I Heart Denton

Ghosts AND Gators At Goat Man’s Bridge

They say that if you go to Old Alton Bridge at midnight, and honk twice, that you will see the glowing red eyes of The Goat Man! They claim that some teenagers have gone out to explore the bridge at night and went missing, never to be seen again! Stories go that those teenagers were victims of The Goat Man’s Revenge — or maybe of “something else” just as sinister!

Old Alton Bridge

That’s what “they” say about “Goat Man’s Bridge.” Around Denton, as the spooky season of Halloween draws near, droves of mischievous inquisitive teenagers (and truckloads of adults) drive south of town to an iron truss bridge that has long been closed to anything but foot traffic. Their goal is to see the ghost of The Goat Man. There are many legends about The Goat Man that, like the tale I told of Nurse Betty yesterday, are great for slumber party chills and thrills. I’ve included the most plausible story below, and it might be best to just sit around and tell tales. But, if you are an adventurous soul and decide to head out there in the dead of night with a group of friends, I want you to be thinking more about gators than ghosts! Gators could be the sinister “something else!”

723-pound-alligator

Have y’all been seeing the pictures in the news of the huge gators that are being caught in Louisiana? This one isn’t a record breaker … it’s only 723 pounds, and a 13 foot long, 727 pound alligator was caught an hour later!

Thirteen feet long, eh? Well, take a gander at the picture below. It was shared with me by local resident Bill Colville. The picture was taken at Old Alton Bridge in 2008, and shows an alligator footprint. The game warden said that the alligator was probably between 13 and 16 feet long!!

gator print at Old Alton Bridge

Hopefully, that will make you cautious if you go to the bridge at night. Come to think of it, maybe you just want to share the story below around a comfy campfire in your back yard? Or, come with me on a Ghosts of Denton haunted tour. There are no alligators downtown, but there are plenty of ghosts.

The most plausible story of the Goat Man that I have found tells of a black man by the name of Oscar Washburn, who lived with his family in a cabin near the bridge. “Plausible,” but is it true? I’m not so sure. Here is the way the story is told:

Oscar Washburn raised goats, earning his money selling the meat and the milk. In fact, he made quite a decent living … which angered some of the white farmers in the area. They didn’t like goats in the first place, and they didn’t like people of color. It bothered those fellows that a black man was prospering more than they were. When Oscar put a sign on the bridge, with an arrow pointing to his home, which stated, “This way to the Goat Man,” it was the final straw for those men. They decided it was time for Oscar Washburn to learn a lesson, and they planned to teach it to him.

Dressed in the white cloaks and hoods of the Ku Klux Klan, these men drove out to the bridge in August of 1938. They turned off their lights to cross the bridge so that Oscar Washburn wouldn’t hear them coming to get him. The men dragged Washburn out of his house and down to the bridge, where they slipped a noose over his head and tossed him over the rails to lynch him. However, when they looked over the side to admire their handiwork, the noose swung empty! In a rage that Washburn had somehow managed to escape the fate they had planned for him, the men swarmed back to Washburn’s home and burned it down — with his family inside!

To this day, the ghost of Oscar Washburn, the Goat Man, haunts to bridge hoping to get his revenge.

EEEeek! A hair raising story, indeed! That story sounds like it could have happened. In fact, a man on my ghost tour said, “I know the story is true because my Grandfather told it to me. He was living here then and remembered it happening.”

Perhaps. I’m not saying his Granddaddy is lying. Granddaddies never lie, they just sometimes “embroider the truth.” And, memories can be faulty. You can believe it if you want, but I think it’s just a spooky legend.

I’m not saying that the bridge isn’t haunted. It is! In fact, paranormal investigators in the area say that it definitely has spooky activity, and they never fail to experience haunted happenings there. However, if there was a Goat Man, he probably wasn’t named “Oscar Washburn,” and it probably didn’t happen in the time frame that is mentioned. Two years of searching records show me that facts don’t support the story the way it is told.

If you go out to the Old Alton Bridge this Halloween to find out for yourself, take bug spray, a flashlight, and be on your guard. You could probably outrun a gator (some say that they can only run 8 or 9 miles per hour) and he probably wouldn’t attack you in the first place (alligators prefer an easy meal that they can swallow in one bite) … but don’t take chances! There is more to fear than ghosts at Goat Man’s Bridge — there are gators.

And, since 2008 that thirteen to sixteen foot alligator has had time to grow…

“Wear Red, So I Will Recognize You.” A Ghost Tale

As I walked to my car, I noticed an older woman in a bright red blouse sitting on the bench at the corner of the square. When I smiled at her, she motioned for me to come to her. She had seen my picture on the wall at Jupiter House coffee on the Denton Courthouse Square. “You are the woman who tells ghosts stories, aren’t you?” she said. When I nodded in the affirmative (I give ghost tours in town), she leaned toward me and stared at me with ice blue eyes. “Have you ever seen a ghost?”

I told her that I believed that I had, but I also told her that I am aware that the imagination will play tricks on us. “I don’t trust my imagination any farther than I can throw a small calf,” I said.

She looked at the “musculature” on my arms quite skeptically and laughed. Then, she closed her eyes and leaned back on the bench. “A trick of the imagination,” she murmured. “That’s what I always thought it was, but I’m not so sure.” I could see that she wanted to tell me her story (people often tell me stories) but I realized that I should be silent and let the story flow. I sat down beside her to listen as she told me her ghostly tale. Although she gave me permission to re-tell it, she asked me not to say where it took place, because she is friends with the owners of the building … and she asked me to disguise the characters. All I can say is that the restaurant in question was in the area of the square decades ago, and that the woman grew up in Denton. For the purposes of this story, I will call her “Anne.”

Denton Courthouse

Growing up in Denton, Anne had a best friend (I’ll call her “Charlotte”) with whom she was inseparable as a youngster. “Have you ever had a friend you knew so well that you could tell what they were thinking?” she asked. “That’s how it was with Charlotte and I. We could finish each other’s sentences. We shared our secrets and bared our souls to each other. All through elementary school, folks called us The Bobbsey Twins, because we were always together.” They were two tow-headed girls who loved to laugh and get into mischief.

Russell's Department Store, Denton

Anne remembered happy times when they played on the lawn of the courthouse. In later years, the two of them would go to the shops on the Denton Square and to the soda fountains for root beer floats. “We loved to go to Russell’s Department Store, because we were “clothes horses,” but we enjoyed Duke & Ayres, too!” Anne sighed. “Of course they are gone now. Everything has changed.”

As Anne and Charlotte grew older, they discovered boys and began to date. Although they remained best friends, the two girls didn’t see as quite as much of each other after that. “But,” maintained Anne, “when we did see each other, it was as if no time had passed. We could pick our friendship up where we left off.” They tried to make a point of meeting for lunch once a month at The Restaurant downtown that was their favorite, so they could catch up with each other. This tradition continued through High School and college.

Time marched on. Both women married and started families, yet still they tried to keep their monthly lunch date. Eventually, however, Anne’s husband took a job that moved them to a different part of Texas. Anne and Charlotte remained in touch, making sure they telephoned each other once each month. Even with the distance, the two were fast friends.

After a couple of decades, Anne’s husband retired and they decided to move back to their hometown. “I missed this place,” said Anne. “I missed my family, I missed Charlotte … I missed home.”

Anne and her husband bought a stately house in an older area of Denton. The week after she moved back, in the midst of a whirlwind of activity as Anne unpacked and settled into her new “nest,” she got a telephone call from Charlotte. “Let’s meet at The Restaurant,” Charlotte said. “I’d really like to talk to you again. I have something I want to tell you.”

At this point in her story, tears began to trickle down Anne’s cheeks. When she regained control, she said, “I told her I didn’t have time that week, and we arranged to meet the next Friday at 11:00. We laughed because it would be Friday the 13th, which is an unlucky day. Since we hadn’t seen each other in so long, Charlotte giggled at me and said, ‘Wear red, so I will recognize you.’ We hadn’t seen each other in twenty years.”

When Friday rolled around, Anne took great care with her hair and makeup. She put on a red dress and laughed thinking, “I don’t care how many years have passed, we are going to recognize each other.” Anne arrived at The Restaurant a few minutes early and got a table for two. She sat facing the front windows, watching for Charlotte.

Anne kept glancing at her watch, as the minutes ticked away and Charlotte didn’t show up. “Surely she hasn’t forgotten,” thought Anne. She was just about to get up and find a pay telephone (she didn’t own a cell phone) when she glimpsed a woman in red at the window. “It was Charlotte,” said Anne. “I waved for her to come inside, but she just shook her head and smiled sadly at me. She held up her hand to wave … and just then a crowd of folks came down the sidewalk. Charlotte got mixed in with the crowd, and then she was gone.”

Anne put her head in her hands and told me, “I was so angry at her. I couldn’t figure out what kind of game she was playing. I was trying to get settled into my new home and I didn’t have time for this.” Anne left The Restaurant in a huff. She went home and grabbed the telephone. “I called Charlotte to give her a piece of my mind,” Anne said. She paused, “but a voice a I didn’t recognize answered the phone. When I asked for Charlotte, the woman choked back tears and said, ‘I’m so sorry, Mom had a heart attack and died this morning at 10:45.”

Anne closed her eyes again. I reached out to touch her hand for comfort, and she grabbed my hand like a lifeline. We just sat together for a few moments.

“I saw Charlotte’s ghost. I never told anyone this story except my husband and my mother,” she said. “They both thought I needed to see a psychiatrist. I’m sorry I burdened you with it, but I needed to tell someone I thought would understand.”

At that, she stood and looked around the courthouse square as she straightened the wrinkles on her bright red blouse and patted her hair into place. “Well,” she said. “That’s my story. Now, on the anniversary of her death, on her birthday, and every Friday the 13th I come down to the square, all dressed in red so she will recognize me. I keep wishing I’d see her. I can’t go to The Restaurant anymore, because it isn’t here. Maybe some day I’ll see Charlotte. I would like to know what she wanted to tell me.”

She marched away, looking left and right hopefully.

The Great Time Capsule Non-Event

A year ago this week, residents of Denton curiously awaited the opening of a time capsule. It had snuggled in the cement at the corner of Hickory and South Locust streets since 1992, marked by a plaque, biding its time until it was to be opened in the year 2012. Of course, it had only been there twenty years … so how exciting could the contents really be?

Time capsule

I had literally stumbled over it two years before and wrote a post about the time capsule. I pondered what might be in it, and what I might put in a time capusle. Excited about the possibilities, I marked the calendar for September 12th, 2012 so I could be front and center at the festivities when the contents were revealed.

Regrettably, there were no festivities.

time capsule removal

A week after the fact, city workers acting on the orders of The Powers That Be (hereinafter called TPTB) dug it up and whisked it away to a super secret location. Supposedly it was going to be opened a few days later in a public ceremony, because they needed time to plan … as if they didn’t have twenty years to make arrangements. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen either. As far as I know TPTB has never released information on that was inside that time capsule.

I realize that I am poking fun at TPTB, but I perfectly understand their situation. To be honest, there was confusion over whose responsibility it was to open the time capsule. Officials of the First State Bank are the ones who planted it in September of 1992 … but the bank is no longer on that site. Instead Wells Fargo Bank is located there. Why would they want to give promotion to another bank? Probably the employees didn’t even think about the time capsule being there, although they had to see it on a daily basis … if they looked. If they didn’t look, they would trip on it. Perhaps Wells Fargo folks thought the City of Denton would open it (since the sidewalks belong to them) and vice versa. It’s moot.

TPTB totally forgot about the time capsule and missed a great opportunity for publicity — even it was just a spoof. After all, most likely all that was in the capsule were bank documents and some newspapers (although the secrecy surrounding it makes the Conspiracy Theorist in me want to shout). TPTB could have opened it, made jokes about it, and just had a big ol’ party — that’s what Denton likes to do, anyway.

Thinking about that time capsule has me pondering again what I would put in one … and I think I finally know. I would contribute a “smart phone” loaded down with pictures of Denton the way it is today and with videos of local residents “Dentoning.” If you have to ask what “Dentoning” is, then you might never get it, but I’d want the generations of the future to “get it.”. Would anyone be able to even open a “smart phone” twenty years from now? Possibly not, because the technology will change. But, they can have fun trying … and marveling at how outdated their ancestors were. Do you have better ideas?

Last year some kids gathered on the square on September 12th to mourn the non-event, and they plan to gather this year on the First Anniversary of The Day Denton Failed To Open The Time Capsule. Hey, it’s an excuse for a party, as if any “excuse” is needed. After all, this is Denton, and this is how we roll.