Galveston
Home Up Brother and Sister

   

Book One:

A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS


PART FOUR: RETROSPECT

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE:
THE MAN WHO SAVED GALVESTON

Written by Rick Archer

 © 2015, Richard Archer

 


SUBCHAPTER 97 - THE REASON I WROTE MY BOOK

 


Rick Archer's Note:
 

We have now reached the final section of my book.  The previous chapter involving Vicky and the ghost of my dog Terry marks the conclusion of my early years saga.  However, the story of Vicky and Terry is by no means the end of my book. 

Ordinarily one writes their memoirs in a timely fashion.  Not in my case.  Half a century has elapsed between the events and the actual writing of this book.  A gap of fifty years is a considerable amount of time.  Not surprisingly, with the passage of time, there were new developments that shed considerable light on the events of yesteryear. 

It should be obvious by now that Mrs. Ballantyne is the centerpiece of my story.  Given the fact that I spoke to Mrs. Ballantyne one time in my entire nine years at St. John's, perhaps my fixation on this lady remains a mystery to the reader.  Please let me explain. 

For starters, Mrs. Ballantyne's timely intervention into my troubled life was indeed the Simple Act of Kindness that inspired the title for this book.  However, it wasn't just Mrs. Ballantyne's kindness that caught my attention.  There was more.

In the Introduction of this book, I wrote about the uncanny coincidences involving the Church Choir in Beatrice, Nebraska.  To me, the coincidences involving my chance meeting with Mrs. Ballantyne were just as unlikely as the coincidences involving the Church Choir.  I can't say it any other way... the utter improbability of the coincidences surrounding my 1968 parking lot event was difficult to accept.

Up to this point in my life, I had not been particularly religious.  I suppose if that parking lot meeting was the only strange thing that ever happened to me, I would have brushed it off just like most people do with their own coincidences.  But there were more coincidences after that.  Many more.  Each coincidence by itself didn't amount to much, but they started to add up.  Something fishy was going on in my life, I was sure of it.  After a while, I just couldn't accept the rational explanations anymore.  Nothing seemed to make sense using accepted scientific explanations.  To me, the odds were just too great. 

During my Freshman year of college, I was far too busy to think about the incident.  However that all changed in March 1970 during my Sophomore year in college.  One night I listened to a lecture given by a self-described mystic named Bob Hieronimus.  His lecture interested me enough to begin reading about Edgar Cayce, the American mystic.  Now I was getting very curious.  That led to further reading.  At one point, I ran across a powerful quote.

"The more frequently one uses the word ‘Coincidence’ to explain bizarre happenings, the more obvious it becomes that 
  one is not seeking, but rather evading the real explanation."    -- Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
.


My mind immediately raced to the event involving Mrs. Ballantyne.  NOTHING could have been more bizarre than that meeting. 

This quote encouraged me to look at the world in a new way. Was there a possibility that Mrs. Ballantyne had been guided to my side by an unseen hand??   To me, that explanation made more sense than all the scientific explanations.  

Deep down, it felt to me like Mrs. Ballantyne had shown up at that grocery store for a reason.  The coincidence of her sudden appearance was overwhelming.  From the moment we met, Mrs. Ballantyne went right to work.  Our ensuing conversation became a pivotal moment in my life (Chapter 16).

My memory of the parking lot coincidences helped me become open-minded about alternative explanations for "coincidences".  That intensified my search.  After reading books on the occult, mysticism, ESP, Eastern religion, and Jungian synchronicity, I warmed up to the idea that the hidden world suggested in these books might actually exist.  Perhaps there really was more to this world than meets the eye. 

I began to view my meeting with Mrs. Ballantyne as a potential religious experience.  However, that didn't mean my mind was made up.  To me, that chance meeting was hardly definitive proof that God exists.  In my Junior year of college I took a course in the Philosophy of Religion at Johns Hopkins.  My professor was especially fond of one term... agnosticism

Agnosticism is the view that the truth of certain claims – especially metaphysical and religious claims such as whether or not God, the divine or the supernatural exist – are unknown and perhaps unknowable


One afternoon after class Professor Jenkins and I discussed the parking lot meeting at length.  Then I told him about "The Ghost of Terry" incident (Chapter 22).  At the end, Dr. Jenkins smiled and said, "Your two stories are very interesting, Rick.  If people are willing to listen, you may offer these experiences as testimony.  However, it is impossible to prove the existence of God to a skeptic through mere words.  Ultimately, the existence of God is a question every man decides for himself."

I completely agreed with what Dr. Jenkins said.  The problem with a religious experience is that it defies explanation... even to myself!!  Just because I wanted to believe I had a religious experience with Mrs. Ballantyne was not enough reason to make a firm conclusion.  After all, I had no idea what "really" took place in the parking lot that day or at the séance when Terry appeared. . 

Now I had two supernatural experiences to think about.  The 1968 event with Mrs. Ballantyne started this chain of events.  Then came the remarkable 1970 séance experience.  At this point my remaining skepticism about the existence of an Unseen World melted away.  The event with Vicky led me to conclude that the mystical principles such as Reincarnation, Fate, and Karma were a real possibility. 

Please note I said 'possibility'.  There is always an element of doubt in my mind.  That said, I was now a 90% Believer. 

The incident with Vicky and Terry was an important moment in my life because now I dedicated the rest of my life to searching for further evidence to support the claim of an Unseen World.  From that point on, I examined every unusual thing that happened to me from two perspectives... a 'realistic' point of view and a 'mystic' point of view.   Any time there was a coincidence, I raised an eyebrow.  As my life progressed, I became more and more convinced I was onto something.  I began to believe that some things happen for a reason... even if I did not understand a damn thing about 'why' these things happen to me. 

I am getting ahead of myself here, but there were several fortunate coincidences in 1977-1978 that led to the start of my dance career.  Somebody in high places clearly wanted me to succeed because I was being handed one huge break after another.  When placed side by side, this sequence of events was so convenient that I became deeply suspicious.  Once I began to connect the dots, these events would strike me as pure Destiny, which of course is the title of my sequel to this book. 

We already know that despite my litany of handicaps, I would one day create the largest dance studio in America.  Not bad for a guy who couldn't even dance.  Given my extraordinary limitations, the fact that my dance studio was wildly successful became further proof that there was more to this world than meets the eye.  I had no business owning a dance studio... unless, of course, it was meant to be.

The truth of the matter is that I feel awkward talking about God given that I have no direct experience of His existence.

That said, I do believe I possess strong INDIRECT EVIDENCE of His existence. 

Based on the coincidences I have observed, I believe there is a strong possibility our lives are guided by a higher power.  I also believe it is my duty to share this indirect evidence.   Therefore I decided to write this book as testimony to the unusual events of my life. 

No doubt there are many others who are just as curious about the mysteries of Life as me.  By sharing my personal story, it is my hope that my modest contribution will resonate with other travelers on the Path. 

 


SUBCHAPTER 98
- THE GREAT STORM

 


Rick's Note:
  I have a favor to ask.  I am about to tell the story of the man who saved Galveston.  I have my reasons for telling this story, but I prefer to keep them a secret for a while.  I am saving a surprise that will surely make you smile.  I think this is a fascinating story.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. 

 
 

Galveston was originally inhabited by Indians, then pirates, then Spanish, and finally the settlers who would become the Texans.  Following Texas Independence in 1836, a group of entrepreneurs discovered the value of Galveston's world-class deep-water port.  Throughout the 1800s, Galveston and Houston were locked in a bitter economic rivalry.  Galveston was definitely well out in front.

This port was an unparalleled economic engine that created great wealth and prosperity for everyone on the Island.  By the mid to late Nineteenth Century, Galveston was one of the richest cities in the world on a per capita basis!  Galveston was an island port and trading center that was very much as busy as Hong Kong.

Huge southern mansions lined Broadway and grand houses were scattered throughout the neighborhoods.  In addition, the middle class and the working class enjoyed a very high standard of living.
 

Cooled by balmy ocean breezes, Galveston was a paradise. 

 

And then the Great Storm hit in 1900...

The people of Galveston never knew it was coming.

By the time they found out, it was too late.

There was no escape.

1 in every 4 died.

 
 

Strangely enough, the worst disaster in American history was never given a name.  To this day, they simply call it "The Great Storm".

As one might gather, Galveston had been debating the wisdom of building a seawall throughout the latter part of the 1800s.

"Within the last two or three years, people have begun to think that the islands and peninsulas along the Texas and Louisiana Coast
  are unsafe places to inhabit due to the threat of hurricane.  Galveston Island is but a waif of the ocean, liable at any moment  
  to be engulfed and submerged by the self-same power that gave it form."  -- Braman's Information about Texas, 1858

However, like many things in life, the soothsayers were unable to capture the attention of the townspeople until it was too late. 

Many are surprised to learn that the highest death total from a disaster in America history was this deadly Galveston hurricane.

Somewhere between 6,000 and 12,000 people lost their lives that day.  By comparison, famous disasters such as the San Francisco earthquake (3,000), 9-11 (3,000), Pearl Harbor (2,500), and Hurricane Katrina (2,000) don't even come close.

Sadly, the citizens had no idea the hurricane was coming.  They were completely blind-sided.  Given the fact that only a single narrow bridge connected Galveston to the mainland, the people had no way to escape.  Nor was there any refuge.  The city was defenseless.  The wood structures were simply not strong enough.  With no high spots to retreat to, once their house fell, they were goners.  With no protection from the incoming flood waters, a 15-foot storm surge inundated the city.  Structures were flattened and many helpless victims drowned.

The Great Storm became the defining event in Galveston history.  The ocean cleared the land of all structures on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island.  A strip extending the full length of the city and approximately eleven blocks deep was flattened.  Approximately 4,000 structures were demolished.  Only one third of the buildings still stood in the aftermath of the storm.

Throughout the 1800s, Galveston had been the largest, most prosperous city in Texas.  A major center of commerce, with a population of 38,000 at the turn of the century, Galveston had been poised for greatness.  That was all gone.

In the blink of an eyelash, the city had been reduced to rubble.  Overnight the population went from 38,000 to 30,000.  Then after many of survivors moved away, it went to 25,000.

 

By some accounts Galveston didn't even exist anymore. 

Rebuilding would take a long time.  First came the seawall, the project the city had been delaying for years.  The vote to build the seawall passed with little opposition.  Gaining a consensus on the seawall no longer seemed to be an issue.  Someone with a dark sense of humor said all the voters who had previously disagreed must be dead now. 

In addition to the massive seawall to buffer the Gulf of Mexico from Galveston, in addition they also raised the grade of the downtown part of the city several feet higher than before.  If water did get over the seawall, it would drain much more quickly.

By all standards, Galveston had been well ahead of Houston at the turn of the century.  Located just 50 miles apart, Galveston's population was 38,000, Houston's population was 44,000.  However, Galveston's population was growing and Houston's wasn't. Galveston's buildings were far more attractive and the city was actually larger in size.  Meanwhile Houston was a dirty, unimpressive ramshackle town that existed primarily as a place for railroads to export lumber and cotton.  Much of Houston's exports went directly to Galveston from where it was shipped to other parts of the country.  In other words, Houston was supported by Galveston's booming economy.

On September 8th, 1900, that all changed.  The unnamed hurricane marked the turning point in the fortunes of the two cities. 

Galveston's leaders soon got a new piece of bad news.  Instead of investors rushing in to rebuild Galveston, they stayed away in droves. After the storm, investors were afraid of Galveston's vulnerable location.  They preferred to invest in Houston instead.  This was just the beginning.  Galveston's string of bad luck wasn't over.  Not by a long shot.

In January 1901... just four short months after the hurricane... the famous Spindletop oil discovery in nearby Beaumont not only changed the face of Texas, but the entire United States as well.  No oil field in the world had ever been so productive.  Thanks to Texas, the United States became the world's leading oil producer at the time.  Furthermore, Texas wasn't done yet.  Spindletop generated a frenzy of further oil exploration throughout the State.  The ensuing economic development became known as the Texas Oil Boom

Spindletop presented a huge opportunity at the exact moment when Galveston was unable to respond.  Although Galveston possessed the finest natural port in the entire South, it was unable to invest in the burgeoning oil industry because most of its capital was tied up in developing the seawall defense against future disasters.  

No one ever said that life was fair.

The Houston Ship Channel flows practically
to the edge of Houston's gleaming towers

The man who compounded Galveston's misery arrived in Houston in 1898.  His name was Jesse H. Jones.  (Yes, this was the same Jesse H. Jones who created the Jones Scholarship that caused me so much anguish in my Senior year of high school.)

Jesse H. Jones was Houston's original mover and shaker.  A builder and investor, Jones had just begun to make his mark when the Great Storm and Spindletop took place.

Jones took careful note of the Spindletop oil discovery.  He anticipated that the oil strike plus the growing importance of rice crops would create a rapid shift in the economy in Texas. 

Sensing that Houston was perfectly poised to take advantage, Jesse Jones began building the city that would accommodate the explosive growth of the new Texas economy.  Houston business leaders agreed. Houston began its rise to prominence. 

With Galveston crippled by the hurricane, Spindletop shifted the region’s development from Galveston to Houston.  Galveston was reeling and Jesse H. Jones supplied the kill shot. 

Jones proposed building the Houston Ship Channel!!

It was a brilliant move.  Galveston was by far the superior port and much more convenient to shipping in the Gulf of Mexico.  But Galveston was crippled and unable to make a counter-move.

Galveston officials stared glumly as Houston dredged out Buffalo Bayou.  The engineers created an artificial canal wide enough and deep enough to serve gigantic oil tankers. 

Even more ironic, the Houston Ship Channel extended practically to the edge of downtown Houston.  Now smug executives in their tall skyscrapers could look out and survey their growing empire.

Houston was no longer dependent on Galveston's port. This new ship channel was not only protected from the ocean, it was better positioned geographically to build new rail and roads for shipping than Galveston Island would have been. 

The opening of the Ship Channel made Houston an International port overnight.  Oil, rice, and cotton came straight to Houston shipyards and was redirected to distant ports. Galveston's share of Houston's economy evaporated overnight. 

Jesse Jones was not only a shrewd anticipator of economic trends, he also possessed uncanny good luck and timing.

Just months before the Ship Channel was completed in 1914, the Panama Canal opened.  Ordinarily Galveston, the superior natural deepwater seaport, would have been poised to take advantage.  But they were still too busy building their seawall.  Houston became the obvious next choice as the first stop for all sea traffic to and from the Panama Canal. 

The Panama Canal could have been Hong Kong to Galveston.

Instead it was Hong Kong to Houston.

Jesse Jones' lucky streak continued when World War I broke out in 1914.  World War I was highly mechanized.  This created an overwhelming thirst for more oil that could only be met from one place on earth - Houston, Texas. 

Thanks to the Houston Ship Channel, World War I and the Panama Canal propelled Houston into world prominence.  Houston not only became the dominant seaport in the South, this marked the beginning of Houston's evolution into the nation’s petrochemical capital. 

Since Houston is my hometown, from my point of view, I say thank you, Jesse Jones, for your foresight... even if I didn't win your college scholarship. 

But my heart certainly goes out to Galveston. 

 

Houston's gain was Galveston's loss.  Unfortunately, once the seawall was completed 1915, it was too late for Galveston. 

Alarmed at the city's terrible run of bad luck, the civic leaders decided that tourism was their best bet to make a comeback.

For starters, the new seawall helped create a very beautiful beach right in front of the city.  Why not put a hotel there?

In 1911, the Hotel Galvez was completed.  Unfortunately, the city's economy was still in dry dock.  Despite the beautiful hotel and the convenient beach, there was no rush to fill the Galvez.

Strangely, the event that got Galveston moving again was the Prohibition Era (1920-1933).  In hindsight, we now know that a major unintended consequence of Prohibition was the growth of urban crime organizations... Al Capone, for example.

Into Galveston's economic vacuum came Sam Maceo.  Referred to as the 'Galveston Godfather' and 'Mr. Galveston', Maceo soon became the most important man in the history of Galveston.

 


SUBCHAPTER 99
- SAM MACEO

 

Sam Maceo and his brother Rosario came to Galveston shortly before the outbreak of World War I.  They were barbers by trade.

As Prohibition took hold, the brothers began to smuggle in cheap wine to give as gifts to their customers. Seeing how interested their customers were in the liquor supply, the Maceos gradually became serious bootleggers. The Maceo brothers allied themselves with Beach Gang leader Ollie Quinn and opened the Hollywood Dinner Club, the Gulf Coast's most elegant night club.

Sam Maceo's smooth personality quickly made him the face of the nightclub. It was during this time that Maceo developed his style and the interpersonal skills that would come in handy when dealing with Island politicians.  In short order, Maceo learned the name of every person on the island and Galveston County.

Apparently those political skills paid off handsomely... fortuitous arrests of the leaders of the other existing gangs allowed the brothers to gain complete control of the island's underworld without any sort of blood bath.

Sam Maceo operated more like a clever politician than a gangster.  Known as the "Velvet Glove," Maceo's smooth style and ability to influence people was legendary.  Through his vast network of connections, Maceo wielded influence comparable to an elected official and a business leader at the same time. 

Sam Maceo held relationships with celebrities and politicians throughout Texas and the United States.  Thanks in large part to his own substantial celebrity and good deeds, law enforcement found it easier to look the other way. 

Once Sam Maceo was in control, through gambling, prostitution and nightclubs, he built an empire.  However, unlike the Brando character in the Godfather, Sam Maceo was not known for his use of force.  Since Maceo was allowed to rule Galveston without interference, he always preferred to use persuasion in lieu of force.  There were no widespread vendettas in Galveston.


During the Twenties and Thirties, Sam Maceo turned Galveston into the 'Sin City of the Gulf Coast'.  

Modern people refer to Galveston as the Las Vegas of the Thirties.  As we will see, this phrasing is highly ironic. 

Galveston had long been a hot spot for prostitution dating back to its origins as a pirate hangout.  Indeed, legend has it that Texas owed a large debt of gratitude to prostitution... or to a beautiful prostitute from Galveston in particular. This former slave girl would come to be known as "The Yellow Rose of Texas" due to her mulatto light-brown coloring. 

The Yellow Rose caught the eye of none other than Generalissimo Santa Ana during his visit to a Galveston brothel following his brutal victory at the Alamo.  Taking the girl with him to his campground at nearby San Jacinto, the Yellow Rose so thoroughly distracted Santa Ana that he failed to make sure the grounds were properly guarded.  The following morning, the Texas army under General Sam Houston totally surprised the flat-footed Mexicans.  The fight lasted just 18 minutes.  In that brief time, 600 Mexican soldiers were killed and 730 captured.  By contrast, only nine Texans died.

Texas had its independence and the nearby community got its name... Houston.

Was it Texan fighting superiority or the charms of this desirable woman that created Texas Independence?  The success of the Yellow Rose in disarming the enemy might indeed explain the state's notorious benign attitude towards women of the night.  Perhaps this ancient debt to the benefits of prostitution explains why Texas showed considerable disinterest when it came to enforcing Texas prostitution laws down in Galveston. 

Since gambling and bootleg liquor went hand-in-hand with prostitution, the back rooms of popular nightclubs along the Galveston seawall became known for their illegal activities.  People from across the state and nearby Louisiana flocked in.  In addition, all those new Houston millionaires made sure to buy a pleasure palace in the Galveston area to accommodate their frequent visits.  In this way, at least some of that new-found Houston money made its way back into the Galveston economy.

Meanwhile, for some strange reason, the rest of the state seemed content to let Galveston conveniently ignore the vice laws.  The city became known as the 'Free State of Galveston'.  My guess is that most Texas politicians didn't like Prohibition any more than the next guy and enjoyed having a place where they go to have some fun. 

Sam Maceo became the talk of the town.  Thanks to the prosperity generated by Maceo's empire of decadence, the Twenties and Thirties would become the heyday of Galveston. 
 

Hotel Galvez and Sam Maceo's Balinese Room
 


SUBCHAPTER 100
- DOWN AT THE BALINESE

 

Perhaps he was a gangster, but at heart, Sam Maceo was a businessman.  Over time, the Maceos eventually came to own all the major vice-oriented businesses on the Island.

In the midst of this era of free living, the Balinese Room stood out as the most famous nightclub of all.  Built in 1929, the Balinese, Galveston’s most famous pleasure pier, was ostensibly a restaurant, but it was also a well-known casino. With the restaurant in the front part, the casino was placed at the very back of the structure extending far out into the Gulf. The standing joke said the waiters caught the fish every night.

Sam Maceo used a well-known real estate technique known as "location location location" to ensure his nightclub's success... he put it right across the street from the now-successful Hotel Galvez.  Smart move.

Sam Maceo had cultivated a relationship with William Moody, Galveston's business leader and owner of the Hotel Galvez.  Moody and Maceo got along just fine.  Thanks to Maceo, Moody's giant hotel stayed packed with celebrities and guests who flocked to visit the nation's newest resort town.  Imagine their delight to discover that every vice known to man was open to all, a major lure indeed during Prohibition.  Galveston became the playground of the Southwest, bigger than New Orleans a few hundred miles to the east.

Though certainly no saint, Sam Maceo was definitely civic-minded. Maceo endeared himself not just to William Moody, but to all his Galveston neighbors by sharing his profits throughout the city.  Maceo helped return prosperity to a community weary from the hurricane devastation.

No one dared upset the apple cart.  The legitimate businesses on the island such as banking and hotels were able to thrive thanks to the illegal activities.  Real estate was booming thanks to the Houston millionaires buying up those fancy mansions on Broadway Boulevard.  Galveston was back in business.

Now that Maceo had the tacit support of the business community, it stands to reason that the politicians were under his spell as well.  This gave law enforcement yet another reason to look the other way.  The benevolence of Sam Maceo helped considerably.  Though Sam Maceo was the island's dominant figure, he never abused his power.  He generally did not attempt to prevent others from prospering so long as it did not interfere with his business.  In the view of many, Sam Maceo had brought Galveston back from ruin.

If only the walls could talk!!  In the picture above, Sinatra is pleading to Sam Maceo for help.

Frank Sinatra used his mob connections many times throughout the years to advance his career.   Due to his disastrous love affair with notorious femme fatale Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra's life and career hit rock bottom in 1950. 

Down on his luck and his career in deep trouble, Sinatra was trying to stage a comeback.

First Sinatra convinced Houston wildcatter Glenn McCarthy to book him into the Cork Club on top of McCarthy's Shamrock Hotel down the street from Houston's Medical Center.

One day, Sinatra and his friend Jimmy Van Heusen drove down to Galveston.  Van Heusen was a composer of many Sinatra hits (e.g. Come Fly With Me).  Now Sinatra pestered crime boss Sam Maceo to book him following the Shamrock engagement.

Maceo eventually did book Sinatra to sing at the Balinese Room, but only as the singer for the house band. 

Sinatra's gig at the Balinese played a large role in his comeback.  Within two years, Sinatra's luck had changed

Once he was cast in From Here to Eternity, Sinatra won an Oscar and never looked back.  Some say the story of singer Johnny Fontane in Godfather I was a thinly disguised reference to Sinatra. 

Meanwhile the Maceo Galveston operation began to draw so much heat that they moved their major operations to Las Vegas, a move reminiscent of scenes from Godfather Part II. 

Although Mario Puzo's Godfather books were supposed to be fiction, many believe those books didn't require much imagination to write.

 


SUBCHAPTER 101
- THE DOWNFALL OF GALVESTON

 

Through his considerable skill, Sam Maceo made the Balinese Room famous throughout the nation. The impressive list of entertainers who performed at his club clearly underscores the substantial influence of Sam Maceo.  Given the prosperity he created and his benign approach, Maceo knew few enemies.  This explains how he was allowed to run vice on the island for three decades with little opposition.

So what happened to Sam Maceo? The onset of World War II marked the beginning of the end.  For one thing, after Pearl Harbor, people weren't exactly in the mood for partying like they had been. 

Then the Hotel Galvez across the street became headquarters for an expanded Coast Guard presence to patrol the Gulf of Mexico.  Tourists were forbidden to stay there and the Balinese Room was declared "off-limits" for the men barracking at the Galvez.

When World War II was over, Sam Maceo noticed the political climate had changed.

The Texas Attorney General got elected after campaigning to “close down Galveston” and its illegal casinos by using the Texas Rangers.

 

For thirty years, the laws that applied to other parts of Texas did not apply to Galveston.  However, after the war, the open-minded attitudes had seemingly shifted.  Law and Order politicians from other parts of Texas called upon the Texas Rangers to look into the Maceo operation.

The entrance of the Texas Rangers into the picture brought on a semi-comic cat and mouse game.  Everyone knew the casino was operating in violation of the law and that the club’s illegal gambling made it a hub of mob activity.  The problem was catching them in the act.

The Rangers set up shop in a hotel near the club and raided the casino often.  But their efforts were thwarted by the length of the pier.  First the band would strike up the song The Eyes of Texas upon their arrival.  This alerted the dealers and waitresses to start a well-rehearsed cover-up.  By the time the Rangers ran down to the tail end of the long corridor, tables, cards and chips had all disappeared into secret wall and floor pockets.

The Rangers did eventually shut the club down.  What was their secret?  First they gave up trying to catch anyone.  Instead they sat in the casino all day, every day.  Intimidated by the Rangers’ presence, the customers stopped coming.  The Balinese went out of business in 1957.

However, Sam Maceo was long gone by this time.  As the investigation into Maceo's Texas activities grew more serious in the late Forties, Maceo decided he was fed up with the interference. 

Frustrated by the constant need to keep his extensive gambling activities under wraps, Maceo turned his eyes elsewhere.  At this point Maceo decided to move his empire to Nevada.  He became a major player in a new venture known as "Las Vegas". 

Maceo became the leading investor in the Desert Inn, a new casino which opened in 1950.  At the time, the Desert Inn was the largest and most elaborate casino resort on the Las Vegas Strip. 

Galveston's loss turned into immense good fortune for Las Vegas. 

Back in Sam Maceo's hey day, Las Vegas didn't even have a paved road running through.  The only reason people stopped there was to get gas on the way to someplace else. 

Sam Maceo once said that if Texas would just legalize gambling, he could have made Galveston bigger than Havana, Cuba. 

Had that happened, Las Vegas probably would never have gotten off the ground because the mob money would have gone to the lucrative resort playground already established in Galveston.

However, despite his best efforts, Maceo was never able to find a way to get gambling legalized in Texas. 

One can only wonder what Galveston would be like today if Sam Maceo had gotten his way.

On second thought, maybe we don't have to wonder.  Houston could have been the next door neighbor to the biggest resort center in the country.

 

Some people say the day Sam Maceo left town was as bad as the day the Great Storm arrived.  Once the Maceo Magic left, things were never the same.  While Vegas became a boom town, Galveston became a ghost town.

Law enforcement bragged that they had rid Galveston of organized crime.  What a joke.  In a deeply ironic twist, during the 1950s far more dangerous criminal elements entered the vacuum created by Maceo's departure.  Taking advantage of Galveston's history of lax law enforcement, now drugs, murder, theft and vandalism abounded. 

Overnight the magnitude of the loss of Sam Maceo became more apparent.  As they say, be careful what you wish for.  All along Galveston had thought it had a serious crime problem, but now that Sam Maceo was gone, they learned what real crime was. 

The closing of the Balinese in the mid-Fifties marked the end of an era.  Prostitution had been eliminated.  Forty-seven clubs, brothels, and other vice establishments were reportedly closed and 2,000 slot machines were destroyed.  Though officials said they destroyed all of the city's gaming equipment, most of the equipment had simply been shipped to Las Vegas before the authorities ever discovered it.  Either way, it didn't matter.  Tourism was completely gone . The hotels were empty and were soon put up for sale.  No one bought them. 

The outside forces that killed the Golden Goose brought difficult economic times to the city in the 60s and 70sGalveston began a steep decline into urban decay.

With little activity at the Port and tourism mostly limited to day trippers from Houston heading to the beach, economic activity remained anemic for the next thirty years.  

In many ways, the loss of Sam Maceo was as bad as the Great Storm had been.  The population declined rapidly as people moved to Houston and elsewhere in search of employment.  With a greatly diminished tax base, services were curtailed. 

This led to another serious problem.  Now the beach became ugly.  Seaweed and dead fish were left to rot in the hot sun.  The place smelled.  Litter wasn't being picked up regularly.  Poor police presence allowed low-lifes to make the beach unpleasant for families to visit.  Gangs moved in. As rumors of the deserted, uncared-for beach made their way through the Greater Houston area, fewer people bothered to make the trip down.

Another blow came when Houston's millionaires lost interest in the beautiful old homes of Galveston.  Once the area's popularity was gone, they sold the old homes for pennies on the dollar.  This left hundreds of magnificent old buildings to rot and fall apart.   Slowly but surely these magnificent Victorian style homes were slipping towards the point of no return.  

Residents were appalled by the crumbling historical infrastructure.  All vestiges of Galveston's great past were on the edge of disappearing.  Galveston was on the verge of losing its ghosts as well.  The joke was that Galveston was so dead even the ghosts in the famous Tremont Hotel were leaving too.

  This well-regarded book by Howard Barnstone 
  contains many photographs of the old homes.

 Beautiful Victorian mansions such as this
 were abandoned and allowed to decay.

 


SUBCHAPTER 102
- THE MAN WHO SAVED GALVESTON

 


Rick Archer's Note:
  Fortunately for Galveston, starting in the mid-Seventies, a native son turned his attention back to his hometown. 

Houston oilman George P. Mitchell began to singlehandedly lift Galveston onto his back and return Galveston to prosperity. 

The story of what George Mitchell did is so incredibly profound that I felt absolutely compelled to add him to my story.

And what exactly is George Mitchell's link to my story?

Mrs. Ballantyne's maiden name was Mitchell.  Her brother was billionaire George Mitchell. 

Mrs. Ballantyne saved me and her brother saved Galveston.  That's my surprise. 

 

What is fascinating about George Mitchell is that both he and his sister Maria grew up poor.  There was no silver spoon in their family.  George Mitchell earned every dime through sheer genius and hard work. 

Along the way, George Mitchell created energy independence for America, founded The Woodlands, saved Galveston, and brought the cruise industry to Texas for good measure. 

George and his wife Cynthia Woods Mitchell committed themselves to the overall success and revitalization of The Strand District and the hotels of Galveston Island.

Over a period of 30 years, the Mitchells invested more than $175 million in rehabilitating historic properties in The Strand National Historic Landmark District.

Today Mitchell Historic Properties oversees Galveston properties owned by George Mitchell and his family.

These properties include three hotels - Tremont, Galvez, Harbor House - and approximately one-fourth of the buildings in the historic Strand District and Pier 21 along the harbor.

From what I gather, two of George and Cynthia's children - Grant and Sheridan - are actively involved in overseeing the continued success of the work of their parents.  Their gesture surely honored their parents. I imagine this act touched their father and mother in a profound way.

It is impossible for me to describe all the ways that George Mitchell affected Galveston, but the pictorial tribute below is a good place to start. 

George Mitchell is seated with his wife Cynthia Woods Mitchell beside him.  The lady standing with her granddaughter beside George Mitchell is Maria Mitchell Ballantyne

 


SUBCHAPTER 103
-
THE RAGS TO RICHES STORY OF GEORGE MITCHELL

Rick Archer's Note:  Much of the following excerpt comes from an interview with George Mitchell that can be found in Joseph Kutchin's book How Mitchell Energy and Development Corp. Got Its Start

 

George and Maria Mitchell's father was Savvas Paraskevopoulos, a poor, uneducated man who migrated from Greece to America. 

Along the way, Paraskevopoulos acquired a new name... Mike Mitchell

Savvas Paraskevopoulos was born in Greece in 1881.  Paraskevopoulos could neither read nor write.  As a young man, Paraskevopoulos made a living as a goat herder. 

Seeking a better opportunity, Paraskevopoulos decided the only way he could make something of his life was to emigrate from his small mountain village of Nestani in Greece to America.   Paraskevopoulos immigrated to the United States in 1901.  He was 20 when he arrived at Ellis Island.

Paraskevopoulos was a strapping lad who soon got a job as a laborer on a railroad gang.  He gradually moved west which is where his railroad job was taking him.   One day Paraskevopoulos was in Arkansas when he went to his Irish foreman to collect his pay.

"What's your name, mister?" the foreman demanded.

Paraskevopoulos told him. 

"Forget it.  I can't say your name or imagine how to spell it," the foreman snapped. "Use my name or I'm going to fire you."

"Okay, what's your name?" Paraskevopoulos asked.

"Mike Mitchell," the foreman said.

"Well," Paraskevopoulos said, "then that's my name too."

And with that, Paraskevopoulos traded his Greek name for an Irish name.

Now known as Mike Mitchell, Paraskevopoulos discovered his cousin had recently arrived in America.  The two of them decided to meet in Houston.  There they opened a shoeshine stand near the Rice Hotel in the center of downtown Houston. 

Mike Mitchell would eventually leave Houston and settle in Galveston, Texas.  In Galveston, Mitchell ran a succession of shoeshine shops.   Soon he branched out into a dry-cleaning shop that pressed and ironed shirts as well as other clothes.

One day Mike Mitchell saw the picture of a beautiful Greek woman in the local Greek newspaper.  He was immediately smitten.  Only one problem - this beautiful young lady lived in Florida.  Mitchell lived in Texas.  

Mike Mitchell was undeterred.  Though still scraping to get by -- a lifelong condition -- Mitchell hopped on a train and headed for Florida.  Mitchell now traveled 1,000 miles for the sole purpose of asking a woman who was a complete stranger to marry him.

When he got to Florida, Mitchell discovered his dream woman, the stunning Katina Eleftheriou, was already engaged to someone else.  Indeed, she had recently arrived from Argos, Greece, to enter into a marriage arranged by her sister.  Mitchell took the news in stride. 

Mike Mitchell wasn't the sort to quit easily.  As long as she wasn't married, Mitchell had a chance.  In fact, since the lady was marrying a complete stranger, she probably had not formed any attachment yet.  

Mitchell was a born hustler who knew how to turn on the charm.  Mitchell told Katina that he had made it this far from Greece to begin with and now he had come all the way from Texas to see her.  He added that he lived a life of ease thanks to his many businesses.   Of course, with a thousand miles of separation, Mitchell felt comfortable exaggerating the extent of his fortune.

The young lady was impressed and quite flattered.  Dazzled by this confident Greek-American with his beautifully tailored suit, ample supply of clean shirts and fresh carnations in his lapel, Katina liked him a lot better than the guy her sister had found for her. 

Mike Mitchell had succeeded in sweeping the young lady off her feet. Katina Eleftheriou broke off her engagement to her first suitor, married Mike and moved all the way to Galveston. 

One has to wonder what the former Ms. Eleftheriou thought when she realized the new luxury home Mitchell had promised her was actually a tiny apartment above Mitchell's shoeshine shop.  However, she must have seen promise in her new husband because she stuck around.  

If nothing else, this Mitchell fellow was aggressive.   That he was.

Mike and Katina had four children. 

The first three were boys - Johnny, Christie, George - and then came Maria in 1920, the same year Prohibition started. 

Following the birth of Maria (i.e. Mrs. Ballantyne), the next eleven years were full of happiness for the family.  The children's mother was quite warm and deeply concerned about their fortunes.

Then in a flash, it was all gone.  In 1932, misfortune hit.  That is when Katina Mitchell suffered a stroke.  The children's mother died soon after.  It was a terrible tragedy.

The two older boys, Johnny and Christie, were old enough to take care of themselves, so they got jobs.   However their father decided he did not have the means to take care of the two younger children.  Mike Mitchell farmed his son George out to his brother and sent Maria over to live with his sister.

An outstanding student, George Mitchell finished high school in Galveston at 16. 

No college would accept him at that age, so Mitchell went to another high school for a year and brushed up on math.  George's mother had long hoped her smart son would become a doctor, but George Mitchell's interests went elsewhere.  Although his first love was astronomy, he decided oil offered the most promise as a career.

In 1935, the following year, George Mitchell was accepted into Texas A&M, a school with a strong petrochemical engineering program. 

Texas A&M was located in College Station 130 miles northwest of Galveston.   Lacking a car, Mitchell was completely on his own on the A&M campus.  There was no support system waiting for him at school and no trips home to cheer him up. 

Furthermore George Mitchell had only the money he made selling fish he caught back in Galveston.  His father was too busy losing money at poker to provide any help.   Consequently George was constantly forced to scramble for tuition and living expense money.  His problem was intensified by a hard and fast A&M rule... non-payment of tuition meant automatic expulsion.   As a school based on military principles, A&M took a hard line where tuition was concerned.   Tuition in those days was $39 a month.  A student was given 45 days after the bill was due to pay up.   After that, it was time to go.  No exceptions.

George Mitchell may have been virtually penniless when he set foot on the A&M campus, but he wasn't going to let that stop him.  George Mitchell had incredible drive.  Although he was short on cash, George was long on determination.  

Forced to work a neverending succession of part-time jobs, one day Mitchell had an interesting idea.  Since A&M was a men's college, the campus was full of lonely boys who missed their hometown honeys.  Mitchell decided to sell gold-embossed stationery for the lonesome male students to mail to their sweethearts back home or take with them on their next visit.  The item sold like hotcakes. 

However, this clever idea was hardly sufficient to pay his way through college.  Mitchell was nearly kicked out of college several times because he couldn't pay the $39 he needed each month to cover tuition plus the extra $10-$15 needed for room, board and school books.  Working practically non-stop,  Mitchell would sell candy, wait tables and build bookcases... anything to make money.  Sometimes when he was short, Mitchell would borrow the rest from a friend and pay him back later.   Mitchell did whatever it took to make the monthly payment so he could continue his studies.  

Unfortunately, the day finally came when no matter how hard he tried, Mitchell could not scrape enough money together.  This seemed like the end of the line.  George grimly faced the fact that unless he could think of something, he would be forced to drop out of school.

Desperate, the young man thought about asking his father for help.  This was a move George dreaded making.  For one thing, it was a long shot.  Depending how the poker cards had been falling, half the time his father was penniless.

More important, Mitchell's pride prevented him from asking his unreliable father for anything.   However, now that it was beg or leave school, George swallowed his pride and wired his father for money.

In George Mitchell's own words...

"As I expected, at the time Dad wrote back that he didn't have a cent to his name.  So my dad said he would ask Sam Maceo, the Godfather of Galveston, if he would help. 

My father said, 'Mr. Maceo, sir, my son is the top student at A&M, but he is going to get kicked out because he doesn't have any money. 

Do you think you can you help him?' "

Sam Maceo, the famous Galveston gambling impresario known for his generosity, smiled.   On the spot, Maceo reached into his pocket and handed the elder Mitchell a hundred dollar bill. 

"Thinking fast, Dad immediately got change and broke the bill in two.  He knew I only needed $50, so he sent me $50 and kept the other $50 to play poker.  My father always lived by his wits."

That was the lucky break George needed.   Thanks to this contribution and several more timely Maceo contributions along the way, George would make his monthly college payments on time for the rest of his tenure at A&M.

There was a special reason Sam Maceo continued to help.  The Godfather had checked on George's grades at Texas A&M.  Mike Mitchell was a notorious embellisher.  Sensing a possible scam, Maceo called A&M.  To his surprise, Mike Mitchell had been telling the truth.  The register reported that George was currently at the top of his class.  Maceo was impressed.  From that point on, Maceo made sure George would no longer have to worry about money.  

George Mitchell was indeed an excellent student.  He finished first in his A&M class in petroleum engineering.   He became a battalion commander in the Aggie Corps of Cadets.  Mitchell even found time in addition to his studies and all his odd jobs to become captain of the A&M tennis team.

 

George Mitchell may have graduated first in his class, but he also graduated without a cent to his name.  Not a problem.  Once Mitchell had his education, he would go on to become an extremely successful oilman. 

Mitchell had such a legendary career.  As the founder of Mitchell Energy and Development, Mitchell became a giant in his field.  His major accomplishment was pioneering the economic extraction of shale gas, better known as fracking. 

George Mitchell is credited with creating the modern shale revolution which in turn freed America from its over-dependence on Arab oil.

One of Mitchell's major accomplishments was building The Woodlands, a planned community north of Houston placed in a pine forest.  Referred to as 'The City of Tomorrow', Mitchell demonstrated how civilization and nature could be combined if humans were willing to use sufficient imagination. 

Forbes Magazine ranked George Mitchell the 249th richest American in 2013. 

 


“George Mitchell is the father of fracking.   Mitchell's
fracking technique is by far the most important energy innovation of this century.    It is because of George Mitchell that today we are able to talk seriously about ‘energy independence’ here in the United States."   -- Daniel Yergin, oil-industry historian

 


“Mr. Mitchell’s role in championing new drilling and production techniques like hydraulic fracturing is credited with creating an unexpected natural gas boom in the United States."
-- New York Times

 

Despite his riches, George Mitchell remained a humble man who never forgot his roots.  Crediting his fine education at A&M for giving him the knowledge he needed to become successful, Mitchell would go on to donate $400 million to the university. 

Mitchell loved A&M fiercely.  An Aggie to the core, Mitchell took great pride in helping students who were poor like he had been get an education there.  Who would have ever thought that George Mitchell, the boy who could barely pay his tuition, would one day become the largest donor in Texas A&M history? 

It was unbelievable what George Mitchell accomplished in Galveston.  With the help of his talented wife Cynthia, Mitchell literally put the entire city on his shoulders and breathed economic life back into Galveston.  Furthermore, Mitchell created an economy based on jobs that were meant to stay.

Houston may have had Jesse Jones, but Galveston had George Mitchell. 

Mitchell was a visionary who saw the value of saving what had been built in the 19th Century.  He turned preservation and renovation into a city-wide ethos.

The Galveston of today is a thriving gem complete with stylish restored hotels, beautiful beaches, magnificent Victorian homes and renovated buildings downtown.  Galveston is fast becoming the tourist mecca Houston only wished it could be.

George Mitchell never forgot the kindness of the man who had helped him stay in school during the toughest stretch of his life.  I firmly believe that Sam Maceo's gesture affected Mitchell in a profound way.  

To me, there is powerful symbolism here.  How incredible is it that Sam Maceo, the man who was once the savior of Galveston, would coincidentally hand the baton to George Mitchell, his eventual successor, through his simple act of kindness? 

I have to wonder if George Mitchell was just as aware of the symbolism as I am.  Since George Mitchell spoke of Sam Maceo's gesture on many occasions, there cannot be any doubt that what Maceo did left a powerful impression.  I believe George Mitchell sensed that Sam Maceo had touched him in some way.

Amazed that the Godfather of Galveston would go out of his way to help some nameless kid, George Mitchell chose to pay the kindness forward.  Mitchell made sure that Galveston, a city mired in thirty years of hardship, got back on its feet.

Cynthia and George Mitchell at theTremont Hotel. 
After the renovations were complete, t
he place looked
so nice that even the ghosts returned.

 


CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: BROTHER AND SISTER

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