In Galveston, owners of historic houses report strange sightings
Slamming doors, creaking floors, flickering lights and ghostly apparitions. In a city with hundreds of historic houses, it’s almost rare to find someone who doesn’t have a spine-tingling story to tell about unseen spirits and things that go bump in the night — and day.
The ghost stories islanders share have similar themes: a woman in black (or gauzy white) or a gentleman in a tailored suit or a child in turn-of-the-century clothing. Some stories involve cats with more than nine lives and invisible supernatural beings who move or break things, much to the bafflement of homeowners.
Each week in Galveston, more than a dozen different ghost tours on foot, bus or Segway take groups of mostly visitors on a tour of homes and buildings where owners have reported paranormal experiences. They tell the stories of historical figures and deceased Galvestonians who show themselves in various ways. Those homeowners report shadows and shapes that appear then disappear — only to return at a later date, but do little harm.
Haunted houses aren’t just fiction to many people. A 2013 Harris Poll of 2,250 adults revealed that 43 percent of Americans believe in ghosts.
“They visit to comfort those in the house,” said one local ghost guru. Some islanders believe ghosts return to check on their homes, complete tasks left undone or to be mischievous and play tricks on residents.
The owners of the Waters Davis house on Avenue L have a long list of inexplicable occurrences in their home since they bought it almost six years ago. A mummy was rumored to be buried on the grounds of the rambling house, built in 1868, but that story has never been documented. The owner, who declined to be named, said she saw Davis, a Galveston businessman in the 1800s, sitting at her husband’s desk.
“He seemed to be tidying up the desk,” said the homeowner. “He was gray — everything was gray: his hair, his face, his suit. I could make out the details and I knew it was Davis. And then he was gone.”
When the she was moving into the house, there was an incident with stacked chair cushions being unstacked and rearranged in the entertainment room. After the third time, the workers she had hired left — they were spooked by the unexplained occurrence, she said.
Also, her daughter told her she saw a female ghost standing by the window, wearing all black and watching from the second story, she said. And there was another episode in the bathroom with someone steadying her other daughter as she fell, saving her from a potentially serious injury, she said.
“We have never felt threatened or endangered by the strange sounds or ghosts,” she said. “I think they are happy and just checking on us.”
Karen and Mark Benson’s whole house isn’t haunted — just one room, they said. The Bensons have documented with time-stamped photos window shades rising and falling when no one was in the 1898 house. A friend, Joanie Harmon, said she was awakened from her sleep in that room to see in the dim light a woman with a curly bun in a black dress and standing at the foot of her bed, appearing agitated and worried.
“I wasn’t afraid,” Harmon said. “I knew she wasn’t real.”
The Benson family’s house was built on property once belonging to the Menard House, one of the city’s oldest residences, which happens to also have a reputation for ghostly happenings. They also have spotted a woman in white peering out of the window and no one has been able to explain to them the repetitious flickering of lights and breaking glass in unoccupied rooms.
Nearby, Roxanne and Bryan Barton have noted several odd episodes in their Avenue O house — dancing lights, sputtering fans and creaking steps in the hallway, they said. Their 4-year-old niece, who knows nothing about paranormal activity, said she was covering her ears in the dining room because of the loud noises she alone heard from the ghosts in the house.
Roxanne can’t explain one particular incident involving some margarita glasses she had purchased. She wanted four glasses but bought five. When she took them home, she washed them and left them to dry. She went into a nearby room and heard a noise. When she returned, one of the glasses had exploded, she said.
“I thought ‘Oh well, I only really wanted four glasses,’ and went into the other room,” she said. “I heard another burst and when I came back into the kitchen, another glass had exploded. I put the remaining three in a cabinet and haven’t ever used them,” she said. “I guess someone didn’t want us to have margaritas.”
The Bartons have experienced other strange incidents, but Roxanne bravely faced off with one of the spirits, she said.
“I told her: ‘I live here now and you are going to have to leave.’ We haven’t seen her since,” she said.
When Helen Stroud owned a house on 25th Street in Galveston, she frequently encountered spirits — shadowy figures, stair stompers and wailing babies, Stroud said. In fact, a television crew from MTV went to her house to film the extermination of the spirits by psychic Sonya Fitzpatrick, the Animal Planet host of “The Pet Psychic” and “Pet Psychic Encounters.” The house gave Stroud creepy feelings, but after Fitzpatrick’s visit, there were no more ghostly incidences, she said. She sold the house and moved to another nearby home, which she said also had ghostly issues. Stroud has since moved again, but not because of the spirits, she said.
“I wouldn’t let a ghost chase me away,” said Stroud, who noted her dogs detected the mysterious occurrences in the house and would bark and growl, even when there was no one around.
“The hair would stand up on the back of their necks and they would growl,” Stroud said.
Ghost stories are comforting to many homeowners. The idea that long-dead former residents are still walking the halls of houses is exciting, if not uncanny and eerie. And although there might be logical explanations for the apparitions, the ghosts are welcomed into many homes as long-lost guests or family members.
Another homeowner recounts many times she has had encounters with a friendly woman in her East End island home.
“I have felt someone stroking my arm,” she said. “Another time, I was lying in bed alone and felt someone patting my thigh. Three years ago, my granddaughter briefly saw someone sitting on the sofa with long hair. It wasn’t anyone we knew.” She also notes that she has heard on more than one occasion someone singing “Amazing Grace,” and it was clearly a woman’s voice.
But the homeowner liked having the ghostly guest around, she said.
“She is like a guardian angel,” she said. “There have been many, many women living in this house in the past, but I think it was the original homeowner who died here who keeps coming back.
“I like her and she seems like an interesting person. I just hope she likes me, too.”