Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Free State of Galveston, Circa 1955

My father and mother spent the late 1950's living on Galveston Island. He came to the island because he was in medical school at University at Texas Medical Branch - Galveston (UTMB). He and my mother were newly married and living in a garage apartment near UTMB.

What has fascinated me in the more than 60 years since is what they took away from life on the island. Ironically, my father's most vivid memories are not so much his grind at medical school. Nor is it for my mother, then a 21 year old teaching English to Ball High School seniors who, in some cases, were almost her age.

Instead, they talk most about the gambling houses, the celebrity entertainers in venues there and the vibe from a place both still call the "Free State of Galveston." It has stayed with my mother so profoundly that when we were last in Galveston, she pointed out a building and without prompting remarked: "That pink one there - just before the causeway? It was a big gambling place."

My father has been even more forthcoming about gambling on the island and the control he saw exerted by the Maceo brothers and Carlos Marcello, the crime boss who pretty much ran New Orleans during that time. I know my father and his UTMB friends spent time blowing off steam in Marcello controlled gaming houses. He still says his Louisiana surname and background helped him to get booze and chips.

Since I was old enough to understand and ask questions about such things, my father has made the case that Marcello was a cog in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He maintains to this day that it was a mafia hit, in some measure the product of a loose confederation of many, but certainly involving both Marcello and Sam Giancana of Chicago.

"Lane," he would tell me, "...there was millions in cash pouring into those nightclubs and casinos. They were the only places west of New Orleans and east of Las Vegas with high stakes gambling and celebrities that in those days no one in Texas ever saw. Guys with money brought their wives mistresses and girlfriends down from Houston just to throw money away. It was just accepted on the island, and for good reason."

Dad would stop and level a conspiratorial gaze at me. "Then it all just stopped. The Texas Rangers swooped in and it all stopped. You think Carlos Marcello would've just let that pass?"

He would lower his voice and then confide in me with a hint of Cajun drawl lost somewhere in his past but summoned to entreat the forbearance of a apparition taken leave from a French Quarter afterlife:

 "Oswald grew up in New Orleans and passed back there from Russia. Hard now to understand their reach and power then, It was something they would've pulled off."

Ah, my father. Physician, Gambler, Cajun. And JFK Conspiracy theorist.

All Hail the Free State of Galveston.

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