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  • Writer's pictureThe Roaming Scribe

Laffite, Hotel Gálvez and the Pageant of Pulchritude

It seems Galveston has always been a bit of a racy place long before it became famous for pleasure beaches, pier amusements and as a hangout of celebrities, even Presidents. If you visit the Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast attraction on the Strand you will find out about some unsavoury yet colourful characters that sailed the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, pirates famously went in search of goods and treasure, often tyrannising other ships and coastal communities as they went. Jean Laffite was a privateer who became a pirate in the beginning of the 19th century. During the War of 1812, General Andrew Jackson decided to allow pirates such as Laffite to join the American side against the British in the Battle of New Orleans in exchange for allowing the pirates to be given amnesty. Not long after, Laffite built a fortress on what is now Galveston Island naming his encampment ‘Campeche’. The government of the United States did an about turn in regards to pirates and decided that the plundering, pillaging and general marauding along the Gulf Coast must be put to a stop. A warship was sent to track down to capture Lafitte and was stationed just off the coast of Campeche. But Laffite escaped, probably crossing to the mainland via a spit of land called Bolivar and burning down the fort and every dwelling in his encampment before he scampered off. Galveston was later named after Viceroy Bernardo de Gálvez (1746 -1786) in the years when Tejas was part of New Spain. He helped the colonies fight the British in the War of Independence and this island was named after him. The enormous, imposing Hotel Galvez, which was completed in 1911, is also named after the Viceroy. This amazing hotel became a statement to the world that Galveston Island had recovered from the Great Storm of 1900. Many well-known ‘firsts’ are attributed to Galveston but perhaps one of the least known is that it hosted one of the very first Miss Universe pageants. Of course, in its infancy, this pageant would not look anything as glamorous as these events do in the modern age. In fact, it was called the Pageant of Pulchritude! No, I have no idea what it means either. During the Prohibition and then Depression, gambling, consumption of alchohol and other illicit activities also thrived on the beach front of Galveston Island, with the Balinese Pier probably being the most popular. Opened by a Sicilian couple, the establishment did a roaring trade, evading the authorities for many years. Many guests from the famous Hotel Gálvez frequented the Balinese Pier. The hotel was added to the National List of Historic places in 1970.

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