Local haunts lure visitors; campus shares ghost stories
By the Mesquite Night Beat Team
The Donkey Lady. The ghost tracks. A mysterious presence in this university’s library?
In anticipation of Halloween, Mesquite reporters recently haunted some spooky locales on the South Side to speak with visitors. They also interviewed faculty and staff at Texas A&M University-San Antonio about their experiences with the supernatural or paranormal.
What’s the difference? Supernatural and paranormal are similar, but not exactly the same, said Dr. Stan Hodges, associate professor of sociology and criminology at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Hodges teaches Sociology of the Paranormal.
“Supernatural is the absolutely unexplainable,” Hodges said. “Paranormal is where science may not have gotten there yet.”
Employees recall ghostly vibes
By Jesse Eureste and Samantha Martinez
Aida Almanza, arts and sciences librarian at Texas A&M-San Antonio, described an experience when she was 16 in her hometown of Laredo.
While visiting an aunt’s house, she was going to take her aunt’s car to the store.
“As I was walking to the car, I saw someone sitting in the passenger seat,” Almanza said. “All I saw was her hair. It was white and curly, and I thought maybe it was a friend of hers. As I was walking closer, all I could see was the side of her face.”
Almanza went back to the house to tell her aunt and uncle that someone was in their car.
The three went outside to investigate, but the woman had vanished. However, when they opened the car door, the car smelled like cigarettes. No one in the house smoked.
Time passed. Later on, Almanza saw old family pictures of her grandparents, who had died before she was born. Almanza said she recognized the woman in the picture as the woman in the car — her paternal grandmother.
“They told me she passed away from lung cancer and that she used to smoke a lot,” Almanza said.
Emily Marquise, lead special projects assistant for the Office of Student Activities and Recreational Sports, says she and other co-workers have heard strange noises in the Central Academic Building when there were no students or other employees in CAB. One night, she and co-workers worked overnight and went to investigate noises in the library.
Marquise, an education senior, says the library was closed and locked at the time. Marquise says she and others “saw chairs moving on their own.” She also said she felt “cold and nervous,” and the hair on the back of her neck was standing up. She said other co-workers at other times have felt a certain physical pressure like their backpack was being pulled on.
She said lights have turned off on their own in her office. Marquise says even though she has felt scared, in a way it’s kind of fun, especially when having someone to be scared with and being able to run away together. “It’s fun when you’re not alone,” she said.
Martha Saywell, a music professor, said she moved into an apartment just off Southcross Boulevard in fall 2016. She swears there was a ghost living with her because she would come home to mysterious puddles of water and items that had been moved.
A leak from the apartment above hadn’t occurred, and the water substance wasn’t cat urine from her pet, so that ruled out two likely explanations.
“I came in one time, and there was water on the bathroom floor, which would make more sense, but all of my bottles of shampoo and conditioner and so forth that were in the shower had been removed and were in the middle of the bathroom floor,” she said. “I don’t know how they got there. This went on for like a year before I moved out.”
Donkey Lady has staying, braying power
By Megan Golenski
The Donkey Lady — a half-human, half-donkey creature — reportedly inhabited or inhabits a bridge on the South Side of San Antonio, on Old Applewhite and Jett roads. The site is a 13-minute drive on South Zarzamora Street from Texas A&M-San Antonio.
The legend has been passed on from generation to generation.
“My parents used to tell me they’d take me to the bridge when I wasn’t behaving,” said Darlene Campos, a 57-year-old grandmother who visited the bridge Saturday, Oct. 6. “And now I tell my kids, and they tell their kids.”
Origin stories of the Donkey Lady have evolved, as in a game of telephone, according to “Scary Donkey Lady Haunts South Side” in the San Antonio Express-News Oct. 29, 2003.
Some say she was a woman who was badly burned, morphing her face into donkey-like features, and her hands melted together to make hooves.
“Her house was set on fire by her husband,” said Krystan Martinez, a frequent visitor to the haunted bridge, on Oct. 6. “Her children died, but she was left severely burned.”
Another story tells of a woman and her beloved donkey drowning in the river under the bridge.
“She haunts the bridge, calling out to her donkey that she couldn’t rescue,” said Chris Rodriguez, a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who enjoys exploring San Antonio’s haunted spots.
People who have visited the bridge say they’ve heard the call of an inhuman screech echo in the trees. Some have even experienced something jumping on the hood of their car and cracking their windshield.
“You’re supposed to turn off your headlights, honk your horn three times and wait,” said Martinez. “Every time I come here, I hear a yelling donkey sound on the other side of the bridge.”
Tony Wilson, communications junior, has visited a different site reportedly frequented by the Donkey Lady. Wilson’s dad told him about hearing the Donkey Lady’s hoofbeats at Martin Luther King Park.
“Me, my sister and cousin went there at night to see if we could hear her trots,” Wilson said, adding that he gets scared easily and kept thinking that he heard things.
Megan Delgado contributed to this story.
Chinese Graveyard tells ghostly ‘Romeo and Juliet’ tale
By Mario Ruiz
Something felt strange when Casandra De La Rosa, 27, entered the gates of the Lona China Cemetery at midnight during her freshman year of high school.
“Back then, South Zarzamora was an empty road, which made our visit super creepy,” said De La Rosa in an interview Saturday, Oct. 6 at Burleson Beer Yard.
Legend has it that the ghost of a Chinese woman tries to grab people when they park in front of the cemetery’s white gates, roll down the windows, turn off their engine and flash their lights five times.
The story, according to an article on GhostCityTours.com, goes that an Anglo-Hispanic man was prohibited from seeing his Chinese lover, and was struck by lighting while on his horse heading to see his love. One night the woman went to the cemetery and killed herself in front of his grave.
“We had to crawl through an opening in the fence and keep the flashlights off till we were further in the cemetery,” said De La Rosa. “Turning on the flashlight while walking in the dark and suddenly seeing a baby’s grave sent a chill down my spine.”
Although De La Rosa did not see anything supernatural, she said the atmosphere was set for the beginning of a horror film. “It was so quiet that you could hear your heartbeat, and not a single car drove by,” she said. “I didn’t want to look up in fear that I would see a shadowy figure in the distance.”
The Lona China Cemetery is a private cemetery with no operational hours. The cemetery is located off South Zarzamora between Loop 410 and the entrance to Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
Swaying with Satan?
By Jose Estrada
Typical story. Girl meets boy; boy turns out to be Satan incarnate. The tale of the woman who danced with the Devil has a solid residency in San Antonio folklore.
While details vary depending on who tells the story, each tale follows a typical trajectory: A young woman attends a community dance and is seduced by a devil disguised as an irresistible lothario. Falling for his charms, she dances with him only to later realize his diabolical background.
An article posted seven years ago in the San Antonio Current, along with archived articles from the San Antonio Express-News from the 1970s and 1980s, pinpoints the location to an extinct West Side dance hall, the Camaroncito.
“The Camaroncito? I think anyone my age has heard the story,” said San Antonio resident Victor Zavala as he got his grey hair clippered in a salon chair Oct. 10 at Great Clips on Military and Zarzamora.
The location turned out to be at 442 Barrera Parkway, near the intersection of East Commerce Avenue and Cesar Chavez Boulevard before it turns into Old Highway 90. It is listed for sale, a beige husk of a dance hall with a parking lot littered with wind-blown trash. Dark tint on the glass doors makes it difficult to peer into the dark room of the old hall. It is the perfect edifice to perpetuate a fantastical tale of devilish details.
Regardless of where the story exactly occurred, it was always told with a particular moral: the girl is unable to defy the seductive gaze of the handsome stranger, taking his hand to the dance floor. Enveloped in passion, the girl is ignorant to the horrified expressions of the crowd staring at the deformed feet of her suitor. The most popular description says that they appeared like chicken feet. Other stories claim he had goat hooves.
“The part at the end where it talks about how the man had chicken feet always freaked me out,” said] South Side resident Ivan Alvarado, “ but I thought it happened by my house [near Old Pearsall Road].”
“It was always used more of a ‘beware, things aren’t really as they seem’,” said Zavala. “You don’t want something so bad, you make a deal with the devil.”
Haunted railroad tracks draw visitors, skeptics
By Devina Saez and Samantha Martinez
The “ghost tracks” on the South Side are said to be loaded with paranormal activity.
For years, drivers have visited the railroad tracks at Shane and Villamain roads so their cars can be mysteriously “pushed” across to safety — seemingly uphill — by ghost children, reportedly the victims of a deadly accident in the 1930s.
Sociology Professor Vicky Elias lives near the tracks.
“The story is that there was a school bus and it broke down on the tracks and a train hit it,” she said. “So in the neighborhood there’s a lot of streets with people’s names and the legend is that those were the children on the bus. People who’ve tried to check it out say there was never any wreck, those were the children of the guy who developed the neighborhood, that it’s not true.”
A recent article by Richard Marini, published Oct. 22 in the San Antonio Express-News, also debunked the story: The accident actually occurred in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Oct. 22 story also disputes the idea that the street goes uphill: There is actually a 2-foot drop in elevation as Shane Road approaches the tracks.
But the ghost story has endured. At around 10 p.m. Oct. 6, the road was lined with cars waiting to get a chance to experience something supernatural. Supposedly, if drivers turn their headlights off, put the car in neutral and park on the track, the ghost children will push the car across to save passengers from the dark path they once faced. Some people sprinkle baby powder on their car’s trunk and say the children’s fingerprints are visible in the baby powder.
Despite the “No Trespassing” warnings engraved on the tracks, groups of all ages gathered on the track, taking photos and sharing personal stories.
Teenagers in their cars drove up and down the road shrilling out loud screeches while attempting to frighten people nearby and laughing when they give someone a good jump scare.
A skeptic named Andre Brown, who was dragged along by his friends, had a different perspective.
“I think it’s kind of wrong for people to perpetuate something so tragic,” Brown said. “Kids lost their lives and these people are treating it like a tourist attraction,” said Brown.
Elias said she has taken her own visitors out to see the infamous tracks.
Her attitude toward the paranormal is one of uncertainty. While she’s never experienced anything at the ghost tracks, she keeps an open mind to the spiritual realm.
“Your brain will make you believe all kinds of weird stuff. That doesn’t mean that there’s not something there we don’t understand,” she said. “Hopefully we’ve all had moments when it felt like there was something bigger than us. You can’t just discount that possibility.”
Editor’s note: Recent construction work by Union Pacific Railroad regraded Shane Road on both sides of the track, according to an Oct. 22 story in the Express-News. The work reportedly would level out the road and possibly end the “ghost tracks” phenomenon.
Home for the Aged
By Stephanie Palitos
“I hadn’t been in there too long when I heard footsteps and a faint scream; it sounded like someone in anguish,” said Manuel Gonzalez as he explained his experience at the abandoned San Antonio Home for the Aged on the city’s Southeast side.
Gonzalez, 30, recounts a time in 2010, when he snuck into the abandoned buildings on Southton Road, looking for Halloween thrills. On entering the establishment, he noticed broken windows, graffiti on doors and rotting walls. Decaying plants and dying grass surrounded the outside of the buildings and added to its allure.
“It was as if this was the place that time forgot; the air was still ripe with sorrow and torment,” Gonzalez said in an interview at the ghost tracks Oct. 6. “You get an uneasy feeling being in a place like that, a place where so many people suffered from disease and mental illness.”
The infamous buildings have been called everything from an insane asylum to a detention center for boys. Despite rumors afloat online, the establishment had several quarters, none of which can be identified as the San Antonio Insane Asylum. The quarters include a home for the elderly, a juvenile home and a poor house that was built in 1861, according to an article in the San Antonio Light.
Legends tell of an old man who shoots a shotgun in the air to scare trespassers, according to Gonzalez. Those brave enough to actually sneak in describe hearing doors slam shut, seeing shadowy figures and hearing screams.
“It’s illegal to go in there. Even if you could get past the grumpy old neighbor, you’d still have to climb a barbwire fence and although I went in when I was a kid, I wouldn’t try it nowadays,” said Gonzalez.
Locals warn about the dangers and consequences of trying to enter the establishment. It has been reported that people sneak into the abandoned buildings to perform rituals and animal sacrifices. The activity was so bad in recent years that the police now patrol the area, according to a KSAT 12 News report. For now, the skeletons will have to remain in the closet.
Shane Alan Boone contributed to this Halloween package.