Tag Archives: Weatherford

General William H. Simpson & The Baker Hotel

William H. SimpsonBefore General William Hood Simpson led the Ninth Army across the Rhine and into Germany in March of 1945, he served for a brief period as Commanding Officer at Camp Wolters from April to October 1941 in Mineral Wells.  According to a recorded interview in 1976 (in the Menger Hotel) with Simpson, he stated that he lived with his wife in the Baker Hotel during his seven-month stay in Mineral Wells.

General Simpson had been a man on the move his entire life.  As a boy, he grew up in and around Weatherford, Texas – only seventeen miles from Mineral Wells.  So during his seven months in Mineral Wells, it must have been a little bit like going home, although he admitted in an interview that the move to Camp Wolters was sudden and it caused him to doubt himself: “I’d really thought my career was ruined to be relieved as assistant commander of a combat division to command a replacement center.” Indeed, it was an interesting move to send a seasoned war General to oversee the basic training of new draftees, only a few months after being promoted to Brigadier General. However, from all accounts of every man and officer at Camp Wolters during his tenure there, Simpson was just the same man that he had been his entire life: engaged, involved, and inspiring. He continued to excel in everything he was tasked with, and as a result he was promoted to Major General in October of 1941.

Simpson LifeSimpson had been inspired at the age of ten by his grandfather Judge Hood (then a prominent judge and lawyer in Texas) to look into going to West Point, because his grandfather noticed how much he enjoyed the war games he played as a boy. So Simpson had his eye on West Point, and at the age of sixteen, he read in the paper that there was a vacant position and that they wanted to appoint someone from Parker County, Texas – which is where he was from. He and only one other boy from the area applied – and he got the appointment. After graduating from West Point in 1909, he served in the Philippines and Mexico (chasing Pancho Villa with Patton) before being promoted to Captain and joining the 33rd Division in World War I. He then got married and served in many interwar period appointments before becoming a Major General and leading the Ninth Army during WWII.

General Simpson was self-confident, tall, lean, bald, and a sharp dresser.  However, when compared to more theatrical war figures like Patton and Montgomery, he was perhaps considered a more understated, less visible leader. Regardless, Simpson’s quiet confidence and steady competence continued to make a strong impression on his commanding officers as he rose in rank.

Simpson During WWIIEisenhower himself stated that he could find no mistake in Simpson’s leadership. “He was,” Eisenhower wrote, “the type of leader American soldiers deserve.”

According to his staff that knew him well, General Simpson was a true leader, the kind of man with a real presence. He was charismatic, warm, sincere and inspiring to his officers and his men, inspiring clarity and focus even during high stress war situations. He was described as a good listener with an understanding smile, quick with praise and encouragement. His temper didn’t flare easily, but everybody knew it when he wasn’t happy, and they worked hard to correct it. Armistead D. Mead, Simpson’s wartime Brigadier General, said that he had “an iron fist in a velvet glove.”

Simpson often walked among his men casually, listening and seeking to understand when they talked about their problems. And when he said he’d look into a situation, he always did, and he always followed up.

“General Simpson’s genius lay in his charismatic manner, his command presence, his ability to listen, his unfailing use of his staff to check things out before making decisions, and his way of making all hands feel that they were important to him and to the army.” – General Armistead D. Mead

Simpson retired in 1946 and was an active member of the San Antonio community where he lived until he passed away in 1980 at age 92.

It has been truly fascinating to learn about this great man whose story is forever intertwined into the history of the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells.

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Mary Martin: Weatherford Whiz

Mary Martin

Mary Martin

Weatherford native Mary Martin was already something of a local legend by the time she opened up her second dance studio in Mineral Wells, Texas, at the top of the Crazy Water Hotel.   Martin, of course, would later go on to star in South PacificPeter Pan, and  many other movies and Broadway shows in her lifetime.  Her son would also be destined for show business: What would Dallas be without Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing?

In the early 1930s, Martin struck an arrangement with Carr and Hal Collins, the owners of the Crazy Water Hotel.  In exchange for giving her full use of the rooftop ballroom for her weekly dance classes in Mineral Wells, Martin would agree to sing on their Crazy Crystals radio show two days a week – Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The Collins brothers had invested in the hotel and water business in Mineral Wells just prior to the depression.  But economic troubles, combined with waning spa tourism and stiff competition from the newer hotel in town, the Baker, meant that the brothers were in a tough spot.   In order to keep from going bankrupt, they identified the one product they offered that could be shipped all over the country on the cheap: Crazy Crystals, made by evaporating their famous mineral water into a white powdery substance.  They claimed that when a small amount was dissolved into normal drinking water, it was just the same as drinking the healthful water of Mineral Wells.

Crazy Water Hotel, Mineral Wells Texas

Crazy Water Hotel, Mineral Wells, TX

Hal Collins was one of the first marketers in the country to truly take advantage of radio’s potential for advertising – he knew that in order to sell a product, it had to connect with people emotionally – and what better way to do that than on the radio?  Hal knew that most people were looking for a diversion when they turned on their radios: music, stories, and reminders of better times.  And so, the Crazy Crystals Radio Show was born – as part variety show, part sermon.   The old hillbilly folk songs, shouts and announcements seemed to capture the enthusiastic, knee-slapping gusto of old-fashioned country revival.

The show was recorded and broadcast daily, right from the lobby of the Crazy Hotel, and featured Jack Amlung and his Orchestra, the Crazy Gang of musical comedians, and the Light Crust Doughboys.   Many musicians over the years found regular paying jobs playing on the Crazy Crystals program, probably including Western swing legend Bob Wills, who had been playing with the Doughboys.

Soon, the show began to find its way into living rooms all over the country, and the Collins brothers would eventually open up satellite Crazy Crystal offices as far away as Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta.  Some of these offices, including the Charlotte office, launched their own Crazy Radio Shows for regional audiences. Crazy Crystals soon became a national craze, and a multi-million dollar empire, sold for only 60 cents or $1 a box.

Crazy Radio Gang Promotional Appearance

Crazy Radio Gang Promotional Appearance

Although Martin later admitted that she hated singing the hillbilly tunes (she said that she preferred songs like “Stormy Weather”) the performance training and vocal practice she received at the Crazy Water Hotel proved invaluable for the future star.  It was there that she learned how to sing into a microphone, and she learned how to whistle and yodel, too.  From bandleader Jack Amlung, she learned how to manipulate her voice in order to sing the blues, and adapt it based on musical style.  Soon, she became known on the show as “Mary Hagman, the Crazy Girl.”

“This was my first singing job,” Martin said, “Although no money changed hands.”

Martin began to attract a following, and booked her own shows in Fort Worth, Dallas, and beyond.  During this time she continued to teach dance and voice at her studios in Weatherford and Mineral Wells.

In the mid thirties, however, a local man who believed that dancing was a sin burned down her Weatherford studio. Martin was distraught, and eventually decided that it was time for her to move on.  Not long afterward, she left to go try to make it as an actress in Hollywood.

In California, she earned the name “Audition Mary” because of the many roles that she auditioned for.  But her persistence finally paid off when she sang at one such audition for the great Oscar Hammerstein II…  and the rest, as they say, is showbiz history.

Mary Martin, Peter Pan, Broadway

Mary Martin as “Peter Pan” on Broadway

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