Since Halloween is but a week away, we got to thinking about ghosts. And since we were thinking about ghosts, we started thinking about ghost towns.
The Web site Texasescapes.com has a run-down of over 400 forgotten Lone Star State burgs, hamlets and wide spots in the road, but only a few close to Houston.
Luckily, one of them is a doozy: the Ft. Bend County town of Juliff. Even though it officially has a population of 0, it is still signposted on FM 521 (Almeda Road), perhaps because of its illustrious history. Back in the 1930s, Juliff was a rollicking little sin city.
As the Handbook of Texas put it, "In 1933 Thurman "Doc" Duke purchased several acres by the railroad line, opened a store, and leased land to others who opened a dance hall and several taverns. The small community soon became a center for drinking, gambling, and prostitution."
The Handbook's entry goes on to blithely state that an anonymous local musician was so moved by the, um, vivacious spirit of the town in 1934 that he or she composed the blues standard "Diddy Wa Diddy" about it.
"Ain't no town and it ain't no city, but oh how they love in Diddy Wa Diddy," runs one famous line from the dozens of recorded variations of the idea subsequently recorded. The entry goes on to say that Juliff then became known to its denizens as Diddy Wa Diddy.
Texas journalist/author Billy Porterfield named his autobiography after the song, and everyone from Bo Diddley to Leon Redbone to Captain Beefheart to the Fabulous Thunderbirds has taken a crack at recording versions of it. (Here's a video of Bruce Springsteen performing it at Fenway Park five years ago.)
But there's a problem with the Handbook's origin theory. Florida bluesman Blind Blake recorded a song called "Diddie Wa Diddie" before he disappeared in 1931. Bandleader Phil Harris also recorded a song containing the magic-sounding words in 1929.
So Juliff might well have lived up to the song, but it likely was not its birthplace. But with this nice weather we're having, it's still probably worth a drive down 521 a mile or so past the Sienna Plantation cut-off, cruising by with your favorite version of "Diddy Wa Diddy" booming out of your speakers.
-- John Nova Lomax
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