Tag Archive for Dentoning

Snooky, The Fire Dog

“I saw a white dog walking down Elm Street near the Square,” she said. “I think it was a bulldog, but I didn’t get a very good look, however it looked pretty well-fed, so I knew it had an owner somewhere.” She fidgeted as she told me the story of her strange encounter.

“You are going to think I’m crazy,” she whispered, “but I’m not!” I assured her that I wouldn’t think her crazy, at least no crazier than I am, and encouraged her to finish the tale.

“The dog wasn’t on a leash,” she told me, “and I worried that it would get hit by a car — you know when the new school year starts those college kids drive like maniacs. I glanced up and down the street to find the owner. When I didn’t see anyone, I turned to dash across the street to try to corral the dog. But it had vanished! There wasn’t anywhere for it to go! Was it a ghost dog?” I couldn’t rightly answer that question, but maybe.

People around Denton often share stories of the unusual with me. Each weekend, I give Ghosts of Denton Haunted History Tours around downtown and I’m always asking people to share their tales. They are glad to oblige.

This woman was the third person this summer to tell me of seeing a white dog walking on Elm Street — a dog that vanished into thin air. However, she was the first to mention that it was a bulldog. This put me in mind of the story of Snooky, a large, white, female bulldog who was a mascot for the Denton Fire Department about eighty years ago.

Snooky grave marker

“Snooky 1934-1937”

In 2013, I first heard about Snooky the Fire Dog from Chuck Howell, who was acting Captain at the fire station the day I visited the Denton Firefighter’s Museum. He showed me the tombstone that had been on Snooky’s grave. It’s now on display at the museum, located at the Central Fire Station at 332 E. Hickory. Here is the gist what he told me:

Everyone around the Courthouse Square loved Snooky. According to the Fire Marshall of the time, Eugene Cook, she “had more sense than any dog I ever saw.” Snooky went to every single fire with the firemen at the Central Fire Station (then located on McKinney Street). Snooky supervised. Fire Marshal Cook said that when the “regular” phone rang at the fire station, Snooky didn’t react at all. When the fire phone jangled, that dog jumped on the truck, raring to go.

When not “on duty,” Snooky was in the habit of walking south on Elm Street to the Courthouse Square each day. She made the rounds of the different restaurants, where the cooks always had juicy tidbits for her and evidently spoiled her rotten. She was a regular at the American Cafe and Ray’s Cafe on the Square. I have found no pictures of the dog but I’m betting that, with all that snacking, she was “pleasingly plump.”

In the wee hours of the morning, during the summertime, Snooky loved to follow the ice wagons around the Square. At that time the Mahan Ice Company still made deliveries using horse-drawn wagons. Don’t ask me why she followed the wagons. Maybe the horses left interesting smells in their wake? At any rate, that habit led to her demise.

One summer day in 1937, as Snooky pattered along behind the ice wagon, she strayed into the lane of traffic. The driver of the oncoming vehicle never saw her until he hit her. Badly wounded, Snooky managed to drag herself back to the fire station. Although a veterinarian was summoned, his ministrations could not save the dog.

So distraught were the firemen, that they decided to give Snooky a special send-off, just as they would have done for a member of their own family. They constructed a dog-size coffin and lined it with velvet. They put the casket on the running board of the hook and ladder truck to drive Snooky, one last time, around the Courthouse Square she loved so much.

The Chaplain of the Fire Department, Bill Vivereite, preached a sermon for Snooky as mourners gathered round her grave at the southwest corner of the Fire Station. They included uniformed firemen, city employees, and other friends of Snooky.

When Chief Howell told me the story, I said, “Wait a minute. What did y’all do with the dog when you moved the fire station to this location? Where is Snooky now?”

He winced and whispered, “Probably still in a flowerbed at the old station.

Snooky’s bones might be pushing up weeds at the old fire station, but evidently her spirit is a little restless. If you see her, don’t panic. She’s just wandering around looking for juicy tidbits.

Officially The Courthouse is NOT Haunted … But …

Denton Courthouse 2014

“Officially” the Denton County Courthouse is not haunted. That’s what I told you in my book, Ghosts of Denton: The History of the Mysteries in a Small Texas Town (available on Amazon). If you ask people who work there if any ghosts reside in the building, they shake their heads … but they can’t look you in the eyes and say, “No.”

Visitors to the courthouse might tell you the other side to the story. A group who came on one of my ghost tours told me a rather hair-raising tale about an incident that happened to them in the basement. Hang on, and I’ll share it with you. First, let me give you some background on that creepy space below ground level, since I’ve already given you a virtual tour of the top floors.

My guide today told me that before about 1900, the basement of the courthouse was the only place on the square where ladies could go to the restroom. In the basement, there were attendants to give the women towels and “necessities.” Soon, the basement served other purposes, but it still has public restrooms down there, which gives you an excuse to explore.

The first thing you might notice in the basement are the thick limestone walls. They are about a foot thick (or more … I didn’t measure them) and that limestone came from a quarry in Denton County. It took thick walls to hold up this magnificent structure. I think it’s a pity that someone long ago decided the walls needed to be painted.

thick walls in the basement

As you wander through the corridors, you will see several places where door openings have been boarded over. Those were once the entrances to the holding cells for prisoner waiting trial. It wasn’t the jail … just temporary “housing.”

entrances to holding cells

But, look along the floor at the small rectangles that were also boarded. Those were the “bean slots.” They were a pass-through so that the prisoners could be fed, and so their … er … um … “thunder mugs” could be emptied. If you aren’t familiar with the term, a thunder mug was a bucket into which the prisoners relieved themselves.

bean slot

The prisoners had roomy quarters while they waited on their turn to enter the court. They could pass the time in people-watching, as they could see out of their windows at ground level and watch folks walking around the square. The windows are covered by vegetation now, but who knows what the men down there could have observed back in the day.

view from holding cell

Many people have told me that they have gotten a creepy feeling down in that basement. If you hear rumors that there was a hanging in the basement or that someone died down there, it isn’t true. You will also not find any tunnels down there (a popular myth in Denton is that there are tunnels under the streets leading from different business establishments to the courthouse).

Are you ready for the ghost story? Sure you are. Step over to the women’s restroom.

basement women's room

The group of ladies who came on my tour several months ago told me that they had been exploring the courthouse earlier in the day. They were surprised that there were even things to see in the basement. The museum has a display of some architectural pieces from the original courthouse and a wonderful safe from the Denton County Bank.

One of the women needed to step into the restroom, and she left her friends in the hallway. Inside the stall, she heard the heavy door creak open. Someone stepped to the sink and turned on the water. She called out, “Hey, are we going to find something to eat soon?”

She got no answer, but she heard someone splashing the water in the sink. “Who’s out there?” she asked. Still no answer. She heard the water turn off. Moments later she opened the stall door and no one was in the bathroom. The sink was wet and water was splashed around it. She realized she had not heard the door creak when the other restroom visitor left!

The woman joined her friends in the hall and said, “OK. Who is messing with my head? Which one of you came in the bathroom while I was in there?” Her friends all told her, “No one went into that room after you did.” She told them what she had just experienced and they ran out of that courthouse squealing.

Many people believe that there is a spirit lingering in that basement. It could possibly be the spirit of “Uncle Zach” Rawlings. He was a janitor at this courthouse and the one before it for many years. Here is his obituary from the Denton Record Chronicle in June of 1911:

Courthouse mourns longtime worker
“Uncle Zach” Rawlings, ex-slave, for many years janitor at the courthouse and perhaps the best known negro in Denton County among the white folks, died at his home in Quaker [note: Quakertown was the “black section” of Denton in those days], aged about 80 years.
“Uncle Zach” was born in Granada, Miss., and came to Denton County, a slave with his master, Dan Rawlings, before the war and lived near Lewisville until his election as courthouse janitor. Here he served since 1886 until the present year when he resigned, his health and age incapacitating him.
Services were conducted by the Rev. Sam Walker at 10 o’clock Wednesday in the African Baptist church. Interment followed at the city cemetery.
The Commissioners’ Court attended the services as a body, as did several other county officers and many white people.
On the day of his death, the Commissioners accepted a petition from county officials honoring the memory of “Uncle Zach” Rawlings and read it into the minutes of the court.

Could the woman in the story have encountered Uncle Zach in the courthouse basement? Probably not. I think he would have wiped the sink when he was finished.

Exploring The Denton County Courthouse

Courthouse Denton County
Looking at our beautiful courthouse on the square, it’s almost impossible not to want to investigate every nook and cranny of it. How exciting it would be to climb all the way up to that clock tower! I want to have a picnic on that balcony at the top. Unfortunately, that activity is not allowed.

There are no tours that explore the upper floors of the courthouse and take tourists to the tower. Let me repeat that, just in case you didn’t get it the first go-round: the county does not give tours of the upper floors of the building. Visitors may wander somewhat freely in the basement, on the first floor (where the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum is located), on the second floor, and even on the third floor. Some of it is restricted because it’s office space for Heaven’s sake. We can’t just be barging in on county commissioners while they work.

Authorized Personnel only
However, that’s the extent of it. A chain blocks the spiral staircase that leads to the upper floors, with a sign that says “Authorized Personnel Only.”

That sign tells the public not to go futher (sorry, when faced with deciphering the proper English usage between “farther” and “further” I opt for the Texan —“futher”) and it means exactly what it says! I’ve heard some folks say, “One day I’m just going to step over that chain and climb up there.” I urge you not to do it.

First, you could get arrested. Yes, you really could. And second, there is more than one darned good reason that the public isn’t allowed up there. It’s dangerous. Folks could damage the courthouse or themselves! Some unscrupulous scalawags have even defaced that lovely edifice with graffiti. And, it’s dangerous (didn’t I already tell you that?).

Nope. The public doesn’t get to see the mysteries of the upper floors of the courthouse. That said, I got to take a tour of it! Yes, moi! It’s not that I’m particularly special, although I will admit that I’m a legend in my own mind. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I got an invite to climb those stairs, and I jumped at the chance.

If you aren’t familiar with our courthouse (the third courthouse built in the town), the brochure for the walking tour of Denton describes it this way: “Denton County Courthouse On the Square was built between 1895 and 1897, using locally quarried limestone, gray sandstone from Mineral Wells, and Burnet County red granite for the columns.” That doesn’t quite do it justice, but it will have to do for the moment. Suffice to say it is magnificent.

You want to see what I did, don’t you? Yes, I knew you would. As a friend said, it’s like getting to see the Pope’s bathroom or Antarctica. It’s something that you probably won’t ever get to do, but you can at least experience it vicariously.

I’ve put together a few pictures for you, although I won’t bore you with all of them. I just want you to get a chance to see what is behind those walls. Click on the first picture below and you can view a slide show.

No, that isn’t all of the pictures I took, but it should give you an idea of the mysteries beyond that chained gate.

While I am immensely grateful to have gotten the opportunity to see it, I’m not sure I would climb up there again. At least, I wouldn’t go all the way to the clock tower. I really balked at the stairs for the last two flights … after all, I’m a little old lady and I’m not an athlete. However, I had bragged about the fact that I was going up there! If I backed away from the challenge, it would be like a ten-year-old walking away from a triple-dog-dare.

I would have loved to show you the bell, but I was too afraid to take my hands from the ladder rungs. And, I hoped to video the clock moving when it struck the hour … but, duh, I forgot to press the button to make it record. Still, I hope you enjoyed the virtual tour, since you probably won’t ever get to take one. Remember, the county does not offer tours of the upper floor of the courthouse (sheesh, I hope that satisfies the powers that be!).