The Legend Of Letting Sleeping Drunks Lie At City Hall

Every time there's a "homeless sweep" in downtown Houston, a local historian will trot out the old legend about Hermann Square. Supposedly, George Hermann willed to the City of Houston the land that had once been occupied by his boyhood home (and now sprawls at the foot of City Hall) as a park, albeit with an eccentric stipulation.

To wit, Houstonians in perpetuity were to be allowed to sleep off drunks there "undisturbed by the forces of law and order."

Legend has it that sometime around 1900 Hermann grew so tired of his logging crews and/or cowboys getting hauled off to the pokey after their Saturday-night sprees that he bought several acres around his former home as a "base" in which even the cops were not allowed to say "Tag, you're it." At least not if public intoxication or loitering were the only cases they could bring...

Hermann passed away in 1914, and his will supposedly stipulated that Hermann Square was to remain a safe haven for all eternity. The story seemed just odd enough to be true, so I called Aaron Winslow, a reference librarian in the Texas Room in the Julia Ideson branch of the Houston Public Library. (This doubled as my good deed for the day. I figured that in this post-Google world in which we're living, reference librarians were spoiling for a history-mystery phone call like this.)

Winslow dug up a transcript of Hermann's will that was included in a history of Hermann Hospital. Unfortunately, it is Hair Balls' sad duty to report that there was no mention of people being allowed to sleep off benders undisturbed by the forces of law and order.

But hope for quirky local traditions springs eternal: Winslow mentioned that Hermann had composed two previous wills. Weary drunks and fans of quirky lore alike can but hope that the stipulation was in one of those.

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