October 1, 2022

San Antonio’s cultural icons spared in fiery road crash

I am researching Berta Almaguer and was hoping you could share what you have on her. A new dance studio in her honor will soon open, but unfortunately there is very little documented information about her. She was definitely an important person, putting San Antonio on the map and in our tourism industry. I’m also looking for information on a dance group called Las Adelitas who were killed in a horrific bus accident when they collided with an 18 wheeler. There was a large group going to a concert – probably with the Eddie Martinez Orchestra – and (singer) Rosita Fernandez was one of the injured. I’m looking for the names of Carmen Moore and Adela Hidalgo, who were Almaguer’s dance teachers. Can you guide me?

Both Berta Almaguer and Rosita Fernandez had long careers as exemplars of traditional Mexican arts and culture, but they were in some ways as different as day and night. Almaguer (1901-1971), who never married, was versatile; she dances, sings and plays the violin but prefers to teach rather than play. Fernandez (1918-2006), married to Almaguer’s brother Raul, was named “San Antonio‘s First Lady of Song” by Lady Bird Johnson and was a multimedia star, with regular spots on early radio and television programs. television and subsequent film appearances among his many credits. , while raising two children.

Both were involved in creating what became the long-running Fiesta Noche del Rio shows at the Arneson River Theater. But while Fernandez was on stage and eventually had “Rosita’s Bridge” named after her, Almaguer was training generations of San Antonio’s finest folk dancers. through her classes for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, a program she directed from 1934 to 1970. The two women played a major role in defining the spectacular summer evenings, whose authenticity colorful has long drawn tourists to the rustic River Walk Amphitheater.

Fernandez was part of the “San Antonio Artists’ Party,” as described by the San Antonio Light, on June 3, 1938, aboard the ill-fated bus that collided on that date with a truck near Stephenville.

The troupe, on their way to perform “A Night in Old Mexico” in Oklahoma City, had stopped for lunch in Stephenville and were only 13 miles east of town when the truck driver attempted to pass another truck on a bend and didn’t see the bus coming. The two heavy vehicles “met head-on with a roar heard a mile away, rose into the air and then settled down.” The impact blew the truck’s auxiliary 25-gallon gas tank and “a moment later both machines were raging”. Black smoke from the oil that ignited on the sidewalk further hampered rescue efforts as passing motorists and “every available ambulance” in the area rushed to the scene. From grisly photographs of the crash scene, the truck appears to have been a large flatbed with wooden slats around the trailer.

Fernandez is listed as injured, with “a broken left arm and one or more cuts to the face”; Conductor Eduardo Martinez is said to have “a crushed face, a broken nose and multiple bruises and cuts on his body”. The drivers of the vehicles were killed, as were two dancers from San Antonio, Flora Garcia, 20, and Frances Valdez, 19. Ironically the story says they lost their lives due to the bravery of two of the men, who were seated in the front, but I switched seats with the women so they had a less bumpy ride . Four people were killed and 22 bus passengers were injured, including the “slightly injured”. But Almaguer, Carmen Moore and Adela Hidalgo were not among them, although Alec Moore was.

Billed as “Don Eduardo Martinez,” the conductor had been considered one of the most seriously injured, but was well enough to serve as emcee for “Tropic Serenade,” a variety show held August 28, 1938 in the municipal auditorium to benefit victims of the crash, as advertised in The Light, August 21, 1938. As a frequent singer in Martinez’s radio band, Fernandez was also featured, this time for “tropical songs” with the Rumba Kings. A ‘charming dancer’, Rosa Elida, was to appear with a chorus of anonymous dancers she formed as ‘Las Eliditas’ – perhaps the Adelitas you’ve heard of? — to perform “precision dances” in the Mexican and Spanish traditions, including a “bullfighting cape dance”. Finally, Alec Moore, “one of the main exponents of folk dances”, would present a “group of girls he formed… in two Mexican dances of authentic beauty”.

Almaguer is not named in any of the accident accounts or as one of the plaintiffs in the numerous lawsuits filed against the owners of the truck. Alec Moore, also known as Alec Ortiz Moore, was born in Mexico, according to the 1930 US Census, and had a sister named Carmen, so she may have been one of the dancers he worked with…but at 21 years in 1938, probably more likely to have been a pupil than a teacher of Almaguer, then 37 years old.

To share photos, information or memories about Almaguer, contact this section. All responses will be forwarded and may appear in a subsequent column.

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