Ashlyn Explores Austin

When exploring the hidden gems of Austin, Texas, one may be led downtown to the home, which happens to double as a museum, of William Sydney Porter, otherwise known as O. Henry- a prominent author famously known for his short stories such as “The Gift of Magi.”

Mr. Porter’s home is a Queen Anne-style cottage built in the mid-1890s. Amazingly, much of the original furniture is still preserved there for the public to see! The house is covered in vintage wallpaper, giving each room a different feel than the next, contrasting with most modern homes today. Interestingly, when the home was donated to the city for historic preservation, it was moved from its original location in a middle-class neighborhood to its prime location today.

Although this was Mr. Porter’s home, it was not where he constructed his famous short stories. He did most of his writing in prison for a felony of embezzlement, which he committed while working at the First National Bank. During his three years in prison, Mr. Porter wrote around 380 short stories that were published after his release, which launched his writing career, established him as an author, and later led to him becoming the famous author we regard him as today. Due to negative connotations attached to convicted felons, Mr. Porter began using his pen name, O. Henry, to prevent people disregarding his work due to serving time in prison.

The story of Mr. Porter’s past and aspiring short story author was fascinating to learn about while visiting the museum! However, the museum touched not just on Mr. Porter’s most talked about life, such as his ascent as an author; it also touched on more intimate parts that the average fan might not know. For example, Mr. Porter had a passion for music. The museum had a handwritten sheet of music titled “Main Street,” with the original notes and lyrics that he wrote on display. During his time in Austin, one could find him writing sheet music for piano, acting in the Austin Musical Union, or playing in a string instrument band, the Hill City Quartette.

I always find a little memento of Sam Houston in every museum I visit. For instance, this museum’s connection to Sam Houston was an old desk that Mr. Porter used during his time in Austin. The desk belonged to his great uncle, Adolphus Sterne, who was good friends with Sam Houston. This is one reason Mr. Porter valued this desk so much was because of the rich history behind it.

During his life, Mr. Porter was a man of many trades as he was an aspiring writer to support his family. He worked as a pharmacist, a bookkeeper, and a drafter to make ends meet. When he worked at a local drugstore, he was found to be excellent at sketching his customers. This led him to work at the Texas General Land Office for about four years, where he was tasked with drawing maps of Texas counties. He started working at the First National Bank to provide more financial support for his family, which led to his embezzlement and, ultimately, to his arrest.

One inspirational thing you can take from the legacy of the life of Sydney Porter is that every event in his life led to the next, and in the end, that is what got him to where he needed to be successful. This helps give me some perspective that not every bump in the road must be bad; it can be all about what you make of it.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

One thought on “Ashlyn Explores Austin”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: