Corsicana: Lefty, a Hoodlum Wagon, & Wolf Brand Chili

Lefty Because it was Lefty Frizzell’s birthday Monday (he would have been 80), and because I’m such a huge Lefty fan, I decided to head down to his birthplace, Corsicana, to pay my respects. The skies looked a little ominous. There were all sorts of forecasts of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes and plagues of locusts, but I set out anyway, wilting in the humidity and wishing it were at least thirty degrees cooler.

Corsicana is about an hour south of Dallas, and the drive is fairly dull. There’s that really strange “Jesus is so groovy I’ve built this bizarre white memorial city to The Guy fashioned out of white PVC pipe” right outside of Palmer. (I don’t remember seeing all those gullies filled with water before.) Then there was the billboard that read “Please Stop the Porn and Be Re-Born — John 3:3.” I made note of this because I thought this was some sort of loosey-goosey Living Bible interpretation of a Bible verse, so I wanted to check it out, and, sadly, there’s no “porn” anywhere in there (“Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” — perhaps, but at least he’s got porn).

Corsicana is a nice, small-ish town, and it’s pretty easy to find Beauford Jester Park where Lefty’s statue is. Near the statue is something called Pioneer Village, a collection of little buildings that serves as a museum village, housing artefacts dating back to the early 1800s when the area was sparsely populated with pioneer families and Indian trading posts. One of the little houses is the Lefty Frizzell Country Museum, and it’s supposed to be an example of the kind of shotgun house that oilfield workers and their families lived in at the time Lefty was born (his father worked in a nearby oilfield).

I stepped inside the office and paid the couple of dollars to wander around. The woman asked how I had happened by, and I told her I had driven down from Dallas because it was Lefty’s 80th birthday. I think she thought that was weird. She told me that they used to play Lefty’s music in the museum, but they had received cease and desist letters from, one assumes, ASCAP or BMI who ordered them to stop playing music unless they forked over big bucks. (Kind of a shakedown — they used to play a cd on a little boombox — to thronging masses that can’t be more than a tiny handful of people who visit this place over the course of a week.) As I left the office to head over to the Lefty house, the woman stared intently at the radio as it was alerting local counties of a tornado watch.

Walking up to the Lefty museum I noticed that some minor repair work needs to be attended to:

 

Lefty Frizzell Museum Corsicana

 

I walked in and a motion sensor turned the lights on. It’s a small two-room house (not, strictly speaking, a shotgun house) with Lefty stuff in the front room and various other country music stuff in the back. I’ve been there several times before so it’s all pretty familiar. I’m happy that someone has collected all this memorabilia together, but it’s definitely in need of a more professional touch — it looks like it was put together by an aging historical society member with minimal word processing skills. Still, it’s cool to see Lefty’s suits, his boots, his guitar. Before I left I signed the guestbook. I’m pretty sure I was there in 1998, but pages scanning that period were mysteriously missing. I found my sign-in from 2003 (“Happy 75th Birthday, Lefty! I love you! – Paula”). I was sad to see that the last person who had signed the guestbook had visited two days before. I was the only one who had visited all day. And it was his birthday! (Yes, I realize I’m dangerously close to becoming some sort of unstable Harry Houdini/Edgar Allan Poe Woman in Black/Red Rose anniversary stalker.)

I decided to wander around the little village — all those times I’d been there previously I’d never looked around. One of my favorite things was “Harmon’s Hoodlum Wagon” — a cage that served as a mobile jail cell during the boomtown days of the 1920s. The cage was transported around on the back of a truck — kind of like an open-air paddy wagon, roving around the oilfields, ever-vigilant, on the look-out for trouble.

 

Corsicana Harmon’s Hoodlum Wagon

 

Sad to say, most of the exhibits were kind of dull, but I really loved the General Store. It had a little post office inside and the place was crammed full of all sorts of interesting stuff. There were several Wolf Brand Chili items throughout (Wolf Brand Chili is, like Lefty Frizzell, a proud product of Corsicana). All very cool.

 

Corsicana Wolf Brand Chili cans

 

Corsicana Wolf Brand Chili model truck

 

(I actually read a history of Wolf Brand Chili — and it was very entertaining. As I recall, in order to promote the chili early on, the makers fashioned a truck to look like a can of chili and had a cage on the back for their mascot — a German Shepherd that looked kind of like a wolf.) (Also, early on they had some problems with people assuming the chili was made with wolf meat — that’s why you’ll always hear the chili referred to as “Wolf Brand” — and a fine chili it is.)

 

Corsicana face powder

 

Corsicana sundries

 

(I’m a big fan of the eerie-looking blue Bee Brand quinine bottles.)

I walked to Lefty’s statue, over in the park, and paid my respects. (Okay, I was wearing black, but I didn’t leave a mysterious rose.)

As I drove away I noticed that the skies were starting to look particularly threatening — probably a good time to head back to Dallas. But first I had to get gas (a full fifteen cents a gallon cheaper than in Dallas), and as I pumped gas I heard a train whistle and realized how long it had been since I last heard a train whistle. (When I was a child, I used to hear them every night while I was lying in bed. Where did all the trains go? I bet an unpleasant, unromantic community activist passed some sort of anti-train whistle zoning law.) I popped into the Collin Street Bakery for a treat for the road. I’m not really a fan of this famous bakery, but I took a chance on something called Cheese Crisps which looked like cookies and were sort of like unsweetened sand tarts, but less dense. I’m don’t think I’m going out on a limb to suggest that they might well be flavored with the powdered “cheese” that comes in the envelopes in boxes of macaroni and cheese. And they were FANTASTIC! Forget those damned fruitcakes, go for the cheese crisps! Seriously — those things were great!

Driving home, munching on the cheese crisps, I listened to the Frankie Miller Bear Family set I got for my birthday. A song came on called She’s An Antibiotic (In White) (“I take her morning, noon and night”). It was so stupid it made the heavy dark clouds seem less menacing and the energy-sapping humidity seem less oppressive.

A nice relaxing day to celebrate Lefty Frizzell’s birthday.


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4 responses to “Corsicana: Lefty, a Hoodlum Wagon, & Wolf Brand Chili

  1. I loved this blog entry. I moved back to Corsicana after being gone for more than 20 years and I love hearing others’ impressions of the town.
    You’re right about the cheese crisps, also. The other unknown delight at the bakery is the praline cookies. Lacy, crisp, marvelous.

  2. I liked this entry, too. I think I have a book about the Log Cabin Village around here somewhere, and I’ve always meant to go see it. So thanks for a review of the place. I didn’t realize that it was in Corsicana. (My grandmother was born in Corsicana.) YES, YES, YES! about those cheese crisps! I’ve tried to duplicate the recipe, but haven’t been successful. Good thing I’m four hours away or I’d be stopping by very frequently to indulge.

  3. Great entery – the mere fact that there are only three entries or so, to my mind at least, shows how quickly all these little pockets of historia are fading from the minds of modern Texans. Lefty was a talent. He came up in Texas – Texas made him. As I child, I got goose bumps listening to his voice coming through the radio. To me, guys like him, Willie and a handful of others, made me want to sing and write this wonderful music. I regret that his museum is moldering away and someone in that town doesnt do something that brings that experience forward in a more meaningful manner. I think I am going to take a drive to Corsicana and see what needs to be done. Long Live Texas Music!

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