Immortalized by a battle, the Alamo is destined to always be a site of contention. Sitting on the eastern edge of downtown San Antonio, the 18th-century limestone mission is one of the most distinctive and instantly recognizable structures in the world, yet it remains a blank slate onto which history, race and politics are projected and fought.
Since the 1836 battle, the overarching fight for nearly 200 years has been over how the Alamo is presented and preserved. The most recent controversy is over the authenticity of some of the items in Phil Collin’s trove of Alamo artifacts.
The British singer and songwriter has parlayed his lifelong Alamo obsession into a massive collection of 400 items worth $15 million. In 2014, Collins donated the collection to the state of Texas.
Some of those items were on exhibit at the Alamo from March 2-April 25, and all of them will be on display in a new museum that is part of a $450 million reimagining of the Alamo.
But in a new book, “Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth,” by Chris Tomlinson, Jason Stanford and Bryan Burrough, a dozen prominent antiquities dealers, archaeologists, collectors and the Alamo’s official historian question if some of the relics are what they’re purported to be.
Most of Collins’ collection, including all the documents, appear to be authentic. But other pieces supposedly from the battle site are bogus, according to experts who have looked at them.
Most dubious and lacking any documentation are at least eight items supposedly belonging to the Alamo’s three most famous defenders: William Travis, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. “Verification” for one of Bowie’s famous knives came from a psychic. Yes, a psychic.
While Collins’ passion for all things Alamo is genuine, his enthusiasm appears to have been exploited by unscrupulous dealers and collectors.
None of this reflects badly on Collins. He’s invested millions of dollars amassing his collection, and his donation to the state should be seen and accepted as the extraordinary gift that it is.
However, only those artifacts whose authenticity can be verified deserve to be on display when the museum is completed. The lure of Crockett’s rifle, for some, means nothing if it’s not really Crockett’s rifle and serves only to perpetuate legend rather than preserve facts.
The renovation of Alamo Plaza is meant to lift the shroud of mythology draped over the Alamo and reveal a more complete and honest history. Anything less is a disservice to history, taxpayers and, yes, Collins’ collection.
San Antonio Express-News