2602 Santa Fe Pl, Galveston, TX 77550
There's a reason that Galveston is sometimes called a "cemetery with a beach attached." This historic city is frequented as much by the dead as it is by the living. It's even considered one of the most haunted seasides in America. Yet their most gruesome ghostlore comes from an unlikely location. One daredevil was decapitated at the site, his head found a mile from his body. Another met her untimely death off of the fourth-floor window. It's a grim tale of terror, made more grievous by its modest locale. What's the history of this unassuming station? How did tragedy turn up at the Galveston Railroad Museum?
The Railroad Museum may be Galveston's grisliest attraction. At its peak, over 40,000 people cut across the train depot, scrambling to gamble at speakeasies. Galveston immortalized these passengers through plaster models, decorating the space with life-size statuary. Even the sculptures are spooky. They’re historically garbed and ghostlike.
Yet the museum's most infamous inhabitants are unseen: passengers that never left their terminals, their spirits forever stranded at the station. William Watson is one such poltergeist. Decapitated by the railway train, travelers claim that he practices handstands on the cattle guards of the engines. Another inhabitant committed suicide off the fourth floor, where visitors sometimes spot her at the windowsill. Her legs dangle off the ledge, lax or limply hanging.
Who are these railway apparitions? What binds them to the building?
William Watson was a thirty-two-year-old engineer from New York who had arrived at Galveston by steamship. Yet Watson's legend varies. Some say that he was a thrill-seeker who would regularly perform tricks by the train, entertaining travelers. Others say that Watson had been at the wrong place at the wrong time, his death an unanticipated accident.
Those that buy into Watson's myth as a daredevil claim that he was practicing handstands on the train's "cowcatcher." It was a reckless act that he had performed before, yet this time there was an unexpected ending. Watson slipped, sliding too quickly to scream for help. He was unable to save himself and was immediately decapitated. Spectators were shellshocked, stopped still as Watson flailed against the train-track. They discovered his head a quarter-mile from the site of the accident, still bound by his derby hat. It was September 1, 1900 – just a few days before the “Great Galveston Storm.” His decapitated body was “mangled beyond recognition.”
Employees of Galveston Railroad Museum blame Watson for strange, unidentified noises. They even allege that he misplaces objects. (A common prank of poltergeists.) Is Watson a headless specter, still searching for his scalp? Or is he a mischievous apparition – entertaining travelers with his tricks?
More recently, a woman committed suicide off of the fourth-floor windowsill. The woman met her untimely end in the early 1980s, propelling herself out of the bathroom of an office. The office had been reserved for psychiatric patients, yet little else is known of her life. There are few accounts of the tragedy.
Visitors witness her specter roaming the restroom, or running nervously throughout the halls. Some visitors are surprised to her sitting on the windowsill, her legs dangling loosely off the ledge.
The history of the Galveston Railroad Museum is much less grisly than the ghostlore. The south half of the structure was established in 1913 as the Sante Fe depot and railyard. An eleven-story tower and eight-story north wing were added in 1931, impressively expanding the site. These additions incorporated aspects of art deco architecture by which it’s known for today.
The Sante Fe Railroad closed in 1946, though its last train didn’t stop until three years later. In the 1960s, the Moody Family acquired the railroad. The precarious property was saved. For the next two decades, the Moody Family renovated and restored the establishment. By 1983, the Galveston Railroad Museum opened to the public.
The museum again faced an uncertain future in 2008. Hurricane Ike had badly damaged the structure, leading some to suspect that the attraction would be closed. Luckily, the Center for Transportation and Commerce successfully campaigned $100,000 for its recovery. Alongside $3 million from FEMA, the Galveston Railroad Museum was saved once more.
Today the Galveston Railroad Museum is owned and operated by the Center for Transportation and Commerce. It hosts one of the largest restored railroad collections in the Southwest.
The museum’s primary attraction is the “Ghosts of Travelers Past.” These life-size, plaster models imitate passengers waiting for arrivals and departures. They clutch timetables or telephones, dining menus, or memorabilia. They’re fashioned in thirties attire, supplying a historically immersive experience. Perhaps William Watson keeps company with these casts?
The caboose is another attraction, allowing visitors to travel by train throughout the establishment. It travels one mile up Harborside Drive before returning to the Galveston Railroad Museum. It’s a standing ride, so be sure to hang tight.
You can find the Galveston Railroad Museum at 25th and Strand in Galveston, Texas. Hours vary, so be sure to check if the Galveston Railroad Museum is open. Parking is free with museum admission. Let us know if you encounter any paranormal activity.