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New Stories at an Old Hotel

Since January, a team of top historians have been working hard on Dallas Heritage Village’s latest exhibit. Have I mentioned that these historians are still in middle school and high school?

Over the past several years, the Junior Historians have completed several projects that have developed their historical muscles, which made them all the more ready for the challenges of the Worth Hotel project. Unlike our other projects, they had a wealth of primary sources to work with–census records, newspaper articles, and oral histories. Some of those primary sources didn’t exactly match up perfectly, so there was much discussion as we tried to get closer to the truth. Emily explained that process excellently a few weeks ago on her guest post for our blog. And that new information radically changed some of our ideas about the Hotel. For example, we thought that brother David died in 1906, two years after the Hotel was built. We discovered, through lots of creative searching, that he actually died in 1903, the year before the Hotel opened. Why is this important? In the 19th and early 20th centuries, single women relied on male relatives for support. There just weren’t a lot of options for them to earn a living. Hansell was in his late 60s, and his daughters were in their 30s–the odds weren’t looking good that they would ever find a husband. With David’s death, Eula and Mary’s safety net was gone. And so, Hansel built a hotel to care for his daughters after his eventual death.

Installing the Dining Room label. They also added the sandwiches on the table. Photo by Drew Timmons.

On Thursday, September 27, as part of our Annual Meeting, we officially cut the ribbon on the exhibit and let the world learn more about the residents of the Worth Hotel. Honestly, when I picked this building for their next project, I had no idea that it would suddenly become one of the most interesting buildings at the Village. It was chosen for two main reasons: recent exterior restoration and the fact it has many rooms (ideal for a group project!). I knew two single women ran the hotel, but beyond that, we knew very little about the people that worked and lived in the hotel.

At the ribbon cutting

At our very first meeting about the Hotel, we brainstormed about what kind of stories we might be able to tell through this building. We knew we wanted to talk about the sisters, and we knew we wanted to talk about the travelers passing through. As we talked about what kind of travelers, one Junior Historian joked: “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a serial killer living at the hotel?” I laughed and told them it was highly unlikely that there were any murderers living at the Worth Hotel. Then, they wondered if there might have been an affair or two. Again, I tempered their enthusiasm.

So imagine my surprise when we first looked at the Village’s detailed records and learned that there was a murder loosely associated with the Hotel. And that an affair was the root cause of it. And that both sisters wound up marrying men that were living at the Hotel in 1910 (including said murderer). I’ve decided I should never tell Junior Historians “I don’t think so” again. At least not until we have the evidence in hand.

Filming the video about the Patterson family. Photo by Drew Timmons.

Many of the stories uncovered by the Junior Historians are new to us at the Village. They’re certainly new to our visitors. When you visit the hotel, you’ll see a snapshot of the residents of the hotel in 1910: Two single sisters of a certain age (mid 30s), running the hotel. A widowed mother raising her two boys. A nephew roped into errand running and other tasks. Three single men, living and working far from their families. In addition to traditional printed labels, there are two additional audio tour prompts–one is the memories of Clifford Luck, nephew of the Moles sisters. The other is Stewart’s story of the murder he committed. There is even a video of Mandy Patterson and her two boys (starring myself as Mandy Patterson and two future Junior Historians–Adam, a younger brother of a current JH and Warren, neighbor of a colleague. The video was filmed by current JH Quinn).

You can see a sneak peak of some of these stories on our mobile website. But nothing beats seeing it for yourself! We’ll be featuring the Hotel at two events in October: Lone Star History Day, our annual home school day (October 19) and Family Past Times (October 21).

Though I worked extensively with the kids on this project, I’m certainly not the only adult that lent a hand. Special thanks to:

Evelyn Montgomery–for getting the contents of the original files to us, helping brainstorm and doing the less glamorous aspects of exhibits, drilling holes in the plexiglass barriers.

Elaina Carlisle–for helping with the final stages of the project.

Toyia Pointer–for sending on Clifford Luck’s article from the Carrollton’s “Elm Fork Echoes,” and providing a fast answer on Caleb Miller’s building.

Hal Simon–a descendant of the Moles sisters (and former curator here at the Village) for extra insight on Caleb Miller.

Drew Timmons–for being the official JH photographer–he shot the Doctor’s Office exhibit opening, the install of the Hotel exhibit, and the Hotel exhibit opening.

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