‘LET ME tell you ’bout my hometown in the middle of the Lone Star State. I might brag just a little but I really won’t exaggerate.” Thus begins the jingle created and recorded by a radio station in the 1960’s about my hometown.
Although I have left the town and even my native state, Waco, Texas, is still where I tell people I’m from. During the last ten years, when I mention where I’m from, I’m always ready for a discussion of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. While that episode is what most non-Wacoans associate with the city, it’s not the only event that has brought public attention to the city.
Before David Koresh became a person of notoriety, Waco was associated with the tornado that cut a path of destruction across East, Central, and South Waco on May 11, 1953. In addition to the devastation of property that the city experienced on that date, Waco also lost 114 of its citizens to that phenomenon of nature. For nearly forty years, Wacoans who mentioned their hometown were asked where they were during the tornado, because it was the only thing most people had ever heard about Waco.
Indeed Waco has always been associated with, even defined by, a single event. It probably all started in 1849 when Captain Shapley Ross established his ferry across the Brazos River, making Waco the logical place to cross. Later, in 1870, the ferry was replaced with a suspension bridge, which is a landmark and tourist site to this day. For fifteen years, Waco was best known as the location of the only bridge across the Brazos River. Cattle drovers and wagon trains were routed through Waco so that people could cross the river without fording or swimming the stream.
Perhaps the best story that Waco could use to promote a favorable image was the invention of Dr. Pepper in 1885 and the romantic story of the young man who sold the formula in order to win the confidence of his would-be father-in-law and gain the hand of his beloved.
Buff Carmichael is the founder and publisher of Prairie Flame, a GLBT newspaper for downstate Illinois.