paraphrase a quote by the Marquise de Deffand in 1774, I don't believe in ghosts,
but I have a healthy respect for them.|
You would, too, if you've ever
stood on the banks of Bouton Lake when the fog rolls in from the Neches
River bottomlands. Looking across the still, tree-shaded waters, you can almost
see the outlines of a young girl wearing a long flowing gown.
of Bouton Lake is one of several with whom I have developed close friendships
over the last 30 or so years. I don't necessarily believe in them, but they've
become as much a part of East Texas
as the pine forests they haunt, so I accept them in the same way that I accept
the fact that gravity works.
Lake's ghost is as old as the lake itself. The story goes that a man and his daughter
were hauling cotton to town when the
earth collapsed beneath them. He and his daughter disappeared forever. Bouton
Lake's ghost is mild compared to Oonie Andrews, the ghost who lives in
Lady Bird Johnson's family home at Karnack.
She is as much a part of the old mansion that Jett Jones, who grew up with Oonie,
simply considers her "a lady who lives in the house that nobody else can see."
In 1843, Milt Andrews built a splendid plantation-style mansion near Karnack.
Sometime in the l880s, Andrews' 19-year-old daughter, Eunice, sat alone in an
upstairs bedroom when bolt of lightning from a stormstruck the chimney, raced
down a fireplace, and hit Oonie. She was burned to death.
Over the years,
stories arose that the ghost of Miss Andrews never left the bedroom. Eerie noises,
odd happenings, and ghostly apparitions soon became common. When the Andrews family
sold the house to T.J. Taylor -- Lady Bird Johnson's father -- in
1902, the ghost went along with the sale. While Lady Bird said she never saw or
heard the ghost, she admitted feeling a sense of apprehension and unease in the
house as a child.
more contemporary ghost -- an East Texas phantom of the opera nicknamed Chester
-- haunts the Turner Fine Arts Auditorium on the campus of Stephen F.
Austin State University in Nacogdoches.
No one has ever actually seen Chester, but dozens of students and instructors
swear they've felt his presence with signs like rustling stage curtains, footsteps
on the scaffolding, dust sifting down on the shoulders of actors, and cold fingers
on the back of the neck.
Chester apparently tried to make himself visible
in a 1987 production of Macbeth. In a scene where eight ghosts were projected
on a stage screen, a ninth face somehow appeared.
Texas' most beautiful ghost may be Diamond
Bessie, who was murdered at Jefferson
in 1877, supposedly by Abe Rothschild, although he was acquitted after two controversial
trials. For years, there have been reports of Diamond
Bessie's ghost rattling around the Excelsior House, but it certainly
hasn't hurt business at the old hotel. When Bessie isn't haunting people at the
Excelsior, she can usually be found at Oakwood Cemetery.
cemeteries in East Texas also
have their special ghosts.
Dabb's Cemetery, near Frankston,
there's the story of "the cage," where legends claim that a man was buried twice,
once alive and the second time dead.
Locals claim the man was buried
the first time because he was thought to be dead, but dug his way out of his earthen
tomb and crawled to a nearby home, where he died. To assure he would not be able
to crawl out again, a cage of wooden stakes was built around his grave. It apparently
served its purpose, but there are still stories of a ghost roaming the graveyard
late at night.
Texas' best-known "ghost light," belongs
to Bragg Road
in Hardin County. There, Big Thicket
residents have consistently reported sightings of a strange red light in the forest,
supposedly the lantern of a railroad switchman who was killed by a freight train
more than 50 years ago.
Angelina County ghost haunts the banks of Popher Creek. The story
goes that an old Indian chief named Popher had a son who killed
a white man in an argument and was scheduled to be hanged. Popher went to the
white men and pleaded, "I am an old man, and my son is still young with his life
still before him. Please let me take my son's place." The old chief was hung along
the creek which bears his name.
Oct. 21, 2001Column, updated February 19, 2012
Bob Bowman's East Texas
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
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