Weird, Wild Stuff to Be Found in Austin
(There is really an animatronic Lyndon Johnson in Austin. (Photo: Lauren Gerson)
By Max Gross
For years, Austin, Texas, has been the Canterbury Cathedral of music nerds — a site of pilgrimage and worship. Likewise, with the emergence of names like Paul Qui (of Qui), Tyson Cole (of Uchi) and Aaron Franklin (of Franklin’s), the city has become similarly revered by food nerds.
But what of us plain old nerdy nerds?
As it turns out, Austin — despite its youthful vibe, its music scene, its weirdness, its boozy and fattening temptations — is a fantastic city to geek out on a trove of Americana and Texas history.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and what better place to mark it than by visiting the library dedicated to the man who put the wheels of desegregation in motion?
Beyond the exhibits and artifacts, the LBJ Presidential Library is worth the price of admission if only for the animatronic version of the 37th president cracking (extremely corny) jokes.
The library is in a corner of the sprawling University of Texas campus, all within striking distance of a trove of Austin’s best museums.
The Harry Ransom Center, for instance, boasts Joseph Nicephore Niepce’s “View from the Window at La Gras” — one of the world’s first photographs (it was taken in 1826 or 1827, and is agreed to be the first photograph of a scene from nature) — and a Gutenberg Bible from the early 1450s (one of only 48 in existence and five in the US).
It’s just down the block from Bullock Texas State History Museum, which tells the history of the Lone Star State in a way that probably won’t bore the kids. There are rebuilt log cabins and teepees that original Indian tribes and settlers of the land used; and the history itself is pretty exciting, like the Battle of San Jacinto, which resulted in Santa Anna’s decisive defeat by the hands of Sam Houston in the Texas Revolution.
Nearby is the most prominent building in the city: the Texas State Capitol. “It’s taller than the Capitol Dome in Washington,” almost every Austinite will tell you. Finished in 1888, the capitol has a somewhat pink cast to it, owing to the red granite of the exterior. Free 45-minute tours are offered throughout the day, seven days a week.
The Hotel Ella was built in 1900. (Photo: Matt Lankes)