Monday, December 29, 2014

Texas Capitol (Downtown Austin)

"Few if any places in a particular state are cauldrons of so many conflicting passions, beliefs, and motivations as their capitol buildings and there is not one that has not over the years acquired a reputation for being haunted. It should thus hardly be surprising that the capitol of a state that has historically been so marked by violence, corruption, and zealous ideologies as Texas should have a wealth of ghostly lore and strange phenomena associated with it. 

'The capitol is haunted day and night,' Fiona Broome, a psychic, ghost hunter, and author of The Ghosts of Austin, Texas said in a 2008 interview. 'If you've got a nice, misty day there, people see ghosts walking up the path to the capitol building all the time.'" 

Those are the first two paragraphs of my chapter on the Texas Capitol for the Austin section of Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country! Below left, the statue of David Crockett in the south foyer of the capitol building with the rotunda in the background; below center, the floor of the rotunda, a whispering chamber where the spirits of workers killed during construction are sometimes seen; below right, the domed ceiling of the rotunda more than 300 feet above. 


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Varhola Appearance on December 13 'Paranormal View'

If you missed my appearance in the December 13 episode of the Paranormal View, you can now check it out in archiveon the Para-X radio network! Thanks to co-hosts Henry Foister, Kat Klockow, and Geoffrey Gould for running such a terrific and enjoyable show (and posting a useful synopsis of it). Among other things, we discussed my Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country, next title in the America's Haunted Road Trip series of travel guides, and places I visited and investigated while working on it. 

Comments are welcome! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Driskill (Downtown Austin)

"There is a lot to recommend the Driskill hotel and any number of things that might make it appealing to visitors. It is the oldest operating hotel in the state capital of Texas, is steeped in history, has any number of colorful stories associated with it, and is beautiful and luxurious. As one might expect from its inclusion here, of course, it is also widely reputed to be haunted, and the hotel does nothing to discourage this belief. 

When my wife and I visited the hotel and had brunch in its 1886 Cafe and Bakery one Sunday in November 2014, in fact, and I asked our waiter if the property was haunted, he immediately responded that he believed it was. He then also went and got us a couple of handouts provided by the hotel, one that listed some of the hauntings associated with it and another that described its mundane history.

Those are the first two paragraphs of my chapter on the Driskill hotel for Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill CountryOne person who went on the record about their supernatural experiences at the Driskill was Johnette Napolitano, lead singer for the alternative rock band Concrete Blonde, who commemorated her encounter in the 1992 song "Ghost of a Texas Ladies' Man." 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Richard Moya Park (Southeast Austin)

"To those uninterested in or oblivious to the paranormal, Richard Moya Park, a wooded tract of land along the banks of Onion Creek, is best known for its bridge, which consists of three black-iron spans that were once located in downtown Austin. Initially constructed at a cost of $45,000, it served as a toll bridge for just two-and-and-half years, until June 18, 1886, when it was closed and then removed to make way for a wider span. The history of the bridge is briefly described on a Texas Historic Landmark marker erected at its south end in 1980 ... 

... What the marker does not say is that the bridge itself is believed by many to be haunted and has been the subject of numerous ghostly tales over the past century, most of which allude to an ill-fated romance that ended in violent death. Many visitors to this Blackland Prairie site, especially those who have actually walked across the bridge, have also reported seeing apparitions of various sorts. For what it is worth, the site in Austin where the bridge used to be located has no accounts of paranormal phenomena whatsoever associated with it as far as I am able to ascertain (it is, however, noted for being home to about 250,000 bats and for having one of the most impressive twilight emergences in the country.)" 

Those are the first two paragraphs of my chapter on Richard Moya Park for Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country! Between them appears the text from the historical marker at the site, as shown below left; below right, a view of rain-swollen Onion Creek; below center, one of the ponds formed by recent flooding at the site; bottom left, a friendly lizard that is not the worst thing I have ever encountered in a public restroom; bottom right, the back entrance to Richard Moya Park from Moore's Bridge Road and a possible means for investigating the bridge at night despite the park being closed during hours of darkness. 



Monday, December 8, 2014

The Mansion (Boerne/Kendall County)

"Sometime around 1870, a French architect named Frank LaMotte constructed the impressive limestone building on Main Street in the town of Boerne that has since been known in the local area simply as the Mansion. This tradition is reflected in the name of the restaurant, La Mansion, that is located in it today. And just as its name has been carried down through the years, so too have the stories of spiritual activity in the house and a persistent reputation for being haunted, even as it has been passed to different owners and used for a variety of purposes.
... La Mansion certainly bears visiting by anyone interested in the paranormal, whether they would like to conduct a formal investigation or just have a meal in a place where spirits are firmly believed by many to be present. As I have found in any number of places I have visited and written about over the years, whether the stories about them are true actually has very little to do with whether or not they are really haunted." 

Those are the first and last paragraphs of my chapter on the historic building in Boerne known as the Mansion! Today it houses a notably good Mexican restaurant but is no less haunted than it ever was. Above right, La Mansion as it appears from Main Street; above left, entrance to the building's cellar, where Fred, one of the three ghosts that haunts the place, is said to reside; below left, the stairway connecting the main dining room with the upper level, where the other two ghosts associated with the home, David and Augusta, are often encountered. 


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Ye Kendall Inn (Boerne/Kendall County)

"One of the most impressive and welcoming of the many haunted establishments that can be found throughout Hill Country is, without a doubt, Ye Kendall Inn, the sprawling hotel, restaurant, and event complex that dominates the main square in the town of Boerne. 

Ye Kendall Inn is well known in the local area for being haunted and I was well aware of its reputation before visiting it for the first time. I was therefore both amused and took it as an auspicious sign when I walked into the hotel bar that the barmaid and a patron were discussing the odds that some items that had ended up on the floor in the kitchen had been flung there by a ghost. My wife and I were also struck by the irony that some of the patrons in the bar at that point were having a few drinks ahead of a wake that was about to start there for a local man who had recently died. Perhaps his spirit will join those that have long been noted in this historic hostelry that has its roots in the mid-19th century and the early days of settlement in the rugged hills northwest of San Antonio." 

That is an excerpt from the chapter on Ye Kendall Inn that I wrote for Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country! Above, a view toward the front of the inn, with a Texas state historic marker in the foreground; below left, a glimpse at some of the more than a dozen historic cabins and cottages that are available to guests at the inn; below right, a rare picture of me in the field, to include my bag of investigative equipment. 


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

University of Texas Tower (Downtown Austin)

"Visitors to the Main Building clock tower on the University of Texas campus in Austin who know nothing of its history might well wonder why it has security on par with that of a regional airport. People wishing to enter the tower must do so as part of an organized tour and are cautioned that after doing so they cannot leave before it is over. The hallway leading to the tower elevators is guarded by two armed police officers and a metal detector, and before going through it purses, backpacks, and the like must be checked with tour staff. When visitors exit the elevator on the 27th floor they will see yet another policeman and, when they walk up to the 30th floor and the observation deck, discover yet another one on duty there. The open areas of the observation deck itself is completely enclosed in metal caging with spaces just wide enough to slip a camera through. What is perhaps just as interesting as these stringent measures is that absolutely no reference to them is made at any point during the 50-minute tour. They are based, however, on terrible events that have occurred at the 307-foot-tall tower since it was completed in 1937 and these, and possibly the spirits of the disturbed individuals who perpetrated them, haunt the UT campus to this day." 

That is the opening paragraph to my chapter on the University of Texas Tower in Austin! I actually included a chapter on this infamous structure in my Texas Confidential: Sex, Scandal, Murder, and Mayhem in the Lone Star State. Below left, an image of the building taken around 1980 by photographer Larry D. Moore; below center, Charles Joseph Whitman, who used the tower as the platform for a bloody rampage; below right, a view of the tower's observation deck as it appears today. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The X-Phile #1: Introduction to Ghosthunting

Following is the first installment of "The X-Phile," a column that I conceived of and write for Brutarian Magazine. In that this publication is dedicated to providing "degenerate art" and "trash culture for intellectuals," this piece is perhaps more pointed and a little harsher in tone than a lot of what I write. Suffice it to say, however, that I stand by the sentiments it expresses. I have also modified it slightly for use here. 

Several years ago, I was getting ready to climb the highest mountain in the “Lower 48” United States and went to an REI store in Northern Virginia to buy some of the gear I would need. When I got there, the doughy sack of turds who waited on me immediately began throwing around all sorts of technical terms I couldn’t understand. When he saw that I didn’t know what he was talking about, he apparently decided I wasn’t worth dealing with as a customer and assumed a very unhelpful demeanor. Mind you, this fat douchebag had probably never climbed anything higher than a stepstool to get a bag of chips off the top of the fridge, but because I couldn’t understand his mountain fairy dialect, he assumed a moral high ground and treated me like I was the poser. 

This episode went a long way toward helping me to understand some of the attitudes I ended up dealing with when in late 2007 I began writing travel guides to haunted places for the America’s Haunted Road Trip series, first Ghosthunting Virginia and then Ghosthunting Maryland. This allowed me to pursue professionally something I had already been doing to one extent or another for about three decades. 

What I found when I undertook ghosthunting as public rather than a private activity was that far more people than I ever imagined had become involved in the pursuit, inspired for the most part by the wave of television shows dedicated to it. What was even more surprising to me, however, was the uniformity of their attitudes, motivations, methodologies, and vocabularies — which, generally, slavishly followed those of the “professional” ghosthunters they were watching on television shows. “Back in the day,” what is now called ghosthunting had been undertaken only by a tiny minority who had to figure out just about everything on their own, relying on things like the limited number of relevant texts that were available and comparing notes with fellow investigators. Today, the number of people involved in ghosthunting is phenomenally larger, but most of them are simply uncritically mimicking the actions they have seen others perform and do not feel the need to actually think for themselves.

So to say that I have mixed feelings about the current state of “ghosthunting” in particular and paranormal investigation in general would certainly be an understatement, and I think a great deal that is both positive and negative can be found in them today.

Pros of the phenomena include that it has allowed people to feel more comfortable discussing their own paranormal experiences than they might have in previous years; that the pursuit has been democratized and vitalized by the inclusion of so many people; and that more tools and practical information now exist and are more readily available than ever before.

Cons include that the relatively new phenomena of ghosthunting has become overly standardized; that it has in many people’s minds been dissociated from the broader field of the supernatural, which has certain dangers associated with it; and that too many people pursue ghosthunting as if it were comparable to a mundane activity like paintball, geocaching, or golf. 

Television shows and other media devoted to ghosthunting and paranormal investigation have, of course, contributed to both the upsides and downsides of the pursuit. 

It may well be that you have considered attempting ghosthunting or some other sort of paranormal investigation. If so, here are a few pieces of advice based on my own experience that might make such an endeavor more productive and enjoyable for you: 

* Don’t fixate on equipment (which I once inadvertently offended one ghosthunting chick by referring to as “toys”). One reason the Germans and other technologically-oriented nations almost always lose at war is that they are fixated on paraphernalia and other bullshit and do not understand that flesh always trumps steel. If you want to use equipment, that’s fine, but remember two things: the equipment alone will not make you a paranormal investigator and that the lack of will not keep you from being one. Speaking personally, I generally use a flashlight, a digital camera, and a digital recorder in the course of my investigations, and depending on your needs you could certainly use less or more (e.g., EMF meters, thermometers). In any event, your mind is your most important tool and the only one for which there is no electronic or mechanical substitute. 

* Don’t make “proving” anything your biggest priority. Skeptics and even other investigators will sometimes challenge others’ experiences by claiming that they don’t prove anything. Well, they don’t need to. Your ghosthunting and paranormal investigations should be about personal growth and improvement. If it is all about proving things to other people … Well, it probably isn’t going to work anyway. What you experience should be meaningful primarily to yourself; secondarily to your friends and loved ones, who presumably trust you to at least some extent; and least of all  or not at all  to the world at large. 

* Don’t be a dick. It is amazing the lack of respect many paranormal investigators show everyone around them, to include both property owners and the spirits of the dead. Approach this pursuit with the good manners that it warrants and avoid “ghost-baiting,” wrecking other peoples’ stuff, or making light of the people — living or dead — who you may be interacting with. I can’t promise that anything bad will happen to you if you don’t follow this last bit of advice … but I certainly hope it does. 

That’s it for now! Hopefully, this will all help you find your own way into, through, and back out of the unseen world. And feel free to touch base with me at to share your own thoughts about this and related subjects! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Varhola Appearance on 'Pairanormal'

Very much enjoyed my appearance on the Pairanormal show when it returned to the air on Friday, September 26 on TMV Cafe! Had a great time when I was a guest on the show a couple of years ago and think everyone will enjoy my discussion with E.W. Bradfute and his co-host as we explored haunted places throughout the Lone Star State. You can check it our in archive now! 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Faust Hotel (New Braunfels)

"In the western literary and occult traditions the name 'Faust' has an ominous connotation, and many people assume that the historic hotel in New Braunfels bearing this moniker received it as a tribute to the paranormal activity associated with the site. It is, however, named for its founder, flesh-and-blood local businessman Walter Faust Sr., rather than a figure out of German legend. 

Over the past few decades, the Faust Hotel has increasingly gained a widespread reputation for being haunted and has attracted the attention of various paranormal investigative groups. I have visited the hotel a number of times since 2009 and, among other things, have spent the night at it and conducted investigations on or around Halloween twice and appeared as a guest on the PSI-FI Radio show from it. It has, in fact, become one of my favorite sites in the Greater San Antonio area, not just for the strange things associated with it but also for its colorful history." 

Those are the opening words of my chapter on the haunted Faust Hotel for Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country! I have investigated it a number of times and even appeared on the Psi-Fi Para Radio show from it and it is one of my favorite sites in the area. Above right is the lobby of the Faust Hotel as it appears today, below left is a historic image of the hotel as it appeared shortly after it opened in October 1929, and below right is developer Walter Faust Sr. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Gruene Historic District (Comal County)

"Anyone who has visited the historic village of Gruene on any given Saturday or any evening in the summer, when it is thronged with tourists and local revelers alike, might be surprised to learn that it was once a genuine ghost town. Gruene was, however, virtually abandoned for more than two decades, from around 1950 until the early 1970s, when it was restored as a tourist attraction, and today it is a district within the city of New Braunfels. While the living have returned, however, the ghosts of former residents have nonetheless remained ... "

Those are the opening words to my chapter on the Gruene Historic District of New Braunfels for Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country! Two of the reputedly haunted place in the village are the Gruene Mansion Inn bed-and-breakfast and the Adobe Verde restaurant (below and bottom, respectively). It is also the home of Gruene Hall, the oldest continuously-operated dance hall in Texas! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Beyond Texas: An Aegean Ghost Hunt (Santorini, Greece)

Anyone following this blog might well wonder why I posted to it 10 times in July but not at all in August! The answer is that I took a break from working on this book and spent four weeks making an "Aegean Odyssey" across several Greek islands, in part to do research for a number of projects for Skirmisher Publishing LLC (anyone interested in seeing daily reports of this trip can check them out at my TravelBlogue). 

In the course of this trip I did take the opportunity to do a number of things related to my interest in paranormal investigation, to include studying grave stele and other items associated with graveyards at the various antiquities museums I visited. On the night of August 12, I also ventured out to a small cemetery located near the northeastern edge of the town of Fira on the island of Santorini and, over the course of a couple of hours, conducted a brief investigation of it and took about 220 digital photographs. 

This site was a walled compound that contained two large chapels, a number of mausoleums, and probably fewer than a hundred individual graves. It is probably a private cemetery, appeared to be affiliated with the Greek Orthodox faith, and reflected a certain level of affluence. The gate to the cemetery was not locked and, as always, I showed proper respect for the people interred there and their families and observed appropriate spiritual precautions. 

Above left, a structure that might be a smaller chapel, a mausoleum, or both; above center, a view down one of the few relatively long pathways in the cemetery  compare with the image of the same place at bottom, which has a gray mass of some sort in it; above right, the main chapel at the north end of the cemetery, built in a classic Byzantine style. 

Above left, a fairly significant orb can be seen toward the left side of this image; above right, this gravesite has one of the lamps that can be seen burning at night. 

One thing that can make Greek burial grounds feel kind of creepy is the practice of keeping lamps or candles burning at many of the gravesites (something that indicates ongoing care and, once again, the financial means for doing so). 

Suffice it to say that the Fira cemetery felt very active to me and that I caught what seemed like a disproportionately high level of anomalies in my photographs. Foremost among these is a virtual cloud of orbs in one of the first shots I took, of one of the two chapels from the roof of an adjoining building (top right); my first assumption is that I was seeing some sort of atmospheric effect but this was belied by the fact that no anomalies appeared in any of the other images of the chapel that I took in a series over a five-minute period (the one of the same thing that appears at the right end of the top row of pictures was taken about a minute earlier). I also picked up individual or pairs of orbs in a number of shots and what may have been a vague gray mass in one (at the center of the image at bottom). There was also one place where I felt very apprehensive about photographing some vaults flush with the ground and opted not to do so  irrational, perhaps, but you have to go with your intuition when conducting an investigation and it is better to be safe than sorry! 

Above left, a fairly profound orb appears at the far left side of this image; above right, I was able to see inside of this vaulted mausoleum but did not see anything exceptional in it. 

Above left, this image gives a good sense for the subtropical climate of Santorini, one of the Cycladic Islands of Greece; above right, the second large chapel in the cemetery has a vaulted style that is popular for many sorts of buildings throughout Greece, especially in rural areas; bottom, what appears to be a gray mass that might or might not be indicative of anything appears at the center of this image. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

San Antonio Missions (South and Downtown San Antonio)

"While the Alamo is certainly the most famous site in Texas, it is amazing how many people do not know that it was originally just one of several Spanish missions established along the banks of the San Antonio River. Originally called Mission San Antonio de Valero, it was the first and northernmost of five religious settlements defended by the garrison from the presidio of San Antonio de Bexar. It was followed over the next thirteen years by the establishment of four other significant church communities, Mission San Jose, Mission Espada, Mission San Juan, and Mission Concepcion.

Over their centuries of existence, what are now collectively known as the San Antonio missions were the starting points of quests north and west in search of gold and souls, locations of raids and battles, places of births and deaths. They were crucibles of human emotion, those of fervent proselytes spreading the word of God, native peoples being stripped of their own cultures and faiths, greedy and bloodthirsty fortune hunters, and those who fell in battle at their gates or succumbed to disease within their walls. All were also established in an abundant area that had been occupied by ancient peoples since time immemorial and used by them for hunting and gathering. It should thus not be surprising that these missions are widely considered to be haunted and that people have reported every sort of paranormal phenomena at them, including everything from anomalies in photographs and recordings to apparitions of conquistadores, monks, Indians, settlers, and soldiers." 

Those are two of the opening paragraphs of my chapter on the San Antonio Missions for Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country! It covers the mundane and supernatural histories of the earliest settlements in what is now the city of San Antonio is comprises the biggest chapter in the book. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Old Bexar County Jail (Downtown San Antonio)

"Presumably, we will never see a commercial in which someone, when asked if they are a ghosthunter who spent the night in a haunted jail, replies with 'No, but I did stay at Holiday Inn Express last night!' On the other hand, it would be quite reasonable for someone to answer that question in the affirmative if they had just spent the night in the Holiday Inn Express Riverwalk Area, which is located in what had been the Bexar County Jail for nearly a century. 

... One of the most common phenomenon is rooms that remain unnaturally cold, even during the summer or if the heat is turned on. Other activity includes beds that are indented as if someone is laying on them, but then abruptly have the indentations disappear; people hearing whispering in their rooms that stops when the lights are turned on; objects being pulled out of people's hands and thrown across the room; and the breakfast area being rearranged and disheveled during the night. Most horrifying among the things people have reported, however, are in the rooms where the gallows were once located, where people claim to have seen apparitions fall through the ceiling as if just hanged!" 

That is a preview of my chapter on the old Bexar County Jail for Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country! People can become inmates for the night at the former detention facility, which is now a hotel in the heart of downtown San Antonio. 

Above left: Allison Schiess of Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours talks about the Old Bexar County Jail from the parking lot of Penner's, an iconic San Antonio clothier. Above right: Brutal murderer Apolinar Clemente, who lived in the jail for a year-and-a-half before dying there at the end of a rope. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Menger Hotel (Downtown San Antonio)

"In an old and storied state occupied by the ghosts of a colorful and bloody past, one might think that the title 'Most Haunted Hotel in Texas' would be a tough one to live up to. With some three-dozen spirits identified in it, however, give or take a few, the sprawling Menger Hotel has a strong case for making this claim. These reportedly include the ghosts of conquistadores, Indians, Texian and Mexican soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Alamo, cowboys who drove cattle on the Chisholm Trail, a land baron, a U.S. president, a murdered housekeeper, a 'lady in blue,' and a little girl who died by misfortune. As anyone investigating the site quickly learns, the mundane and supernatural histories of the hotel are inextricably linked and span the centuries." 

That is the first paragraph of my chapter on the Menger Hotel, a beautiful San Antonio landmark that has been welcoming guests, and enticing the spirits of some of them to stay indefinitely, since 1859. At right is a picture of the original lobby of the hotel as it appears today. Below is a picture of the current lobby, added during one of the hotel's many expansions. At bottom is a photograph of the Menger Hotel as it appeared in 1865, the last year of the Civil War. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

San Fernando Cathedral (Downtown San Antonio)

"It would not be an over-exaggeration to say that San Fernando Cathedral has, literally, been the spiritual and geographical heart of San Antonio for nearly 300 years, and there is even an official seal set into the floor church affirming this. It is, in fact, the oldest active Roman Catholic cathedral in Texas, one of the oldest in all of North America, and the mother church of the Archdiocese of San Antonio and seat of its archbishop.

As one of the oldest extant buildings in the city and the site of what most people today would consider to be some very strange practices, it is perhaps not too surprising that San Fernando Cathedral would have a reputation for spiritual activity. Phenomena people claim to have witnessed at the site include spectral faces appearing on the walls and the apparition of a white horse galloping across the plaza in front of the church. Inside it definitely does, in any event, have a sacred and even otherworldly atmosphere." 

Those are the first two paragraphs of my chapter on San Fernando Cathedral for Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill CountryI have visited San Fernando Cathedral a number of times and, most recently, had the privilege of doing so with Allison Schiess, one of the title members of Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours. She is a descendant of the Canary Islanders who built the church and I very much enjoyed hearing her unique and personal perspectives on it. 


Top left: the seal marking San Fernando Cathedral as the center of San Antonio. Top right: The sepulcher containing the cremated remains of James Bowie, William B. Travis, and David Crockett. Bottom: A postcard from the era 1901-1914 showing the cathedral and main plaza.