Having lived for two decades in Texas, I thought that today I would do something a little different. Namely, share with you some of the strange mysteries that can be found in the state. Texas, or the Lone Star State, as it is affectionately known, is the second largest U.S. state in both area and population, spanning no less than 268,820 square miles, and with a population of around 29 million residents. Houston is its largest city and the fourth-largest in the United States; while the Dallas–Fort Worth metropolitan area is the biggest metropolitan area in the state, and the fourth-largest in the nation. Other major cities include San Antonio, and the capital: Austin. Texas contains diverse landscapes. Traveling from east to west, one can observe piney woods and semi-forests of oak and cross timbers, rolling plains and prairie, and finally the desert of the Big Bend. But that is not all: deep in the heart of Texas lurks a wide array of mysteries.
The Ghosts of Jefferson: Situated on the Big Cypress Bayou, the town of Jefferson has a long and rich history. During the Civil War, the people of Jefferson played a vital role in providing the Confederate Army with meat, hides, food samples, iron, munitions, and leather goods. But it was the years after the War that saw Jefferson really begin to shine, when hundreds of people from the devastated southern states poured into town, all seeking a new life. Today, as the people who run the Visit Jefferson, Texas website note: "When you visit Jefferson, Texas, you take a journey back through time to a bustling 19th century river port. It was an era of prosperity and wealth, of petticoats and parasols, of Southern grace and romance. Today’s Jefferson is reminiscent of its heyday with antique shops lining the original brick streets, horse-drawn carriage tours, and even a trip on the bayou.
And the town may also offer you the opportunity to see more than a few ghosts. Having recognized that ghosts + spooky hotel = lots of tourists, the Jefferson Hotel proudly parades its supernatural inhabitants to one and all. As is noted: “…there is the story of a couple in Room 5 whose young son awakened them repeatedly because a man in a long coat and high boots would not go away. Whispers and repetitive knocks are common occurrences. At times there is a thick white cloud with a thin, longhaired blonde in the mist. She seems to be emotionally attached to a bed that was moved from Room 12 to Room 14. A ninety year old man reluctantly told his tale of wandering the hotel at one in the morning after not being able to sleep. He saw the petite blonde woman floating down the stairs smiling at him, only to disappear before she reached the bottom step. He said he never believed in ghosts until he saw her!”
The Goat-Man of Lake Worth: It was in the early hours of a hot morning in the summer of 1969 that six, terrified Fort Worth residents headed breathlessly for their local police station and told a remarkable tale. John Reichart, his wife, and two other couples had been parked at Lake Worth when a monstrous beast – the description of which sounded like it had emerged from the foul, stinking depths of some Lovecraftian nightmare - leaped out of the buckling branches of a nearby tree. Covered, curiously, in both fur and scales, it slammed with an almighty bang onto the bonnet of the Reichart’s vehicle and tried to grab the hysterical Mrs. Reichart, before bounding off into the endless darkness and the cover of the thick woods. Its only tell-tale calling card: an 18-inch-long scratch along the side of the car.
Although this particular incident quickly gathered widespread publicity and was taken very seriously by the police – no less than four units were dispatched to the scene – it was not the first time that the authorities had heard dark tales of weird things lurking within the heart of the woods of Lake Worth. Not at all: for no less than eight weeks, sightings of a strange animal had been quietly discussed among the superstitious locals, and the police kept a careful watch on the unfolding drama, preferring to attribute the reports to the work of juvenile pranksters, rampaging around in ape costumes. And the reports kept coming in.
Fishy Man-Goat Terrifies Couples Parked at Lake Worth was the headline that jumped out of the pages of the Fort Worth Telegram shortly afterwards. And, of course, it made the Goat-Man a household name in the closely-knit neighborhood. Perhaps inevitably, within twenty-four hours the Goat-Man was seen again. Once more, it was after darkness had fallen, and a report came in of the beast crossing a road near the Lake Worth Nature Center. Notably, the witness, Jack Harris of Fort Worth, said that as he tried to photograph the animal, his camera-flash failed. As seasoned crypto-zoologists will be aware, even if it is something that many of them prefer not to talk about, malfunctioning cameras are a staple part of encounters with mysterious animals; reinforcing the theory that at least some of these entities may have paranormal origins or abilities.
The creature was then seen to quickly make its way to the top of a nearby hill, with thirty to forty people in hot pursuit. In fact, the scenario eerily paralleled that of the old Frankenstein movies of the 1930s and 1940s that saw the unfortunate creation pursued by torch-wielding maniacs from some isolated European town. But the Goat-Man had a surprise for them: looming over them at a height of about thirty feet it threw a large tire at the crowd that sailed through the air, or bounced along the ground, depending on which version of events you accept as genuine, for an astonishing distance of no less than 500 feet. Perhaps not surprisingly, at that point, said Jack Harris, "everybody jumped back into their cars" and fled the area. That fine Texas spirit of shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later had abruptly and curiously vanished. And, shortly afterwards, the Goat-Man vanished too. Although rumors still circulate in hushed tones among those who live near the lake that, just occasionally, the Goat-Man still surfaces from whatever ethereal plane it calls home.
The Lady of the Lake: Constructed in 1911 as Dallas’s first reservoir, White Rock Lake has nine and a half miles of shoreline, thick trees, a path for walkers and cyclists, and is home to an estimated thirty-three types of mammal, including squirrels, rabbits, skunks, raccoons, possums, bobcats, red foxes, and minks, and no less than fifty-four varieties of reptiles, among which are rattlesnakes, turtles, a whole variety of lizards, and horned toads. Salamanders and frogs also abound, along with an incredible 217 species of bird, including swans, pelicans, sea gulls, loons, and all manner of ducks. And this inviting body of water is also said to be the home of a legendary ghost known as the Lady of the Lake. So the story goes, a Dr. Eckersall, a local physician, was driving home from a country-club dance late one Saturday night when he saw a young girl by the lake, who he suspected was in trouble. He quickly stopped his car, and motioned her to climb into the back seat of his vehicle. "Please, please take me home," she begged. The doctor drove rapidly to her destination, and as he pulled up before the shuttered house, said: "Here we are."
Then he turned around. Yes, you guessed it: The back seat was empty, except for a small puddle of lake-water dripping down onto the floorboard. He thought for a moment then rang insistently on the house bell. Finally, the door was opened by a gray-haired man. "I can’t tell you what an amazing thing has happened,’ began the doctor, breathlessly. ‘A young girl gave me this address a while back. I drove her here and..." "Yes, yes, I know," the man wearily interrupted. "This has happened several other Saturday evenings in the past month. That young girl, sir, was my daughter. She was killed in a boating accident on White Rock Lake almost two years ago."
The late writer and researcher Ed Syers said: "In the 1920s, an excursion boat operated on the lake. One warm summer night, perfect for a moonlit ride, a young couple attended a formal party on the boat. An argument between the lovers ensued and the woman left the boat, jumped into her date’s car, and sped off into the dark night. The poorly maintained road around the lake twisted and turned, and the distraught woman lost control of the car where Lawther Road runs into Garland Road. The car careened into the lake and she drowned."
According to ghost hunter Lisa Farwell: "One of the scariest reports of the ghost appeared in a 1987 Dallas Times Herald article by Lorraine Iannello. Iannello interviewed a mother and daughter, Phyllis Thompson and Sue Ann Ashman, who had a frightening encounter with the female phantom. The two were sitting on one of the boat docks at night when they spotted a white object floating in the lake. The women heard a blood-curdling scream and saw the white object roll over onto its back. The object turned out to be a body; it stared at the horror-stricken women through big, hollow sockets where the eyes should have been. Then, just as quickly, the terrifying sight disappeared."
The Alien in the Cemetery: The story of an alleged UFO crash in the little town of Aurora, Texas on April 17, 1897 has become legendary within UFO research circles. So the story goes, an ‘airship’-type alien spacecraft is said to have slammed violently into the windmill of one Judge J.S. Proctor, resulting in the catastrophic crash of the other-worldly vehicle, and the hasty burial – by the townsfolk - of the dead, diminutive pilot at an unmarked grave in the Aurora Cemetery. To this very day, the cemetery contains a Texas Historical Commission marker mentioning the incident. A portion of the second paragraph on the marker states: "This site is also well known because of the legend that a spaceship crashed nearby in 1897 and the pilot, killed in the crash, was buried here."
Interestingly, the previous owner of the land where the crash had allegedly taken place claimed to have dumped some of the alleged extraterrestrial wreckage into his well. Having subsequently developed severe arthritis that he blamed on contaminated well water, the same previous owner sealed over the well with a concrete slab. In 2008, however, the concrete slab was finally removed, and samples of water were carefully taken and examined. The water seemed normal – aside from, interestingly enough, the fact that it contained large deposits of aluminum. No wreckage was found. Nevertheless, the lack of a definitive answer to what may have occurred on that fateful night at Aurora has not affected the status and legend of the closest thing that Texas has to the far-more famous UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico in July 1947.
Spirits of the Alamo: Way back in June 1893, the following story appeared in the pages of the Dallas Morning News and which concerns nothing less than ghostly activity at the site of the famous and historic Alamo: "There is a legend among the Mexicans that when it rains and the wind howls wildly around the old Alamo building, where in 1836 so many brave and patriotic Texans were butchered by Santa Anna’s soldiers, the ghosts of the departed heroes or some of them, notably those of Davy Crockett, Bowie and Travis, arise and stalk about the old building with the measured tread of heavily armed and booted men on guard."
The newspaper continued: "These old stories have been heard for years, but nobody except the Mexicans have ever believed that there was anything but superstition in them, but since the old building has been dignified, or undignified by the use of the small new part on the side, which has been built in since the famous fight, at a police station some startling statements have been made with regard to the ghostly perambulations of the shades of the heroes, if it is the shades of those gentlemen which are responsible for the alleged goings on." The Dallas Morning News also noted: "Certainly if there is a spot in earth where it might be expected that the earth so reeks with noble blood as to cause the people to expect that the ghosts of the dead walk uneasy there, it is the Alamo in San Antonio."
And that is merely the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps, one day, I will enlighten you on other strange tales from Texas, such as those relating to the "Ghost of Grand Prairie," the "Monster Tape Worm" of Hillsboro, the "Eighteen-Horn Cow" of the town of Taylor, the Texas "Pig-Baby"and much, much more…