Note: This article was written in 2010 for a “Visitor’s View” section of Legacy Magazine, when I worked for the National Association for Interpretation. Legacy Magazine was the organization’s magazine, sent to 5,000 members at the time as part of their membership. It is written in an open, easier to read style for varied audiences, and from the perspective of a visitor to The Alamo.
It seems like each culture has a story of a battle where, “few fought against many.” Living here in the U.S., especially in the western states, perhaps the most famous battle took place at The Alamo in 1836.
On a recent trip to San Antonio, Texas, I had the chance to visit The Alamo. Having seen various films and television shows about the battle, and reading books like The Breach that recreate in vivid detail the huge numbers of men involved in the battle, I had a sense of wonder about visiting the site.
Huge fields with wave after wave of attackers, the defenders fighting from all sides down to the last man, I had so many grandiose visions of what I’d see once I arrived. So, walking up from San Antonio’s beautiful Riverwalk, I reached the top of the stairs to behold the great Alamo.
I saw a Hall of Mirrors, several tourist attractions (Haunted Attraction! World Records!), hotels, and tourist shops. To say that took the wind out the sails would be generous.
Now granted, the bar was pretty high in my imagination, so there’s a certain sense of setting myself up for failure. But this was just so… underwhelming.
Shaking off the feeling of being at a theme park, I walked across to the Alamo itself. I stopped in front of the main doors, and, after snapping the typical tourist shots with my camera, went inside the great doors.
As I entered the building, and was welcomed by a very nice interpreter just inside, my feelings about The Alamo (across the street it was still flashing “Come see the Hall of Mirrors!”) began to soften a bit. I didn’t get the sense of moving back in time, but I did get a sense of the quiet in the building. Especially compared to the hustle and bustle of downtown San Antonio, the interior of the main building was very subdued.
After walking through the various rooms, listening as I walked to what the interpreters were saying to others, I realized that the quiet atmosphere was really a reverence to what had happened there. Despite often seeing tourists that are loud or rude at other sites, here inside the building everyone was quiet, reserved and very respectful. That was due largely to the staff onsite, who spoke in quiet ways to the people around them, setting a reserved example for those around them.
Leaving the main building, I walked around the main courtyard. There were more people out in the courtyard, but somehow inside the courtyard was quieter than in front of the building. The immaculately kept grounds give a sense of peace to a place that has seen the horrors of war. In the middle of a city as large as San Antonio, to have a place of quiet peace is a feat in itself. Outside of the walls flowed the typical tourists, but inside they were a much calmer, more respectful group.
The Alamo is a dichotomy of a historical site in modern times. It has the advantages and disadvantages of being in the center of a major metropolitan area. It is an icon to America, and must somehow serve both the millions of tourists that visit each year and the reverence to the men who gave their lives for freedom. I don’t imagine that’s an easy balance to maintain.
What I took away from The Alamo is a sense that the site fights its own battle of the few against the many. The Alamo is completely surrounded by modern life, and yet, within the walls, has managed to survive with its own freedom and peace intact.