Fifteen or so years ago, my burgeoning interest in the metaphysical inspired me to book a local ghost hunting tour with a buddy. The tour gathered at the Spaghetti Warehouse, known for its paranormal activity (history to follow) for the nighttime bus tour. The tour was focused on spiritual hotspots in and around downtown Houston.
One of our hosts kicked things off by reminiscing about a close friend who had passed but continued to visit her years after his death. This friend happened to be Will Sampson, known for his roles in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Poltergeist.” She claimed that this communication taught her how to look for and commune with other ghosts. She was quite believable and having set the mood, the tour began.
Built in 1912, the building which would later become the Spaghetti Warehouse served as the site of a fruit and vegetable warehouse and later a pharmaceutical company before becoming a restaurant in 1974.
Legend tells that a young pharmacist working alone late at night fell down the elevator shaft and died there. His wife was said to be so distraught that she followed him in death less than a year later. The reunited pair were said to haunt the building ever since, and seemed to prefer the second floor. Patrons of the restaurant have claimed to see glasses and flatware float. Employees have reported strange peripheral activity and have even heard their name called when no one else was around. The male spirit is thought to sometimes inhabit the restroom as strange sounds emanate when no one has entered.
Some attribute additional reported activity (children heard laughing and running on the staircase, a woman singing) to the many antiques the owners incorporated into the restaurant, which included an old trolley car, a huge chandelier and a grandfather clock from the Black Forest. Many paranormal believers contend that spirits become imprinted on an item and follow it around, wherever it goes.
Unfortunately, the Spaghetti Warehouse fell victim to Hurricane Harvey in late 2017 and its bayou front location resulted in flooding inside almost to the second floor. The building has since been gutted and sold. Time will tell whether its ghosts resume their activity.
JULIA IDESON PUBLIC LIBRARY
Lurking inside the beautiful Spanish Renaissance architecture of Houston’s downtown library is said to be the spirit of a dedicated former staff member. Jacob Frank Cramer worked for many years as a custodian and night watchman since the library’s opening in 1926. Late at night, with no one around, he would often play his violin from the top floor of the building before retiring to his on-site basement apartment with his beloved German Shepherd, Petey.
On a November morning in 1936, librarians found him dead in the basement. No cause of death is mentioned in the archives.
Frank Cramer is thought to have never left the library because at night, the soft strains of violin waltzes and the gentle clicking of toenails upon the floors can be heard. Other reports claim that sheet music has been found in various places throughout the library, inexplicably scattered across the floor sometime during the night. Witnesses have reported mysterious ghostly orbs moving inside and outside the building. Believers think it is simply proof of Frank Cramer’s spirit continuing his watch over the library.
FRANKLIN STREET BRIDGE
The nearby Franklin Street Bridge crosses over the Buffalo Bayou downtown (same bayou that flooded the Spaghetti Warehouse, mere yards away), and also just happens to have been erected over a 165-year-old burial crypt. Sources site that one of Houston’s earliest settlers, Timothy Donnellan, died in 1849 and was buried in a vault built of red brick under the bridge along with two other bodies. It is now known as the Donnellan Crypt, and although now empty (the three corpses were eventually moved to Glenwood Cemetery in 1903 — check out my footage of Glenwood here), spiritual residue is said to remain as most photographs of the site contain floating orbs.
FOUNDERS MEMORIAL CEMETERY
Established as Houston’s first cemetery in 1836, Founders Memorial Cemetery is the burial site of many historical figures. Included in its occupants are Houston founders the Allen brothers, who now rest in perpetuity in the land they donated.
The majority of burials occurred in the early 19th century, with the last interment in 1949. There were many mass burials and unmarked graves in the cemetery due to the recurring yellow fever and cholera epidemics. Conservative reports estimate that it contains 850 graves. Twenty-eight Texas Centennial Monuments are erected here for veterans of the battles in Texas’ fight for independence, as well as dignitaries who served in the Republic of Texas. The first Masonic funeral recorded in Texas was conducted here in 1838.
Unrest reported in the cemetery is generally attributed to the large volume of mass burials and unmarked graves; many believe that those buried under such circumstances lack the closure they require to move on.
Others claim that the Allen brothers still haunt the site, untrusting of subsequent guardians to care for their beloved city.
JEFFERSON DAVIS HOSPITAL
Built in 1924 on top of Houston City Cemetery, the charity hospital was named after the Confederate President Jefferson Davis to appease the families of the thousands of Confederate soldiers who lay underneath it. While the construction did cover a large number of graves, the basement at least was designed to be elevated above ground so as to preserve others. Still, countless graves were disturbed and destroyed during construction and it is not known if any steps were taken to reinter any of the bodies elsewhere.
Along with Confederate soldiers, Houston City Cemetery was (supposed to be) the final resting place of many former slaves and city officials. The municipal cemetery operated on the lot from 1840 until the mid-1890s when it fell into neglect, ultimately resulting in the reclassification of the lot for use as a municipal hospital.
Jefferson Davis was the first publicly-owned hospital to accept low income patients and the indigent. The first floor contained a pharmacy, clinic and the “Negro Ward.” The men’s ward and hospital staff occupied the second story. The third floor was for women and housed the mental ward. The children’s ward was on the fourth floor as were the operating rooms. The roof featured a garden and children’s playground. This hospital was in operation for a mere thirteen years before it was closed in 1937 to give way to the new, larger Jeff Davis Hospital which was opened nearby (and which has since been razed.)
The original hospital stood forgotten and vacant for decades, falling victim to vagrants and decay. It was only natural that it would attract those seeking the unnatural.
Strange, pale figures were commonly reported, as was mysterious crying and shrieking. Many believed these to be the disquieted spirits from the disturbed graves beneath the hospital. Lights were seen in some of the windows, though the building’s power had long since been disconnected. Unexplained noises and an overwhelming sense of being watched were popular complaints. Increased reports of paranormal activity in the years after the hospital’s closure caused many to speculate that those who died in the hospital only added to the already-robust ghost population from the unsettled cemetery.
Stories included tales of running footsteps and a ghostly woman seen wandering what used to be the old nurses’ quarters. During one incident in which a fire alarm was reported in the building, it is said that the normally unflappable police dogs sent in response refused to enter the building.
Work began in 2004 to restore the abandoned building into living spaces now called the Elder Street Artists’ Lofts. The site was designated as a protected historic landmark in 2013.
I went on this tour as a neophyte to ghost hunting, armed with only a basic camera and a buddy with a video camera. Our most compelling results were captured at the cemetery and Jeff Davis Hospital.
Everyone on the tour started in a light mood, and there were proud skeptics among us. The first few stops didn’t really bear fruit, either in the feel of the places or in any captured anomalies. It got interesting at the cemetery, however, and the mood of the group grew solemn. Whether it was out of respect for the dead or a feeling that there might be something more there with us, I don’t know, but I felt it. Chatter ceased as everyone quietly picked their way among the graves, snapping pictures. One picture seems to show a face that materialized on one of the tombstones.
One of the most interesting things to happen was to witness my friend’s fully charged video camera go from a full charge to zero charge as we exited the bus in front of Jeff Davis Hospital. Of note is that the same thing happened to another person’s video camera shortly after he got off the bus. The hospital had been fenced and chained barring entry after structural concerns and reports of violence from squatters against ghost hunters several years prior, so we could only walk a partial parameter and gaze between the chain links for signs. I did see what looked to be a candlelit room in an adjacent building near the back of the property which the guide identified as the crematorium. Very creepy.
I’m curious to know if the current residents of the Elder Lofts have reported any experiences, but if ghosts are anything like me, they’ll steer clear of millennials.
I didn’t know what to expect when I got my film developed, but I think the results are interesting. Forgive the amateur photography on grainy APS film, but take a look and let me know what you think.
While this particular tour company is no longer in operation, there are others available: