The Ghosts of the Van Alstyne House

2901 Broadway Street, Galveston, TX 77554

Is the Van Alstyne the most haunted house on Galveston Island? Some certainly think so. Built 1891, this three-story Victorian mansion is otherwise known as Broadway’s “Gingerbread House.” Fourteen rooms stretch across 6,310-square-feet, extravagantly eerie, ominous, and exquisite. The stairway is a dark rich red, rounded-off with charcoal marble railing; the parlor is an unearthly yellow, further offset by checker-patterned steps. It’s a striking sight, yet there’s more than meets the eye. Unseen hands overturn tabletops. Unidentified voices murmur and mutter. Paranormal enthusiasts even consider the Van Alstyne House a portal to a supernatural dimension. So, what’s haunting this historic estate?

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Fast Facts

  • Alfred Albert commissioned the Van Alstyne in 1891.
  • Fifty Galvestonians hid beneath the staircase during the Hurricane of 1900.
  • Both Alfred Albert and Catherine died within the Van Alstyne.
  • The Van Alstyne later became Antebellum Antiques.
  • A popular site for paranormal activity.

Hurricanes, Hauntings, and History

Whenever Alfred Albert and Catherine commissioned the Van Alstyne, they were unaware of what this memorable mansion would one day withstand. In 1900, it was hit by the worst natural disaster in United States history: the “Great Galveston Storm,” which claimed over 6,000 Galvestonian lives. Letters reveal that Catherine kept fifty citizens safe beneath the staircase, where they “huddled under the stairs.” Catherine also remarked upon the day’s passing, when they “had nowhere else to look but through the window and count their blessings, as wagons of bodies passed by.”

Curiously, the house weathered the whirlwind. Although the surrounding neighborhood was devastated, the Van Alstyne was one of the few surviving structures of the storm. Some, like Kathleen Maca, think the poltergeists that frequent the property today are “distraught Galvestonians” who know the Van Alstyne as a “place of refuge.” Others suspect that these may be the lost souls swept away by the squall. The Hurricane of 1900 claimed over 6,000 lives, so the former beings of the disembodied are anyone’s guess.

The Ghost of Alfred Albert Van Alstyne

Albert died within the Van Alstyne House in 1926, and Catherine in 1940. They were both buried in Trinity Episcopal Cemetery, located a few blocks from the estate. Their proximity to the property may explain its unusual ongoings: alarms go off despite the building being unoccupied, toy trucks inexplicably slide, and glide across the halls. A young man was once witnessed within the residence, though his demeanor was ghoulish, and his body soon disappeared.

Perhaps this is the “man in the attic,” that the boys’ youth shelter saw? The Van Alstyne House once provided youth services, supporting and protecting male adolescents. Yet wards often spoke of a “man in the attic” who would frighten rebellious boys back to their bedrooms. The man never spoke but was undoubtedly spooky. One boy later claimed to have witnessed the man staring at him from outside the window. The man wore Victorian attire, appearing to hover above the ground.

The “man in the attic” is such a common occurrence that later proprietors were often asked, “Have you seen the man?” Is this the late Alfred Albert Van Alstyne? Does he frequent his former residence?

Paranormal Accounts from Antebellum Antiques

The Van Alstyne House later became Antebellum Antiques, which increased the property's paranormal activity. Scottie Ketner, the former owner of Antebellum, told Islander Magazine how alarms would activate even whenever the building was empty. The police were called to the estate so frequently that they were unaffected by the alarms.

Once, two police arrived at the site after being alerted by the system. A toy truck "suddenly came from one of the rooms and glided across the hall," upon their arrival. The younger officer was visibly spooked, but the older office told him "not to bother." He informed his coworker that they weren't "going to find anyone up here," suggesting that an unseen specter was on-the-spot. The younger officer put away his gun yet “replaced it with a cross from the shop." Perhaps a different type of protection?

The paranormal activity continued once Ketner removed the wall to the third floor. Ketner recalls that they found it mysteriously barricaded once they purchased the property. After they removed the wall, they all "experienced that door to the attic slamming shut at one point or another." There was "something about the attic," Ketner continued. Once, when taking a moment to herself, she experienced something truly bizarre. She overheard a "strange collection of voices of different European accents, and most definitely from another time." Eerie, since the Van Alstynes had been American. Could these be attachments on some of the antiques in the store?

Kenter later vacated the premises, overwhelmed by the prevalence of paranormal activity. Yet Ketner advocates that the spirits were benevolent: “I felt very protected. In fact, [one time] a man I knew walked into the store while I was upstairs. I remember feeling inexplicably compelled to call out his name as if to discover his whereabouts. Later, I realized he had been stealing from us. Had I not been overwhelmed with the need to call his name, we might not have caught him. And that was the one and only time we were vandalized. We never had any trouble from the neighborhood because people living around us were so afraid of the house that they stayed away!”

Residual Energies?

Although these may be lingering poltergeists from the Hurricane of 1900, antique shops are popular sites for paranormal activity. Residual energies attach to relics of bygone eras, disturbing the magnetic field. Some explain residual hauntings as trauma imprinting itself upon the atmosphere.

If a location or an object undergoes trauma, that location or object may “record” the energy of the experience, repeating or replicating it later. For example, antique toys or staircases may reproduce noises that they’ve experienced throughout time – regardless if there’s an unseen specter nearby. These paranormal disturbances may be attached to a disembodied spirit, but they may also occur on their own.

Of course, these paranormal ongoings may be playful poltergeists. Or they’re sinister specters? Perhaps it’s most likely that they’re the lost souls of 1900, lingering about Broadway.

Visiting the Van Alstyne House

The Van Alstyne House is located on 2901 Broadway Street. This mysterious mansion is currently closed to the public, but it’s still worth the stop! Let us know if you experience any paranormal activity.

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