Oh, Henry!: Celebrate Austin’s “original slacker” on his 150th birthday
A large part of our city’s charm comes from its laid-back nature, an oasis of relaxation in a sea of uptightness. Maybe it’s from all the hippies; maybe it’s from all the breakfast tacos.
But the ‘slacker’ ideal that gained the city national prominence existed long before the early 1990s when Richard Linklater’s influential film of the same name hit indie screens.
Turns out, it was a fellow storyteller who lived in Austin during the 1860s who claims the title of Austin’s "Original Slacker." His name is William Sidney Porter, better known to the general public by his pseudonym, O. Henry.
O. Henry is most often remembered for his surprise-ending short stories, like The Gift of the Magi. But his life story is also legendary, involving several career changes, addictions and run-ins with the law.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, he managed to churn out many novels and short story collections that are celebrated for their candor, humor and literary merit even 150 years later.
To honor Austin’s O.S.’s sesquicentennial, which falls this week in Central Texas history, the Austin Department of Parks and Recreation and The Friends of the O. Henry and Dickinson Museums welcome you to Austin’s very own O. Henry Museum for two very special days of historic celebration.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, The Friends will host a special event at the museum in honor of the United States Post Office's official release of the O. Henry 150th Birthday commemorative stamp.
The stamps, which are marked as collector's items with a "Forever" cancelation postmark, can be purchased for $2.00 along with either of two collectible stamp covers designed by Austin artist Lyle Boardman of the Austin Texas Stamp Club.
For those who cannot make it out to Tuesday's event, any unsold stamps will also be available at the official O. Henry Museum birthday celebration held throughout the day on Saturday, Sept. 15.
To recognize Porter's free-wheeling, (probably) alcoholic tendencies in life, the Museum has organized The O. Henry 150th Birthday Crawl, including a series of dramatic readings, an unveiling of the new "O. Henry: original slacker" exhibit at the Museum and plenty of fun for history buffs of all ages.
Events begin at the Texas Capitol Visitors Center at 11 a.m. and noon for a dramatic reenactment of O. Henry's short story "Bexar Script No. 2692," along with a Pin-the-Moustache-on-the-O. Henry contest and a chance to design your own O. Henry stamp.
Next, Cap Metro buses will bring revelers to the O. Henry Museum for a reading of O. Henry's story "Buried Treasure" by 12 of Austin's favorite writers including Sarah Bird, Laura Furman and Stephen Harrigan. Local musicians the New Hill City Quartet will then take on some of the songs Porter himself sang in his own incarnation of the band back in the 1800s.
To sweeten the day's celebration, old-timey South Congress confectioners Big Top Candy Shop will be handing out free Hershey's Oh Henry! bars to the first folks to arrive at the O. Henry Museum as well.
After participants have sufficiently explored the new "O. Henry: original slacker" exhibit inside the Museum, everyone is invited to head over to the Austin History Center to watch a Mock Appeals Trial for Porter, mirroring the actual trial he underwent for alleged embezzlement while working at the First National Bank of Austin.
The gathered audience will get to serve on the jury in this trial that historically sent Porter away for several years. (But don't worry: The long hours during his incarceration led to the creation of many of his best and most creative stories.)
For an added bit of fun, all O. Henry 150th Birthday Crawlers will be given a passport to commemorate the event. Everyone who makes it to all three locations and receives stamps at all three events will be able to redeem the the filled passport for a special undisclosed prize.
It's important to know where we come from, and O. Henry is a perfect icon of the copacetic Austin attitude toward living. This weekend is the perfect introduction to Austin's original slacker and an evocative refresher for those who are familiar with the Austinite's early influence on our city's current way of life.
The O. Henry First Day Stamp Sale begins at noon on Tuesday, Sept. 11 a.m. at the O. Henry Museum.
The O. Henry 150th Birthday Crawl begins at the Austin Visitors Center on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 11 a.m. Parking is available at the center, and transportation is available between each location.