They came Monday, though there is really nothing for them to see.
Parking anywhere they could find along the chalky country road, hundreds of people spent their holiday touring what little remains of Mount Carmel, one-time home of the Branch Davidians, most of whom died in an April 19 inferno.
Many of those who came spent their time lapping the fence put up to quarantine the area around what was the compound.
“This is going to be like Graceland,” said David Mevis, who sells T-shirts outside Mount Carmel on Double E Ranch Road. “Whether the mayor of Waco likes it or not, this is a tourist site. I’ve talked to people today from Australia, Great Britain and Canada. They want to see where it happened.”
Mark Spoon shakes his head over the Mount Carmel phenomenon. He and his wife, Marcia, and their daughter, Amanda, live across the road from the compound.
“I don’t know why people just can’t go and see a junkyard in their own town,” Spoon said. “That’s all it is now.”
An American flag, rightside up, fluttered atop Spoon’s gatepost. He put it up to counter one being flown upside down across the road.
The people streaming across Mount Carmel haven’t bothered him directly, but Spoon and his family long ago tired of the steady parade of cars, the people dressed in everything from suits and dresses to tank tops and swimsuits, and the T-shirt vendors hawking their ware.
“I’m waiting for them to get the rides in,” Spoon said.
Some of the crush of people coming out Monday might be explained by plans to close Double E Ranch Road for several weeks to repair it. The road crumbled under the weight of the tanks that rolled over it during the 51-day siege that followed the Feb. 28 shootout between the cult and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents.
That doesn’t explain, though, what people hope to see at Mount Carmel.
“I think there’s a fascination with a site that captured the world’s attention,” said Larry Lyon, a sociologist at Baylor University. “In Waco’s history, something like this has never happened before. It was really a unique historical event. There’s nothing to see, true. Yet when you drive by the site of John Kennedy’s assassination, there’s nothing to see, either. But you still look and you still see and you still feel.”
The saga of cult leader Vernon Howell’s hold on his followers fascinates the public, Lyon said.
“It disturbed, it excited, it titillated, it horrified,” Lyon said. “Think of all the storylines. There was the would-be rock star fixated on Madonna, who married 12-year-old girls and who was preaching about the end of time. Geraldo couldn’t book something that bizarre.”
Loretta Creelman of Chino Hills, Calif., and her family came to look Monday. She walked around the grounds with her daughter.
“I knew there would be ruins,” she said. “I was just checking it out for curiosity’s sake. We kept track of it on the news. I pointed some things out to my kids. They were interested in how it happened. We talked about the consequences of cults.”
Spoon and his wife knew more about Howell, also called David Koresh, and the Branch Davidians than most of Waco. They had sat through a couple of Howell’s long Bible studies. They found his doctrine hard to follow.
But Spoon knew he disagreed with what he did understand.
“He’d ask, ‘Do you believe in the Book of Revelation?’” Spoon said. “You’d nod your head. Then he’d say, ‘If you believe in the Book of Revelation, you must believe in the Seven Seals. Only the Lamb of God can open the Seven Seals. Do you want to know what’s in it?’ I asked one of the guys, ‘If only the Lamb of God can open the Seven Seals, who is David?’ He told me, ‘Who do you think?’”
Though Spoon knew Howell and many of the other Branch Davidians who died at Mount Carmel, he doesn’t mourn their passing.
“I don’t feel a lot of remorse for them,” he said. “They got what they wanted.”
Tugging on his gimme cap, Spoon excused himself. He had to go across the road, onto Mount Carmel property. A couple of boys were shooting off bottle rockets, dry grass all around them.
Adults walked by the boys, saying nothing, as if it were part of the show.
“People are hard to understand sometimes,” Spoon said. “They really are.”