At 200 years old, Galveston’s Old City Cemetery is the region’s earliest burial ground. It’s no surprise that the Old City Cemetery is also considered the district’s most unnerving. With its mausoleums and nineteenth-century tombs, it’s a macabre memorial to an infamously haunted history. Pirates, cannibals, madames, murderesses – the City of Galveston has seen it all. And buried them all. So, what lurks above – or below – Old City Cemetery?
If the surface doesn’t spook you out, the underbelly of the burial ground will. The Old City Cemetery is three-graves-deep. That’s right. Coffins were interred above coffins, creating this creepy, commemorative compound.
Yet even the infrastructure of this cemetery isn’t as eerie as its inhabitants: victims of the Yellow Fever Epidemic or the Hurricane of 1900 – Elize Roemer Alberti, who newspapers called “the demented mother.” Plus, with twelve hundred tombs, there’s bound to be a few poltergeists prattling about. Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered – the Old City Cemetry is alive with the undead.
The Old City Cemetery's most renowned resident? Elize Roemer Alberti. Alberti murdered her four children in 1894, earning her the moniker, "the demented mother." Yet Alberti's living history is more grievous than her ghostlore. At the age of seventeen, Alberti was a high-spirited newlywed. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Alberti was a far cry from Galveston's "killer mom."
Alberti began to change after the loss of her firstborn in 1884. Louis had died of lockjaw at the age of seven. Alberti was shellshocked – acting "queerly" or "unwell." Alberti lost her fifteen-year-old sister to lung congestion shortly after, multiplying her melancholy. Some suspect that Alberti struggled with postpartum depression amidst the deaths of her son and sister, too: Alberti had given birth to Caroline the same year.
If Alberti did recover from either death, the death of her second child threw her over the edge. Alberti became volatile – unpredictably violent, daft and deranged. It was decided that she was to be sent to her parents, who could oversee, and perhaps overcome, Alberti's bereavement. Yet Alberti returned home after a few weeks – despite some professing that Alberti was "not herself,” still.
December 4, 1894. Alberti called her children into the kitchen to administer a few sips of wine – not an unusual custom for chilly, winter weather. Her husband, too, was unapprehensive of the ordeal, even requesting a bit of wine for himself. He remained unalarmed as Alberti poured his glass from a separate bottle. He was even unfazed as the children cried out that the wine contained morphine. How could it, whenever he had just had a glass himself?
Louis retired to his workplace, unaware that Alberti had spared him her lethal concoction. Alberti, who denied the accusation, sent the children to bed.
The children began to complain of cramps before they reached their bedrooms – writhing, screeching, twisting, shrieking. Their bodies uncontrollably convulsed. Louis, who ran from his workplace, was terror-stricken at the sight of his afflicted offspring.
Young Lizzie carried four-year-old Willie, both in seizures. Dore and Ella, too, convulsed. Alberti was the only one who remained calm, her hands folded neatly above her lap. When Louis, in hysterics, begged his wife to tell him what had occurred, Alberti replied that she had poisoned the wine. She, too, had intended to drink the wine, but she had been interrupted by Louis' early arrival.
Willie was the first to die, then Dora and Ella. Lizzie was the last, passing away before midnight. There were survivors, too: Emma, the oldest, was resuscitated by the hospital. And Wilhelmina, age fourteen, was able to escape altogether. She was studying in the south room of the household at the time, yet to venture into the kitchen.
Alberti attempted to justify her action by explaining that she had been "ill for the last eight months." She's was even reported to say, "I could not fill my obligations to my babies. They are better off." Whether Alberti was a stone-cold killer or was misguided though well-meaning is anyone's argument. The tragedy of her tale remains irrefutable.
After the murders, Alberti was sent to the San Antonio Asylum. She returned to Galveston upon her release, where she committed suicide. There are few details of either her death or her deposition.
Curiously, Alberti shares the burial plot of her children. It’s one of the few instances where a murderer is interred with their victim.
Does Alberti haunt the Old City Cemetery? Does her poltergeist still prepare poisons? Do her children seek to escape the grave?
Established in 1839, the Old City Cemetery is one of seven burial grounds in the Broadway Cemetery District. It’s also the district’s earliest, claiming the most distinctive, diversified demographic. Though, bizarrely, some of those first buried had been – well, long dead.
Before the Old City Cemetery, settlers would often bury their dead in sand dunes near the Gulf of Mexico. They were convenient yet ineffective methods to deter the dead – unfit for, long-term interments. They were especially unfit for the Yellow Fever Epidemic, which had claimed 250 Galveston lives in 1839 alone. So, to improve burial conditions, the Galveston City Charter was tasked with the creation of a public burial ground. The Old City Cemetery was their first installment.
Those who were buried in the dunes beforehand were exhumed and reinterred within the new cemetery. Not everyone made the relocation, of course. Some were too disfigured by the elements. There were newly discovered residents, too – unidentifiable bodies unearthed from unnamed graves.
Grade raises occurred throughout the twentieth century with burials occurring above burials. Because of these man-made elevations, some graves of the Old City Cemetery are three bodies deep.
Who lurks beneath the surface? Does Alberti circle the Old City Cemetery by herself, or with company? Though there aren’t any documented reports of ghost sightings, paranormal enthusiasts are cautiously optimistic to one day catch Alberti, or one of her murdered children, lurking about the graveyard.
You can find the Old City Cemetery between Broadway and 43rd Street. Watch Out – You won’t want to visit the Old City Cemetery alone.