Ghost stories have thrilled people for centuries. Humans find the unknown fascinating, for it is something that cannot be controlled. Who has not enjoyed a night with friends, sharing stories from beyond the grave? October, with its Hunter Moon and Halloween, is prime time to retell stories that have captivated Rio Grande Valley families for generations.
The Valley’s ghosts gained notoriety in 2016, when UTRGV associate professor of literature, Dr. David Bowles, published his book “Ghosts of the Rio Grande Valley.” The book became an instant classic and the go-to guide for all things ghosts in the Valley. The book is also a historical recollection of seldom-published tragic incidents from which the ghost stories derive.
Over at the Brownsville Historical Association, UTRGV Professor Emeritus, Dr. Anthony Knopp, is gearing up for October’s ghost tour season. “The role and stories of ghosts in Hispanic culture have been transmitted through songs and stories such as La Llorona and the Cucui,” said Dr. Knopp.
Dressed in a black and ominous veil, the elongated shadowy figure of La Llorona still roams the banks of the river and resacas, lamenting the loss of her children. It is said her mourning cry makes hair stand up. The mythical monster known as El Cucui or Coco terrorizes disobedient children with threats of being devoured if they don’t mend their ways. It hides under beds or closets, and it represents the opposite of a guardian angel. It is evil.
A lady dressed in red grieves inside the red room at La Borde House in Rio Grande City. She hanged herself when her lover did not return, and she cannot find rest. Guests report hearing footsteps and being touched by her. Others have heard the patter of little feet running around the hotel’s hallways. These are believed to be the ghosts of small children who died in a nearby well.
Imagine ghosts so evil with the potential of causing insanity to the point of suicide? The ghosts of the Colonial Hotel in downtown Brownsville are known to do just that. Unsettled ghosts are believed to be the spirits of Lipan Apache, whose gravesite was desecrated during the construction of the building.
The dark history of La Matanza lingers with the stories of the ghosts of the San Juan Hotel. At the start of the 20th century, many Mexican – Americans were executed without due process by Whispering Tom Mayfield, a Texas Ranger. Witnesses report seeing the spirits of victims and even the ghost of Mayfield, who lived in the property until his death. Some say Mayfield’s ghost is trapped and tortured by those he murdered.
In the Lyford area, the ghost of a hippie girl appears along the expressway. Her ghostly figure in the dark is said to be on a mission to save others from dying as she did on a dark night in the 60s. There are several accounts of her intervention to save travelers from deadly accidents.
Other road ghosts might not be so friendly. In 1963, a family of four died when their home burned down. Travelers on Whalen Road in Pharr hear horrific cries for help and see a dark clothed man holding an ax.
“Recorded evidence of identified ghosts provides the explanation as to why such persons could have become ghosts. It is not surprising that ghost stories would involve Fort Brown, due to its antiquity and the deadly epidemics that ravaged the border on occasion, such as Yellow Fever,” said Dr. Knopp.
Stories of visions of skull and bones horsemen riding across the old parade grounds spread throughout the Valley. Sounds of cavalry and sightings of mysterious doctors and nurses in what was once the fort’s hospital have been reported. There are some accounts of poltergeist activity and ghostly figures around the fort’s historical morgue.
“Today, there still seems to be a strong belief in ghosts despite the predominance of scientific explanation of such phenomena,” said Dr. Knopp, adding that he cannot dispute personal experiences.
People throughout history have searched for confirmation of an afterlife and communication with the dead. For the most part, people like to be scared and feel the bristling of hair on their skin. Ghost stories are a part of life.
The Brownsville and Matamoros region has been around since before the American Revolution and is repleted with ghost tales to the delight of many. “Young adults are the majority in our ghost tours, and the best thing is that participants learn about history,” said Tara Putegnat, executive director of the Brownsville Historical Association. With the help of Dr. Knopp, Putegnat and her staff put together a series of October tours that include the cemetery, the downtown and Colonial Hotel, and Fort Brown.
History plays a major role in telling ghosts stories, for it is important to keep these tales grounded in reality. It is from here that supernatural accounts begin.
To learn more and to sign up for ghost tours in Brownsville, please visit BrownsvilleHistory.org or find them on social media. Phone reservations are available by calling 956-548-1313.