Austin, Texas, known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” is an eclectic mix of people. This is as true now as it was in the past, so it stands to reason that the ghosts that haunt Austin are just as eclectic. Officially chartered in 1839, Austin became the capital city of Texas and saw steady growth throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries. Even today, Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. With such population growth comes the many stories that accompany it. I was privileged enough to hear some of the more supernatural of these stories as told by Monica Ballard of Austin Ghost Tours.
Dressed in costume representative of the late 19th Century, Monica meets us at the Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill–a restaurant that is now housed in one of the oldest buildings in Austin. While we wait for the rest of the tour group to check in, Monica demonstrates a pair of dowsing rods. This form of divination employs L-shaped rods to (in this instance) communicate with some of the spirits we are soon to learn about. Monica asks the spirit to point to several buildings–asking first the modern name of the building and then the former name, if the former doesn’t get a response. Monica stays absolutely still as she asks the questions and the dowsing rods move to answer her questions with an eerie accuracy.
Once everyone in the tour has checked in, we are off and on our way through downtown Austin. Our first stop is just around the corner–an old store with living quarters upstairs. It was here that
a man named Curley (yes, Curley) committed suicide. This building has seen a great deal of paranormal activity over the years and the last tenant of the building would often open up in the morning to find books neatly stacked in various locations, water faucets running and lights flickering. Monica went on to explain that this area often will see specifically blue orbs. Sure enough, I caught several blue orbs with my camera.
From here, we proceeded to one of my favorite stories on the tour. We arrived at an unassuming brick building that had once been a dealership for carriages. When motorcars came along at the turn of the twentieth century, the building fell into disuse until it was bought–with cash–by an eccentric funeral director, Nathan Rhambo. Rhambo, an African-American who had a panache for wearing white suits, was well liked in Austin society. He often was seen at high-society parties and helped the poor with funeral expenses that they might not otherwise be able to afford. However, not everyone appreciated this wealthy and refined black man. On the night of June 21, 1932, a young man arrived at Rhambo’s funeral home and asked for help with a deceased relative. The young man and Rhambo drove off into the night only to find Rhambo’s dead body the next morning 130 miles north of Austin. The building is now owned by a photographer who has witnessed–and photographed–strange occurrences, including a water glass that splits in half, objects being moved around and EVPs of Rhambo laughing and stating that he fooled around with the sheriff’s wife.
The next stops on the tour where the Driskill Hotel–probably the MOST haunted site in Austin–and Buffalo Billiards, a bar right across the street. Tales of disembodied guitar players and pictures of people who were captured in photos that were not there in the first place–that and you can see through them–made believers out anyone who had any lingering skepticism. As we entered the lobby of the Driskill, it was full of guests and decorated for Christmas. Music could be heard coming from the ballroom and upstairs bar. But even with all this activity, I could feel a certain energy. I took numerous photos, trying to capture an apparition like the one Monica had presented in one of her many photos, but the ghosts of the Driskill were not accommodating to me. At least not this time.
We wrapped up the tour with a visit to Wooten Building and a stunning view of the lighted State Capital. Monica warned that while there are numerous paranormal happenings at the Capital, guides are forbidden from speaking of it. Which of course makes people like me that much more curious. The Capital is open during the day and is free to enter. I highly recommend visiting, just don’t ask about ghosts to a guide in uniform. The most terrifying thing you may see at the capital is Rick Perry. However, he is so seldom there, you are more likely to see a full-bodied apparition.
Right off the bat, this tour separated itself from other ghost tours I’ve taken. Monica never referred to a spirit as just a “ghost”–she knew what their name was based on research of the location, who had died there and paranormal investigation. Furthermore, she carried her documentation with her. After giving a history of the site and the person or persons involved in the story, she would often site eyewitness accounts of the spirits. After describing what the eyewitness confessed to seeing, Monica would show us an archived picture pulled from a primary source. With chilling effect, we made a connection with the people in these stories unlike any tour I’ve ever taken. However, it wasn’t just the research that made this tour so special. You can tell that Monica truly cares about the history and the deceased she is representing. In a private conversation, after the tour, she stated that giving a tour like this isn’t static. She has an obligation to the spirits she is talking about. She sited an example where she believed one location was no longer haunted and then proceeds to show another picture of the building where you can clearly see the ghostly image of a little girl in the window. The spirits that were believed to no longer be there are still present. The information on the tour is always being revisited, new research is being done, new interviews and questions being asked. With this attention to detail and respect for the spirits the tour is about, it is easy to understand why this is one of the top ten best ghost tours in the United States.
I HIGHLY recommend taking the Austin Ghost Tour. In addition to walking tours, they also offer trolly tours and investigations. Visit www.austinghosttours.com for more information!