Forty-Plus Years Plus of Sheer Galveston Fascination
By Marcella S. Meeks
I have always been fascinated with Galveston, Texas ever since I was a young girl. We spent endless summers roaming the beach along the seawall that is still there today. We never stayed anywhere in particular – just mainly slept on the beach at the west end of town along the seawall. Back in the 70’s that was permissible. Not so today!
My mother and dad loved to fish – they spent endless hours amongst the jetty rocks using cane poles to catch a mess of fish that fed us for days. I roamed the beaches with my little brother and two sisters day after day – oh the glory of being a child! We rarely ever got into trouble because we were too busy crab fishing with our neck bones and string, or just playing endlessly in the water or the sand. Momma always had a keen eye on us and if we ventured too far, you could hear her hollering for us over the wind and the waves that should have stifled out her calls, but didn’t.
I remember listening to the radio on the way home – the number one songs back those days (early 70’s) was Galveston by Glen Campbell, and Ramblin’ Man by the Allman Brothers Band. How wonderful life was those days.
Galveston Island changed me in some ways more than any other place. When I was fifteen, my older sister and I would sit on the beach and watch the sun come up or go down. She lived a block from the seawall on 31st Street and when she let me come to visit, I’d often walk along the beach by myself. Somehow the cry of the seagulls and the waves coming to and from the sandy beach seemed to soothe away my teenaged problems. My sister is dead now but the memories we created are still etched in my heart and soul.
The fascination for Galveston still remains true in my heart today, nearly fifty years later. Many winds have blown through and a lot of water passed under the bridges since that time in my life. Hurricanes came and hurricanes went.
On September 13, 2008 when Hurricane Ike made landfall on the island, it left an impression on the island in such a way that affected a lot of families especially since the historic Flagship Hotel that use to be located on Seawall Blvd., was damaged so heavily that it eventually was torn down. It was built out over the water – the only one of its kind in the area and it had withstood many storms before Ike. Generations of our family had stayed there year after year and many precious memories were made.
One of my fondest memories was when my grandson Nicolas – not quite two at the time (now he’s twelve) use to sit out on the balcony on the eighth floor of The Flagship with me while his mommy and older cousins slipped off down to the beach for a stroll or swim. We’d sit there and just enjoy the breeze for hours… One day, Nicolas dropped his bottle full of milk and it rolled off the balcony and fell into the water below. He was horrified. It was that day that he quit taking a bottle and graduated to a sipping cup. He still remembers this incident and tells everyone the fishies got his bottle.
At night, we’d leave the patio doors open to our room and listen to the calming waves down below. Occasionally sea gulls would fly by the balcony alcove calling to others as they dove into the salty water for food. It was the most relaxing time I ever experienced.
Today, The Flagship Hotel is just a fond memory for most of us, and even though something else is taking its place on the Seawall, it will never be the same.
After Hurricane Ike had passed over and the drama of it all had died down to some extent, I visited the Island shortly after visitors were allowed back in – talk about decay and ruin. Tears fell as I drove the streets and saw islanders piling up ruined household items and personal belongings that couldn’t be salvaged. I watched in awe as the islanders picked up and started rebuilding all that had been lost. They never complained but worked together so hard to bring the island back to life.
Our family still loves visiting Galveston even today – a new generation of island-lovers, you might say! There is 32 miles of beaches just waiting for our return.
The original Murdoch’s Pier and Gift Shop on Seawall Blvd once was a favorite attraction and shopping spot for the grandchildren until Hurricane Ike took it out to sea in back in 2008. Hermit crabs, cages, shells and many other collectible items were bought and brought home to family and friends. It has now been fully restored and is our favorite stop and shop spot. Murdoch’s Pier and Gift Shop is located near 23rd Street and Seawall Blvd in Galveston, Texas.
Another favorite is the Seawolf Park, Pelican Island via Seawolf Parkway (51st Street). Seawolf Park was built on an immigration station site and offers a three-story pavilion with a view of Galveston harbor, picnic sites, a playground area and a lighted fishing pier. A World War II submarine (the USS Cavalla), a destroyer escort (the USS Stewart), and other military hardware are open for tours. (Website: http://www.cavalla244.org).
It’s really a nice place for a little fishing or maybe a family picnic but avoid going on the submarine tour in the heat of the day – even though it may only be 80 degrees outside, it gets extremely hot inside the submarine.
You can see Seawolf Park as you cross the Galveston Island Ferry from Port Bolivar to Galveston – the ferry loading area is located on Hwy 87 (Ferry Road) – it’s about an 8 mile stretch across open waters. The ferry ride is a favorite of the kids and the best past is that it’s free any time, any day. You can park and ride across or you can drive on. Ferries run approximately every fifteen to twenty minutes. Sometimes you have to wait in long lines due to the high volume of people coming to and from Galveston but it’s not so bad once you get in line. But don’t get caught cutting in the traffic line because you’ll be sure to get a fine – no questions asked.
This past year, my daughter and I and her two small children saw a miraculous site indeed. Halfway across between Galveston and Port Bolivar the ferry slowed down almost to a complete stop. A school of dolphins were swimming right in front of the boat and for at least twenty good minutes every one on the ferry got to see the dolphins as they played. They played around the front of the boat long enough to give us a good show and they were off and on their way. All the years we’ve traveled crossing the ferry we have never seen such a delightful sight. It was as if they knew they had an audience! This was certainly one of those Kodak moments that only happen once in a lifetime!
Another gem you won’t want to miss is the The Great Storm, a multimedia presentation at the Pier 21 Theater. Visitors get a glimpse of the devastating 1900 Storm through a multi-image documentary experience. The 27-minute story gives actual accounts from diaries and letters of survivors during and after the storm.
You’ve also got to visit one of Galveston’s most popular attractions – Moody Gardens, located at One Hope Boulevard. A tropical destination for ideal families and groups is another must see, must visit destination on the island. Water your imagination and travel the oceans of the world at the Aquarium Pyramid. Step into the Rainforest Pyramid with thousands of tropical plants, exotic fish and birds. Explore the mysteries of science at the Discovery Pyramid, and take a rocking and rolling ride through the universe at the Ridefilm Theater. Get in the middle of the action at the 4D Special FX Theater.
All of our grand kids love Moody Gardens – it’s one of those must see, must go places that is not only popular but an all time favorite – and it’s not just for kids either. All of us older ‘kids’ enjoy it as much, if not more. It’s that place where we don’t mind being ‘kids’!
Then there are the museums and historical homes to see while you’re there – you can find them online at http://www.galveston.com – the official tourist site for Galveston. I liked the old homes that are located in the downtown area, but most of our family are adventure seekers and find touring old homes and museums a little boring for our taste.
You can’t visit Galveston without visiting the Strand Historic District. The islanders go all out for Mardi Gras – word to the wise – if you want to attend the Mardi Gras celebration, you’d better book your rooms early because they go quick, especially those along the seawall. Visit http://www.Galveston.com for a complete calendar of the Mardi Gras.
There are several motels and resorts along the seawall to select from but our favorite are the ones closest to the water. An evening stroll along the beach after a long day of touring and activities add the finishing touches for a wonderful vacation, whether it’s for a day, a weekend, all week or even longer.
Many years have passed by since I first started coming to Galveston Island as a young child and many more will pass by and you’ll continue seeing me there. Watching the skaters coming down the seawall is always fun, but what’s more fun is watching my husband as he stumbles down the stairs of the seawall as the beautiful young women in tiny little bikinis not much larger than an eye patch comes jogging by.
“No sand in those panties because they’re nothing more than a string,” he says as he tries to get his composure in front of the kids!
“They’re called thongs, Papaw!” laughs our fifteen year old granddaughter!
“I knew that!” he stammered, by now turning all red. “Come on, Kids – race you to the beach!”