You have to stay on your toes in the archives or you’ll miss the weird stuff. Today we have a bit of a Jack Sprat and his wife situation–we didn’t know something and they didn’t know something else but when you put it together it all makes sense.
It’s all about this striking image, one of several in the William Ward Watkin collection that document a trip to Spain in about 1920:
It’s a great photo but we always wondered who on earth those other people could be. They clearly aren’t Watkin family members and there really aren’t any useful clues. They might be anyone, even people he simply met up with on his travels.
Then a little while ago we received a collection from the Howard family here in Houston. It included some scrapbooks, wherein we discovered another copy of the same image. It turns out they had no idea who that man sitting in the middle with their family was!
Obviously, the mystery man is The Blue Raja.
I can only see the text — no images — but this passage on pp 98-9 in the book “William Ward Watkin and the Rice Institute” describes a relationship between Watkin and the Howard family:
“The following year, 1912, Watkin again attended the colorful No-Tsu-Oh Ball, but on this occasion his invited guest was a vivacious young redhead from San Antonio, Miss Annie Ray Townsend, who was making her debut that winter. She was accompanied at the Houston ball by her brother’s recent bride, Mrs. Foard Townsend. A souvenir still marks the occasion of this memorable evening: William Ward Watkin’s dance card and ball program, an elaborately designed, beautiful little memento with a long gold cord and tassel. Obviously Watkin only had eyes for the slim, smiling young lady from San Antonio. Her name was written down for the first and third dances (the second went to her sister-in-law, Mrs. Foard Townsend) and for all the waltzes on the remainder of the program. Watkin apparently felt safer with a waltz than a foxtrot.
“Watkin had met Annie Ray Townsend, the daughter of a prominent lawyer and state senator from an early Texas family, earlier in the year at a social gathering in Houston. The debutantes of the season in San Antonio were invited to the prime social events in Houston and Galveston. Several of the No-Tsu-Oh debutantes in town would be guests of the Order of the Alamo at the San Antonio presentation and at the traditional events of the season in Galveston.
“Miss Louise Ayars (later Mrs. Louis Stevenson), a childhood friend of Annie Ray’s from Columbus, was one of the Houston debutantes presented at the No-Tsu-Oh Ball of 1912. The queen of the ball was Miss Garland Bonner, who later, as Mrs. George Howard, became
one of Annie Ray’s close friends.
“As their courtship developed, Annie Ray Townsend told Watkin that she would never consider leaving Texas. This may well have been the factor that tipped the scales in favor of Houston. Watkin had earlier asked President Lovett to consider permitting him to establish a Department of Architecture at the infant Rice Institute. This would be a small but initial commitment to ensure that art would be included along with letters and science, as had been specified in the charter of the Institute. Dr. Lovett agreed enthusiastically, and his newest faculty member soon started to work on the curriculum for the academic year 1912-1913.”
On p. 126 of the same book is this text, which seems to be a photo caption to what may be the photo shown above:
“William Ward Watkin enjoying himself in Granada, Spain, during the 1925 European trip. Here he is posing with the George Howard family, also from Houston. Left to right: George Howard, Frank Bonner Howard (seated below) , William Ward Watkin, Garland Howard.”
But from p. 171 it seems that Annie was ill and did not visit Spain during that 1925 trip:
“The postponed journey to Europe was finally possible for the Watkin family in the summer of 1925. … The plan had been for the Watkin parents to continue on together to Spain, after an automobile tour of Normandy and a brief stay at the Hotel Crillon in Paris. The Paris and Normandy tours were accomplished. Mrs. Watkin, however, who had not been well on the ship
over from the States, became ill in Paris and had to remain in the American Hospital to recuperate. A friend from Houston, Mrs. Ralf Graves, had come over to be with her. At Mrs. Watkin ‘s insistence, Watkin went on to Spain. He was accompanied by good friends from Houston, Mr. and Mrs. George Howard, who had already planned to join the Watkins on this part of the trip.”