Tag Archive for Ghostly–Mostly

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.

Haunted In Military Time

life of the dead
She approached me shyly at my booth at the paranormal conference last weekend. “Strange things sometimes happen to me,” she said, “but I never feel as if I can tell anyone about them. I don’t think they would understand. I’ve never been to a conference like this one, where people talk about ghosts.”

I sensed that she had something she wanted to tell me, so I prompted her. “Do you want to tell me about one of those strange experiences?”

She jumped at the chance. Pulling her cell phone from her pocket, she said, “I like to walk in cemeteries. I’m not morbid, I just think they are beautiful.”

I was pleased to hear her say that, because I am a bit of a taphophile, myself (I love cemeteries). I believe, as did Marcus Tullius Cicero, that “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”

She scrolled through the pictures on her phone until she found the photo she wanted to show me. It was a picture of a very simple headstone, obviously provided by the military.

Though there were weeds around the base that obscured part of the epitaph, parts of it were perfectly clear. The part of the engraving that I could see included these words: “Tony Starks Died March 11, 1919.”

The young woman gulped before continuing with her tale. Obviously, she was a bit disturbed by what she had experienced. “I was walking in a cemetery in Houston near Lockwood and Interstate 10,” she said. “I don’t remember the name of the cemetery, but I bet you can find out which one it was. That day, it was my lunch break and I just wanted to enjoy the peace and quiet of the cemetery.”

“I saw this headstone and took a picture. You can’t read the words because of the weeds, but it said that he was only twenty-six years old. I think it said he was a Captain, or something. Anyway, I felt so sad that he had died so young. Just as I took the picture, a clock somewhere chimed 1 o’clock. My lunch break was over. I don’t know why, but I had a sudden urge to salute this young soldier … and I did. Then, I went back to work.”

“Since that day,” she whispered, “every day at 1o’clock my cell phone time switches to Military Time. The clock on the phone displays 1300. I used to try to change it, but I decided just to leave it that way. Maybe he is trying to tell me something?”

Intrigued, I came home with the information from the tombstone and began to search Ancestry.com to find more about the young soldier she had saluted. I’m always curious about the “back story.” Although I have found a little bit about him, it’s difficult to flesh out the young man’s history. You see, he was a young man “of color” — and significant life events weren’t always formally recorded for black people in his day.

He wasn’t a Captain. Private Tony Starks is buried in the “Evergreen Negro Cemetery” near several family members, although the Find A Grave records don’t calculate his relationship to them. I’m trying to rectify that. The cemetery itself is an interesting one. According to Find A Grave.com, “The Evergreen Negro Cemetery is the third oldest African-American Cemetery in Houston. There are former slaves and World War I veterans buried in this cemetery. In 1960, 490 individuals, more or less, were removed by the City of Houston to expand Lockwood Drive from Sonora to Library Road. Re-interments were in other sections of the cemetery as well as at Eternity Park Cemetery, Oak Park Cemetery and Paradise Cemetery.” Hopefully, Tony Starks is still buried with his tombstone.

Born December 12, 1893, he was the son of Mose and Nancy (née Dudley) Starks (also recorded in historical as Starke, Starkes). From what I can find, he lived most of his life in Houston. His draft registration card in 1917 indicated that Tony Starks was a laborer, and he signed his name with an “X,” so he was illiterate.

His death certificate indicates that Private Tony Starks was in Company A. 434th Labor Battalion stationed at Camp Logan in Houston. The certificate records that he was married, though I have found no evidence of his wife’s name yet. The cause of death was “dilatation of the heart, acute.” The certificate doesn’t offer much more information than that.

Could Captain Tony Starks be trying to tell his visitor something? Perhaps he is thanking her for the respect she paid him. It’s doubtful that a young, illiterate, black laborer got a lot of respect in 1919 … even if he died while in service to his country.

Wake The Dead Show In Galveston. A Dash Beardsley Production.

This paranormal conference sounds like frightfully good fun! It’s billed as “a touch of paracon meets sci-fy, horror, and Hollywood mixed with a touch of rock and roll and family fun!” Wow! That’s a tall order, but I think Dash Beardsley, the creator of the Ghost Tours of Galveston can deliver. This is the first ever Wake The Dead Show on Saturday, September 6th, 2014 from 9am to 6pm at the Galveston Convention Center.

Dash Beardsley

The timing is nearly perfect for the ghostly tales told in Galveston on one of Dash’s tours. On September 6th, 1900 the citizens of Galveston went about their daily lives blissfully unaware that two days later their world would be torn asunder. On September 8th, a monster hurricane completely destroyed Galveston (which was at that time the 4th largest city in Texas). More than 6,000 people were killed … and their ghosts still walk The Strand. Take a Ghosts of Galveston tour, and perhaps you can meet one — 114 years later.

I am going to be there. If you love the paranormal and/or science fiction, you could come down to the island, too! The actor Eric Roberts is scheduled to be a special guest, as is Tom Wright and Jennifer Lynn Warren. There will be prominent paranormal investigators, screenwriters, speakers, and radio personalities. There will be booths for psychics and tarot readers to offer their services. There will be people like me (and my friend, the author Tui Snider) who will be offering our books for sale. Did I tell you I have a book? I do! It’s called Ghosts of Denton: The history of the mysteries in a small Texas town.

I’m in a quandary. I haven’t decided if I’m going to play “dress-up,” yet (Tui probably will!). I’d better decide soon!

I don’t know if it is too late to get the “VIP tickets.” If it isn’t, it should be darned well worth it! It includes

  • Friday night dinner: 4 course Mediterranean dinner at 7pm the night before the show
  • Friday night creep crawl: Pub crawl after dinner with Dash Beardsley along the Strand District with discounted cocktails at all pub stops and live entertainment by Fuzzy Side Up
  • 1 Wake the Dead Show t-shirt

Another benefit to going to this conference is that a percentage of proceeds will be made to the Galveston Food Bank. You can have fun and do a good deed at the same time. So, save the date, ghost zealots, music lovers, and star-struck people! Get down to Galveston and we will join Dash Beardsley to Wake The Dead! At the very least, we will rock the town.