There comes a time when an urban legend becomes interpreted as cold, hard truth. We all know those stories—the ones where a generation or two back liked to tell them around a campfire, s’mores in hand roasting over the open flames. No one took these stories, ghostly or otherwise, all that seriously.
Time passes, of course, and as it does so too do those elaborately spun tales. Except, as those tales are told again and again, they adopt their own flavor, their own particular nuances, and suddenly there remains the question: is this story true or not?
That’s the fun thing about urban legends, that general not knowing whether something could have possibly happened at one time or another. And that, perhaps, is the reason why the politically incorrectly named “Midget Mansion” is one of the most beloved urban legends in San Antonio, Texas.
Did that brutal murder actually happen back in the 1920s? Are those shadowy figures seen moving about the property the ghosts of the former owners of the Mansion? According to the Midget Mansion’s Facebook page (which has accrued over 400 devoted followers), the answer is “absolutely." They believe that the tragedy that occurred during the 1920s has imprinted on the land and is the cause of the countless hauntings there.
To others, though, the story of the Midget Mansion is nothing but hogwash or campfire talk.
Uncover the legend below and let us know—what do you make of the legend of the Midget Mansion? (Besides that you wish it had been given some other name).
Today, the former Midget Mansion is actually home to the new Promontory Pointe Apartments, which can be found at 4114 Medical Drive in San Antonio, Texas, while others place the location at 8139 Donore Place instead. Back almost a century ago, however, the Midget Mansion could have been found up on a rather desolate hilltop. It went by a few different names during that era, including both the Donore Mansion and the Gillespie Mansion. According to old pictures of the place, it was a Greek Revival structure with an upstairs balcony as well as thick Corinthian columns.
You see, the first owner of the Mansion were incredibly wealthy. In one variation of the legend, a retired Navy ship captain had moving to San Antonio after being stationed nearby in Galveston, Texas, for quite a few years. With only one or two visits to Texas’ oldest city under his belt, the Navy Captain deemed San Antonio to be his new home. He moved in, in the 1920s, and built a beautiful house for him and his wife.
Local lore suggests that the Navy Captain and his family didn’t live at the Mansion for all that long, perhaps because they sought to move elsewhere or even, more tragically, a matter of death. Not long after they left, the property was sold to a smart businessman, his wife, and their two children.
And this, dear reader, is where the truth fades to black and the twisting legends take center stage.
The most common story surrounding the San Antonio’s Midget Mansion involves the family who moved in after the Navy Captain and his wife either left or sold the property. As the story goes, the new owner of the Mansion was quite the well-off gentleman. He was a shrewd businessman who had made a good deal of money, good enough, anyway, to purchase one of the most expensive houses in the area.
They were like any other family, except for their height. You may have guessed by now that the new family were on the shorter side of the spectrum. While the mother and father were then classified as “midgets” (more politely referred to as “little people” nowadays), it is said their two children were of average height.
In the early months of living at the Mansion, the father installed a pool and even servants' quarters so that the house’s help had somewhere to stay. For a time, the family lived at the Mansion free of worry—until one disastrous night when the father stormed into the house during a rage. Some argue that his business endeavors were tanking, plummeting along with the equally plummeting economy.
Entering the house, the father searched for his wife and two children, and, upon finding them, shot them each with a single bullet. He dragged their lifeless bodies up the stairs, one by one, until he had them all lined up in front of a closet door on the second floor. He shoved each member of his family into the closet, sealed it shut, and retreated to the master bedroom where he shot himself.
At least, according to one version.
In another, the father was just as enraged, but instead of shooting his family, he took a much more personal method of assault. Snagging a knife from the kitchen, he approached his wife and his two children, only to grab at their necks and slit their throats. From there, he took hold of their limbs and brought them each up to the second floor into the closet. A few minutes later, clearly not in his right mind, the father retrieved his wife and children and dressed them in fresh, clean clothes. Then, he put them back in the closet, their faces forever frozen in shocked terror, and locked them inside. Like in the first variation of the tale, the father then committed suicide.
Neighbors began to whisper that they hadn’t seen any of the family members out and about as they normally were. Worried that something may have happened to them, the neighbors phoned the police a few days later. When the authorities arrived at the Mansion, it was only to find that nothing seemed out of the ordinary on the first level of the house. Following in a line, weapons drowned in preparation for the worst, they climbed the stairs to the second floor. They found the father in a puddle of his own blood in the master bedroom and, in the elusive closet they discovered the bodies of the murdered victims.
But that was not all: on the walls they found notes scrawled in blood on the walls of the closet, as well as harsh scratches dug into the door itself as though they had tried valiantly to escape their prison.
They never did.
While the most frequently repeated story of the Donore/Gillespie Mansion talks of the father who lost his sanity, another oft told tale focuses instead on the planned revenge of two of the servants of the house.
Like in the first version, the family owned the Mansion were small in stature. But as opposed to living in the house as the Navy Captain had built it, the new family decided to construct an entire new property designed specifically for their needs. This included shorter ceilings, doorknobs that were within reach, even toilets that were designed to be lower to the ground.
Even the servants’ quarters were constructed for those who were of short stature—the problem was? The father had decided to higher servants who were of average height and force them to work in conditions that were almost unbearable. According to this particular part of the legend, the businessman had done this because of all the prejudice he’d faced early on in his life. Prejudices that he was tired of dealing with and took out on employees.
After months and years of being treated poorly, two of the servants plotted their revenge. Revenge that included murdering the family and stealing the money they felt owed to them. They made their move on one dark night, charging inside the house and killing each and everyone of the family members with an ax. The bodies were tossed carelessly into the closet on the second floor. The servants grabbed the money and left, but not before sending the Mansion up into flames on their way out the door. The flames tickled the midnight sky, and firefighters appeared on the scene not long after. After dousing the ravaging flames, they discovered the mangled and mutilated bodies of the family up in the second floor closet.
But karma, as they say, always comes round full circle. The servants grew frustrated and ended up murdering each other because of disputes over the same bloody money that they’d stolen from their employers in the first place.
And that, as they also say, wrapped up that particular gruesome version of the Midget Mansion’s murders.
Following that tragic night of brutal death, the differing legends blend more seamlessly together. There were a few years in which new owners lived at the property, but each and everyone ended up selling shortly after.
No one, it seemed, wished to be roommates with the ghosts of the murdered victims.
Various subsequent owners claimed to hear the sounds of moaning and crying emanating from the second floor closet. Although the entire property was said to be quite haunted, the paranormal activity was reportedly more vibrantly tangible by that second floor. There were the constant sounds of scratching, as though someone or something was determined to escape the confines of the closet.
In some cases, owners of the Mansion actually discovered fresh scratch marks on the walls. Locals, too, had something to say about the so-called Midget Mansion. Mainly, that the place was haunted by the restless spirits of the victims. Slowly but surely, offers for the house dried up and it sat empty and abandoned for a good many decades.
It became the perfect place for rebellious teenagers to camp out.
They heard the scratching along the walls, as well as the eerie screaming echoing from the Mansion. Neighbors of the Mansion claimed to see the ghost of a woman wandering through the abandoned property, darting in and out through the rooms—but while her shadowy figure was spotted moving around inside, it was never seen outside of the Mansion’s walls.
Police were routinely called out to the haunted house, more often than not because of the paranormal sightings from the neighbors themselves. On more than one occasion, the authorities found themselves tromping down the stairs into the basement as locals swore they heard the sounds of screaming. But they never found the source of the eerie cries.
There were other reports, some more sinister than others. Abandoned as it was, rumors abounded of Satanists using the Midget Mansion for rituals and animals sacrifices. In one particular story, that has never been proven, the police were called to the Mansion because of noxious fumes seeping from the house. Putrid, the neighbors said as they covered their noses with their hands.
When the cops ventured inside, it was only to find the dismembered bodies of teenagers inside. Later, it was “proven” that a band of rebellious teenagers had committed the murders—only, at the time of the crime they had actually been possessed. Who they were possessed by? Allegedly, the original father of the house, who had savagely murdered his family.
Even after this, Midget Mansion stood as a test for the stupidly courageous. Those who sought to find the ghosts haunting the Mansion trespassed onto the land, and snuck into the property.
Until the day that it was officially torn down and converted into apartments, and we can only assume that those poor folks have to deal with similar paranormal phenomena.
Not to disappoint anyone, but probably not.
While locals claim that the Midget Mansion’s unfortunate past is based in truth, there is no evidence in the newspapers or archives that such gruesome murders ever happened. More to the point, no one really knows when the rumors or legend started being told, but it does bear some likeness to the alleged Amityville Murders in Long Island, New York.
Much like with the Midget Mansion, the infamous Amityville Horror started its suppose claim to fame in the 1920s while the Moynahan family were living on Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York, when rumors spread that they were forced to move down the street thanks to paranormal activity at their Dutch Colonial home. They moved not long after.
Throughout the years, the supernatural was directly linked to the house on Ocean Avenue, but it was not until the 1970s that matters truly took a change for the worse. In 1974, Butch DeFeo murdered his entire family, killing his father, mother, two brothers and two sisters. It started when his sister, Dawn, approached him about murdering their parents—especially their father, who’d had a long streak of abusing his family. At first Butch refused, but desperation, alcohol and drugs allegedly played a strong hang in changing his mind.
On November 13, 1974, Butch and his 18-year-old sister, Dawn, took matters into their own hands while their family slept. Creeping into the bedrooms with shotguns tucked under their arms, they ordered their siblings and parents to roll onto their backs before shooting them. Then, Butch and Dawn engaged in a scuffle, in which Butch ultimately shot his sister.
According to Justice Thomas Stark, the crimes were “the most heinous and abhorrent,” and he promptly sentenced Butch to 25 years to life.
But the strange thing is: in many of the accounts about the Amytiville murders, it is the father who is blamed for the attacks and not the son. Even in the 2005 remake with Ryan Reynolds, it’s the father (AKA Reynolds) who becomes “possessed” by evil energies in the house.
While we can’t go as far as to say that San Antonio’s urban legend about a father (short or not) murdering his family under the guise of “insanity” was taken from the Amityville horrors, or vice versa, there’s a similarity there that suggests this legend is a popular one that has been told more than a few times in different places across the country.
As for the locals of Amityville, New York? Well, they believe the hauntings are a whole lot of hogwash—which is why they did not even allow movie production crews to even film in town.
Since being torn down, the Midget Mansion is now said to be the location of the Promontory Pointe Apartments at at 4114 Medical Drive, San Antonio, while others argue its location to be at 8139 Donore Place.
Its past is as curious and mysterious as some of San Antonio’s other well known urban legends, but one thing is for certain: whether anything of murderous note ever actually occurred at the Mansion fades to the background in comparison with the ghostly stories that have emerged in recent years.
If you choose to believe in the ghostly legend, we can only wish those who live in the haunted apartments all of our best wishes.
If you're looking for the perfect way to explore San Antonio's most haunted locations, check out one of our San Antonio Ghost Tours. We look forward to showing you around our beautifully haunted city.