After the devastating 1953 tornado, the Amicable Life (Alico) Building emerged as one of the few structures remaining on the 400 block of Austin Avenue. Some locals credited the building’s survival to an enduring story that its foundation was constructed using cotton bales, which supposedly acted as a shock absorber during the storm.
The Alico Building stands on top of an artesian well that, at one time, fed the waters of a pond nearby. Workers sealed the well before building the structure and dug an estimated forty-five feet into the ground to secure the building’s primary supports into bedrock. The underground facilities naturally would have drawn water because of the old spring, and cotton bales likely would have been the prescription for a leaky basement. (Some nineteenth and early-twentieth century builders and maintenance crews used cotton bales to absorb moisture in basements throughout the American South and Europe.)
On May 11, 1953, during the tornado, the Alico Building reportedly swayed between five and six feet. Whether it survived because of the cotton bales or because of its bendable steel frame construction, Waco’s Goliath stands strong to this day as one of the city’s key landmarks.
The legends and folktales in Cotton Bales, Goatmen & Witches: Legends from the Heart of Texas, compiled by Bradley T. Turner and accompanied by photographs from Mark Burdine, bring to life the whispered stories and forgotten secrets that illuminate the darkest recesses of the Texas psyche from the distant past to the present day.
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