San Antonio: A Supernatural Stop
With its long (and sometimes bloody) history,
it's not surprising that more than a few ghost sightings have been
reported in San Antonio. The settings vary: Behind a two-century-old
home, a night watchman hears the sound of a woman's cries coming
from the depths of a sealed well. In a downtown hotel, employees
repeatedly see a maid dressed in a 19th century uniform. And in
an art center, a photographer feels a hand on his shoulder and turns
to see a dark shadow in the room with him.
These are just a few examples of the spirited
encounters which have occurred in San Antonio. The historic homes
and museums of the Alamo City are filled with reminders of long
dead residents, ones many people believe still roam the area.
"San Antonio is a very haunted city,"
says Docia Williams, an author and tour guide who leads groups on
night excursions of the city's "occupied" buildings. The
lively guide has interviewed policemen, night watchmen and residents
of private homes throughout the city and searched the library's
archives. She has gathered documented material for her "Spirits
of San Antonio" bus tour and for two ghostly tomes, Spirits
of San Antonio and South Texas and Ghosts Along the Texas Coast,
published by Wordware Press. "The
older the place, the more likely it is things have happened."
One of San Antonio's oldest buildings, the
Alamo, is also reported to be one of the most haunted. Today's night
watchmen have heard unexplained sounds in the old mission, but the
hauntings date back to the days of the historic battle. Following
the battle, Mexican soldiers were said to have run from the Alamo
shouting "diablos" (devils). The reference could have
been to their opponents -- or to some other presence in the mission.
Another story deals with the order that was
issued to burn the Alamo following the Battle of San Jacinto. Soldiers
entered the old building, but soon fled, refusing to carry out their
mission. Their leader came to speak to the men. Entering the building,
he was met by six ghosts holding swords of fire -- rumored to be
the ghosts of the Spanish priests who built the Alamo.
Other ghosts are believed to be the spirits
of over 180 men killed at the Battle of the Alamo. Their bodies
were unceremoniously burned by their opponents in funeral pyres
(only the body of one Texan, the brother of a Mexican soldier, was
permitted a Christian burial.) The exact location of the pyres was
never known, but one was believed to be at the site of a boarding
house called Ludlows. Old records show the boarding house was located
in the 800 block of East Commerce -- the same spot occupied since
1988 by the Rivercenter Mall.
Few people who stroll through the well-lit,
busy mall would think of it as a haunted or spooky building, but
unexplained events have occurred here, especially on the anniversary
of the battle. According to an interview Docia Williams conducted
at the Brentanos Bookstore, a clerk noticed lights going on and
off throughout the day of March 6 and books moved without human
The priests who haunt the Alamo are in the
company of nuns not far away at the Southwest Craft Center, located
at 300 Augusta at Navarro. Today a gallery and working studio for
many San Antonio craftsmen, the building was once a girls' school
run by cloistered nuns.
"The only men ever allowed here were the
doctor, if someone were very ill, and the parish priest who said
the mass on Sunday," says Williams. "No other men were
allowed. Now there are all these male teachers and security guards."
So from a ghost's point of view, it's not surprising
that some strange occurrences have taken place. "The photography
teacher was in the darkroom not too long ago, and he came out and
felt a hand on his shoulder kind of shoving him," says the
tour guide. "He turned around and there was nothing but a dark
shadow. About a month or so later, the same thing happened to him,
but this time it was a misty white shadow." The dark shadow
was explained as a nun's habit, but what about the white apparition?
That second incident took place in the summer, a time when the nuns
of the school always changed into a white habit.
Downtown, the Menger Hotel at 204 Alamo Plaza
also has its share of spooks. Theodore Roosevelt was a frequent
guest here, and, according to some, he still is. "They think
Teddy Roosevelt still hangs around," explains Docia Williams.
"There was a buzzer on the front desk to buzz the desk clerks
if they were in the back office. It has been disconnected for years,
but it still goes off periodically. They say Teddy Roosevelt was
very impatient and would buzz it long and strong. I was there one
day when it went off."
According to hotel employees, the former president
is not the only phantom resident. On the third floor, guests have
seen an elderly man walk down the hall, then mysteriously disappear.
Those who have seen the apparition believe it is the ghost of Captain
Richard King of the King Ranch in South Texas. The rancher was an
occupant of the Menger, and in 1885 his funeral was even held in
the hotel parlor.
If Richard King haunts the third floor, then
Salie White claims the fourth. A chambermaid in the 1870s, Salie
was murdered by her husband, and the hotel paid for the burial.
The employee whose devotion never died is often seen with a feather
duster or broom, wearing a long skirt and a bandana.
Several San Antonio museums are also rumored
to be haunted. The Institute of Texan Cultures is supposedly haunted
by the ghost of its former director, a pipe smoker. Williams says
late night employees still report smelling his tobacco smoke. And,
when night watchmen make their rounds, they often find the doors
of the hearse in the Castroville exhibit mysteriously open. They
close the hearse doors, make their rounds, and return to find them
open once again.
Another allegedly haunted museum is the Jose
Navarro house at 228 South Laredo, home of one of the signers of
the Texas Declaration of Independence. Located next to the jail,
the home is said to have cold spots, rocking chairs that move without
human help, and furniture that rearranges itself. Not far away,
the Spanish Governor's Palace, built in 1749, is allegedly haunted
by the spirit of a former servant in the home. The woman was killed
by robbers, and her body was thrown into a well behind the home.
Today the well is capped, but night guards still report hearing
her moans, says Williams.
Although the itinerary of Docia Williams' "Spirits of San Antonio" tour changes, one thing remains constant: all tours are conducted at night. The reason is simple, says Williams. "No self-respecting ghost would be out in daylight."
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