Tag Archive for Ghosts of Denton

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.

It’s Always 9:11

digital clock

During a recent Ghosts of Denton tour, a young girl wanted to tell me a ghost story. She was bouncing up and down the whole tour waiting to get to tell me her tale. After the tour was over, I invited the other guests to remain, if they would like, so that this child could have an audience. Everyone stayed and they were glad they did! The girl was only about nine years old, and already had the makings of a good storyteller. Her story was short, sweet, and spine-tingling.

For the sake of her anonymity, I’ll call her “Danielle.”

“I’m named for my uncle,” Danielle told us. “But, I never met him. He was murdered when he was a teenager. I wasn’t born yet.”

Danielle explained that on the night her “Uncle Danny” was being attacked, he tried to call 911 for help. The call never went through, and the results were tragic.

“My Mom and Danny were very close,” she said. “After he was killed, my mother missed him so much that she dreamed about him all the time. Usually she dreamed about the night he was killed, and she dreamed she was trying to help him. Every time she had one of those dreams, she woke up all sweaty. Every time, when she looked at the clock beside her bed, it was flashing red numbers. It was always 9:11.”

“When I was born, my Mom named me for my uncle,” Danielle continued. She said her mother didn’t have the dreams quite so often after that. “But,” she said, “I think that Uncle Danny is trying to let me know that he is with me. Every day when I am in school I always just happen to look at the clock in the morning. It’s always 9:11.”