Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cross Plains: Lost and Found

If you’d like an extraordinary literary getaway that few people know about, then journey to Cross Plains, Texas for the Robert E. Howard Days festival. Cross Plains is a tiny hamlet that lies about a three hour drive south of Dallas, and it was the home town of writer Robert E. Howard, the creator of a dozen fantastic characters, including Conan the Cimmerian, Kull the Conqueror, and Solomon Kane, the Puritan adventurer from whom Van Helsing’s look was pinched in the recent movie of that name.

Howard died June 11, 1936, but his memory lives on in movies, books, comics, and in the minds of his many fans. Each June, Cross Plains hosts a Howard Days celebration on the weekend closest to the anniversary of his death. The 2007 celebration was on the 9th and 10th. I attended, as I’ve attended many others since the mid-1990s when I joined REHupa.

What is REHupa, you ask? The name stands for the “Robert E. Howard United Press Association.” This is a group of thirty individuals (never more) who, every two months, produce a personalized mailing focused on Howard and related topics. The membership of REHupa changes, but the group’s dedication to keeping Howard’s memory alive has never wavered in its over thirty years of existence. If you would like to know more about REHupa, you can find that information at the group’s website

Two current REHupans, Rusty Burke and Indiana Bill Cavalier, were among a small group of Howard fans who first went to Cross Plains in 1986 to visit his home. Town folk made them welcome, and before long the fans were making the trip an annual event. A local community group calling themselves Project Pride soon began planning for the regular visits. They purchased the Howard Home and have worked to restore it. The house is now a museum, one of the most comfy ones you’ll ever see, and it is at the house that the main events of Howard Days take place.

As for the events, they are varied. The house is open for tours and you can see the tiny, cramped room where Howard wrote his hundreds of short stories and poems. There is a walking tour of the town--sites such as the “Ice House,” where Howard used to box, are pointed out--and there is a bus tour of the surrounding country side that covers some of the local history. This year there was also a screening of a very short film about Solomon Kane, a Howard character, made by some fans. It was cool. At some point, most fans also make a trek to Greenleaf Cemetery in nearby Brownwood where Howard and his parents are buried. It’s about a half hour drive.

Although discussions of Howard go on throughout the two day event, there are panels where specific topics are examined. This last year, for example, there were panels on Howard’s boxing stories and on the layout of his fantasy world.

There is a banquet for Howard fans one evening, which costs only 10.00 dollars a head and which is catered by a local restaurant that cooks the best country fried steak I’ve ever eaten. The banquet also features a silent auction where various Howard items, books, comics, and oftentimes some rarities can be had for cheap. The speaker/guest of honor for the banquet this year was Greg Manchess, a very fine artist who has illustrated one of the Conan books.

For the second evening, a local ranching family hosts a free barbecue at their Caddo Peak Ranch, where visitors can climb the peak to see an incredible view of the local landscape. (Climbing doesn’t require ropes and pitons, just a little foot work.)

The 2007 festival is over, but plans are already underway for 2008. If you’re interested in seeing more about Howard Days in Cross Plains, or just in visiting the home, see Project Pride’s site here

Since the museum is not open for regular hours outside of Howard Days, you’ll need to write or call ahead to make sure you can schedule a tour. That information can be found on the website.


Bernita said...

Such an excellent thing...both for the town and the writerly tradition.

Drizel said...

wowi....sounds very very kewl...:)