Day Trips

The spooky specters of San Antonio

The ghosts that saved the Alamo
The ghosts that saved the Alamo (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

The ghosts of San Antonio don't seem to hold a grudge. Since the first settlers appeared on the muddy banks of the San Antonio River nearly three centuries ago, the Alamo City has seen more than its share of gunfights, revolutions, and crimes of passion. It's no wonder that a few lost souls wander the concrete canyons of the original part of downtown.

"I've never seen a place as haunted as the five acres around the Alamo," says professional ghost investigator Martin Leal. As ghost hunt director for Alamo City Paranormal, Leal takes visitors on a nightly tour of haunted sites around the old mission.

"This is definitely one of the hottest spots in the United States for paranormal occurrences," Leal says. Thousands of Native Americans were buried, but maybe not laid to rest, in the cemetery next to the mission we know as the Alamo. Then, besides Travis, Bowie, and Crockett, thousands of other combatants have died in battles for control of San Antonio, making it one of the most fought-over cities in North America.

After battlefields and cemeteries, the best places to hunt for spirits are at old hospitals and hotels, and the Alamo area has both, Leal says. Within a block of the Alamo was a hospital where the Ramada Emily Morgan Hotel now stands. Across the street from the former church, the Menger Hotel is the oldest hostelry west of the Mississippi River.

The Menger has a long list of ghost stories of its own. Employees have reported strange noises, lights going on and off, doors closing, and the ringing of a front-desk bell that had been removed years ago. Guests and employees have told of seeing a woman in a long blue dress who appears and disappears throughout the hotel.

"When two or three things happen together or four or five people see an image," Leal says, "it is definitely a ghost indicator." Other ghost indicators include cold spots and creepy feelings for no apparent reason. "Some people can see apparitions better than other people," he says.

Leal doesn't mind the comparison to the movie Ghostbusters; in fact, he wants participants on his tours to enjoy themselves. "First we entertain them and then we give them something to think about," he says.

The problem with the Hollywood version of ghosts is that they are trying to scare you. That's not how ghosts are in real life. "When was the last time you read in the paper about a ghost harming someone?" he asks. "Usually they're more annoying than harmful."

Leal conducts about 50 ghost investigations per year. Depending on what people need, he also works with mediums, hypnotists, psychics, and curanderos. "Just the belief that a couple of candles will help is enough sometimes," he says.

About 13 months ago Leal was called to investigate a sighting at the Alamo Gift Shop next to the old mission. Several visitors to the shrine had reported seeing a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy at a second-story window. Built in the 1930s, the upper floor of the building was used for storage and seldom accessed. When the chief of security went up to the door he found one of two locks locked with a key from the inside. Later, when the locksmith arrived, the bolt was unlatched and the storage room empty with no sign of the boy.

Hauntings History of San Antonio Ghost Hunt tours meet every evening at the Alamo Cenotaph. Not only does the memorial honor the fallen Texas heroes, but, Leal says, it might be the only monument in the world that includes ghosts. According to the ghost hunter, after the battle of San Jacinto, Santa Anna sent word to his general to destroy the San Antonio mission. When the Mexican army approached the doors to the Alamo six ghosts appeared and chased them off. The ghosts that saved the Alamo were included on the marble edifice. For information on the $10 tour that lasts about 90 minutes, call 210/436-5417 or go to You can also buy tickets at the Alamo Visitors Center in the Menger Hotel.

698th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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Martin Leal, Alamo City Paranormal, the Alamo, Menger Hotel, Hauntings History of San Antonio, Alamo Cenotaph

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