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European-American Topics - Culture - Dickens

"Great Renovations"
Joe Armand
Special to European Weekly
December 12, 2008


     (Galveston, TX) This year marked the 35th Anniversary of the celebration of the celebration that has become Dickens on the Strandwhich they hold in Galveston, Texas on the first weekend of every December since 1973. ‘Dickens,' as the locals affectionately refer to the weekend, is a celebration of the reformation of this Texas beach front community’s Historical District. Originally a Potluck for the residents of this Gulf Island, this event is now held to bring attention to that Victorian era and to embrace the historical significance of downtown Galveston. 

Dane Bennett spent the last 10 years perfecting his pirate just to get away from it all (Photo Joe Armand)

     On September 9, 1900, Galveston Island was hit by a Category 4 Hurricane with sustained winds of 135 MPH causing the largest loss of life by a natural disaster in US history. An estimated 12,000 lives were lost. The island was devastated with only a handful of buildings left standing. As the island rebuilt, attention was paid to construction methods, with higher foundations and stout brick being used in the downtown and industrial areas. Over the next 80 years, many architecturally beautiful buildings in “The Strand” downtown area were abandoned and fell into disrepair. A handful of community leaders felt that a reformation of the Historical District was in order. Dickens was created to celebrate Galveston’s history and to raise money to help preserve these national treasures. 

     Walking into Dickens on the Strand is like entering a typical London neighbourhood 150 years ago. Gentlemen and Ladies stroll, arm in arm, down the Strand in full Victorian Dress, looking out for the many street urchins begging for handouts. Privateers and their Courtesans wander through the many pubs and other street merchants under the watchful eye of the Bobbies posted at every intersection. The smell of spiced wine and roasted turkey legs fill the air. The only reason you may realise you are still in 2008 is the presence of the 40,000 visitors in attendance, taking every opportunity to pose for a snapshot with their favorite piper, or Beefeater.  There are stage performances abound with the sounds of Christmas choirs, or marching bagpipes and drums. 

     This year Dickens on the Strand held more meaning and significance than in years past. Although Galveston is no stranger to hurricanes since 1900, none have been more damaging than when “Ike” came calling earlier this year. On September 13, 108 years later, Ike hit Galveston as the third most expensive hurricane in history. The Strand went under ten feet of water as this enormous storm pushed the Gulf of Mexico 20 feet higher than normal.  

Lamar University student takes his goose for a walk (Photo Joe Armand)

     According to Clay Wade, Event Director, damage to the organisers headquarters was severe and complete. Additionally, due to budget pressures and the hurricane damage, some traditional draws to Dickens had to be cancelled. As a result, this is the first year that a descendant of Charles Dickens was not able to attend the festivities. However, the benevolence of the people who bring Dickens to life is significant. Seattle's Rob D’Arc, aka Dr Humbug’s of Dr Humbug’s Flea Circus performed free of charge.  Students from Lamar University’s Theater Department, who have traditionally used Dickens for the past 17 years as an opportunity to raise money for their scholarship program, were diverting the proceeds of their well acted skits to the Galveston Historical Society.  

     In light of the recent disaster that shook Galveston, they are lucky and well deserving to have such a celebration entertain their town every year. In sharp contrast to the cleanup process in New Orleans after Katrina, Galveston has worked at a feverish pace to erase signs of their recent brush with Mother Nature. The streets are clear of debris, buildings have been cleaned of their ‘high water marks’ and many businesses have either re-opened or are being re-constructed. Armies of students swarm the beach during the weekend to clean up any remaining debris while fulfilling their school’s community service requirements.  

Mike Price escapes from his day job as an Insurance agent (Photo Joe Armand)

     Although I don’t believe I would make plans to make Dickens on the Strand the sole reason for visiting Galveston, I wouldn’t count out making it part of your plans if you are heading to the Gulf area for a ocean cruise, or a get-away to enjoy the warm weather and sand in your toes. The restaurants in town appeal to a broad range of tastes from Texas barbeque, and real Cajun cookin’ complete with gumbo and Alligator, to authentic Italian cuisine at Mario’s on the Seawall. There are world class resorts located over the World War II Army artillery base that was build to both protect Houston and to house prisoners of war from the European theatre. The Beaches are reminiscent of California’s Orange County’s with sandy beaches to relax and walk upon. The winds are warm and inviting to spend an afternoon on the deck sipping your favourite beverage, while watching the vast numbers of pelicans (Louisiana Air Force) fly in formation down the beach.  

    You can find more information about Dickens on the Strand by clicking here





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