People and places: Courthouse register gives glimpse of visitors

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, December 2, 2017

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The Wise County Courthouse is not only beloved by local residents, but also around the nation.

Need proof? Just take a peek at the building’s guest register.

For years, I’d seen the guestbook near the foot of the stairs on the first floor, but only recently flipped through it. There’s space for visitors to write their names, hometown, and offer comments or their reason for stopping by, which makes for interesting reading. Just this week I took a little time to study the current book and older volumes, dating back to the 1990s, courtesy of County Judge J.D. Clark and his staff. I was hoping there were older books, but if they exist, they’re not at the courthouse.

What I first noted was the wide range of states, and even countries, represented on these pages. Of course, most are from Texas, but there were also visitors from Oklahoma, Georgia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oregon, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska and Hawaii. Even more surprising were multiple guests from Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

As I flipped through the pages, what proved most interesting to me were the comments. Most of them were what you would expect – “beautiful building,” “awesome,” “amazing structure,” “love the architecture” – or a variation thereof.

But many commented on why they were in the building.

Ron and Sue Baker from Butler, Okla., said, “My great-grandad helped build this courthouse.”

Theodore Browne of Nebraska said he saw the courthouse from 10 miles away, luring him to the town square. “Very impressive!” he stated.

Ward W. Kenyon of Alamogordo, N.M., was impressed. “WOW!” he wrote. “Architects. Have we lost our touch?”

The Markoff family – Lydia, Annika and Lukas – of San Jose, Calif., said, “My daughter calls this a princess castle – love it!” A second family – the Barbers from Keller – also referred to it as a “castle.”

A gentleman from Council Bluffs, Iowa, stated “That last step was a killer!” He was perhaps out of breath after climbing the stairs to the third floor.

A couple from California said this is “what a courthouse is supposed to look like,” while Mr. Clark of Hallsville declared it “Legit!”

The 2011 Decatur High School mock trial team signed the book, saying “We love taking our annual picture here. Best courthouse EVA!”

Joe and Michelle Hill’s only comment, written in summertime, was “hot,” which made me laugh because you will indeed sweat buckets in there during the summer months, especially on the upper floors.

There were a few comments that I didn’t understand. C. Yates of Normal simply said “HMMMM,” which could mean a number of things, and Claudine “Okie” Wishon of Skintook, Okla., said “cool and confusing” … now I’m confused, too, Claudine.

A Newark resident said the building smelled “of the past.” She said it felt safe and also noted the presence of “spirits” – two male and two female.

A woman from Paradise said “Smells good!” I’ve never noticed a “good” smell in the courthouse, but on the other hand, there’s never been anything putrid. The air is neutral, often heavy with emotion, but not scent in my experience.

Some of that emotion found its way to the guest register.

The Husmanns of Brenham made known “We are not criminals!” Although I’m not sure how their case turned out, they were convinced of their innocence. A woman from Newark noted her experience in the courthouse was “pointless.” “No help whatsoever.”

I was sad for Christopher Lopez. He said he was “terrified,” and Zack Whatley of Tarrant County sought God’s intervention. “Oh, Lord. I need your help,” he wrote. “I need a miracle.”

Several other guests noted happy occasions like adoptions, marriages and tours. Although these books represent a tiny fraction of the people that have passed through the courthouse, it was an interesting glimpse of the people who have visited, where they were from, and the role our court system played in their lives.

My favorite signature was from the late District Judge John Fostel.

Buried a few pages into one book, on one of the last lines, it says “John Fostel,” with no note of his title or longtime legal practice.

And in the address column, it simply said “local.”

Kristen Tribe is assistant publisher of the Wise County Messenger.

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