The battle of the Alamo took place 180 years ago, between Feb. 23 and March 6, amid much smoke and dust. Across the alley from the Alamo today, also amid smoke and dust from traffic and construction, an exhibit entitled “Battle for Texas: The Experience” is taking shape.
“Battle for Texas,” which opens in the basement of the newly renovated Joske’s building, now part of the Shops at Rivercenter, on April 24, promises to use historic artifacts and multimedia displays to bring Texas history to life. The immersive, 75 minute experience will allow visitors to learn more about Texas history, and the battles within the Texas Revolution.
“Battle for Texas” isn’t just a museum, exhibit or tourist attraction, said exhibit Managing Director Dave Cohen. “It’s all of the above.”
“The audio/video experience is so intense, we have a bail-out door,” Cohen said. “Some of the items are so big, we had to bring them in before we put the walls up.”
The exhibit’s 200 artifacts came from 11 different donors, and will form one of the largest collections of Texas artifacts ever assembled in one place, Cohen said while on a tour of the under-consrtuction exhibit. Such a collection would rival the size of British rock star’s Phil Collin’s collection.
Collins donated to the Alamo what is considered to be the largest known private collection of Alamo and Texas Revolution artifacts – supposedly more than 200 artifacts – last year, but it must be housed in a “Smithsonian-level” visitor center/museum, he said. The Alamo Endowment board has been raising funds for such a center ever since and is working with City and state officials on an Alamo Plaza Master Plan.
This is Cohen’s first museum, but he is no stranger to drawing crowds. For 15 years, he worked for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
“The average visitor spends about 12 minutes inside the Alamo,” Cohen said. “It’s pretty dry stuff. This experience will completely engage you. With sound, light, and smell, we can recreate what the battle was like.”
Presented from both Texan and Mexican perspectives, visitors will experience what it was like to have been at the Alamo. Cohen stressed “Battle for Texas” will not be an amusement park. “We are sensitive to the sanctity of what the Alamo represents,” he said.
BASE Entertainment, a leading producer of live entertainment in Las Vegas, and The Gold Group, a marketing and production resource for clients like National Geographic, seek to connect the visitor intellectually, physically, and emotionally with the Alamo defenders.
SRO Associates Inc. has been busy recreating the Alamo’s interior for “Battle for Texas,” which will cover more than 20,000 square feet.
“That was the beginning of what Texas became,” Cohen said. “We will have a series of galleries that will ultimately immerse guests in the battle of the Alamo.”
On Wednesday, an old wooden wagon sat covered with construction dust as an army of workers assembled a sight and soundscape (see top image). In April, this room will feature “A Land Called Texas.”
“This will be a sensory experience,” Cohen said. “We’ve been working since June building walls and exhibits.”
Another gallery will introduce visitors to the heroes and villains in Texas’ Revolution. An item identified as a “Crockett Long Knife” will be exhibited. A Bowie Knife will also be on display, albeit one from Col. Neill. Swords used by General Sam Houston and Santa Anna will also be featured.
The props and set designs required a lot of research and site visits. Alex McDuffie, historian and curator of “Battle for Texas,” brought his understanding of Texas artifacts and connections to elite collectors to the exhibit’s historically accurate collection. Some of the artifacts he acquired will be revealed to the public for the first time.
Jeffrey Wyatt, the associate producer for “Battle for Texas” brings 25 years of production experience to the exhibit. Wyatt has previously produced historic exhibits like “Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of Popes” and “Titanic: the Artifact Exhibition.”
Exhibits in “Battle” will be grouped in 11 different galleries.
“One gallery will have a recreation of Santa Anna’s tent,” Wyatt said. “Another will depict the famous line in the sand.”
According to legend, Colonel William Barrett Travis’ “line in the sand” was drawn to see which of the Alamo defenders would cross to continue the battle. However, the legitimacy of that story is regarded by many historical purists to be up for debate.
Old-time Alamo buffs may remember “The Texas Adventure,” the special effects theater that ran on Alamo Plaza between 1994 and 2003. “Battle for Texas” will surpass those robotic and holographic representations with their own heart racing multimedia reenactments.
*Top image: This room will be home “A Land Called Texas” when the “Battle for Texas” exhibit is complete. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.