May 17, 2003. The day of the very first Violet Crown Festival had arrived. It was mid-morning, and a team of us were working to get everything ready, nervously hoping that everyone would show up in just a few hours.
We had the first hint that something had gone astray during the music stage sound check: “Testing, one-two-three. Testing, one-two-three . . . Hey! There’s a pig running loose!” yelled John Fremgen into the mike. He had a bird’s-eye view of what was happening—A baby pig had escaped from the petting zoo and was running as fast as his little legs could carry him.
Volunteers stopped what they were doing and gave chase. It was a sight to behold— people running, diving, lunging after this small pig, who made a beeline across the park and disappeared near Justin and Yates.
After the festival, life returned to normal, but with a difference: Pig sightings began to crop up. Pam Jacks, owner of the Crestview Barber Shop, said she saw it running down the street one morning on her way to work. Jeff Dickey, who coordinated art booths at the festival from 2003-2005, said he saw Animal Control chase the pig down Arroyo Seco in a futile attempt to catch it.
Teresa Edwards, who coordinated family activities at the festival in 2004, was walking her newly adopted dog at dusk when the dog went into a frenzy. There in the twilight, at the end of the street, Teresa saw a pig, but it rounded the corner and disappeared. “The pig reappeared and dashed past us. Running behind the pig is this tall lanky cowboy, boots clicking on the pavement. It looked like a Texas ‘Keystone Cops,’” she said. “ Then a lady who lives down the street drove up in an SUV looking for the cowboy and the pig. As it turned out, she worked for the Humane Society and recognized my dog by name. It’s a small world!”
Our neighborhood had a new, elusive resident that seemed to be thriving in its urban habitat. Later that summer, pig sightings stopped. Had the pig become an urban legend, after all?
Then, sometime in September 2003, Shayla and Tom Fleshman were walking their dogs early one morning. They rounded the northwest corner of Woodrow and Arroyo Seco and heard the unmistakable sound of grunting in Paulette Fiske’s backyard. Yep, there was a pig wearing a red bandanna. But was it the pig? They knocked on the door to find out. Not many people knew shy Paulette, who created “Sunflower Way,” a beautiful sunflower garden that she grew every year. Sure enough, the pig had appeared out of nowhere two months earlier. She, too, had called Animal Control. They caught it, put it in their truck, and drove off.
A week later the pig showed up again in Paulette’s backyard. This time, she kept it, named it Domino for the spots on its rump, and tied a red bandanna around its neck. She tamed this wild creature, actually a feral hog, just as she had tamed a blue jay that also lived with her. Domino slept at her feet and jumped into her lap to be petted. Domino was one smart pig to know to go back to Paulette’s, where he was well loved and well fed.
By now, Domino was getting much bigger on all the good food he was devouring. Then, in early October, Paulette’s landlord told her, “Either Domino goes, or you do.” Paulette called Shayla and made her promise to find Domino a loving home, as he was now a pet. What to do?
We got Domino on a waiting list at Kinky Friedman’s Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch and asked everyone we knew if they could adopt Domino. Time was running out. Then, Mike Jack, who coordinated the petting zoo in 2003, and his friend David Sherrill met Paulette and saw what a special relationship she had with Domino. They agreed to keep Domino in with the goats and raise him, and Paulette accepted his offer. It was a sad parting because Paulette and Domino were so attached to each other. On the same day Domino left Paulette learned that her husband had cancer. “I feel like I’m losing everything I love in the world,” she said. Less than two months later, Paulette’s husband passed away.
Paulette, though, found a new love and a new life in Marble Falls. We will miss her wonderful garden every year. Not long after Paulette moved away, Domino escaped again, this time from his goat pen. Could he be on his way back to where his adventure began? David Sherrill says he keeps an eye out for a feral hog wearing a red bandana.
Domino inspired the design of the festival t-shirt in 2004 and Jean Graham’s vision for the Procession of the Violet Crowns, as part of First Night Austin. More than 100 Brentwood and Crestview neighbors participated in the event on New Year’s Eve in 2005 and 2009.
Sometime in 2006, the house where Paulette had lived was torn down, but you still can find a few sunflowers blooming around the edges of her yard.
We pay tribute to Domino, the Violet Crown Pig; to Paulette Fiske and her beautiful sunflowers; and to all our neighborhood legends who make this such a unique place to call home.
— Shayla Fleshman and Susan Burneson
Domino lives on as the mascot for the Violet Crown Festival and visits every year for mirth and photos!