Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, left, greets Phil Collins in front of the Alamo. Photo: AP
San Antonio: Phil Collins, a member of Genesis and a staple of 1980s-era MTV, arrived at the Alamo here on Thursday carrying a sword and a dagger. Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner, brought two guns, one tucked in his cowboy boot and the other in his waistband.
The meeting went well nevertheless.
The two exchanged gifts: Patterson gave Collins a lifetime admission to the Alamo, and kept his weapons concealed. Collins gave Patterson something far more valuable - the sword and the dagger he had brought with him on a private plane from New York ("The pilot left me alone," Collins said). Both were used in 1836 in the Battle of the Alamo, in which nearly 200 men died defending the mission from the Mexican army.
Phil Collins recounts his first visit to the Alamo in 1973. Photo: AP
Collins also gave Patterson a rifle used by Davy Crockett, one of four in existence. And cannonballs that were fired in the battle. And the sword belt of William B. Travis, the fort's commander. And a Mexican officer's belt buckle. And a letter written by Stephen F. Austin, the father of Texas, ordering a cannon and reinforcements. And musket balls and powder flasks and pistols and rusty bits of iron that the defenders of the Alamo fired from their cannons after they ran out of traditional ammunition.
All told, Collins donated more than 200 pieces of Alamo memorabilia and artefacts to Patterson and, to a larger extent, the state of Texas.
Collins, the London-born singer and drummer who wrote the chart-topping Sussudio, is an Alamo aficionado who knows more about the history of Texas' biggest tourist attraction than most Texans. Perhaps his passion may qualify as strange. But do not call it weird.
"Genesis' manager collects antique racing cars," Collins said. "Some people collect airplane numbers. That, I think, is weird. This isn't weird. Everybody's got something that they escape to."
In two decades, Collins' escape turned into what is believed to be the largest private collection of Alamo artefacts in the world. The collection formed the basis of his 2012 book - The Alamo and Beyond: A Collector's Journey - and has filled his home in Switzerland.
"It's in the basement," Collins, 63, said of his Alamo items, all of which will be shipped, at his expense, to Texas this year. "It's all perfectly alarmed, if anyone's reading."
For months, Collins and Patterson's General Land Office, which oversees the Alamo, have been negotiating the donation of the collection. They announced the deal at a news conference outside the Alamo on Thursday.
Collins declined to say what he has spent on the items.
"I'm not going to get into specific figures, but it's certainly six figures," he said. "Well, actually, it's seven figures. Some people buy Ferraris and buy houses in different countries. I buy bits of metal."
Collins said he thought it was time the collection returned home to Texas. He traced his interest and obsession with the Alamo to his childhood: When he was about five, he saw a Disney television series about Crockett's adventures. "It gripped me," he said.
But in an interview and at the news conference, he struggled to explain why the story of the Alamo struck him and stayed with him, far away in London and well into his adulthood and musical career. He spoke of his fascination with John W. Smith, the main courier at the Alamo (a receipt for one of his saddles is part of his collection).
"There's a clairvoyant I met once who claimed that I was he," Collins said, of Smith. "I don't buy that."
The collection is so large that a visitor's centre will have to be built to properly display it all, and Patterson planned to lead a private fundraising effort for the centre.
Patterson, a fan of Texas-born Bob Wills, the so-called king of Western swing, was asked if he could name one of Collins' songs.
"Yeah," said Patterson, 67, a former Marine.
He paused. He looked down at his feet and put his fingers to his lips. Seconds passed.
"No, I can't," he said. "If you give me a multiple choice, I can pick it out."
New York Times