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  Texas : Feature : Columns : "They shoe horses, don't they?"

Texas Courthouses

The Bones in the Courthouse Crawlspace

By Johnny Stucco
Have you ever wondered where the phrase “skeletons in the closet” came from?

Neither have I.

But that phrase came to mind when TE courthouse consultant Terry Jeanson of San Antonio forwarded a clipping from the September 26th 2007 issue of the Blanco County News. Since it involved a building, the copy-boy dropped it on my desk.

In an illustrated article by Charles Willgreen, the story is brief and the facts are briefer. It’s currently a garden-variety mystery. But like they say in the newspaper business: “you never know.”
Former Blanco County courthouse, Blanco Texas, Ruffini 1885
Early photo of the 1885 former Blanco County courthouse in Blanco
Photo courtesy Texas State Library and Archives
1885 Former Blanco County courthouse, Blanco Texas, before restoration
The former Blanco County courthouse before restoration
Photo courtesy the San Antonio Conservation Society Foundation
Blanco’s architectural centerpiece is (and has been) the former Blanco County courthouse. Although it served in that capacity briefly (Johnson City usurped Blanco’s claim around 1890), the sturdy stone structure has since served the town as a hospital, school and even a barbeque joint. It was boarded up and was in disrepair in the mid 1990s. But Preservation-minded locals got together and formed the Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society. The building has since been beautifully restored and is now one of the best extant examples of the art of Architect F.E. Ruffini.
1885 Former Blanco County courthouse, Blanco Texas, after restoration
The former Blanco County courthouse after restoration
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, March 2007

Keeping ahead of termites is always a Preservation priority and when the OBCCPS called an exterminator for a precautionary inspection, the man found more than a the typical Isoptera buffet.

In the shallow depths of the 14-inch space and a few inches below the dirt, exterminator Dennis Hoffington found some charred wood blocks, a dry and brittle old shoe, a small medicine bottle and a few other objects he thought were worthy enough to bring upstairs.

Upon examination, three of the objects appeared to be human vertebrae and another (yet to be identified) bone about four inches long. Mr. Hoffington immediately contacted the police and the bones were then sent to the Department of Public Safety’s forensic laboratory in Austin.

Until the results (any results) come back, everyone is free to speculate on who the man or woman is / was.

It’s not the first story of bones under public buildings in Texas. In Fayette County the legend persists of shackled prisoners that were drowned in the basement cells of the county jail. Silt from a long-ago Colorado River flood filled the jail’s basement, and since the silt’s still there, the story stays alive.

But in Blanco’s mystery, there are bones.

Was it a stranger seeking warmth on a cold winter night? Someone awaiting their court date? Or could have been a smart-mouthed bailiff that cracked wise once too often? There are probably many people hoping that the bones will reveal lawyer DNA.

In the meantime, Blanco has a mystery with tangible artifacts. It’s the kind of story that some small towns would kill to have.

See Blanco County Courthouse | Blanco, Texas
Copyright John Troesser
"They Shoe Horses, Don't They?" October 24, 2007 Column

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