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Pedestrian safety in San Antonio has been in the news lately, but has been an issue since at least 1906. Such unexpected facts enliven the Witte Museum’s second official contribution to the Tricentennial year, Confluence and Culture: 300 Years of San Antonio History.
An early, pristine Woods-Victoria model electric car graces the “Modern City” section of the exhibition, thanks to one of the first vehicle-pedestrian accidents in the city, which took place in Alamo Plaza. The owner of the near-silent vehicle, a Ms. Vanderhooven, put the car away never to be used again.
This and 300 other secrets will be revealed during the course of the exhibition, said Witte President and CEO Marise McDermott during her introduction to donors, trustees, and museum honorees at a Thursday night VIP reception.
“We’ll reveal small secrets about the history of San Antonio as the exhibit goes along,” said Michelle Anderson, Witte director of strategic initiatives.
Another secret is that the original Canary Islanders who helped found the village of San Fernando de Béjar did not follow the normal layout for a Spanish town, Anderson said.
“They didn’t follow the rules,” she said, creating two plazas instead of a singular, central one. Market Plaza and Military Plaza thus stood in front of and behind the San Fernando church. These plazas remain today, as Main Plaza and the Plaza de Armas of City Hall.
Visitors to the Confluence and Culture exhibition are first greeted by “The Cacophony” room, meant to represent different possibilities for historical interpretation surrounding the region’s history, McDermott said.
The montage of church bells, recorded songs, and projected street scenes of the Cacophony gallery “signals that there’s no one way of comprehending history, that there are multiple paths to understand the past,” she said.
In the “Missions” gallery, a detailed period diorama by archaeologist and artist George Nelson illustrates life in Main Plaza circa 1785, with Comanche buffalo-skin traders negotiating with the Spanish governor, and chili queens selling their spicy concoctions.
In the “Tejano” gallery, a recreation of a traditional jacal adobe hut shows how frontier families lived, in a small structure complete with a ramada and patio for cooking and gardening.
The “Military” gallery opens with placards and images of the Battle of Medina, “the overlooked battle in the fight for independence,” fought by Tejanos, Anglos, and Native Americans against Spanish Royalists in 1813. The gallery includes an example of a Spanish musket, a sword, and a powder horn, and ends with a tribute to Juneteenth Day, when enslaved people in Texas were freed as the Civil War ended.
The main feature of the Military gallery is an interactive, augmented-reality diorama of the Battle of the Alamo, through which visitors can learn the various perspectives of participants in the famous, pivotal seige that helped determine the future of Texas.
The “Modern City” section includes the electric car, a mercantile storefront, and a concluding feature of the exhibit, which asks visitors to contribute brief video-booth comments on the future San Antonio they would like to see.
The concurrent Tricentennial exhibition at the Witte Museum, Gathering at the Waters: 12,000 Years of People, traces the original inhabitants of the region, or the people “who met the Spanish [colonialists],” as McDermott put it on Thursday. The precursor exhibit opened Jan. 3 and runs through July 1.
Confluence and Culture opens Saturday, March 3, and runs through Jan. 6, 2019.