Written by: Nikki LaSalla
Images by: The Texas Tribune
The stage was set: a picture of the Alamo Mission displayed on screens flanking the small panel. As the speakers walked out, moderator Stephan Harrington said what most of the crowd was surely thinking:
Why was Phil Collins, winner of seven Grammy Awards, Disney legend, English singer-songwriter, speaking at a panel on the Alamo?
That question was, in fact, what brought many audience members to the panel. The juxtaposition of someone seemingly isolated from the history of the Alamo with his honest adoration for the site and all its artifacts, was enough to get the audience out of bed before eight on a Saturday morning just to achieve some clarity.
Phil Collins is actually the largest procurer of Alamo artifacts in the world. His collection, which he has now donated to the state of Texas, will be put on display in what Collins called the “Reimagining of the Alamo”. Over the next couple of years, the remains of the Alamo and its surroundings will be transformed into what the historical site would have looked like during the Battle of the Alamo. That includes many new buildings, based off of those that would have stood tall during the 18th century.
Collins spoke about how he became involved with the Alamo, stating that he watched an old Western about the great battle when he was young and was instantly hooked.
“Seeing the Alamo for the first time was like meeting the Beatles,” Collins said.
It became a significant part of his life, though not only because of the battle itself. Collins spoke of the brave men, on both sides of the battle, and the men who lived at the site prior to the battle, sparking a discussion about inclusion of events other than the battle of the Alamo.
Senator José Menéndez had opened the panel with a similar thought: that even though the Texans lost, the Mexicans won. There was a strange intersection of victory and tension that the Alamo presented for Texan history.
The three panelists, Senator Menéndez, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and Collins were dedicated to the concept of realistic history. Commissioner Bush stated that they want to show all sides of the Alamo’s history, including what led up to the great battle. However, he mentioned that it would be necessary to do that while still prioritizing what tourists will reocgnize about the Alamo.
Collins specifically requested that his collection be displayed in a way that looks naturalistic. He refused any “glass boxes” and mentioned that he hoped for his collection to become a part of the reality of the new Alamo world. Collins even spoke about his favorite piece, a receipt for a saddle from John W. Smith, the first anglo mayor of a nearby town.
In their final statements, the panelists spoke passionately about this reimagining. Both Bush and Collins talked about prioritizing what people know about the Alamo while still making the new site seem realistic. They avoided using the word “rebuilding,” so as to not liken their plans to creating a movie set. Rather, they asserted that the idea was just to recreate what had already been built.
Menéndez epitomized the message of the panel when he brought back the idea of inclusion, specifying that they wanted to make the Alamo experience whole.
Instead of erasing the histories of Native American people and others who walked the historic buildings halls before the Battle of the Alamo, Menéndez stated, they hoped to be fair to all the Alamo’s histories.
The trio’s major goal, however, was that more children, like Phil Collins, would be mesmerized by the Alamo, and dream of going to visit the reimagining of a historic landmark.