O. Henry (William Porter)

Writer's life has as much legend as his fiction

William Sydney Porter, more commonly known by his pen name O. Henry, is widely recognized for his short stories. His work is distinguished by its wit, characterization and often a plot twist at the end of a story.

"That twist ending is something O. Henry is known for," said Michael Hoinski, culture and arts education coordinator with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department's O. Henry Museum. "Kind of pulling the rug out from underneath you."

But outside the world of writing, the story of O. Henry's life also includes plenty of its own elements of fiction and fantastic situations.

"If you ask five different people who know about O. Henry, you might get five slightly different answers. That's the beauty of O. Henry," Hoinski said. "He's this really dynamic character who's been in a lot of really interesting situations and defining moments in his life."

O. Henry was born Sept. 11, 1862, in Greensboro N.C., and moved to Cotulla, south of San Antonio, in 1882 for health reasons. He moved to Austin in 1884 and married Athol Estes in 1887. O. Henry held several jobs while in Austin, including working as a draftsman at the General Land Office, a teller at the First National Bank of Austin and publisher of a weekly satirical paper called "The Rolling Stone" for a year.

O. Henry lost his job at the bank after discrepancies were found in his bank records, and he was indicted on federal embezzlement charges. Before his trial, O. Henry went to Honduras for six months and then returned to Austin to attend to his ailing wife. O. Henry was found guilty of embezzlement in February 1898 and sentenced to five years in prison at a federal penitentiary in Ohio.

Hoinski said there still is debate as to whether O. Henry was guilty and fled to Honduras to escape trial, but it was the trip that turned the jury against him.

Hoinski said myths around O. Henry continued during his time in prison, including that he was allowed to drink beer during his incarceration and that he saved the warden's life. While in prison, O. Henry created his famous pen name, though its exact origins are unknown.

"That's the story of O. Henry," Hoinski said. "A lot of elements of his story, you're kind of left guessing."

After his release in 1902, O. Henry moved to New York and was contracted to write one story a week for The New York World Sunday Magazine. O. Henry published 381 short stories, including The Gift of the Magi, before he died in 1910.



The city of Austin will work with Capital Metro to look into public financing options to help fund new MetroRail stations at the new Austin FC soccer stadium at McKalla Place and at the Broadmoor Campus in North Austin. (Amy Denney/Community Impact Newspaper)
City to work with Capital Metro on financing new Broadmoor and McKalla Place rail stations as development boom looms

Austin City Council expects the new Austin FC stadium and massive mixed-use development planned for McKalla Place and the Broadmoor Campus to result in heightened demand for public transit.

Ricardo Lowe, a research associate at the Institute of Urban Research Policy and Analysis at the University of Texas, asks a question at an Austin ISD community meeting Nov. 12 held at Eastside Memorial High School. Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper
As community engagement meetings wrap up, AISD trustees set to vote on four school closures Nov. 18

The AISD Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on four elementary school closures at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Austin's Rainey Street District has become one of the most popular entertainment districts in the city.
Rainey Street fund rises from ashes to preserve Mexican-American heritage in booming district

The Mexican-American heritage inside the Rainey Street District has been waning for years as development continues to heighten.

The Atlas 14 rainfall study found Austin to be at a much higher flood risk than previously understood.
Acknowledging expanded risk, Austin moves to prohibit additional density in city’s flood-prone areas

A recent federal flood risk study found Austin's flood risk to be significantly higher than previously understood.

The 10,000-seat Moody Center at The University of Texas is scheduled to open in 2022. (Rendering courtesy Gensler)
Groundbreaking for Moody Center at The University of Texas set for Dec. 3

The UT Board of Regents gave final approval Nov. 14 to a $38.5 million project to realign Red River Street around the new basketball arena.

The city of Austin authorized the purchase of a Rodeway Inn at 2711 S. I-35 on Nov. 14. The city plans to convert the property into a homeless shelter. (Olivia Aldridge/Community Impact Newspaper)
City Council green lights $8 million Rodeway Inn plan for homeless shelter transition, vows to address crime in the area

South Austin neighbors raised concerns that criminal activity in the area will put homeless individuals who enter the shelter at risk.

Lady Bird Lake at Congress Avenue in Austin. Since late July, parts of the lake have been off limits due to high concentrations of toxic "blue-green" algae. (Courtesy Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune)
Toxic algae blooms are becoming more common, scientists say

Months have passed, but the capital city still has signs up warning of ongoing dangerous conditions in Lady Bird Lake.

Community members examine updated zoning maps at land development code town hall in October.
Land development code rewrite heads to City Council for final approval, marking home stretch of nearly 7-year process

Austin's long-awaited land development code rewrite is heading to City Council for final approval.

Crews work on updating a section of I-35 in Central Texas (Courtesy TxDOT)
Central Texas transportation agencies investing millions in I-35 for new lanes, intersection improvements aimed at aiding mobility

About 20 miles of I-35 through Central Texas will see an infusion of $400 million in state and federal funding to add one to two additional lanes in an effort to improve mobility.

Juice Society announces closure

Juice Society owner Danielle Sobel announced the closing of its location at 1100 S. Lamar Blvd., Ste. 1116, …

Balanced Health Austin now open in North Central Austin

Balanced Health Austin opened Nov. 5 at 7301 Burnet Road, Ste. 21, Austin. Owner Kayla Breaux said the health …

Rastegar Property developing mixed-use property on South First Street

Rastegar Property purchased a 1.77-acre property at 2209 S. First St., Austin, and will develop it as a …

Back to top