The London friends of best-selling British author Lucinda Hawksley could not understand why she suddenly decided to travel to what they considered an small, obscure provincial hamlet in Texas.
“They looked at me like I was mad,” Hawksley recalled in an interview.
Hawksley is making her first trip to Galveston's annual celebration of Charles Dickens, Dickens on The Strand, because her middle name is Dickens. She is the great-great-great granddaughter of the famous writer and members of her family have been attending the two-day celebration that begins today for more than a decade.
The 36-year-old festival, with visitors and entertainers roaming the streets in Victorian-era costumes, is returning to its full 10-square-block area with more than 150 vendors for the first time since Hurricane Ike wrecked Galveston in September 2008, drowning The Strand Historic District in 10 feet of water. Last year's celebration was restricted to The Strand because most of the shops in the Historic District were still repairing damage.
This is Texas' best street festival of the year, and I won't miss it for the rest of my life. We're driving down to the island today and staying over night.
Advance ticket sales this year are about 80 percent of sales at the same time in 2007, when 33,000 attended Dickens on The Strand, said Molly Dannenmaier, spokeswoman for the event sponsor, the Galveston Historical Foundation. Foundation officials were pleasantly surprised that 22,000 visitors showed for last year's truncated celebration.
Officials are hoping that clear weather predicted for today and new attractions like an exhibit from the Charles Dickens Museum in London and screenings of the musical film A Tale of Two Cities, based on Dickens' famous novel, will draw crowds from Houston.
The special events this year are greatly enhanced -- Victorian bed races and exhibits from the London Dickens museum among them. More on that at the end of this excerpt.
Drawing an accomplished author like Hawksley, who has written or coauthored 20 nonfiction books, was unexpected. Her parents, who have attended Dickens on the Strand in the past, had been scheduled to represent the Dickens family. But they were unable to attend and asked Hawksley to come in their stead. “I was really excited to get the chance,” said Hawksley, who admits to being amazed when she first learned that Charles Dickens was being honored in a small, island city in Texas.
Hawksley is known for two biographies: Katey, theLife and Loves of Dickens Artist Daughter, and Lizzie Siddal: Face of the Pre-Raphaelites, which she describes as the story of “a working-class girl who rose from obscurity to become one of the most recognizable faces in Queen Victoria's Britain.”
She is also a patron of the Charles Dickens Museum in London, which has sent to Galveston two curators and a number of valuable artifacts, including a partially completed painting, Dickens Dream so rare that it's being kept under lock and key at an undisclosed island bank when not on display.
Also on display is one of the quill pens Dickens used and the court costume he wore when he was presented to Queen Victoria.
See you there.