One interesting comment to Fabiola’s blog about my post was from another blogger, La Potosina, pointing out a video from her blog of the Fantasy Gardens. Check it out.
I recently read Native Roots, How Indians Enriched America by Jack Waterford. In the second chapter, Pyramids on the Mississippi, Waterford discusses Cahokia. I suppose I have driven by it on the Interstate and never knew it was there. So, also check out that post.
Here’s a repost of my post on Fabiola’s blog:
The Fantasy Gardens of Xilitla
Edward William Frank James in his fine red bathrobe
This goofy looking guy created one of Mexico’s more unusual tourist attractions.
Mexico has a long history of accepting immigrants, refugees and travelers from all across our world. Republicans fled here from Franco. Communists escaped purges in Russia and Jews hid out in Mexico after their expulsion from Spain. Italians and Germans came running from fascists. Americans drifted south in search of a more libertarian society. To all, Mexico opened its doors—proud and accepting.
However, sometimes people come to Mexico with bizarre stories.
We encountered the legacy of a most unusual expat near the village of Xilitla in the state of San Luis Potosi. There, Alice and I visited Edward James’ Fantasy Gardens, Las Pozas, The Pools. Our tour of the gardens left us wondering what the hell?
Edward James was the grandson of an American merchant who amassed a huge fortune trading with the British. His father, William, inherited the fortune and married Evelyn Forbes, a Scotch socialite, reputed to have been fathered by the then Prince of Wales—later King Edward VII.
In a curious twist, William’s son, Edward William Frank James, our subject, became the godson of King Edward VII.
Edward grew up in an unusual environment. Around him were the King of England, his court and others suffering serious delusions of grandeur. He was lavished with more money than he could rid himself of in a lifetime of hard spending
As a young man, the “family” gifted Edward a cushy government job. He bungled it such a bad way they sent him away—essentially fired.
He recovered by devoting himself as a patron of the arts, zeroing in on Surrealists. A principal supporter and collector of Salvador Dali, he also housed Magritte in his London digs.
Edward married Tilly Losch, an Austrian dancer, choreographer, actor and painter in 1930. He poured money into several productions created for her.
In 1934 Edward divorced Losch, accusing her of adultery with Prince Serge Obolensky, an American hotel executive. In her countersuit, she accused Edward of being homosexual.
To put it all behind him, Edward travelled to the highlands of the Sierra Gorda Mountains of northeastern Mexico where in 1947 he purchased a coffee plantation near Xilitla.
For several years, Edward used this plantation as a home for orchids and exotic animals he collected. In 1962, he started building his surreal gardens accented with cement and rebar sculptures.
Inspired by the orchids he brought to the gardens, Edward spent more than five million US dollars paying local artisans to develop his concrete fantasies.
In the 1970s, he sold what was the world’s largest and most important collection of Surrealist art to fund further development his gardens.
In 1984, Edward died leaving Las Pozas to his Mexican foreman, Plutarcho Gastelum. However, he left no money for its maintenance. Plutarcho attempted to operate the gardens as a tourist attraction, but the jungle worked to slowly reclaim the sculptures.
Our guide told us that at night, snakes rule the gardens.
In the summer of 2007, the Fundación Pedro y Elena Hernández, the state of San Luis Potosi along with the company Cemex—a most appropriate addition—paid a reported $2.2 million US dollars for Las Pozas and created Fondo Xilitla to oversee the preservation and restoration of the site.
We drove to Xilitla from the city of Guanajuato breaking the trip into two days. We stayed in a Bed and Breakfast within walking distance of entrance to Las Pozas.
The highlight of the drive was the crossing of the continental divide in the Reserva de la Biósfera Sierra Gorda There the hot dry sparse landscape abruptly changed while crossing through a single mountain pass to the lush wet tropical jungle directly influenced by the Gulf of Mexico.