The Courthouse was the center of our universe as well as the only "skyscraper" in the county. It was the gathering place, especially on Saturday afternoon, for many citizens and their children.

Around the square in 1950 were three drugstores, three movie theathers, three dry goods stores, two hardware stores, two feed stores, two shoe repair shops, a dime store, a grocery store, a cafe, two banks, a photo studio, several beauty shops, a dentist office, two doctors' offices (over the drug store), lawyers' offices, and more small businesses that came and went.

Due to this high concentration of services and goods, much activity occurred in a very small geographical area.

My earliest memory of The Courthouse was when I would go with my parents on election night to the square. Local and national election results were posted as soon as the polls closed.

There was a huge blackboard with white painted lines to form a spreadsheet-looking chart. A man would stand up on a ladder and write with white chalk on the board. As the vote results came in, he would erase the previous numbers and update the box to the most recent count. People would stand around and visit between updates but when we saw the man emerge from the Courthouse, all would become silent while anticipating the newest set of numbers.

I don't recall hearing my parents say who they wanted to win, and I don't think we were there to support any certain candidate. We were there because it was the only thing to do on Election Night.

My other and more often occurring memory of the square was Saturday afternoons. My mother's best friend and her two children would come to our house then we would all five jump in the car and "go to the square".

What we did when we got to the square still seems a little bizzare to me. The Mom Driver would drive around the square as many times as necessary until she would find the most valuable parking spot on the square. The primo spot was in front of Cox's department store. There were three spots in front of that store but the one on the right was the best because it was in the center of the long row of parking spots and meters.

After we parked, we kids would usually go to the Majestic Theater because it was the cleanest and had the most recent movies. Musicals and cowboy movies were the main fare but we could always count on the short subjects for additional entertainment. Popcorn and a pickle then Thin Mints made for a perfect movie event. Later, an orange sherbet push-up became my favorite.

And what did the moms do while we were at the movies? They held court from their primo parking spot and didn't move until we came out of the theater. Sometimes their old friends who had moved from town to a far away place like Fort Worth or Dallas would be back in town for the weekend. Of course, they came to the square, too, and would stop by The Mom Car and visit. If there was no one to talk to, the moms would gossip about whoever was walking by. Gossip back then was not especially cruel but was just one of their forms of cheap entertainment. The worst I ever heard was something about an outfit some lady was wearing and how "ridiculous" it looked or observations about the way someone walked. Our moms were nice and decent women, and to this day, I don't believe their chatter about others was meant to be mean or cruel.

After the movies we would walk around the square and maybe buy something at the dime store or Cox's.

As I think back now, I realize how a place may change but people still have old habits in their hearts. An example of this is when my parents were in their 80's in 1996.

All of the stores downtown were gone, and all that was left was the Courthouse and a few lawyers offices. There was no longer a central gathering place. On Saturday or Sunday afternoons when they had nothing to do, my mom and dad would go park in the handicapped parking at Wal-Mart and watch the people go in and out. Sad but true.

Everyone's experiences are a variation of everyone else's experiences. Today, people hang out at the malls. My, how I feel sorry for them that they cannot park their cars by their favorite hang-out spots.

John T. Lockhart Drayman Service

John T. Lockhart Drayman Service

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Story of John Tarleton's Body

This quote from a Tarleton State University webpage gives the background for the story I am about to relate. Originally buried in Patillo, John Tarleton’s body was removed from its first resting place in April 1926 and taken to the college campus, where it remained for two years. In April, 1928, an expanding campus required that Tarleton’s body be moved again. The subsequent construction of an auditorium made it necessary to move the body to its final resting place at the southwest edge of the campus in a triangular park. A granite marker in the park’s center is inscribed simply “John Tarleton.” My Great-Uncle Johnny Lockhart was born in Stephenville, Texas and was able to attend John Tarleton Agricultural College due to a work-scholarship. One of his jobs on campus included driving the dump truck part-time. After college he moved to Clifton, Texas where he was a highly respected Ag Teacher at the high school for his entire career and was so active in that community that he was given a parade in his honor upon his retirement. Uncle Johnny spent the last 10 years of his life in a nursing home in Clifton. I had known Uncle Johnny all of my life and heard many stories about him from my father Kenneth Lockhart but this story came directly from Uncle Johnny to me. I do not recall the exact year but I think it was around 1982. Our family went to Mexia, Texas to a family Thanksgiving dinner, and on the way, we stopped by Clifton and picked up my Uncle Johnny who was at least 85 years olds. I may later do research as to a more specific date, however the date has little to do with the information. This is a paraphrased version of what he told us that Thanksgiving Day. Uncle Johnny's father's name was John Thomas Lockhart. He came to Texas when he was a very young man after having served in The Civil War as a teenager. One of our Lockhart relatives retains the medal he got from fighting in that war. In Erath County John T. Lockhart was a successful businessman and the third mayor of Stephenville. His business was that of a dray service which is analgous to today's Fedex or UPS. He hauled materials by horse and wagon for a living. The family home was a fine one on Jones Street but the depression hit the family as it did others. According to Uncle Johnny, his father John T. Lockhart was hired to move John Tarleton's body from its first resting place to the campus. In 1928 as stated above, the body was moved again to the current site in the triangle at the corner of Lillian and Washington. There are two unusual parts to this story that the general public does not know, and I only know it because I heard it from the only living man who could tell it. First, is just as his father had moved Tarleton's body the first time with his horses and wagon, Uncle Johnny moved the body the second time by dump truck. Uncle Johnny and another Tarleton student/employee were asked to carry it in the back of the truck at midnight. The officials supervising the move did not want the general public to come out of curiosity when they exhumed the coffin so they moved it secretly. I was fascinated and shocked when he gave us the following information. Uncle Johnny said that he and the other boy were sent off alone with the coffin toward the new resting location a few blocks away. They both discussed how curious they were about what it looked like inside the coffin, and finally they decided they must open it to sneak a peek. When they lifted the lid of the coffin and looked inside, there was nothing in there. Nothing at all. No bones, no skull, nothing! Later when he went home, he told his father about their discovery, and then he got an answer to the mystery of the empty coffin. John T, the drayman, said there had been a cholera outbreak at the time John Tarleton's coffin was exhumed the first time, so they had to sprinkle lime all over the body before it could be transferred to another town. The lime obviously did its job and completely disintegrated the body. My uncle was an honest and upstanding man so I never doubted his tale. I related this story to Tarleton's President Trogdon, and he was fascinated by it. A few years later, Dr. Trogdon sent me a manila envelope with the following words: "Judy, this is a horseshoe found in the time capsule we dug up today at the Home Economics building. I'm giving it to you because I thought it might have belonged to your great-grandfather." History is cool, huh?
(After I wrote the above post, I decided to do a google search on "John Tarleton's Body". Who knows the truth? I related the story as Uncle Johnny told me. After all, he was there. The local historian Richard King has a slightly different version, but WHO KNOWS, neither Uncle Johnny or any of the other participants are still around to give us more details.)

Cox's with our moms picking out patterns.

Cox's with our moms picking out patterns.
Big McCall's pattern catalogs..our next new dresses.