A Visit to Howard Days, 2011

Gina and I are home from our visit to the Robert E. Howard celebration, Howard Days, in Cross Plains, TX. Those of you who only want to see photos should see this post at Flickr, but if you’re interested in how we spent our one day in Cross Plains keep reading.

A Stay in Brownwood

Driving toward Cross Plains, TX on Thursday, our plan was to stay the night in Brownwood — the largest nearby town — and maybe see a little of what Brownwood had to offer Thursday evening. The drive was quiet and uneventful — the landscape northwest of Austin is pretty rough and barren — and checking into the hotel was without any issues at all.

Our first task in Brownwood was to search out the local comic store. Mapquest suggested that we were only about a mile from the store, so we set out for a walk in the Texas sun. It gets hot, yes, but as long as you’re in decent shape and drink water you can walking the heat without running into too much trouble. Unfortunately, our only trouble happened to be that the comic store was completely dead. No idea when it closed, but Brownwood, TX comic fans will need to find a new source for comics.

For dinner that night we went to Underwood’s Cafeteria for BBQ. Unremarkable BBQ sandwiches and sides; not terrible, but I’ve had much better BBQ. Hell, I’d rate the BBQ joint within walking distance of my house as better than Underwood’s. Not at all recommended.

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Friday Morning Drive to Cross Plains

After the required morning walk and breakfast, Gina and I started traveling north to Cross Plains, the home of Robert E. Howard and the site of Howard Days. A quiet drive before 8 am and we soon reached Cross Plains . . . where we didn’t see any signs for the event, the Howard House and Museum, or even recognition that the creator of Conan lived in the town back in the Great Depression. Wow, a very sad situation and unexpected; most small towns with any celebrity connection can’t post enough signs shouting that connection.

The Howard House and Museum

Just before 9 am, after asking a local, Gina and I arrived at the Robert E. Howard Home. The first person we encountered, Bill Cavalier (website), chatted with me and Gina for a little while and was quite friendly. But as we chatted, I suddenly realized just what was happening on the little table next to us.

The organizers of the event, in order to make some cash, set out several issues of the now-closed The Cimmerian magazine. For $1/each. Now I’ve bought issues this before — a total of four — and I knew that it was a labor of love that was attractive, well-written, and loaded with great stuff, so at $1/each I just had to grab some issues. Well, by the time I was done with the table I had grabbed a total of 25 issues of the magazine and now wish I had dig deeper and grabbed more. I’ll never find this deal again.

Once the house was open Gina and I got a short tour (it’s a very small house) and then spent a little time in each room looking at the various items. There are copies of cancelled checks, books, magazine, manuscripts, a gift shop . . . it’s basically what you would expect to find in a house/museum arrangement. All restored and in decent shape, but I was surprised that the museum actually has a fairly small selection of Howard books, magazines, and collectibles.

How is it companies like Dark Horse haven’t sent over everything they produce for the house to display? Why was there no Conan action figure and statue collection on display? Why is it I have some collectible books that the house doesn’t have? Very sad, and it makes me think that someone involved in running the museum needs better funding and time to track down donations from manufacturers and fans. At the very least current licensees should be sending materials for the house to display.

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The Cross Plains Public Library

A fairly standard small town library, the Cross Plains Public Library had more of Howard’s works on display . . . but again I was stunned that they actually had so little of it. There are certainly some obscure and rare items there — I would love to spend a few days in the town just reading books in the library — but overall I was left shocked that the collection is so incomplete and isn’t displayed in a way I would have expected. All they did was set some books and magazines on a table (all cool stuff) and then have a small section of the library with shelves of Howard-related fanzines, books, magazines, and similar items.

I ended up donating some cash because I want to see all of this better organized and presented. And the library needs more stuff! I’m hoping that the Robert E. Howard Foundation steps up and starts taking better care of both the house and the library’s collection, because the work deserves better treatment. But I’m sure in the end it comes down to money and not that they don’t want to treat the material with the respect it deserves; everyone we talked with at Howard Days was friendly and seemed to realize they had something special in their town.

Jean’s Feed Barn

Lunch was with Alfred Bonnabel (website, Twitter) and his wife. Alfred’s a hardcore gamer and wanted to chat with me about games, Steve Jackson Games, and my role at the company and in the industry. It was kinda a short interview but mostly it was just a pleasant lunch and an okay meal.

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Back to the Library

After lunch we headed back to the library for the panels; I had wanted to sit in on the panel about fanzines but the room was too packed and we couldn’t get close enough to hear anything so Gina and I went back to looking through the library’s Howard collection. I do love limited edition books.

Just after 2 we got seats for the “Howard Historicals” panel which, in the end, was a disappointment. It turned out that by “Historicals” they actually meant “Howard’s female heroes.” Now I’ve got nothing against that, but I was hoping for a discussion of the various historical works and not someone reading a section of Howard’s work to me and then chatting about the women in the stories. I know how to read and I always hate when someone tries to read to me.

The Conan Trailer

After the panel ended it was time for a trip down to the Cross Plains High School where we sat in one a discussion about the upcoming movie and got a peek at an unreleased trailer. I also had a chance to chat work with Jay of Paradox, but not a lot of time since he was pretty swamped with the event. Overall it was a fun panel and once it was wrapped up then Gina and I headed back to Brownwood. Our day in Cross Plains was over.

One Last BBQ in Brownwood

We managed to get back to our hotel in Brownwood at about six, so to finish our time in the town we headed out to Lemon’s Bar-B-Q which turned out to be much better than Underwood. Not the greatest BBQ I’ve ever had, but if you’re ever in Brownwood, TX this is the place to go for a tangy, sweet BBQ sandwich. Yum!

Will I Go Again?

Definitely. I want to return next summer, but I think next time I’ll arrange for us to attend the show on Saturday when more is going on. By skipping Saturday this year Gina and I missed the town’s Barbarian Festival, which is a lot more than just looking through old books and talking about writing.

Actually, I think next year we should go for both days. And before next year I would love to go to Cross Plains, TX for a couple of nights and just get some writing done and spend time in the library reading the more obscure works in their collection.

12 thoughts on “A Visit to Howard Days, 2011

  1. It’s great that you had a wonderful time. This is a 2 day event, sometimes going on to 3 days. It was my 2nd year, and I still missed out on many things like the new art gallery in Cross Plains and the historical tour.

    The library has many original manuscripts and valuable items. Those were locked up in the Bank’s vault. You can understand with all the traffic through the library. Facsimiles were available last year and for sale, but this year, even I missed them.

    I’m planning for next year. I hope to see you there.

  2. @Ed C – Ed, thanks for swinging by. Gina and I had a lot of fun and will be going back next year, so hopefully we’ll get a chance to say hi.

    It’s good to hear that the library has more than they were showing, but it would be nice if they got some display cases (locking) and put that stuff out where it could be enjoyed.

    And next year we’ll be there for Saturday or maybe for both days. It sounds like we missed some fun by leaving at the end of the day on Friday.

  3. Hi Phil,
    Sounds like the typical first exposure to HD. To really get the flavor , you did the right thing by talking to Indy! But you gotta hang around for the late night shenanigans on Fri. Also, you HAVE to climb Caddo Peak! Its required.

  4. My hubby and I were at Howard days for both Friday & Saturday. I loved it and attended most of the panels. I love Cross Plains and everyone in it. 🙂 The panels, etc., were great.

    And honestly, I *especially* enjoyed the Friday night poetry readings. Everyone’s readings were wonderful. I didn’t read because I have bad diction and I talk way too fast. I was hoping someone would read “A Song of the Naked Lands” while we were there. But if anyone read that, I must have gone back to Brownwood by then.

    We also visited the Barbarian Festival on Saturday and had a great time talking to vendors and the guys at the car show.

    I’ve been a fan of Robert E. Howard for way many years, but this was my first Howard Days. We plan on being there for next year.

  5. @Joe Crawford – I’m not a drinker and everything I’d read about the Friday night event made it sound like a place where lots of alcohol was the norm. That’s really not my scene.

    Thanks for the Caddo Peak tip. I didn’t know about that.

  6. @Sandy Chidester – I’m amazed at how many of us who were there for the first time this year are already talking about going back next year. Thanks for popping by here to share your thoughts on the event.

  7. Neat! I hope some publishers and licensors get some stuff into the library there for display. Dark Horse seems cool, someone should ask them.

  8. Some quick thoughts about subjects you brought up in your post (and by others in the mailing comments):

    Regarding the holdings in the house–there are a few actual artifacts from REH and his family in the house. The rest of the pieces are “of the period” and about the best they can do. The goal of the house is to actually acquire more original artifacts. Given the size of the house, this would make displays of pop cultural material (like, say, action figures) problematic due to the sheer amount of space they would take up.

    There is a case or two in the kitchen that could be cleaned out to use for representative holdings, but then you run into a problem of how do you store what you aren’t displaying? It’s got to be climate controlled, or the Texas sun will bake it. So, logistically, it’s more difficult than you might think.

    Same is true for the library. They just got a grant to expand, doubling their size, but it’s for the development of their children’s programs. Glass cases, full of half-nekkid barbarians and scantily-clad slave girls, might not send the right ‘vibe’ out to the Concerned Young Mothers of Cross Plains.

    All of that said, next year, you should leave Project Pride some feedback with your donation. They love to hear from fans. And they don’t know to fix it if you don’t tell them it’s broke in the first place. There may be a solution or two they hadn’t considered.

  9. @Mark Finn – Mark, thanks for stopping by here. It’s great to hear the library was awarded a grant and I hope they find a way to get more pieces on display. And yes, I can see where an “adults only” section in a library would be very weird.

    One thing I’m going to try to do for both the house and library is check the office archives and see if I can find old GURPS Conan books to donate. And once our Munchkin Conan the Barbarian expansion comes in I’ll donate those.

  10. Philip, that would be very cool! The library can always use those as ways to pull in some of the older kids. Well done indeed. You’ll find that they are very grateful for anything along those lines that the fans choose to donate.

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