Unrequited Love Carvings
Waxahachie has designated itself, among other claims, the "Gingerbread City," for the elaborate wooden lacework on vintage homes, and the "Movie Capital of Texas," since four Academy Award films, including Places in the Heart and Bonnie & Clyde did location shooting there.
Waxahachie is on our list of mid-Texas stops for some odd attractions: an Indian Muffler Man on the high school football field, a house built in the style of TV's Munster's, a haunted catfish restaurant, and Unrequited Love Carvings on the Ellis County Courthouse.
The courthouse is an imposing edifice, nine stories tall, including the clock tower, swallowing up most of the town square. The ornate sandstone carvings are along the top of a series of granite columns that frame entrances on all sides of the building.
In 1894, stone mason Harry Herley was brought to Waxahachie to sculpt and decorate outer walls of of the new courthouse, replacing a wooden courthouse that cost $59 to build. While he carved some of the porches and arches himself, he also supervised several German-trained carvers.
Known as "The Legend of the Ellis County Courthouse," the story goes that Herley fell in love with beauty Mabel Frame, the daughter of the owner of the boarding house where Herley stayed. He carved her radiant likeness over one of the courthouse entrances. Mabel ignored Herley's affections; as time went on, he became embittered and subsequent carvings of Mabel depicted her as a twisted demon.
Visitors can follow Herley's evolving infatuation by walking around the courthouse.
Local historians, who are not so quick to embrace the Legend as fact, identify the 12 faces as traditional European figures, including the "Green Man," a child, and a demented character (not necessarily Mabel). The carvings were probably made in Dallas and shipped to Waxahachie for installation, squashing the image of Herley climbing up a ladder after each Mabel spurning and carving his frustrations into the wee hours. There are news accounts that Herley married local gal Minnie Hodges in 1896, moved to Dallas, and was probably dead by 1899.
This doesn't stop Waxahachie from promoting the Legend on postcards, a view of the courthouse with close-up insert photos of Mabel and a few of the carved faces sequenced, from Herley's darling into a heinous devil.
As if that wasn't enough scandal to peruse on the walls of the courthouse, there are other carvings of note. According to a curator in the Ellis County Museum across the street from the courthouse, there's one up there that represents a stylized vulva. "Pretty amazing for a little Baptist town in Texas."