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The Philosophers

I had the chance to walk through Zilker Park the other day and saw something I hadn’t thought about since I was a teenager. Walking past Barton Springs, I saw the statue of three older men deep in conversation in varying stages of undress. It’s called Philosopher’s Rock and it’s a charming statue, detailed, warm and reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. Two of the men depicted in the statue are buried here at the Texas State Cemetery, Walter Prescott Webb and J. Frank Dobie. The third man is Roy Bedichek. For those of you new to the state or the city for that matter, Webb and Dobie have their names plastered all over the city and all over campus at UT for good reason. They, along with Bedichek, were the preeminent intellectuals in the city and arguably the state when they were in their heyday. To give you a flavor of Dobie, and by proxy the other two men for they were great friends, here is the inscription on Dobie’s headstone. “I have come to value liberated minds as the supreme good of life on earth.” The three men strove to bring a free spirit and intellectualism to Texas and an echo of that philosophy clings to Austin still today.

Dobie was a folklorist and author, Webb was a historian and Bedichek was a naturalist. They made unlikely friends by all accounts; Webb was reserved, Dobie bombastic and confrontational and Bedichek was a more thoughtful and warm individual. But friends they were, they talked about everything from literature to philosophy and its probably unsurprising that as soon as the weather turned warm, they had their discussions at Barton Springs. Bedichek and Dobie would swim while the reserved Webb rolled up his pant legs and enjoyed the conversation more than the water. As young men dove into the pool, young women lounged in the sun and children ran by, the three men would be deep in conversation over Voltaire or Plato or the nature of man. By all accounts, Bedichek the naturalist was the first of the friends to become a regular at the pool, visiting it every day for 40 years until he died in 1959. Webb and Dobie weren’t as great of friends as they were with Bedichek and when he died, some of the air went out of things for both survivors. They didn’t outlive him long. Webb died in a car accident in 1963 followed by Dobie just a year later. That statue captures them perfectly, mired in a good-natured discussion on the meaning of life or somesuch.Capitol Area Statues Inc. placed the statue in front of the Barton Springs Visitors Center in 1994. The artist was Glenna Goodacre. They have since put up statues all over Austin, most notably the statue of Willie Nelson recently put up near Austin City Hall. Follow the link to the organization’s website and you’ll see their board is a formidable group of men and women dedicated to remembering Austin’s past. If you'd like to read more about the three men and their freindship, follow this link to an Austin Chronicle article by Steve Moore.

Back to my trip to Barton Springs, it’s been some time since I gave any thought to the statue, so I read the plaque. I’ll include a picture at the bottom of the page, but it’s probably too small to read. See the transcription below.



Philosopher’s Rock, or ‘Bedi’s Rock,’ was the name given to the shelf of limestone that once rose out of the glittering water at the edge of Barton springs. It was here; on hot summer days, that the naturalist ROY BEDICHEK and the chronicler and folklorist J. FRANK DOBIE sat in the sun and talked for hours about everything from classic works of literature to tall tales of lost Spanish treasure. Their great friend WALTER PRESCOTT WEBB, was not a swimmer, but he would often join in the talk. These three-Dobie Bedichek and Webb- strove to create a vibrant and distinctive intellectual climate in Texas, and their influence reached far beyond the state. This monument has been erected to celebrate their friendship, their enlightened spirit, and their love for Barton Springs.

The days are getting warmer despite this nice rainy day vacation we’re enjoying in Austin. As the days get warmer, people will start looking for ways to cool down and Barton Springs is one of the best of them. If you’re new to Austin, or just never knew who the three old men were, stop by and commune a bit with the fathers of Austin enlightenment before you jump into the cold waters of the springs.



- Will Erwin