Dallas? Not so much. We're sunny. We like bling more than blood. We're a mostly peaceful lot.
Think again; for a city that's relatively young (John Neely Bryan first came here in 1839, and the city incorporated in 1856) we allegedly have our fair share of ghostly residents.
First and foremost, of course, is the Lady of the Lake, whose legend has been around since at least the 1930s. Anyone who's lived here long knows the story: Young, dripping-wet woman hitchhiker (usually along Garland Road or Gaston Avenue) waves down a motorist and asks to be taken to a nearby home. When the motorist pulls up, one of two things happens: He turns around to find nothing but a damp puddle in his back seat, or he goes to the door, only to be told by the girl's father that she had recently drowned in nearby White Rock Lake. And then they see the puddle.
In A Texas Guide to Haunted Restaurants, Taverns and Inns (Republic of Texas Press, 2001), writers Robert Wlodarski and Anne Powell Wlodarski mention reports of two young women perishing by suicidal drowning in the lake's waters between 1935 and 1942, and say that some witnesses have seen not only the hitchhiker but also a ghostly woman rising out of the lake.
Mitchel Whitington, author of Ghosts of North Texas (Republic of Texas Press, 2003), did some research and found out, alas, that nearly every major city with an inner-city or nearby lake has virtually the identical legend. Still, he was willing to give our lady a chance. He ventured out one night into the lakeside woods, just after sunset. His report: Satan worshippers, zero. Invisibly hurled stones, zero. Drenched young female hitchhikers, zero.
- White Rock Lake, 8300 E. Lawther Drive, Dallas. 214-660-1100 (For the Love of the Lake). www.whiterocklake.org.
Ghosts with gusto
So let's move on to some ghosts with more street (or dungeon, as the case may be) cred.
The original Snuffer's Restaurant on Greenville Avenue has been prickled since its 1978 opening by reports of apparitions and poltergeist activity, mostly since an addition to the restaurant was made in 1987 (although the owners say there were ghostly signs before that, as well). Perhaps the ghosts, who were until then relatively polite, were disturbed in their rest and thus ticked off by the construction.
In 2013, the original restaurant building was demolished and rebuilt, but even with the new space, ghostly activities persist. Guests and workers often feel gusts of cold air, see doors open by themselves and hear someone call names. Especially when workers are ready to close the restaurant for the day, mysterious situations occur, including an appearance of a black figure and lights turning back on. The most popular theory behind these encounters is the spirit of a man who was murdered in the original building.
In 1999, the then-owner, Pat Snuffer, told a Dallas Morning News reporter that he hadn't previously believed in ghosts, but within a few months of moving into the space, he knew it was haunted. Legend has it that just mentioning the ghosts will lure them out of hiding; they're publicity hounds, apparently.
- Snuffer's Restaurant and Bar, 3526 Greenville Ave., Dallas. 214-826-6850. www.snuffers.com.
The Sons of Hermann Hall, on Elm Street in Exposition Park (between Deep Ellum and Fair Park), is housed in a historic building that had its grand opening in April 1911. It's now a Texas Historic Landmark.
The stairs, a downstairs back room and the ballroom have all reportedly seen spectral activity. It's speculated that one of the ghosts may be a cranky former caretaker named Louis who loved to yell at kids who were playing around inside the hall, too boisterously for Louis' liking. Once while Walker, Texas Ranger was filming there, extras having a late-night drink in the downstairs bar said they saw a formally dressed couple walk in, go down a hall and then vanish. There also have been many stories of pictures falling off the walls, unexplained voices echoing, children's laughter (taunting Louis, no doubt) and slamming doors.
Someone who worked there told the Wlodarskis that she had seen a photograph of a band playing in the ballroom, showing the vague outline of a skeleton standing next to a band member. The photo, unfortunately, has been lost to time or ghostly interference.
- Sons of Hermann Hall, 3414 Elm St. at Exposition, East Dallas. 214-747-4422. www.sonsofhermann.com.
The Majestic Theatre on Elm Street downtown began its life as a vaudeville theater and is the last remaining remnant of the city's once-thriving Theater Row. Entrepreneur Karl Hoblitzelle built the Renaissance Revival theater as the flagship of the Interstate Amusement Co., and it housed both performance and office space.
All the big names of vaudeville played the Majestic: Mae West, Bob Hope, even Houdini. Movies were added to the repertoire in 1922, and were shown until the theater closed in 1973 (the last film, appropriate considering the ghostly activity, was Live and Let Die). It also was used as a film location for Brian De Palma's 1974 film (yes, more spooky connections) Phantom of the Paradise. In 1977 the Majestic was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it reopened in 1983 for performances of musicals, dramas, concerts and comedy.
Hoblitzelle, some say, never left, although he died in 1967. I'd have to agree with them. When I was in my 20s, I worked at the Dallas Ballet, which had its offices on an upper floor of the building. There was a door in my office that led into the theater, and one of my duties was to make sure that door was closed and locked every night. Many mornings, I would come in and find it standing wide open, even though I was sure I'd locked it the night before.
When I finally brought this up with my boss, he laughed. "Oh, that's Karl. This used to be his office, and he likes to use his personal door to go into the theater to check things out." I never could get that door to stay closed, and there was often an inexplicable chill in my office. I learned to take a sweater to work, and I began saying goodnight to Karl every night before I left.
Many visitors and workers have reported similar experiences, in addition to backdrops moving around on their own, odd smells and the presence of a man in one of the balcony seats who vanishes when anyone goes to check on him.
- The Majestic Theatre, 1925 Elm St., downtown Dallas. 214-880-0137. www.li
I also had a slightly haunting experience at The Adolphus Hotel (really, I'm a great date on Halloween), while doing a story for the Metro section of this newspaper in 2008. Ghost hunters were giving a seminar, and a group of us traipsed around with crystals and divining rods trying to feel the spirits. I must admit, my crystal did a whipping-spinning thing that I'm pretty darned sure I wasn't controlling.
The hauntings supposedly center around a ballroom that no longer exists in the hotel, which opened in 1912 and cost a staggering (for then) $1.87 million. People who have rooms in the area that was once the 19th-floor ballroom often hear clinking glasses, Big Band music, cocktail chatter and other party-type noises late at night. Other people on the tour also had their divining rods and crystals go a little bit wack-a-doodle while on the 19th floor. Just sayin'. Newer reports have mentioned a female ghostette of some sort in the hotel's pastry kitchen.
- The Adolphus Hotel, 1321 Commerce St., downtown Dallas. 214-742-8200. www.hoteladolphus.com.
Two supposedly haunted structures are part of Dallas Heritage Village at Old City Park: Millermore and the Law Office. The Greek Revival mansion Millermore was built by Dallas pioneer William Brown Miller and his second wife, Minerva, and completed in 1862. People have seen the figure of a woman in the house, often at an upstairs bedroom window, and have heard voices and children's laughter coming from the nursery area.
Curator Evelyn Montgomery says a guest told her recently about seeing a woman in that same window during several nighttime events.
The ghost may be that of Minerva -- who died before the house was finished and never actually lived there -- or possibly Emma, Miller's third wife. When April Slaughter, author of Ghosthunting Texas (Clerisy Press, 2009), visited, she got creeped out by some shadow-box frames containing hairpieces made from human hair (although they weren't historically related to the house). While looking at them, she writes, she felt the "distinct sensation of someone brushing my hair away from the back of my neck," although the remainder of her tour group had moved away and she was alone.
At the Law Office, which originally was a grocery store in East Dallas, the ghosts reportedly like to play with the security system. There are stories that in 1929 a mob murder occurred in the store.
- Dallas Heritage Village at Old City Park (Millermore and the Law Office), 1515 S. Harwood St., just south of downtown Dallas. 214-428-5448. w
The Lizard Lounge in East Dallas also has a history of odd occurrences, possibly stemming from its late 20th-century days as the Grand Crystal Palace theater. (It was constructed at the turn of the 20th century and originally was a warehouse.) In the mid-1980s, actress-playwright Molly Louise Shepard was attacked by a flying hairdryer and saw the light bulbs in her vanity spontaneously explode, according to author Whitington. An iron she was using also melted for no reason.
Rumors persist that workers were killed in the building when it was a warehouse, and one of the specters is a man in black -- dark suit, cape and hat -- who hangs out where the audience once sat.
- The Lizard Lounge, 2424 Swiss Ave. at Good-Latimer Expressway, Dallas. 214-826-4768. www.thelizardlounge.com.
Fort Worth phantoms
Over in Fort Worth, the Jett Building at Sundance Square is now famous for its 1985 Richard Haas mural depicting a Chisholm Trail cattle drive. The building now houses a Jamba Juice, but it was originally the terminal and ticket office of Northern Texas Traction Co., which operated the first intercity rail line between Fort Worth and Dallas.
It's also been a candy factory, title company and sandwich shop, and several restaurants have come and gone. Four restaurants, in fact, moved in and out within a six-year period, and the owner of at least one has said it was due to ghostly activity.
Among the phantoms said to reside in the Jett Building are a woman who appears in mirrors and a child who rolls a ball around in the upstairs rooms late at night. Workers have experienced the typical signs of haunting: freezing spots where no drafts exist, spooky footsteps, lights flicking on and off. Sidebar: Ghost researchers seem to agree that spirits love modern technology; they delight in playing with lights and plumbing, anything to get the attention of the still-living.
Some years ago, a woman who wanted to live in the Jett wandered around on her own and was especially charmed by the spectacular view of Main Street from an upper floor. When she mentioned it to the owner, he told her those windows had long ago been boarded up. Disbelieving, she demanded that he go upstairs with her. No windows. Ghostly time travel, perhaps? Wandering into another dimension?
- Jett Building, 400 Main St. in Sundance Square, Fort Worth.
In the Stockyards area of Fort Worth, Miss Molly's Hotel has become famous for its mysterious inhabitant, who likes to lie down with guests when they're in bed. The ghost sometimes materializes as a lovely woman with blond hair. The hotel's history includes serving as a boardinghouse and bordello. Molly is often the name given to the lead cow on a cattle drive, hence the hotel's name.
- Miss Molly's Hotel, 109 W. Exchange Ave. in the Fort Worth Stockyards. 817-626-1522. www.missmollyshotel.com.
About 30 miles south of Dallas lurks what is believed to be one of the most-haunted places around here, the Catfish Plantation restaurant. The house on Water Street was constructed in 1895 or earlier and has been owned since 2007 by Richard and Ann Landis and their daughter, co-owner Shawn Sparks, who is also executive chef and general manager. "I was skeptical at first, but I believe this place is haunted," Sparks says. "It only took me about two weeks. There's just too much going on, all the time."
In 2003 a fire destroyed the roof and much of the building, but it has been restored with much of the original woodwork intact. A worker who's still there says one of the ghosts, named Elizabeth, tried to warn her in advance to "check the attic, that something was wrong in the attic." The then-owners ignored the warnings. "About three days later, there was this big electrical fire," Sparks says.
The spirit of Elizabeth Richards, who died in the front dining room of old age around the turn of the 20th century, appears in wedding dress, sometimes accompanied by the smell of roses. She's joined, Sparks says, by the ghosts of Caroline Jenkins, who died in the house of natural causes in the early 1970s, and Will Byers, who died in the 1940s of pneumonia.
A recent paranormal investigation turned up a fourth spirit. The ghost "spoke" through a piece of equipment, telling investigators that her name is Lola Roller. Sparks did some research and found a Dallas Morning News article about a young woman of that name who was murdered about three blocks north of the house in the 1930s. Apparently she's moved in.
Sparks says Will and Elizabeth content themselves mostly by moving silverware around or hiding things such as guests' keys, or, once, an entire bread pudding. "Will also loves young women -- he likes to touch their hair and knees, and we have a bartender he's really fond of. He'll take the bottle opener out of the back pocket of her jeans. Just because he's dead doesn't mean he's not still a dirty old man, I guess."
Caroline, who was very religious, can be judgmental. "When we first got our license to serve alcohol," Sparks says, "she started snapping wine glasses in half at the stems, while people were dining." In addition, coffee cups regularly fly around, people get slapped by unseen hands, and mysterious shadows appear on the wall. The ghosts also occasionally brew coffee and change the radio station.
Apparently, even in the afterlife, you need caffeine and a good beat.
- Catfish Plantation, 814 Water St., Waxahachie. 972-937-9468. www.catfishplantation.com.
By JOY TIPPING; written in October 2010. Updated by AURELIA HAN in May 2017.