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 Texas : Features : Columns : 15 Minutes of Separation

It Happened in Toyah

IGNACY PADEREWSKI and
AMELIA EARHART in TOYAH, TEXAS
(Just not at the Same Time)

Trains, Planes and Unexpected Stops

Once the most famous (and best paid) concert pianists of his era, Ignacy Jan Paderewski made his first American tour in 1891. He often gave benefit concerts and was nearly as famous for his philanthropy as his music. His charisma in that era eclipsed that of present-day celebrities and his abundant reddish-gold hair may have been the start of the cartoon cliché of the “long-haired musician.”
Ignace Jan Paderewski
Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Ignacy traveled to his various American concerts aboard a personal railroad car. He was accompanied by his personal physician, chef, valet, piano tuner and his wife (not necessarily in that order).

Back in the 1920s and 1930s, people liked to brag about being the biggest or best business, hotel or item “between Ft. Worth and El Paso.” The phrase was well-used in Big Springs, Texas (as it was then called).

One day, due to a winter railroad accident, the Paderewski Family and entourage found themselves to be the “most famous people between Ft. Worth and El Paso.” At least for that day. Their railroad car was parked on a spur while the wreckage down the line could be cleared. This siding was directly across from the stationmaster’s house.

Now, it seems that the stationmaster’s wife had grown up in a large hotel. This means she never had the opportunity to learn the culinary arts. At least that was her story. Times being what they were, her future husband presented her with the romantic gift of “The White House Cookbook.” Although this particular book dated from the administration of Grover Cleveland, food trends cycled slowly in those days. In a few short years, Mrs. Lily Robinson (for that was her name) became as proficient in her kitchen as a White House chef was in his.

Desert Dessert
One of Mrs. Robinson’s specialties from her cookbook was English Plum Pudding – a dessert that required something like six hours to prepare. Since time was abundant in Toyah, Mrs. Robinson thought nothing of “whipping up” a batch of the stuff for any occasion.

On that winter day when the Paderwskis and Robinsons suddenly became neighbors, Lily just happened to have a batch of pudding on hand. She carried over a few servings and she and her husband struck up a friendship with Ignacy and his wife (the former Baroness de Rosen). Thereafter, whenever Paderewski played a concert in Ft. Worth or El Paso, the Robinsons used Mr. Robinson’s lifetime railroad pass to attend. They always got to visit backstage and the friendship only ended with the death of the pianist in 1941. The Robinson’s marriage lasted 61 years.

Amelia: The Party of the Second Part

The second half of this story occurred a few years before the above.

This part can be pinned down to an exact month and year. The year was 1928 and the month was September. The place was again Toyah, but the guest was solo and arrived from the air with no entourage.
Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart
Photo courtesy Wikipedia
Amelia Earhart, who should need no introduction, was on a cross-country trip across the U.S. that fall. Losing her map in her open-cockpit plane shortly after leaving Sweetwater, Texas, Ms. Earhart flew “blind” from that point, leaving Texas entirely and arriving over Hobbs, New Mexico.

Without a proper field, Earhart was forced to land on the main street of Hobbs and spent the night there. Refueling with (unbeknownst to her) bad gasoline, she took off for Pecos, which was on her original route.

Earhart’s plane started developing engine trouble. She made it to Pecos, but when it was time to leave, her plane started stalling again and she was able to put down “in the desert surrounded by Mesquite bushes” just a few miles west of Pecos.

Toyah wasn’t mentioned by name in that account. Only a reference to locals that towed her plane back to Pecos where she spent the next five days getting her plane’s valves adjusted.

It’s possible that Ms. Earhart was unaware of Toyah’s name, but the visit is documented by a photo taken of three Toyah youngsters (sans Amelia) posing beside the plane. The photo appears in the book Toyah Taproots, the town’s historical tome.

The plane’s registration letters match that of a plane preserved in an aircraft museum as the one used in the 1928 tour.

Here’s to small towns and their hospitality to famous uninvited visitors.

Sadly, there’s no record of Amelia tasting Mrs. Robinson’s plum pudding.

"15 Minutes of Separation"
November 11, 2009 column
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