It’s not uncommon to hear that New Orleans is haunted, or that Savannah is teeming with paranormal activity. Heck, Salem, Massachusetts is known for its infamous witch trials during the seventeenth century, and no one can visit Chicago without hearing about the gruesome mobs, whose equally gruesome deaths have spawned countless ghosts stories throughout the Windy City.
But for some strange reason, San Antonio, Texas, never seems to make the cut for being one of America’s Most Haunted Cities . . . to non-locals, of course. For locals of this historic city, which sits at the foot of the Texas Hill Country, know that San Antonio is not only one of the most paranormally active in the States but perhaps also in the entire world . . .
It is for this reason–or at least one of the main reasons–why Ghost City Tours has decided to launch ghost tours in San Antonio, starting in the beginning of May 2016. We believe fully that the ghosts of San Antonio have their own story to tell and we hope to do the city’s history justice in doing so. (Want to find out a little more about our upcoming ghost tours in San Antonio? Follow this link!)
Otherwise, let us continue on the path of finding out why San Antonio is just so very haunted . . .
In San Antonio, the ghost stories range from the standard to the downright creepy, and most are passed from generation to generation. Kids, for example, are warned not to trek out to the Ghost Tracks on the southeast side of the city, where, in the 1940s, a bus full of kids stalled while trying to cross the train tracks. No doubt the bus driver did everything he could, but there was nothing to be done. An oncoming train sped down the tracks, its pace so furiously fast that there was no chance to evacuate the children, or even the driver, off of the stalled bus. The collision was inevitable. So, too, was the fact that there were no survivors following the crash.
Since that harrowing day, locals and visitors alike have attempted to reconnect with the lost souls who died in the crash, for that crossing at Shane and Villamain is said to be one of the most haunted locations in all of San Antonio. Legend has it that if you position your car over the tracks, and put your car in neutral, the ghosts will push the vehicle the whole way across in an attempt to protect you from any imminent danger. Other visitors choose to sprinkle baby powder on the bumper, in hope that they might discover the little fingerprints of ghostly children. The streets surrounding the tracks are named after the children who died, and people have reported their windows splintering and breaking from the outside-in by an unseen force, as though something or someone wanted to be noticed.
San Antonio’s history is peppered with ghostly lore just like the Haunted Tracks of Shane and Villamain. A case of heartbreak and hopelessness, anger and betrayal led to one horrific night when a bankrupt businessman’s mental state snapped. He lunged at his wife and two daughters with a knife, slashing their throats and dragging their bodies to the second floor where he stashed them in a closet. He sealed them in with the turn of the lock, and then took his own life moments later with a pistol . . . Except that the mother and daughters had not been dead. Not yet. When authorities showed up days later after reports had surfaced that the family had not been seen, the officers not only found the dead bodies of the women, but also the notes which had been etched in blood, and the scratch marks dug into the walls as though the women had tried to claw themselves out of their very existence.
Called Midget Mansion (because the mother and father’s smaller statures), rumors have been told of satanic rituals since having been performed at the house. Before it mysteriously caught on flames and burned to the ground, subsequent owners of the property heard the sounds of scratching and moaning as though the ghosts of the murdered women had never left the property . . .
Stories such as these are told and re-told—for the locals of San Antonio, it’s no secret that the nearly three-centuries-old city is rife with paranormal phenomena. Paranormal investigators flock to places like the Menger Hotel or Military Plaza; and at any time of night, people can be seen standing by the illuminated Alamo, wondering—just maybe—if they might spot the specter of Davy Crockett who defended the historic church against the Mexican General Santa Anna in 1836. Some of these locations have become so notorious that they have appeared on TV shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures.
Most commonly, spirits may remain on the earthly plane for a few various reasons. Unfinished business at the time of death tends to be the most common, along with unrequited love or a tragic ending. Sometimes, it’s simply that the ghost prefers the land of the living to anything else.
No doubt all have resulted in heightened paranormal activity in San Antonio, but there’s also the fact that San Antonio’s history is rich. And it is rich with death.
Since San Antonio’s official founding in 1718 by Spanish missionaries and soldiers, the land of the region has been a veritable battleground for territory. The new Spanish settlers had been told the land was fertile, which hadn’t been the case at all. They arrived at the Mission San Antonio de Valero, and realized that if they were to survive it was necessary that they dig canals, plant food, and protect themselves from anyone they deemed the enemy. But the land was already populated by the Coahuiltecan people, and so the Spanish soldiers made them into reducidos (indentured servant).
The settlers’ stamp of “ownership” did nothing to dissuade the onslaught of attacks from the Comanches and Apaches peoples. The respective tribes were warriors who reportedly stole their horses, their goods. It was not the Comanche way to murder the people of the San Antonio villa and destroy them out right—no, it was better to allow them to work the fields and raise the horses, before the Comanches took what they deemed “theirs.”
Years of fighting rose up among the different nationalities. The settlers placed the poor on the outskirts of the city, in hope that the tribes would take the belongings of the impoverished . . . or the impoverished themselves.
But the fight for land did not stop there, because soon the Texans wanted their independence from Spain and, later, Mexico. The Battle of the Alamo, where not a single defender survived, was only one such battle fought between the independence-seekers and Mexican rulers.
Blood was spilt on the grounds of San Antonio, and it is said that the souls of the victims—though all are victims in their own right—continue to haunt the city. Security guards in Alamo Plaza have seen the ghosts of what must be hundreds of people. They have seen soldiers, cowboys, Native Americans, and priests. That the grounds directly in front of the Alamo church were once a burial ground in the eighteenth century probably doesn’t help matters either. For decency’s sake, the road skirts around the paved-over cemetery so as not to disturb the dead.
Depending on whom one might have asked in the eighteenth century, smallpox was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to the burgeoning city of San Antonio at that time.
The symptoms were slow to appear, but then the fever hit and the rest followed quickly after. Muscles began to spasm and tire easily; the pain in your lower back rendered you useless. A few days later, flat red spots appeared your face before showing on your hands and on your neck and on your torso. The worst was yet to come. The red spots soon blistered, filling with clear fluid that was highly contagious. Though the blisters scabbed some ten days later, smallpox remained the biggest killer in San Antonio.
The population dwindled, and the foreignness of the disease affected the local tribes the most. In the 1730s, 655 out of the 857 Coahuiltecans died; by the 1780s, only some-eighty members of the tribe still lived. It was because of the devastating results of the spread of smallpox that tribes like the Comanches and Apaches finally agreed for treaties and truce. The peace was short-lived, but with their ability to raid the frontier had been tremendously injured.
Stories of seeing the ghosts of the diseased have been reported throughout the city of San Antonio. Locations like the Emily Morgan Hotel, which actually functioned as a hospital later on during the nineteenth century and whose basement was once the morgue, are commonly regarded as hotspots for the paranormal. Sightings of apparitions on translucent operating tables at the Emily Morgan have been reported, as well as hearing the disembodied moaning of the sick.
All alert the living that they are not alone.
At one time, San Antonio was considered the Wild West. It was the place of “Manifest Destiny,” which brought countless of America’s roughest citizens west to the open expanse of Texan land. Outlaws made themselves home in San Antonio’s saloons, gaming hells and dance halls, where excessive drinking led to violence and violence almost always led to death. Gunslingers like Bob Augustine terrorized the people of San Antonio, and indubitably still haunt the city’s historic streets today.
In fact, men like Bob Augustine were so feared that even after committing murder all he had to do was inform the jury and judge that if they deemed him guilty, Augustine would return and kill each and everyone of them. He was promptly acquitted and released from prison, though not before a gathering mob came and brought him right back. The next night when they saw him trying to escape, the mob of angry citizens allegedly captured him and dragged him to a chinaberry tree where they strung him up and hanged him without further delay.
Justice was swift and speedy—that is, if you were ever caught.
Today, visitors to the Military Plaza where Bob Augustine was gruesomely hanged still swear that they hear the Rebel yell that he hollered after his capture. This Plaza, perhaps more than any other, has had numerous of ghostly sightings surface. Is it because of outlaws like Bob Augustine who turned to violence as often as they turned to drink or women or alcohol? It seems that no matter where one turns in the historic San Antonio district, ghosts have been sighted.
Rhett Rushing, a folklorist at University of Texas San Antonio’s Institute of Texan Cultures, told the online newspaper, mySA, a few years ago that “San Antonio [is not only] predisposed to ghost stories because of its cultural history, but the large mix of cultures over hundreds of years makes this a ghost lover’s paradise.”
Like New Orleans, San Antonio’s roots were heavily Catholic, where the concept of death and heaven always loomed overhead. But much like New Orleans and its connection with Voodoo, San Antonio had Santería or Regla de Ocha. Influenced by Roman Catholicism, Santería had passed through the Caribbean into southern Texas by slaves from Yoruba, Africa. Similarly to Voodoo, those who practiced Santería used drumming and dance to communicate with their ancestors and the deities of the Regla de Ocha. And that open communication between the living and the dead? Most commonly that is where ghosts reside.
But in Texas, the heavy influence of the Latin culture has also spawned stories of La Llorona, or the phantom banshee. Though the story dates back to 1550, the Texan culture inherited the legend through right of passage. It is said that a widow fell in love with an incredibly wealthy man. However, he had no interest in her two children and refused to marry the widow because of them. She was so desperate—desperate for his love and a possible marriage—that the widow took matters into her own hands. In the dead of night, she grabbed her children and brought them down to the river. There, she drowned them both.
Anticipating a reunion with her lover, the widow turned her back on her children floating down the river, and hastened to the wealthy man’s house. “We can be together now!” she exclaimed in delight, just before she explained what she had done. The man was horrified. He told her that she was mad, insane, and that he would have nothing to do with her.
It was only then that the widow realized that she had drowned her children for nothing. She scrambled back to the river, but her children were nowhere in sight. As the legend goes, God struck down on her then for her actions. He damned her to walk the earth forever, always to be looking for her murdered children . . .
The story of La Llorona has been repeated many-a-time; within San Antonio, the urban legend of the ghost of the Donkey Lady takes inspiration from La Llorona (in one story they even fight). People have claimed to see her ghost walk at night along the river, with her dark as night hair swishing against her back, and her white dress a sharp contrast to the black of the sky. Instead of a human head, however, there is one of a horse. Most commonly, her spirit is seen kneeling on the ground, her arms submerged in the water as she searches for her children.
For centuries, San Antonio has been a crossroads of cultures and of people. It has been a battleground for warring nationalities, and the morality of the lawless gunslingers and the vigilant citizens hoping to enact order.
The head of the San Antonio Paranormal Investigations, Guillermo Fuentes, has been referenced as saying that one of the reasons why San Antonio is so haunted is because the ghosts feel as though they have some form of ownership over the land. Additionally, Fuentes has said that San Antonio is just perfectly placed for being ghost friendly. There has to be a reason, he has said, that almost every part of San Antonio has claims to ghost stories . . . it is not just relegated to one section of town. His reasoning is the city’s closeness to water, which might act like a spark or energy-source for paranormal phenomena.
Whether it is the water-source or not that creates the hub of ghostly activity, Ghost City Tours’ General Manager, Gretchen, who grew up in San Antonio, has repeatedly said that one thing that makes San Antonio different is that the entire city has hauntings.
From ghostly legends passed down through the generations, to the more concrete sightings at locations like the Emily Morgan Hotel or the Alamo, it’s safe to say that while San Antonio might not always be considered one of America’s Most Haunted Cities . . . it really should be.
Happy Haunting, y’all.