Since 1528, when a naked and half-drowned Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca washed ashore on a sandbar in the Gulf of Mexico and survived black clouds of fierce mosquitoes, hostile Indians and a more hostile winter, Galveston has been an Island of Miracles. Though De Vaca, later memorializing his sojourn, dubbed it, evidently without input from the chamber of commerce, Island of Misery.

But, real as Cabeza de Vaca’s misery was, Galveston is truly an Island of Miracles.

That Galveston grew from a sparsely vegetated sandbar to become, in the late 19th century, the richest and most populous metropolis in Texas is miracle enough; that, after it was razed by the 1900 Storm, its battered inhabitants rebuilt and then constructed the seawall, raised the grade and lifted, with screw-jacks, virtually every building, including such cyclopean structures as Trinity Church and St. Mary’s, hints of the guiding hand of God.

In the beginning, Galveston was created by geography and transportation; changes in transportation and the inland migration of the financial and industrial center of gravity nearly killed it.

But somehow, the inhabitants, who collectively evidenced virtually every fault and virtue known among men, kept doing the impossible. A few of the more recent miracles are: The Elissa, the East End Historical District, The Strand, revitalized downtown, cruise ships, Moody Gardens, Oleander Garden, Bishop’s Palace, ArtWalk, Shriner’s Burns Hospital, surfing community, homes tour, Dickens on The Strand, Mardi Gras, train museum, Ronald McDonald House, Rosenberg Library, star sailing, Schlitterbahn, artists residency, Galveston Arts Center, Pleasure Pier, restaurant week, The Grand 1894 Opera House, Art League & Gallery, 1900 Storm Sculpture, American National Insurance Co., seawall, grade raising, Broadway esplanade, San Luis Hotel, Moody Gardens Hotel, west end resort development, Artist Boat, beach town, Galveston Symphony, Hotel Galvez, The Bryan Museum, Mosquito Fleet and the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Galveston can keep doing the impossible because there remains among us some like Paul Guido, who believed in the Elissa and refused to wake from what seemed to most an impossible dream.

Galveston’s direction is clear. It has many outdoor activities, historical attractions and excellent restaurants. It needs to add culture — art, classical music and classical or cutting edge theater — to put it in the same class with such cities as Santa Fe, San Miguel, and Aspen. Further, it needs to develop a culture of sharing, so its assets are efficiently used and of innovation to capture and use the best ideas. Most of all, it needs clearly defined shared goals.

Kenneth Shelton lives in Galveston.

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