It had been a year since I’d last seen him, but I had – or so I thought – more important things to do on his birthday this year and now he’s gone, one more superstar snatched from us before his time leaving me with guilty regret.

There was some dispute about his true age.  His official birth certificate listed him as 60 years old, but it’s now widely accepted that he was actually born two years earlier in a small town 70 miles from Dallas and given up for adoption by the two men whose names appear on his original birth certificate.   Darker rumors maintain that he was not legally adopted, but sold to the State Fair for a paltry $750 in a slam-dunk case of baby trafficking.

Big Tex, larger than life

Even his most fervent admirers will admit that he had a Howdy Doody sort of caricature look, but that fixed grin belied his shrewd management of a meteoric rise to stardom and six uninterrupted decades of celebrity.

Ringed around the Cotton Bowl

Big Tex was the last of the great carnival barkers, towering above crowds and tents and spinning rides against the backdrop of the Cotton Bowl to welcome visitors to the State Fair of Texas.

Big Tex burns; Photo by Alison Griffin

He was Texan through and through, his skeleton a metal frame made from oilfield drill casing, and he seemed so indestructible that all were stunned when a garden variety circuitry malfunction laid him low. To put it inelegantly, he had a short in his shorts.

The end was mercifully quick.  Flames consumed his paper maché frame in a matter of minutes, but billowing smoke rendered him almost immediately voiceless.

Onlookers could do nothing but watch as his Size 110 blue jeans turned to ash and his parched skin flaked  away to leave only a steel frame and his fallen, giant hands.  Oh, the humanity!

Fried food reigns at the Fair

“B.T.” looked incredibly fit for his age.  Some attributed his slim figure to the fact that he didn’t drink.  Others attributed it to his refusal to indulge in the Fair’s annually featured deep-fried foods like the Fried PBJ & Banana Sandwich, Fried Coke, Fried Cookie Dough, Fried Banana Split, Chicken-Fried Bacon, Fried Beer™, Fried Frito Pie, or Fried Buffalo Chicken-in-a-Flapjack.  (This year Deep Fried Jambalaya won ‘Best Taste’ and Fried Bacon Cinnamon Roll won ‘Most Creative’.)

Tall and lean even in the face of such temptation, B.T. was from time to time the target of accusations that he was a closet anorexic, but adoring fans would hear nothing of such slander and he returned as big as ever in each succeeding year.

Plenty of aerial views

They say they’ll rebuild Big Tex, that he will be taller, and that the reconstruction will incorporate “new engineering and technology techniques.”

I confess to skepticism.

Dallas is, after all, notorious for paving over its history in the name of progress and has not infrequently confused bigger with better (any naysayers should be instantly silenced by the concert acoustics in the nosebleed section of Jerry Jones’ stadium monument!)

The line of booths is endless

Had Dallas managed the Statue of Liberty’s bicentennial renovation, it’s likely that her torch would now be spewing laser-beam fireworks, her gown would be sequined with ever-changing red, white and blue lights like a Las Vegas billboard ( or – uh – Dallas’s new convention center hotel), and she’d be performing the moonwalk on the hour.

There’s been some loose talk that B.T. might return as a fire department spokesman to preach the dangers of faulty wiring. (Say it ain’t so!)

Who needs video games?

 

There’s something about Big Tex that speaks to a moment in time when Baby Boomers were still kids, and Texas was as it appeared in the classic movie “Giant.”  A Texas before video games and PDA’s and downloadable media, when little boys played cowboy with stick horses and the good guys were not yet all bad boyz.

Entrance to the Midway

The Fair ran for two more days after Big Tex’s untimely passing.  The rides and booths and food were all just the same as before.

Art deco sculpture

The Fairground buildings – the Southwest’s largest surviving collection of Art Deco structures – were unchanged, but without Tex’s long, tall shadow creeping across the sun-splashed midway the Fair’s mojo was – at least for the moment – gone.

Rocking horses & rocking chairs

We can only hope that a Big Tex reborn will still have the same campy, carny feel that he exuded for more than 60 years… and not reincarnated like a classic Wurlitzer jukebox slickly and vacantly restored with mp3 guts… reduced to a 21st century drug store cowboy.

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