The Shrine of Texas Liberty is launching two new ways to remember the Alamo.
Beginning Saturday, the Alamo will offer updated guided walking tours and a free exhibit on legendary defender Jim Bowie and the knife that embodies his legacy.
The special exhibit, “Bowie: Man-Knife-Legend,” is the first to open to the public in a newly renovated special exhibition hall at the Alamo. The hall is a 1950 building that housed a library run by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
Ian Oldaker, Alamo chief operations officer, said the exhibit, set to run possibly through Dec. 31, tells “a very interesting story about a man whose legend was proliferated by the knife itself.”
“They way the knife is constructed recalls Bowie’s persona — the huge handle, the strength, the blade,” he said.
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The exhibit will use interactive touch-screen technology to chronicle the life of Bowie, who married into a prominent Tejano family in San Antonio and became a leading figure in the Texas Revolution before he fell ill prior to the early-morning Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836.
Although frontiersman and former congressman David Crockett is the most celebrated Alamo defender today, Bowie was a legendary knife fighter in his day. He had killed a family rival in the “Sandbar Fight,” which unfolded on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River, outside Natchez, Mississippi, and was widely reported in American newspapers in 1827.
“In today’s language, the story of the Sandbar Fight went viral. And that’s what spread the fame of Bowie and the knife,” said Alamo historian and curator Bruce Winders.
The exhibit also covers the three main kinds of Bowie knives — primitive, coffin and classic — the process and tools used by blacksmiths to make them; the knife’s evolution from blacksmiths to jewelers and mass production; and the influence of Bowie and his famed knife on popular culture. One translucent touch-screen display — a new technology in museum exhibition — lets visitors see rare historic cutlery while getting a close-up view of a “Spanish notch,” an indentation at the bottom, designed to catch an opponent’s blade and possibly break it during a fight.
“What this technology lets you do is explore the artifact. While keeping the artifact front and center, in your attention, you can deep-dive on it,” said Bryan Preston, director of communications with the Texas General Land Office, which oversees the Alamo.
Alamo anniversary events
Daily readings: Feb. 23 - March 6, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Alamo re-enactors present historical readings that illustrate what was happening at the Alamo during each day of the 13-day siege in 1836. Readings are free to the public, in front of the Alamo church, and last about 10 to 15 minutes.
Texas Independence Day Ceremony: Thursday, 1 p.m.
The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Alamo Mission Chapter, will hold a ceremony at the Alamo commemorating the March 2, 1836, signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence
An Evening with Heroes: Friday, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Join the Alamo for a special after-hours theater event based on conversations that took place the evening before the final attack. Tours will depart every 10 minutes, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Each tour will last about 45 minutes. Tickets, at $20 per person, are on sale at the Alamo — thealamo.org.
Fiddle Fest: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Alamo presents its ever-popular Fiddle Fest, a free event on the Alamo grounds featuring a full day of western swing, bluegrass, and old-time country from world-renowned artists Jason Roberts (Asleep at the Wheel, Van Morrison), Rick McRae (George Strait), and Ron Knuth (Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Jr.).
Dawn at the Alamo: Monday, 6 a.m.
Annual ceremony held by the San Antonio Living History Association in Alamo Plaza.
Dusk at the Alamo: Monday, 6 p.m.
A year after the Battle of the Alamo, Colonel Juan N. Seguín and his battalion returned to San Antonio to hold a memorial service in honor of their fallen comrades. Re-enactors will commemorate the lighting of the funeral pyres with a brief ceremony in front of the Alamo church. Seguín’s memorial address will be recited in English and Spanish.
Also starting Saturday, for those willing to pay for a well-rounded overview of the Alamo’s nearly 300-year history, including the 1836 siege and battle, is a revamped guided walking tour, priced at $15 per person. The tour, for groups of up to 30 people, includes animation graphics illustrating the taming of the Texas frontier, spatial orientation of the site, 1836 troop movements and the evolution of the area from Spanish mission to fortress to urban plaza.
Tour guide Shiela Skipper led a demonstration tour Monday. She recalled a cannon shot fired from the Alamo at the start of the siege, in response to a red “no quarter” flag flown a half-mile away at San Fernando Church under orders of Mexican Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna.
“And with that, Santa Anna had his answer. The Texans planned to fight,” Skipper said.
Oldaker said the tour, which uses audio equipment to help visitors hear narration over the din of traffic and other noise in the plaza, was developed in response to an increasing demand for guided tours that seek to explain visitors’ questions. Many visitors did not know Mission San Antonio de Valero operated there from 1724 to 1793 and was renamed the Alamo after a company of Spanish lancers from the Mexican pueblo of San José y Santiago del Álamo began a military occupation in 1803.
“We were finding our tour guides were having to stay a long time afterwards and answer a lot of questions,” Oldaker said.
But there also will be questions at the Alamo that may never be answered, including the whereabouts of the knife Bowie had carried into the Alamo before he became bedridden and was killed with bayonets by Mexican soldados.
“The answer is, ‘We don’t know,’” Winders said.
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