It was everything I could do to get my friends to join me for a night at Seguin’s Haunted Magnolia Hotel in the first place.
“Absolutely the f*** not,” Alexis initially said to my invitation. “I’m a gay Catholic Latino: I believe in spirits, and they are not to be messed with.”
He relented only when I told him he could bring his fiancé, Logan, for moral support. He was taking no chances, though: The day we embarked on the trip from Houston, he showed up with a wooden crucifix and a plastic Hill Country Fare bottle half-filled with holy water from his grandmother’s church. The previous evening, he casually mentioned, he’d booked himself a “spiritual cleansing.”
My friend Najla, also a believer, rounded out our Scooby-Doo gang, with Logan and me the requisite skeptics of the bunch, although I wanted to believe. As we made the two-and-a-half-hour drive west to the town—population around 30,000, “birthplace of true Texas grit,” and purported home to the world’s largest pecan—I promised myself I’d keep an open mind.
By sheer coincidence, the day we showed up was Seguin’s 181st birthday. And as we set out to explore its old-timey Main Street, dotted with antique shops and ice cream parlors, we found ourselves thoroughly charmed.
The nearby Magnolia Hotel was originally a two-room log cabin, built during the Republic of Texas as the home of Seguin founding father and renowned Texas Ranger James Campbell. Over the years it served as a frontier shelter, the town’s first jail, a stagecoach stop, and—after the addition of a second story in the 1850s—a 10-room hotel. Eventually the building fell into serious disrepair, even earning a place on the state’s list of “Most Endangered Historic Places” in 2012. By then the Magnolia was a shell of itself—near-abandoned for almost 20 years, with a serious squatting problem.
It was in 2013 that Austin couple Jim and Erin Ghedi, seeing the gem within, bought the place and set about restoring it, with the idea of using it as a weekend home. By their telling, however, things didn’t go as planned. Strange, unexplainable episodes began to occur with increasing frequency—disconnected telephones ringing, coins rolling in circles and stuck to the floor as if by magnetic force, shadowy figures appearing in hallways, the owner’s nickname being called at night. The building, the couple decided, was seriously haunted.
Anyone in Seguin would have told them that. The Magnolia had a reputation, and after the local paper announced new ownership, everyone wanted to get inside for a look. In addition to allowing a few ghost hunters and TV crews inside, the Ghedis started giving tours—at press time, they’d almost reached their hundredth—to partially fund what turned out to be a grueling six-year restoration. The couple also decided to convert an upstairs suite into a bed and breakfast, adorning it, like the rest of the house, with found objects from the site—moonshine bottles, ancient keys, old photographs—plus local antiques and period-appropriate decor.
Today the place looks the way it might have in its glory days, albeit with the modern convenience of central air. It’s been steadily booked since being listed on Airbnb in August, hosting a stream of guests hoping for an encounter with one or more of its 13 distinct ghosts, all of whom Erin Ghedi—also, by the way, an author, historian, and self-proclaimed medium—was eager to tell us about while giving us a tour the afternoon we arrived. “Every spirit here, they come forward,” she said. “If you are real open to them, they come out even more so.”
Quick to giggle, Erin spoke with an upward inflection, which had the effect of making her seem curious, almost childlike. This was somehow doubly true when she was relaying horrific details of, say, the three grisly suicides that the nearly two-century-old building has witnessed.
There was the “suicide cowboy,” who “jumped off a stagecoach and shot himself in the head right out here,” Erin told us. Then there was JJ, the traveling salesman who slit his own throat ear to ear in what was now the living room of our overnight suite. And who could forget about Willie, who offed herself—and, consequently, her unborn child—in a pink claw-foot bathtub? “She’s as precious as can be,” Erin assured us. “You’ll like her.”
But not everyone here died by their own hand. Remember Campbell, famed Texas Ranger and the Magnolia’s first owner? Another resident ghost, he met the most brutal end of all when, in an act of retribution for the Council House Fight—an 1840 peace treaty gone horribly wrong in San Antonio, resulting in a bloody battle and the decimation of an entire Comanche delegation—Campbell was reportedly stabbed, scalped, robbed, and left for dead. After fellow Rangers came upon his mutilated corpse, they buried him in an unmarked grave.
Elsewhere folks expired less savagely: Erin explained that Sara, whose spirit haunts the ballroom, died of a broken heart while waiting for a lover who never came. And Amelia, whose children later owned the Magnolia and converted it into a boarding house, died in her sleep in the bedroom where Alexis and Logan would stay that evening.
The room next door, where Najla and I would sleep, served as the temporary home of an unknown transient back when the Magnolia was still deserted. Local police shooing out squatters found the man dead—suffocated. “The struggle and death were right here,” Erin said sweetly, pointing at the quilt-covered bed where we’d set our overnight bags.
I shuddered a little, relieved that it was time to head out for dinner. After tasty burgers at The Power Plant, we weren’t ready to go back to our headquarters. Instead, perhaps in need of a little liquid courage, we stopped for $3.50 shots at nearby Playoffs Sports Bar. It was after midnight when we finally rolled back in, at which time I decided that dousing myself in Alexis’s blessed sacrament wasn’t such a bad idea.
Remembering what Erin had said about spirits presenting themselves, I told the crew we were going to explore the scariest part of the Magnolia, the only area that the Ghedis hadn’t renovated, separated from our cozy B&B by just a door. Imagine peeling paint, crumbling stone, sweltering heat, one-time bathrooms with rotted-out fixtures, and a smattering of antiques—dolls, paintings, dirty mirrors—scattered around for maximum creepiness. It had freaked me out a little during the afternoon tour, but now, in the middle of the night, it was downright frightening.
In protest, Alexis locked himself and Logan in the bathroom. It was going to be Najla and me. “I don’t want to go into the murderer’s room,” she said. She was already gripping my shirt so hard, it was poised to rip. “We have to,” I announced solemnly. “No,” she pleaded, tugging me back toward the door. I shook her off and crept into the hot, stuffy bedroom, eyes glued to the K-II EMF meter, borrowed from Erin, in my hand. The device, which measures changes in a field’s electromagnetic energy through flashing lights, is a must-have in any paranormal investigator’s toolkit.
Things were still—suspiciously so—as we entered the room where yet another of the 13 ghosts, alleged serial killer Wilhelm Faust, had laid his head both before and after brutally axing to death a 12-year-old New Braunfels girl named Emma Voelcker in 1874. Suddenly, the meter went crazy. Najla screamed and ran out, but my feet were planted. I couldn’t move. “What do you want?” I shrieked to no one as the meter continued to flicker wildly. “Stop it!”
I raced back to our suite, where Najla had already filled the others in. Alexis was having none of it—to calm down, we turned to the stack of games in the living room, playing Jenga beside a small shrine to JJ, the suicidal traveling salesman. After a while I decided I was up for one more adventure. I thought I’d felt the murderer in that room earlier, but I just wasn’t convinced. I wanted something more.
Alexis and Najla flat out refused to join, so Logan and I ventured into the pitch-darkness. The heat was suffocating. I smelled cigar smoke, and Logan smelled patchouli. “That’s the madame,” I informed him, recalling Erin’s earlier breakdown of which spirit wears which perfume.
We tiptoed along barefoot, our path illuminated only by the light of Logan’s cell phone, and crossed the threshold into Sam Wood’s room. According to Erin, Wood was a witness for the defense in Faust’s murder trial. Sam has a tendency to whistle, rattle his knuckles against the wall, and “pick on males,” Erin had said. “Not to harm them,” she said. “He was the best wrestler.”
I was drawn to his room because, on our earlier tour, I’d spotted my own name written on the dusty mirror propped against the wall. I’d thought that it was a trick, a little joke from the Ghedis, but now I wasn’t so sure. When I wedged myself into the tiny closet where, per Erin, Sam’s spirit had been known to appear, the EMF meter lit up like a Christmas tree. I felt cold air swirl around my ankles. “He’s here,” I said calmly, steadied by Logan’s stoicism. Just as quickly, the ghost was gone.
Finally I was ready for bed. I headed back to John Doe’s room and set the meter upright on a shelf so I could keep watch for flickering lights. It stayed green—neutral—until I finally knocked out, and both Najla and I slept soundly for the next nine hours.
Apparently the same was not true next door in Amelia’s room. Alexis kept the lights on all night and slept only in short, panicked bursts, convinced the entire menagerie of spirits was cavorting right outside his door. In the morning he would report muffled conversations, creaking stairs, pounding footsteps, jangling doorknobs, and bursts of ice-cold air. He clutched his crucifix throughout the long night and repeatedly shook Logan awake, snarling, “I brought you to protect me.”
I awoke to a clear, bright morning, a moderate hangover, and four missed calls and texts from Alexis, including this one, at 3:44 a.m.: “Did you hear that?”
- The Haunted Magnolia Hotel: Overnight stays (four guests max) on select dates, $249/night.
Eat & Drink
- Enjoy half-pound burgers, onion rings, and other pub grub at The Power Plant, located inside a former electric plant right on the river.
- Court Street Coffee Shop, a cute café with an ultra-friendly staff, offers chocolate pecan pie and the best coffee on this side of the Guadalupe.
- Pick your poison—literally—at Playoffs Sports Bar & Grill when you spin the wheel of shots with names like “Silk Panties” at this comfortable neighborhood watering hole.