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,” explained author Docia Williams, whose tours have led groups on night excursions of the city’s “occupied” buildings. The lively writer 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 ghostly tomes including When Darkness Falls: Tales of San Antonio Ghosts and Hauntings, Best Tales of Texas Ghosts, and The History and Mystery of the Menger Hotel. “The older the place, the more likely it is things have happened.”
Ghosts of the Alamo
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 now-closed Brentanos Bookstore, a clerk noticed lights going on and off throughout the day of March 6 and books moved without human assistance.
Is Southwest Craft Center Haunted?
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,” said 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,” explained the author. “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.
Is There a Ghost at the Menger Hotel?
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,” explained 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.
Haunted Museums in San Antonio
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 these sites can be viewed in the daytime, most who are interested in the otherworldly residents visit at night. The reason is simple, explained Williams. “No self-respecting ghost would be out in daylight.”