Why Was This San Angelo Saloon Owner Memorialized?
SAN ANGELO, TX — Probably the most striking monument in the Fairmount Cemetery, 1120 W. Avenue N, is the statue of Thomas McCloskey. His seven-foot tall statue towers over his family plot, a full-size likeness of presumably the man buried behind it and to the left.
Why does this guy get a statue? Was he wealthy? Well loved? Did the city buy it for him?
Above: McCloskey's Statue in the Fairmount Cemetery. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
His name was Thomas McCloskey, born in 1856. He arrived in San Angelo with his wife, Laura, from Dallas in 1892 and bought a bar on the corner of E. Concho Ave. and S. Chadbourne St. He soon renamed it “McCloskey’s Place” at first, but after “arc light” electric streetlights were installed near the bar, he renamed it again to the Arc Light Saloon.
The building where the Arc Light Saloon was located is still standing today. It’s the Heritage Haus clock store, 230 S. Chadbourne St. Street numbers in San Angelo are based upon the intersection of the east-west Beauregard Ave. and north-south Chadbourne St. The building is on the northeast corner of the intersection of S. Chadbourne and Concho Ave. Some call it “Lot one of block one,” where San Angelo began.
Above: The McCloskey family burial site at Fairmount Cemetery in San Angelo, Texas. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
On the east interior wall, behind where the actual bar once was, there is still today a mural depicting McCloskey and his employees serving happy patrons. The date of the mural is in dispute. Theodore Alexander, who eventually took possession of the Arc Light property in 1924, 10 years after McCloskey’s death, commissioned it. George Alexander, Theodore’s son, remembered the artist, who painted his name on the bottom right corner of the mural as M.E. Norton, was from New Mexico.
WATCH a video pan of the mural:
Alexander recalls the mural being painted in 1938. Others have said they believed the mural was painted 20 years later, in 1958. George recalls his father wanting to have the mural there to harken his restaurant’s ambiance back to the rough and tumble days of turn-of-the-century Concho Avenue. Theodore was a great marketer for his very popular restaurant at the same location, called The Liberty Café, from circa 1944, until the building went vacant in 1962. Regardless of when the mural was painted, we believe Theodore commissioned it and that it likely wasn’t painted during McCloskey’s lifetime.
Above: The Heritage Haus, the former building that was the Arc Light Saloon. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
History records that the bar had a great reputation as being a place where businessmen made deals. Law enforcement had little trouble with that location, even in rough and rowdy San Angelo of the Gilded Age.
McCloskey was born in Canada and drifted into the U.S. seeking his fortune. He was a championship wrestler or boxer, and a good wrestler, boxer and rower in his youth.
Above: An undated photo. likely from the 1920s, 5 to 10 years after McCloskey's death. Note the painted signage on the side of the Arc Light Saloon. (Heritage Haus)
His first stop in the U.S. was Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the late 1870s, where it was rumored that he worked as a bartender for a big resort there.
Why is that important? First, McCloskey wasn’t from here; he was not an insider. Yet, he earned a good reputation for himself and became a civic leader. Second, it was while he lived in Arkansas that he joined the Knights of Pythias. The seal of the Knights appears on the pedestal of his statue.
Above: A wide view of the Arc Light Saloon mural at the Heritage Haus. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Along the way from Arkansas to San Angelo, he established some wealth and credit in Dallas, as a liquor dealer, making it possible for him to push westward following the railroad in the late 19th century. Presumably, he used his money he saved from Dallas to purchase the then-bankrupted bar from a man named John Fitzpatrick.
The former newspaper, The San Angelo Standard, notes that the building was previously a general mercantile store and had only been converted to a bar a year before McCloskey arrived.
Above: The doors to the former Arc Light Saloon as depicted on the mural. The dates are incorrect. McCloskey didn't arrive in San Angelo until 1892. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
After McCloskey’s arrival in San Angelo, his younger brother, David, joined him. David died within a year of the McCloskeys arriving here, according to his obituary. His obituary stated the brother was “in the last stages of consumption and no hope for recovery.”
David’s grave is next to the statue.
Above: David McCloskey, Thomas' brother, died of "consumption." (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Thomas’ wife Laura commissioned San Antonio sculptor Franck Teich to create the statue after Thomas’ death. An interesting design feature was Teich’s use of the likeness of a tree trunk to support McCloskey’s figure behind the statue’s right leg.
According to an article written by San Angelo author Ross McSwain, the sculptor, Teich, set up shop east of Llano on the railroad track. His works are prominently located all over the U.S. and in Mexico during that era. McSwain wrote that there was a photo of Teich working on the McCloskey statue in his shop in a 1917 issue of the Llano News. When the photo was taken was not mentioned.
McCloskey’s wife died in 1917 and left some of the McCloskey fortune to the Fairmount Cemetery.
What’s the moral of the story? Be nice to your wife and you too may get a statue memorializing your time here on earth, allowing all to muse over your life 104 years after your death.
More importantly, The Arc Light Saloon is a cool name. Someone should get busy and re-open McCloskey’s bar somewhere downtown. Design it for reputable businessmen to make deals, of course.
These stories commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Fairmount Cemetery in San Angelo and are sponsored by Harper Funeral Home.