By Loretta Fulton
Photography by Beth Dukes
Don’t believe in ghosts?
Well, don’t be so sure. Your own hometown may have been haunted before it even existed.
Thirty years before the city was founded, an apparition was said to have appeared to soldiers stationed at a new fort just north of present-day Abilene. One legend holds that while soldiers were sitting around a campfire one night, they saw a tall white figure.
“A phantom on the hill,” one yelled out.
A legend – and a name for the new fort – was born. Even today, the remains of Fort Phantom and the lake and cemetery that bear its name, are said to be haunted by the “Lady of the Lake” who searches the shoreline for her long-lost love.
A team of ghost hunters from Central Texas Ghost Search even set up their ghost-detecting equipment at the fort on Halloween 2008. They were certain their recorders captured “an other-worldly sound” of a man grumbling, “Get out of here!” and a woman asking, “Why did you say that?”
Fort Phantom Hill is just one of the many supposedly haunted sites in and around Abilene that are frequented by those looking for a thrill on Halloween. A couple of the more popular events each year are the Haunted Abilene tour, sponsored by the Abilene Preservation League, and Ghost Tour, held at the Buffalo Gap Historic Village.
The Haunted House tour, taken on a historic look-alike trolley, makes several stops before ending at the Swenson House, where you’re likely to get your wits scared right out of you. The tour stops vary each year and will be announced prior to this year’s event.
A few of the sites in town with a ghostly reputation might surprise people. Even the elegant Grace Museum is said to be haunted. Members of the Southwest Ghost Hunters Association visited the hotel before it was restored. Before the Grace is what it is today, it was a rundown haven for vagrants and rodents, with broken windows and plenty of places for ghosts to hide.
The Southwest Ghost Hunters Association website says paranormal activity seemed to be centered on the third and fourth floors, the ballroom and the basement. Sounds of footsteps, moving doorknobs, and other odd noises were heard at night, moving through the hallways. And, so say association ghostbusters, electromagnetic fields were located in those areas during a ghost hunt in 1984.
Today’s guests need not fear, even on Halloween night. Laura Moore, executive director, reports that no current staff members have ever encountered any ghosts or ghostly goings-on.
Abilene ghost guru Brian Bethel has written numerous articles over the years for the Abilene Reporter-News about supposedly haunted sites and people who swear they have had spooky experiences in old Abilene buildings.
The beautifully restored historic house that is home to the Tittle Luther Partnership on Abilene’s north side, seems too pristine and stately for a ghost to feel at home. But Bethel wrote in 2009 about employees of the architectural firm being so sure that had a ghost amongst them that they named her “Annie.” Any time something unexplained happened, employees would just say, “It must be Annie.”
Before it was restored, the property suffered broken windows and was home to vagrants and kids looking for a thrill. In the 1960s, it got the reputation for being haunted. Even after the house was restored and occupied by architects, employees continued to report encounters with transparent images, mysterious faces looking through a second-story window, and eerie happenings.
Some of the better ghost-hunting spots are in small communities around Abilene.
Anson’s Mount Hope Cemetery was featured on the television series, “Unsolved Mysteries,” because of a ghostly light that can be seen from a certain angle. The phenomenon also was featured in the book “Ghosts in the Graveyard” by Olyve Hallmark Abbot and in a Texas Monthly article.
The Anson Opera House also has a story to tell. Marlon Smith, chairman of the board of directors of the opera house, related a tale a couple of years ago in the Reporter-News about some ghost investigators stopping by. They claimed they detected movement in a back dressing room, Smith told a reporter. Whether they did or not, they certainly provided a lot of laughs for folks in town. The Saturday after the ghost hunters were in town was the night of the monthly musical held at the opera house. Halfway through the show, a “ghost” drifted across stage. Actually, it was a young lady Smith had hired to wear a sheet eye holes cut out for the spoof.
And, if you’re making the trip for possible ghost sights in Anson, might as well stop in Hawley and see if the “Hawley Him” is on the prowl. The creature has been reported on by the Texas Bigfoot Research Center, whose purpose is self-explanatory. According to the center, sightings of “Bigfoot” have been made all over the state, including Hawley. The center’s website carries a report from three witnesses who swear they saw the “Hawley Him” on July 6, 1977.
One of the best places in the area for ghostly encounters at Halloween is Buffalo Gap Historic Village. A Ghost Tour begins at the Hill House, which was occupied by Abilene’s first city marshal, Tom Hill, his wife, Mollie, and their daughter, Belle, when the house was located in Abilene. Tom Hill died Aug. 8, 1886, and on that date in 2014, the village hosted a “Marshal Tom Hill Ghost Hunt” in the house.
The Hill House is a popular place for tourists and for ghost hunters, said Heather Reed, site manager. The annual Ghost Tour begins at the Hill House so that visitors are put in the proper spirit right off the bat.
“We get you pretty scared at the beginning,” Reed said. “Usually every year we have people experiencing things.”
A common occurrence, Reed said, is for guests to find an antique button in a pocket when they get home. Legend has it that the ghost of Belle is responsible. And, Reed swears it’s not a gimmick devised by clever staff.
“It actually happened to one of our staff members,” she said.
Another creepy occurrence at the house, Reed said, is that doors to the outside suddenly pop open. A school group happened to be touring the village last year when, Reed said, that phenomenon occurred.
“They ran out screaming,” she said.
OCTOBER GHOSTLY FUN
ABILENE PRESERVATION LEAGUE
The annual Haunted House, sponsored by the Abilene Preservation League, will be held Oct. 23-24 at the historic Swenson House, 726 Swenson St. Guests may choose to arrive via an Abilene trolley that will make several stops at sites that have the reputation of being haunted. Check the APL website, www.abilenepreservation.org, for details.
BUFFALO GAP HISTORIC VILLAGE
The village will host its popular Ghost Tours Oct. 17, 24, and 31. The tour includes stops in several of the village buildings, where members of the Mesquite Storytellers will spin a few yarns – even some that are true. The tour begins with a visit to the Hill House, where the ghost of Belle Hill is said to roam. For more information, go to the village website, www.buffalogap.com