Believe everything you read in your paper


By  Ron Franscell


08/10/07 - Under the News

By all accounts, G.W. Davis was a solid citizen in life, but in death, he was apparently as solid as they come.

Back in 1900, the Beaumont railroad mechanic's kidneys failed and he died at age 46. He was temporarily buried in Magnolia Cemetery while the family hunted for a permanent grave.

Three months later, when they dug him up, they found his corpse had mysteriously turned hard as stone. His own son described petrified dad as being "as solid as marble."

In the next few weeks, Davis' widow rebuffed several cash offers for her husband's rocky remains, including one for $4,000 - that's more than $93,000 today. Then she had a brainstorm: If her husband's stone-faced carcass was so valuable, why not just bring him home where she could keep an eye on her investment?

But when the family dug him up again, he was gone. Maybe his hardened body was snatched ... or maybe he just felt he was being taken for granite.

And in 2007, he's apparently still gone.

The disappearance of the late G.W. Davis is one of about 300 odd stories literally ripped from the headlines of Texas newspapers between 1860 and 1910 by Chad Lewis, author of the new book, "Hidden Headlines of Texas."

Among the Southeast Texas stories retold in the book is the tale of "Baby Jim" Simmons, a 750-pound Beaumont man who might have been the world's biggest man in 1907.

As the genial Simmons traveled with a huckster circus promoter, gawkers were allowed to come aboard the train (for a small fee) to see a morbidly obese man that a Dallas reporter coarsely labeled "the mastodon" and "the monster."

In all, Lewis reprints four stories with Southeast Texas roots, including the news of a mysterious 1902 oil gusher near Beaumont that nobody could explain, and an outbreak of bizarre coincidences one day in 1897 Orange.

But those are tame stories compared to historic reports of a 40-foot tapeworm uncoiled from a Hillsboro toddler's innards; the Denison "cemetery" where only the amputated legs, fingers and hands of injured railroaders were buried; and the San Antonio locksmith who built his own iron coffin ... then grew too fat to fit in it.

Quirkiness comes easy for Lewis. The Wisconsin ghost-hunter has written a series of travel guides for ghost buffs, and hosts a radio and TV program called "The Unexplained."

"Hidden Headlines" is broken into several chapters, such as "Medical Anomalies," "Peculiar People" and "Bizarre Deaths." It's filled with verbatim newspaper stories about people rising from the dead, various freaks and mutants, extraordinary discoveries, and sundry hauntings.

"I have simply presented them to you exactly the way you would have read them on the day they were printed," Lewis says.

He warns his readers that he doesn't necessarily believe all the actually published stories he collected, mostly from the Dallas Morning News, but they reflect century-old rhythms and sensibilities.

"These Texas stories will provide you a glimpse of the state in its simpler, slower-paced, much weirder past," Lewis writes.

And, oh, if you also happen to get a glimpse of well-preserved G.W. Davis around Beaumont, tell him we're still looking for him.

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