It’s a comeback year for Amon G. Carter, if he ever needed one.
The No. 1 booster of Fort Worth and West Texas – to say nothing of Shady Oaks hats – would be basking in the glory if he was still around. With his favorite city now the 13th largest in the country (Fort Worth gained 19,552 residents in 2018 alone), two new books about him and a hit play, Carter would be beaming. For the light it shines on Fort Worth and his beloved West Texas, of course.
I went to see the play, Amon! The Ultimate Texan, by Dave Lieber at the Artisan Center Theater. Directed by Connie Sanchez and starring Kelvin Dilks as the title character, the one-man play is at times – often at the same time – funny, sad and informative. As Lieber says, it’s a love letter to Fort Worth. It is. It’s a damned entertaining love letter to boot. If the audience I saw it with was any indication, it’ll be back, maybe even in Fort Worth. I say that hardly being influenced by the fact that several audience members were holding copies of the Fort Worth Business Press with our cover story on the play. I’ll leave unsaid what they weren’t holding, but Amon would probably be sad about it.
One of the two new books on Carter is Lieber’s own, which is an expanded version of the play, written in Carter’s voice. The other is from Brian A. Cervantez, an associate professor of history at Tarrant County College Northwest Campus, who has written Amon Carter: A Lone Star Life ($29.95, University of Oklahoma Press).
A few weeks ago I presented a quiz about Carter. Now, armed with more reading on Carter, I thought I’d give that another go.
But first, some unfinished business. My final question in the last Carter Quiz was:
Did Carter really take a sack lunch when he visited Dallas?
My answer was: Don’t know. I haven’t finished the book yet.
Well, even without finishing the book I would have had that answer. I heard from many readers who told stories about their parents and grandparents affirming that Amon did indeed take sack lunches to that city where, to quote the play, “the east peters out.”
Q: Carter gave his “Shady Oaks” hat to friends and those he hoped to influence. What was inscribed on the hatband?
A. The hats, which were purchased originally from the Washer Bros. store in downtown Fort Worth and later from the Peters Brothers, had this inscribed on the hatband: "Shady Oak Farm, Fort Worth, Texas, Where the West Begins. The Latch String Always Hangs Outside. Amon Carter." The hats, by the way, came with Carter’s “Lifetime Guarantee.”
Q: Amon was close friends with Will Rogers and, as the play points out, he was heartbroken when the American raconteur, actor and newspaper columnist was killed in a plane crash. Carter commissioned Electra Waggoner Biggs to sculpt Rogers riding on his favorite horse, Soapsuds. The statue cost Amon $20,000 and one sits on the grounds of the Will Rogers complex in Fort Worth. Where are the other two copies?
A: One copy is on the campus of Texas Tech University (Rogers once worked on a ranch in the Panhandle) and the other is at the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma.
Q: The statue was completed in 1939, but Amon stored the sculpture for 7 years, waiting for the right dignitary to dedicate the statue. Who finally dedicated the statue?
A: The statue was unveiled in late 1947 as war hero and future president Dwight Eisenhower spoke and presidential daughter Margaret Truman sang.
Q: Fort Worth Frontier Centennial exhibit famously used the catchphrase, “Go to Dallas for education. Come to Fort Worth for fun.” But there was one Fort Worth exhibit that promised education. What was it?
A: Sally Rand’s Nude Ranch. The sign outside said, “The only educational exhibit on the ground.” A lot of cowboys apparently received an education.
Q: When Tulsa was announced as the site of a new mile-long bomber plant prior to World War II, Amon was apoplectic. He went to work calling all those he had given hats to in Washington, D.C., including FDR. When Fort Worth was given a plant similar to Tulsa’s what stipulation did Carter make?
A: Fort Worth’s plant had to be longer than Tulsa’s. Fort Worth’s plant is 30 feet longer. Size matters, particularly in Texas.
Welcome back Amon. It’s like you never left.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.