AUSTIN, Tex. — To celebrate its Sesquicentennial, the Lone Star State is whooping it up with a yearlong, Texas-size birthday party exploring the colorful heritage that Texans are so fiercely proud of. And y'all are invited to the bash.
From the wide-open spaces of the countryside to the concrete-and-glass canyons of the cities, celebrations abound. Texas is awash in red, white and blue Sesquicentennial flags and a patriotic spirit. Gasoline is as inexpensive as 80 cents a gallon in Houston, the last of the wildflowers are in bloom between Austin and Dallas and the natives are friendly everywhere.
The Texas Sesquicentennial Commission has organized and sanctioned more than 10,000 events for the 150th birthday celebration, according to Karen Mosman, commission information specialist. "They're all grass-roots efforts," she said of the events. "We also wanted to encourage some permanent projects to leave a lasting legacy of Texas."
One place where the pride of old Texas endures is downtown Austin. Rather than level dilapidated buildings to make way for high-rises, redevelopers gutted the old brick structures and rebuilt the interiors. New restaurants, shops and nightclubs abound; revelers crowd 6th Street's sidewalks nightly as the sounds of country, blues and jazz fill the air.
While you sample the sounds, sample the flavor of Texas. Mosey on over to the Pecan Street Cafe, 310 East 6th St., for a late-night snack. The pecan pie ($3.50 a slice or $16.70 for a whole pie) is as delicious as the old-time brass, brick and wood decor.
For the quintessential Sesquicentennial shopper, a variety of official flags, mugs, coins and memorabilia is offered on the main floor of the Capitol at 11th and Congress streets. You may want to tote it all home in a "Don't Mess With Texas" litter bag.
Free guided tours of the rotunda are conducted every 15 minutes from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but the building is open 24 hours a day, every day. In the wee hours, only the echoes of your footsteps break the silence in the rotunda, governors staring down from their portraits almost disapprovingly.
History buffs will enjoy the Sesquicentennial exhibit, on display through Aug. 10, at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum on the University of Texas campus. A tribute to the 19th-Century Presidents who were instrumental in Texas' transformation from republic to state is on display in handsome portraits and documents yellow with age.
A retrospective of Life magazine photographer Robert Capa is on view through Aug. 10. His are some of the most striking photos of World War II, the French campaign in Indochina and the Israeli war for independence. The museum, which includes a re-creation of LBJ's Oval Office, extraordinary gifts he received from world leaders and a panoply of his Great Society programs, is free and open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.
The city will honor namesake Stephen F. Austin, the founder of the first American colony in Texas, on his birthday, Nov. 11, with a full day of Texas-style recognition of volunteers who helped with the Sesquicentennial.
Sports fans may get a glimpse of future Olympic champions in action as Houston hosts the U.S. Olympic Festival July 25-Aug. 3. More than 4,000 athletes are expected to compete in 34 events. For tickets and sales information, write to festival officials at 440 Louisiana St., Houston 77022, (713) 222-1986.
The 1.6 million inhabitants of Houston, the state's largest city, also will be celebrating their municipal sesquicentennial during the week of Aug. 23-Sept. 1. Sports competitions, a community picnic, concerts and cultural art events are just a few items on the agenda that week.
Just 21 miles east of downtown, along the Houston Ship Canal, is where the Texas Republic's war for independence was won. A lone star stands atop the San Jacinto Monument on the plain where Gen. Sam Houston's outnumbered Texans routed the Mexican troops of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in an 18-minute battle.
At the base of the limestone monument is a museum that depicts the region's history from Indian civilizations to statehood in 1845. The museum is free and open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Christmas Eve and Christmas.
Also at the 327-acre state park is the USS Texas, which saw action in both World Wars and is the only surviving dreadnought-class battleship. Veterans enjoy explaining the workings of the ship to their families as they tour the vessel from engine room to pilot house.
"What's this?" asked one woman, lifting a large round lid from a container in a room on the main deck. "Is this where you kept the ammo?"
"It only tasted like that," her husband replied. "That's one of the kettles. We're in the galley."
"This hot, cramped space?" she asked in disbelief.