Monday, June 18, 2007

True History for the Showman

The Many Legs of Santa Anna

Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón was born with the standard two, although mirror imaged, matching legs. They served their master, Santa Anna, for many good years.

In 1810, at the age of sixteen, the three of them, Santa Anna and his legs, joined the Mexican army. By the time a dozen years had passed, Santa Anna’s stellar military service earned the rank of General. In 1836, he defeated the troops at the Alamo. Despite the victory, he was not received as a hero by the Mexican government.

In 1838, he saw a way to redeem himself when the French invaded Mexico. During the so-called Pastry War, cannon fire struck the General. His leg and ankle were shattered and amputation was the only option. In a ceremony befitting any war dead, the detached leg was buried with full military honors. His leg wasn’t the only loss, the battle was also a defeat, yet, Santa Ana styled himself as a hero.

During this era, wooden legs were little more than sticks. Santa Ana preferred a cork leg sculpted to a more realistic shape. This leg he would hold high above his head and wave it during parades to remind the onlookers of the sacrifice he made for Mexico.

However, he wasn’t finished with the formerly attached leg. On the year anniversary of his loss in the Pastry War and the ten-year anniversary of his greatest victory over Spain in Tampico, the leg was disinterred. Santa Ana had the limb paraded through the streets in an imperial coach and laid to rest in an ornate mausoleum. He commissioned songs and poems to eulogize, lovingly, his former member.

Santa Ana was president of Mexico eleven non-consecutive times over a period of twenty-two years. Sometimes handed the power of state, sometimes seizing it for himself, only to be thrown out of office for his extreme corruption. After one such event, a riotous mob destroyed his leg’s crypt. They dragged the desiccated appendage through the streets chanting “Death to the Cripple, Long Live Congress.” The leg hasn’t been heard from since.

In 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico. Santa Anna commanded the Mexican forces the battle of Cerro Gordo. American troops forced the General into a hasty retreat. Illinois guardsmen discovered Santa Ana’s personal carriage abandoned. Its contents included the General’s personal wardrobe, $70,000 in silver to pay his troops, and his favorite leg. The troops immortalized the leg in song parodies. To this day, the war prisoner (cork leg) is still being held at the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

Mourning the loss, Santa Ana never again would sport cork; wood would have to do. There is an unconfirmed rumor that Texas is also in possession of a wooden Santa Anna leg and tried to trade it for a flag that flew over the Alamo, which is owned by Mexico.

I can just imagine some industrious owner of a 19th cabinet of curiosities touring with wax copies of the many legs of Santa Ana.

Must have been quite the draw.

PostScript: The former legs of Heather Mills and Monty Stratton could not be reached for comment on the previous totally bizarre, mostly true, story.

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