years ago, I received a letter from a Mrs. George T. Ferris of Houston.
Ferris told me that as a child, she would visit her aunt and uncle
who lived in Gonzales
back in the 1930s. These folks were Ollie and Riley Zumwalt — Mr.
Zumwalt owned a barbershop across from the Alcalde
said that when she was about seven years old, she was in Gonzales
on one of her visits and was witness to a somewhat unusual event.
That occurrence was the arrival of “Captain David Barnett’s Whale
It seems that the whale show was actually a big motorized museum
that arrived in Gonzales
on January 30, 1933. According to several old articles found in
The Gonzales Inquirer, the exhibit was to be in town for
Located on the Michelson lot next door to the Inquirer office
on St. Paul Street, the show was apparently viewed by many of the
local citizens. After all, the price was right — the admission fee
was only ten cents.
was led by Captain David Barnett, a whaling sea captain, who stated
that his exhibit was the only one of its kind except for permanent
ones located in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York.
The paper reported that the display included one preserved whale,
as well as; a 15-foot octopus and her baby, a shark, barracuda,
crucifixion fish, sea horse, a 350-pound turtle, and many other
creatures that inhabit the ocean depths.
Evidently the whale and the rest of the exhibits were all inside
some sort of glass case. The report didn’t say if any of these specimens
were actually alive. All indications are that they were of the preserved
or stuffed variety.
Indeed, Mrs. Ferris indicated in her letter, “the whale was not
that large and was mounted in the center of the trailer, and it
was possible to walk around it, and there were displays of all sorts
on the walls.”
went on to write that the frequent lectures by Captain Barnett were
very interesting and educational in that they, “... tell only of
sea-going ships and their dangerous battles with the mighty monsters
of the deep while their killer ships keep right on seeking new whales
Mayor George Ewing said he granted permission for the show to be
held because of its educational features. Evidently the local PTA
was also involved in bringing the exhibit to town.
owner of The Gonzales Inquirer, saw the event as a good way
to increase subscriptions to the newspaper.
In one article
the paper stated that if a person brought in a new subscription,
that individual would receive a free ticket to the show.
It wasn’t all about the money however; school teachers, ministers,
and under-privileged children were all invited to visit the exhibit
free as guests of Reese.
From all indications, Captain David Barnett’s traveling exhibit
was a big hit in Gonzales.
It was the type of incident that lingers in the memory of both the
adult and the child for many years.
Star Diary April 18, 2014 column
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