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Victor Lang Remembers 

Is There A Doctor On The Street?
February 27, 2005
 
  


Listen to Victor and Jim Guidry
 stroll along the street 

"Is there a doctor on the street?"

Most of us can recall being in a public place when someone needed medical attention and we heard the cry "Is there a doctor in the house?"  My recollection is the response to this plea usually brought the attention of several "doctors in the house" to the person needing help.  I am told that would not be the case today because of the prevalence of malpractice suits.  Doctors are reluctant to identify themselves in public to care for someone not already a patient of theirs. What a sad country we have become in many ways.

This is perhaps a little brighter spot on the more distant horizon.  I have altered the quote used as a title since this piece has to do with a street in Galveston named Caduceus and how it came to be.

According to Webster's Third International, a caduceus is "one of the symbols of a physician" and "a conventionalized representation of a staff with two snakes curled around it and two wings at the top."  I can remember when doctors had automobile license plates bearing the caduceus which permitted them to park anywhere at any time. (Doctors also made house calls at that time!)

The rest of this writing is freely based on "The Birth and Adolescence of Caduceus Place" an unpublished essay by the late Willie Dean Harris-Williams of Galveston.  Just to place things in some kind of chronological order for readers who are old timers, Mrs. Williams was the mother of Robert Harris who would have graduated from Ball High School around 1953.

I cannot be certain of the year in which Mrs. Harris-Williams wrote "The Birth and Adolescence of Caduceus Place" but according to her she was the only living member of the "founders" of the street.  I suspect the essay was written in the early Fifties.  Mrs. Harris-Williams does note that at the time she wrote "the only progeny of the original settlers who live there now (on Caduceus) are Adele Eggers Roosevelt and Bryan Williams, Jr." Bryan Williams, Jr., was an attorney in Galveston and a stepson of the author. Mrs. Lloyd Roosevelt was the daughter of Dr. G. W. N. Eggers and she and Lloyd continued to live in the family home on Caduceus through their married lives. Mrs. Roosevelt died a resident of Caduceus just about two years ago so she probably held the record for continuous living on "Caduceus Place."

Caduceus always fascinated me as a young man growing up in Galveston. It was divided into two parts by 45th Street and only a couple of blocks north of the Boulevard. The west side of Caduceus was a dead end at what now is 47th Street.  The east end stops at 43rd Street. What fascinated me about the street was that the pavement on both sides of 45th Street was pink. And I mean "pink pink." I never knew why this was and no one I knew at the time was able to tell me.

While Mrs. Williams does not write about any reason for the pink pavement, she does state it was "wonderful because the white chalk we used for outlining hopscotch, baseball and other games showed up perfectly."  I am sure it did. I still wish I could find someone who could tell me why that pavement was pink.

When Mrs. Williams wrote her essay she includes the thought that she has compiled her "facts, figures and foolishness" about the street for its residents at the time.

1925 Galveston and part of the era of "Wonderful Nonsense"

Here are some highlights from "The Birth and Adolescence of Caduceus Place" by Mrs. Willie Dean Harris-Williams. A lot of it is the kind of "foolishness" that I love and that made me decide to move back to Galveston in 1995 from Washington, D. C.

In 1925 there were no zoning restrictions in Galveston. One evening in 1925 a group consisting of one lawyer, three doctors and their wives met in the office of Doctor Willard Cooke to discuss starting a small residential area with "desirable" restrictions. 

Lest someone jump on this as being racist, let me make it clear that Mrs. Williams wrote the "desirable" restrictions were to prohibit gasoline or ""filling"" stations and corner grocery stores from being too near the new houses.

According to Mrs. Williams, one of the available tracts of land in 1925 was "newly filled land around 45th Street and just north of the Seawall. 

This had been filled with sand, sand and more sand plus a few brave weeds. The committee decided this land was the most desirable because of drainage, cool Gulf breezes and Seawall protection in the event of storms.  We then decided to go out and have a look at the site but there was no way to do so. We could only drive out the Boulevard and each of us, like Moses with field glasses, looked toward the Promised Land. Not one road, path or footprint was to be found.

The committee continued to meet and plan. The city had announced it would put in electricity, gas, water and telephones but how to get to the property?  The city agreed to build a "road" so building materials could be sent to the chosen area. The committee also asked the city's permission to "face our houses on the alley between what technically would have been Avenue T and T to create a private street."  Mrs. Williams reminds readers that all street designations in the area in 1925 were "only make believe on some map, certainly not on the ground." She also writes that the city allowed her group to close the 47th Street end of Caduceus because there really wasn't any 47th Street at the time."  Present Galveston Zoning Board, listen up to all of this !

Whence the name

Naming the street was something the committee worked over for a period of time. The one lawyer on the committee got nowhere with the idea of "Justice Street" (too bad in one way as the television series "Law and Order" would probably have been filmed there) and two more doctors had been added to the group.  Ergo, Caduceus prevailed. Mrs. Williams delighted in noting for current residents that the street is "just a glorified alley." In my opinion, only in Galveston would someone be proud of building an expensive house on an "alley." I love it.

Mrs. Williams writes that when the city permitted her group to create a "private" street they required the group to pay for their own paving. The committee chose pink cement and, according to Mrs. W. "going first class all the way."  I don't disagree that the pink cement was "classy" but it still doesn't explain the color choice to me.

The little road built by the city for hauling building materials to the area was narrow and very sandy.  Mrs. Williams writes that "when we got to the end and wanted to turn around either our front or our back tires would settle in the sand and then the question was whether to "heave" or to "ho."

The group soldiered on and the two houses were built.  The Harrises moved in around April 25 and the Willard Cookes on April 26, 1926. At my age, that was "only yesterday."

When "Bitching" Was Genteel

At this point I think things got quite amusing.  In her essay Mrs. Williams writes:

A hue and cry went up that was something.  Not since the 1900 storm had there been such consternation and dismay on our island.  Our friends had suddenly turned into critics and enemies and we were practically outcasts.  "What on earth do they think they are doing? Who on earth would even think of building west of 39th street? Don't they know their houses are going to sink down in that sand? Who do they think they are, closing the street so that people can't drive through" 

I think a controversy of this nature is wonderful and wouldn't you have liked to live when that kind of thing could preoccupy a considerable segment of a community? I am assuming nasty letters were being written to the then Galveston Daily News or the Galveston Tribune because of what Mrs. Harris writes about next.

After a while, Willard (Dr. Cooke), who could be quite sarcastic, wrote a letter to the paper, the gist of which was "yes, we made a big mistake."  "My house was originally three stories high and the Harris' was two.  Now mine is only two and theirs is only one. And the cracks in the walls are so wide we don't even use doors anymore."  Dr. Cooke went on to write "our critics are unprogressive old mossbacks, etc." 

Mrs. Harris writes that when the Cooke diatribe was published the critics "went underground because who wants to be classified as an "unprogressive old mossback." Apparently the critics became friends again, came out to visit the Caduceus Cadets and the pink pavement group was "reinstated."

Need Any Sand?

There were still problems for the Cadets---if not with people with the land itself. There was still more sand around than anyone wanted and nothing would grow to anchor the sand so the sand blew around making the Cadets feel they were Bedouins in the Sahara. Mrs. Harris writes:

We hired yard men, not to cut the grass but to spade up sand from our drives and walks.  One day my yard man was pulling some weeds and when I saw him, I ran out the door screaming "Stop! Stop! Those weeds are valuable."  He looked at me in amazement and at the end of the day when I paid him, he took my money all right but he never came back. He just didn't want to work for nutty people.

After many loads of topsoil were trucked to the area and spread and much effort spent, something the Cadets called "grass" began to grow. When the city put in water they did not put in sewers, however, and septic tanks had to be used. 

Yes, Erma Bombeck, the grass really does grow greener over them.

Again, for us old people, I will include a bit more about the "founding" of Caduceus according to Mrs. Harris.  At the first meeting in 1925 were Doctors Willard Cooke, George Lee, Boyd Reading and lawyer Brantley Harris. Later, these were joined by Doctors E. B. Crutchfield and Dick P. Wall. Later came the John McCulloughs who built in 1930. Mrs. Williams notes that "in 1931 we were four families living on the street and what fun we had."

Galveston is always Galveston. Dr. Lee's property developed "a depression" that was several feet deep and when there was a strong rain, this became a lovely lake that delighted the children living on the street who even acquired a small boat in which to go rowing.

As Mrs. Williams continues her story, Dr. Cooke decided to build a boat. This was to be no toy but a "big boat." Dr. Cooke was twitted by his neighbors about being Noah building his Ark. He liked that and referred to himself as Noah. (Funny thing is, I don't think Dr. Cooke ever finished that boat. I remember seeing a boat, which was partly built up on racks behind the Cooke house on Caduceus during the Fifties when I was a boy.)

New York Times Move Over

There was also a newspaper for Caduceus. Jessie Lou Harris acquired a small, portable typewriter and mastered "hunt and peck."  Writes Mrs. H.: 

This was the beginning of a famous publication called "The Caduceus Spotlight." Other children on the street were editors, reporters and delivery boys. Some of the adults contributed articles. 

Mrs. Harris makes a wonderful crack about the publication in her essay that this was a "fine weekly journal, being unbiased, non-political, non-factual and analytical." All of this is not a bad trick to pull off in a publication of any size.  Certainly some of our newspapers today would qualify in the non-factual area but I am not sure about the others. Apparently the publication had its own "Louella Parsons" of the day and some articles were "revealing and embarrassing" but to my sorrow, Mrs. Harris does not get specific about any of that---damned shame if you ask me.

Continuing the Caduceus history, Mrs. Williams writes about other Galveston families building and moving into their houses. Drs. George Lee and G. W. N. Eggers (previously mentioned), Louis Pauls and Leland Dennis.

But Was It a Democrat?

In due course, a donkey came to live on Caduceus. The animal had been given to the Beach Club as a mascot. The club had no place to keep it and offered to donate it to the Cadets on Caduceus. The Harrises kept the donkey in their back yard and the children on the street loved riding it. The donkey took to braying very loudly at the moon, however. Mr. A. A. Horne, a resident on Woodrow, was annoyed by this, called Brantley Harris and asked that the donkey be housed elsewhere. A bridge party was held by the Cadets and Bryan Williams won the booby prize which was---the donkey.  Mr. Williams was City Attorney at the time and the papers picked up on his winnings and headlined "City Attorney Wins Donkey for Prize."  I expect that took a bit of time for Mr. Williams to live down.

One other little vignette from that earlier era had to do with Dr. George Lee buying a station wagon (which then had wooden sides).  There was a yard man who worked for many people on Caduceus named Sanford who was evidently quite a character.  Sanford was very friendly, wore a long frock coat, blousy trousers and carried a cane.  According to Mrs. Williams, Sanford loved to visit with everyone in the neighborhood, priding himself on keeping up with all current news.  Sanford took note of the Lee station wagon and was heard to say "There goes that man in that car made of furniture."

Reading the essay on Caduceus by Mrs. Williams was, for me, like finding some of LaFitte's treasure.  I don't think I need explain why I love old stories about older Galveston after relating portions of the Williams saga about Caduceus Place to you.

Email Victor at Victor@guidrynews.com 

 

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