By MEL RHODES
As anyone who has been in Mineral Wells longer than half an hour likely knows, this is a small town once big in the national imagination, a city once known far and wide. The accidental discovery of mineral water in the late 19th Century put this place on the map and drew thousands of people to bathe and drink their way to health here in the “City Built on Water.”
Now places that become a widespread sensation, a ‘mecca,’ generally produce a variety of products, souvenirs and accessories, some of which survive the heyday to become collectibles, memorabilia. Mineral Wells is no different.
In fact, through the foresight of Boyce Ditto Library, tangible (and audible) pieces of our storied past have been preserved, among them Crazy Water recordings.
Library Manager Palin Bree described them as “black, 16-inch, studio transcription discs, acetate ... recorded to be played [at] 33 1/3 rpm not 78, and 4 inches wider than the commercial records of the time (12 inches).”
“The person who brought these in was moving,” Bree said. “They were cleaning out their house and said ‘I have had these stored in my garage, and I don’t know if they will still play.’”
Apparently, before their extended stay in the garage, the recordings were in the Crazy Hotel, and were found during a clean-up of the historic building.
So Bree and her associates at the library gratefully accepted the discs, pulled up chairs, and plopped the recordings down on the phonograph to listen to our “crazy” yesteryear... right? Not exactly.
“Fortunately, I had someone here who used to work at a radio station,” Bree said, “and they said ‘you know you can’t play those on a regular phonograph, don’t you?’”
Good to know, said Bree.
“A disc you use in a radio station goes one way and then the other,” said Bree. “If it were to be played on a standard machine, it could be marred.”
While Bree has no idea exactly how old these recordings are, titles on the labels tie them to the heady days of Crazy Water and the company’s associated radio shows – 1930s-40s?
An e-mail from Bree described them as follows:
“Produced for the Crazy Water Company, they contain The Crazy Man (eight programs) and Crazy Crystals, Series B (eight programs). Also, the Crazy Serenader, (six programs), the Crazy Mineral Wells Broadcast (ten programs), and Souvenirs, 2 programs. Only two programs of the intriguing production entitled, The Black Ghost, are in this collection.”
The discs now reside at the University of North Texas Music Library Archive in Denton, where Bree deposited them for preservation purposes.
“I met the people out at the archives building,” Bree said, “and since then they’ve bought another building that’s just about the same size or bigger, and it’s like a converted airplane hangar. All they had in there at that time were LPs. It was like ‘Indiana Jones’ when they were putting the crate up safely. It was just awe inspiring, how huge it was and with the university being tied to music as closely as it is. And all he [the UNT archivist] could assure me was that they would be properly housed until UNT got to where they could process them.”
Bree said the library board approved locating the local treasures with UNT, “though some were a little disappointed they wouldn’t be kept locally.”
This happened a couple of years ago, Bree estimated, and time passed.
“When UNT Portal to Texas History was doing a program here this summer for local area repositories, I mentioned that I never heard back from them [concerning the recordings],” said Bree. “So she sent me a link to the finding guide so I could see where they reside.”
Bree said she hopes someone will request or help facilitate the recordings’ digitization so a wider audience can enjoy them online.
Basically, the recordings are preserved but not processed for easy access or wide public usage. But one may listen to them.
“They have been given a location where they can be found easily,” Bree explained, “which is not a small step!”
So how does one listen?
“You have to contact them at the archives and tell them what you’re interested in and arrange an appointment to go and listen them; because they will have to go out and retrieve them and bring them back to where the equipment is. They’ll have the equipment you can listen to them on, and they not be harmed.”
Bree expressed concern that similar recordings need the proper care.
“If others have Crazy ‘records’ packed with their Mineral Wells memorabilia, realize that the discs are vulnerable to temperature changes and can be harmed if played on a standard record player,” she said, urging that the owners consider allowing an archive to preserve them.
Useful advice, considering there are probably several of these history-rich recordings doing closet- or garage-time across the city and area.