Dickens in Texas

By Gray, Jay | Contemporary Review, November 1995 | Go to article overview

Dickens in Texas


Gray, Jay, Contemporary Review


Galveston Island on the south Texas coast is primarily a holiday resort. Its beaches and the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico draw thousands of visitors every year from all parts of the United States.

The whole area of Galveston Bay offers many summer tourist attractions, including sailing, deep sea fishing, a railway museum, a Sea-Arama Marine World, tram and train tours, and the tall ship Elissa, built on the Clyde in Scotland, rescued from a boat boneyard in Greece by the Galveston Historical Foundation, and carefully returned to its original condition.

Galveston also has a special annual winter celebration during the first weekend in December. The street called `The Strand' is magically transformed into a re-creation of 19th-century London for a pre-Christmas festival known as `Dickens on the Strand', emphasising the works of Charles Dickens and the excitement of the Victorian era. From A Christmas Carol, presented at the Grand Opera House, built in 1894, to the hot chestnut street vendors, the characters portrayed by Dickens come to life against a backdrop-of Galveston's lovingly restored 19th century buildings.

All 8,000 volunteer workers, entertainers and vendors are required to wear Victorian costumes, and visitors are encouraged to do so to the extent that any visitor in full Victorian costume is admitted free. Otherwise, adult tickets are $6 in advance and $8 at the gate; children under twelve are also admitted free. Preparations begin early. There is much public relations work, according to David Bush, Public Relations Director for the Galveston Historical Foundation. This body sends out some 20,000 advance information packs in Texas and to organisations within a day's drive in the adjoining State of Louisiana. Then there is the planning to entertain the expected 108,000 visitors, and the allocation of space for the booths of the 200, or more, participating merchants. Many of these are local merchants while some come from the mainland and some from other states.

So far, during the 21 years of the festival's existence, it has never rained! Friday is the big day. The street is closed to all traffic. Volunteers work feverishly putting the finishing touches to the Christmas decorations. Those who think that Texas is all cowboys and cactus are in for the surprise of their lives.

For the volunteer workers and visitors who decide to come in costume, the big question is: `What the Dickens do I wear?' To help with this awesome decision, the Historical Foundation prepares a separate costume leaflet detailing 19th century attire for the whole family, from fashionable ladies and gentlemen, merchants and respectable middle-classes, to the working class and the poor. Costumes are available for inspection at retail and rental outlets, secondhand shops and from dressmakers and costume designers. Costume prizes are awarded in three categories: `Best Dickens Character', `Best Victorian Lady', and `Best Victorian Gentleman and Family'. Judging is based on authenticity of design and style typical of the Victorian era from 1830 to 1880.

Both sides of the Strand are lined with Galveston's glorious Victorian architecture and, as costumed characters from the pages of Dickens stroll down the street, it is an ideal time for some unusual photographs and close-ups. Both professionals and amateurs participate in the `Dickens Photo Contest', with prizes for the best pictures in each division. Photographs should `reflect the unique costumes, activities, beauty and appeal of `Dickens on the Strand",' with people in costume being emphasised, especially those taken with restored buildings and shops in the background.

What about those southern accents though? Hardly compatible with Dickens! So, one evening in November, there is a class for all that ask the question `How the Dickens do the British Speak? …

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