By MELINDA NARRO
Fort Bend Museum Intern
For some of us, the most exhilarating part of Halloween is the illicit thrill of staying up late and pounding pavements after dark on a quest for fun-sized candy. There are some people, though, who crave a different, spookier type of excitement—the kind of hair-raising, spine-tingling jolt that can be found in scary movies, ghost stories, and haunted houses.
While we tend to think of Victorian-era America as a fairly buttoned-up, no-nonsense place, the mid-to-late 1800s witnessed a surging interest in all things supernatural. Writers (including Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, and Edgar Allen Poe) populated their prose with monsters and apparitions, while the Spiritualist movement encouraged individuals to seek contact with dead loved ones through spirit photographers and séances. The Lone Star State was no exception to this trend, and residents’ appetite for the eerie was evident in Texas media by the time John and Lottie Moore settled in Richmond in the 1880s.
Tales of encounters with spirits appeared in 19th-century Texas press as both journalistic accounts and as fiction. For example, in 1889 a haunted house narrative titled “Dolph Heyliger,” penned by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow author Washington Irving, ran in serialized installments in three town newspapers.
Those more keen to learn about real-world phenomena could often find their fix in the same pages, nestled among more mundane stories about crops and commerce. In 1881, the Galveston Daily News broke from describing Richmond’s “copious rains” and Ennis' “abundance of peaches at market” to mention the hubbub surrounding a haunted house in Tyler where rocks fell from nowhere through the roof, knives and forks stood up on end and ran around, and various other objects mysteriously moved about the premises. Eight years later, Dallas’ Southern Mercury reported that the town of Sherman had a haunted house in a listing of statewide news; this chilling fact was placed unceremoniously between descriptions of the cotton yield in Wise County and Blanco County’s successful goat industry.
When Texas offered no frights of its own, local papers picked up stories of specters from as far afield as Alabama, Connecticut, and Colorado. If all this creepy coverage failed to satisfy, readers could further pursue the paranormal by attending advertised events such as an 1888 séance led by “noted spirit mediums” at El Paso’s Myar Opera House, or a one-night-only performance by “World-Famed Mind Reader” J. Randall Brown in Denison.
Whether your Halloween is tame or terrifying, we hope you enjoy a fun, safe holiday among good friends! And if you’re still looking for something special to do, there’s still time to get on board for either the Black & White Masquerade (Friday; ages 21+) or Miss Ivy's Spooktacular Halloween Party (Saturday; family-friendly) going on at the Fort Bend Museum this weekend!
Funding has been provided to the Fort Bend History Association from Humanities Texas and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.
Fort Bend Museum Staff