Wanna see some ghosts? Galveston is the town for you.
Ghost stories about Galveston should come as no surprise. One of Texas' oldest seaports, the city has seen more than its share of unfulfilled lives and unfortunate deaths. The island was once a hideout for pirates, nearly wiped off the map by a hurricane, and was the epitome of rowdiness as thousands of immigrants streamed off the ships.
"The city has seen years of unnecessary sudden deaths," says Dash Beardsley, the creator, founder, and premier guide of Ghost Tours of Galveston. "There are lots of souls stuck in that vortex of time."
In a 90-minute walk around the Strand Historic District, Beardsley takes visitors on a journey through centuries of history, mystery, and legends. "If you have an imagination, then you'll really enjoy our tour," he says. He also claims that on almost every trip someone captures a photograph of a ghostly aberration.
Beardsley blames the hurricane of 1900 for most of the lost souls on the island. The September flood and tidal wave, brought ashore by intense winds, killed 6,000 people on the island and another 6,000 after it moved inland. More than 2,000 victims were never found, he says. That's a lot of spirits looking for a place to rest.
As the ghost tour meanders along the cobble streets of the historic district, Beardsley spins more than 30 tales of sightings and legends. Cold air passes through the muggy night, light flashes on the brick walls, and smoke appears with no visible source to the open-minded in the audience.
Beardsley's favorite phantom is a lady dressed in Victorian clothes walking past the windows on the second floor above Luigi's Ristorante Italiano. He surmises that she was a schoolteacher, and a victim of the 1900 storm, who might have died near the spot she now haunts. Restaurant workers say they have heard her whimpers and footsteps as she comes down the stairs.
One of the most famous haunted houses in Galveston, the Ashton Villa, is not visited on Beardsley's ghost tour of the Strand but is included in Docia Schultz Williams' book Ghosts Along the Texas Coast.
Now a museum operated by the Galveston Historical Foundation, the three-story Italianate home was built in 1859 by James M. Brown. A hardware salesman, Brown and his family came to Texas in 1843 and amassed a fortune that included railroads, insurance, and banks. The house where the patriarch of the family died is believed to be the first brick home on the island. It is also credited with hosting the first Juneteenth celebration on June 19, 1865.
Upon Brown's death in 1895, one of the largest fortunes in Texas at the time was divided among his five children. The house went to his youngest daughter, Rebecca, or Miss Bettie, as she was more commonly known.
Miss Bettie was the wild one in the bunch, even by the standards of a port city famous for its gambling houses and sporting opportunities. She often threw lavish parties and traveled around the world unchaperoned, unseemly for a single woman at the turn of the century. The museum's furnishings include some of her paintings and objects collected during her travels.
Among Miss Bettie's possessions still in the house is a trunk that she bought on a trip to the Middle East. Docents say that the key to the ornate chest has been lost for years, but still it is sometimes locked and sometimes unlocked.
Volunteers have reported seeing a woman dressed in a turquoise Victorian dress, Miss Bettie's favorite color, standing at the top of the grand staircase. Early one morning, the night watchman heard someone playing the piano. He entered the room in time to see a figure of a woman in 19th century clothing slowly fade away with the music.
The Ashton Villa, 2328 Broadway, opens Monday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm and Sunday noon to 4pm.
Ghost Tours of Galveston offers tours Thursday to Sunday evenings throughout the year with special Halloween tours on Oct. 30 and 31. For information, call 409/949-2027 or 281/339-2124. For more details on the tours, go to www.ghosttoursofgalvestonisland.com.
800th 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.