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Hands-On History

Does a story about a pop star belong in a history magazine? That’s the question some members of our staff raised when Stephen Harrigan, author of the bestselling novel The Gates of the Alamo, proposed a piece exploring how and why the British rocker Phil Collins amassed the world’s largest collection of Alamo memorabilia. What Harrigan delivered with “Phil Collins Remembers the Alamo” is a far cry from standard celebrity fare. “It’s not about Phil Collins the pop star,” he says. “It’s about his reaction as a boy to a historic event of mythic proportions and his lifelong yearning to understand it better.” Harrigan shares that yearning. Like Collins, he was captivated in the 1950s and early 1960s with the screen portrayals of Davy Crockett by Fess Parker and John Wayne and fantasized about traveling back in time to the world they conjured. “When I stood outside the Alamo at age 7 and saw where the actual siege occurred, it was a magical thing. That was the beginning of my own lifelong passion for history.” Unlike Collins, Harrigan has never felt the urge to collect historical artifacts. But he couldn’t resist when Collins reached into a cardboard box full of horseshoes that are part of his Alamo collection and gave him one. “I guess now I can say I own a piece of the Alamo,” Harrigan says. “There’s nothing more exciting than looking at or holding something that goes way deep in time.”