces gathered together within the walls of a museum offers visitors a new lens for appreciating and understanding our city’s extraordinary 50-year commitment to public art.”

The exhibit runs from November 10, 2017 through May 13, 2018. Head to the Museum of the City of New York website for more details, or check out some photos below.

Jane Dickson's 1982 artwork "Untitled," part of "Messages to the Public"

Jane Dickson, Untitled, part of Messages to the Public, Times Square, 1982.

Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Ugo Rondinone's 2013 installation "Human Nature"

Ugo Rondinone, Human Nature, Rockefeller Center, 2013. Presented by Nespresso, Organized by Tishman Speyer and Public Art Fund.

Photograph by Bart Barlow. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Subway artwork "Times Square Mural" designed by Roy Lichtenstein,
Times Square Mural (2002) © Roy Lichtenstein, NYCT Times Square-42nd Street Station. Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design.
Courtesy of Museum of the City of New York

Vik Muniz's 2017 subway artwork "Perfect Strangers"

Perfect Strangers (2017) © Vik Muniz, NYCT Second Avenue-72nd Street Station. Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design.

Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

Rob Pruitt's 2011 artwork "The Andy Monument"

Rob Pruitt, The Andy Monument, Union Square, 2011.

Photograph by James Ewing. Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY

Laurie Hawkinson, Erika Rothenberg, and John Malpede's 2004 artwork "Freedom of Expression National Monument"

Laurie Hawkinson, Erika Rothenberg, and John Malpede, Freedom of Expression National Monument, 2004, Foley Square.

Photo courtesy of Erika Rothenberg

Artist Kara Walker's 2014 work "A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby"

At the behest of Creative Time Kara E. Walker has confected: A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. A project of Creative Time. Domino Sugar Refinery, Brooklyn, NY, May 10 to July 6, 2014. 

Jason Wyche, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York. Artwork © 2014 Kara Walker.
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History
How a London Tragedy Led to the Creation of 911
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Fox Photos/Getty Images

In trouble? Pick up the phone and call 911. According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), 240 million 911 calls are made each year. But if it weren’t for a house fire and a group of angry Brits, the system might not exist today.

Though 911 is an American staple, its origins are in England. In 1935, there was no such thing as an emergency phone number, and phone calls were dependent on operators who connected people to exchanges or emergency services when necessary. England did have emergency fire call points, but they didn’t use telephone technology—instead, they relied on the telegraph, which was used to send a signal to fire departments from special boxes [PDF]. There were police call points, too, but they were generally unstandardized and inefficient, since police didn’t have a way to receive emergency calls while on their beats. Instead, officers would check in during their rounds at special police boxes, like the one you probably recognize from Doctor Who.

But all that changed after November 10, 1935, when a fire broke out at the home of a prominent London surgeon, Philip Franklin, at 27 Wimpole Street. As the blaze tore through the building, five women sleeping on the upper floors—Franklin’s wife and niece, as well as three servants—became trapped. A neighbor, Norman MacDonald, heard their screams and promptly picked up the phone to dial the operator. Nobody answered.

“It seemed entirely futile to continue holding on and listening to ringing tone, which awakened no response,” he later wrote. A neighbor went to a fire call point and firefighters soon arrived, but they were unable to save the five women.

27 Wimpole Street, London, as it looks today
27 Wimpole Street, London, as it looks today
Eden, Janine and Jim, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The tragedy sparked a national inquiry—and outrage. Two years later, London unveiled a new service: the emergency number 999. Officials thought it would be best to choose a number that was easy to find by touch on a rotary dial, and rejected a number of other options, like 111, that might be triggered by equipment malfunctions. (It wasn’t unusual for lines rubbing together and other technical glitches to trigger a 111 call; 222 was already in use by a local exchange, while 000 would have just contacted the operator after the first zero.)

The new number wasn’t immediately embraced. Of over 1000 calls made the first week, nearly 7 percent were pranks. And some members of Parliament objected, saying it would be easier to just install an emergency button on phones instead.

A New York City police officer takes an emergency call from his car in the 1960s
A New York City police officer takes an emergency call from his car in the 1960s
John Pratt/Keystone Features/Getty Images

The United States had a similar system of police telephones and signal boxes, but like the UK it lacked the technology to quickly and effectively call authorities during emergencies. In the 1950s, the National Association of Fire Chiefs, inspired by the UK’s system, requested a national emergency number, and by 1967 the FTC was meeting with AT&T, the nation’s largest telephone company, to hash out a plan.

The first 911 call in the United States—a test call made from a mayor’s office—was made in Haleyville, Alabama in 1968 [PDF]. The numbers 911 reportedly made the grade because they weren’t in use for any existing phone exchange, and were catchy and easily remembered.

As the service rolled out nationwide, police and fire departments struggled to keep up with call volume. Despite the success of the program, New York police, in particular, reported being strained and having to hire more officers.

It took a long time to implement the system. Only 50 percent of the United States had 911 service as of 1987, according to NENA. Today, coverage is still not universal, although it’s close: 96 percent of the country is currently covered.

The evolution of telephone technology has brought new challenges, however: The FCC estimates that a full 70 percent of calls now come from cell phones—and given the mobility of mobile phones, that’s a challenge for dispatchers and phone companies. The 911 system was built for landlines, and cell phone GPS systems don’t always transmit data quickly or accurately. Plus, the proliferation of cell phones has led to a spike in accidental butt dials, which tie up the line and can prevent real emergencies from getting the attention they need. Still, we've come a long way from the days of sending telegraph messages inside boxes.

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