By Forest Riggs
Boo! Finally, it is that time of year again. Halloween quickly approaches and Galveston Island turns black and orange. Like communities everywhere, the Galveston LGBTQ family loves Halloween and does not hold back when it comes to decorating, spooking, partying and donning fantastic costumes. The bars are gayly decorated (literally) with everything from spider webs, witches, jack-o-lanterns, skeletons and scarecrows, to robotic creatures that belong in present-day horror movies. Strings of colored lights hang from the walls and ceilings, giving light to plastic vampire bats, spiders and the glowing red eyes of goblins waiting to grab at you. It is fun, it is Halloween and everybody loves it.
You don’t have to look far or hard to find signs that Halloween has arrived on the Island; Galveston is one of the most “haunted” cities in American — by some claims, second only to New Orleans.
Many people ask, “Why is Galveston so haunted? What is the big deal?”
With a rich and colorful history under its belt, the Island can’t help but have some lingering spirits that love to interact with the living (all of this, of course is if you believe).
“A haunted place is any area with a high concentration of ghostly activity that lasts over a prolonged period of time…strong emotional ties for the ghost.” —James Van Praagh
Ghosts among us
You don’t have to be a super psychic or gifted medium such as Van Praagh, who has spent a lifetime exploring the relationships that exist between the dead and the living.
Since childhood, using his tremendous gift as a the conduit between the living and the dead, he has solved numerous murders and mystery cases, located dead or missing persons, cracked serial murder cases, written many books, appeared on television programs and even developed and co-produced the television series, The Ghost Whisperer, based on his personal experience.
James Van Praagh is not to be taken lightly or written off as a hocus-pocus nut case; he is as real as it gets and his abilities have not been disproved or staged like so many of the current and very popular ghost hunting shows and paranormal investigation series that proliferate the cable channels these days.
Reading his New York Times bestselling books, especially Ghosts Among Us, it is easy to see why Galveston Island is a choice “haunt” for those lingering between life and death.
Galveston has all the right components, from early Native American residents to pirates, the rise and fall of the Republic of Texas governmental seats, the development of the State of Texas, the mass deaths from the 1900 Great Storm to devastating fires and carnage from all sorts of things. There have been “Mafia” bosses and organized crime, murders with missing heads, revenges over land being stolen or families not wanting to sell their property to certain entities and placing a curse. There are even ghosts that haunt the beautiful and sometimes old and run-down structures about the Island. There are haunted paintings, an image that appears on an external wall of a UTMB building, the story of Mrs. Alberti killing all of her family with poison, some unsolved murders that have been linked to Jack the Ripper and many more such stories.
The Walmart on Seawall Boulevard, now standing where the old St. Mary’s Orphanage once stood and 93 children perished in the 1900 storm, is reported to have night visitors that play in the toy aisles and have been captured rolling balls and rearranging shelf items.
Rumors, a popular bar, once a Kentucky Fried Chicken that was robbed and the employee killed, is “rumored” to have a night visitor that stalks around, as well as few former patrons that have “passed through the veil.” Security cameras as 23rd Street Station Piano Bar have captured something or someone, near the slots late at night, turning their chair. Could this be a friend and patron everyone knew and loved on the Island, killed in a tragic accident?
There are stories of a “tall, wispy woman figure” seen on the second floor of City Hall. Lyda Ann?
The stories go on and on. With streets lined with beautiful, old cemeteries housing graves from ancient to present, there is a veritable smorgasbord of “ripe for the picking” places for spirits to hang out. Just ask any Islander, especially those occupying an older structure or even a new building where something else stood before, and you will hear some tale of things moving, shadows, phantom animals, bumps, noises, voices and, in some cases, actual contact when sought out by the curious. The “haints” of Galveston are everywhere and they love to let their presence be known.
Throughout the year there are ghost tours on the Island and one can purchase some great publications and maps sharing information and locations about Galveston’s “spiritual population.” It is fun at night to see groups of ghost hunters and skeptics walking along the brick streets of downtown, or carrying lanterns and weaving among the ornate mausoleums and graves in the City Cemetery on Broadway, which actually seven cemeteries in one! Those brave enough or drunk enough to visit the old foundation of pirate Jean Lafitte’s house, Maison Rouge, on Harborside Drive, just might get lucky and hear howling dogs and low voices of men arguing at three o’clock in the morning.
With an estimated death toll from the 1900 storm, ranging from five-thousand to almost 12 thousand, it is no wonder that so many are still roaming, looking for their families, homes, pets and all that was lost.
Friends gathered one night at my house (a location known to have been washed under in 1900) and, much to my dislike, produced an old wooden Quija board, the type designed by Mr. Fuld. It did not take long for the planchette (“little board”) to begin moving. With me taking down the notes, our little group was stunned to see the movement and spelling of the words, “water…daddy…doctor…choking…water…fire…burns.”
This went on for about 15 minutes and when it was over we were sure two little girls that perished in the storm, Elizabeth and Sarah, had contacted us from the great beyond. Sarah spelled that her daddy was a doctor. They were never found or identified, but were burned on one of the many makeshift pyres that dotted the Island for days after the catastrophe. It was hair-raising, when I had hair!
So whether you are a believer or not, you can still enjoy all that Halloween brings to the Island from the orange and black to the walking dead. The ghosts and their stories abound, especially this time of year, just ask anyone.