A favorite staff joke at Houston Ghost Tour is this one: “If you die on my tour, you will be on my next one.” At least, they say it’s a joke. The company’s weekend moonlit walks are so creepy, it’s tough to be sure.
Founded in 2008 by Danny Thomas, a stocky clown-college alumnus who calls himself Doc Strangeway, the company conducts walking tours of different areas in and around greater Houston. Each combines spirit lore—the significance of archways and mirrors, for example—with history, albeit a version that is rarely taught in school and is difficult to verify.
When we recently joined two walks led by HGT, we took the tales shared by the guides with a grain or pound of salt, depending. But we also discovered that they had done their homework. The tours are the product of “hours and hours in libraries looking at old newspapers, just digging,” says Lindy, Thomas’s librarian wife and fellow guide. “We also spoke to the people who know the local history—people who have actually been here, seen it themselves or, if they haven’t, their great-grandma did.”
The Hermann Park walk was full of revelations about Houston’s past and its attendant hauntings, among them that the Sam Houston statue keeps watch over a Civil War–era field hospital and cemetery; that a young opera singer died onstage at Miller Outdoor Theatre; and that the first director of the Houston Zoo was a flamboyant ex-lion tamer who died under dubious circumstances. The image of phantom swings swaying back and forth on the playground built for patients of nearby Texas Children’s Hospital will stay with you for a while.
The company’s most popular tour is of Old Town Spring, the boutique-laden shopping mecca and 19th-century railroad boomtown that is known as one of the state's most haunted towns. Judging by the stories we heard on the tour, that might be underselling it a bit.
For one thing, the area’s previous Native American occupants supposedly cursed the area. Then there’s the story that Bonnie and Clyde once robbed a bank there; you can still see the bullet holes. Other stops on the 90-minute whirlwind revisited fires, ghost trains, a notorious “hanging judge,” a witch-burning, a horse-and-buggy accident, and hallucinogenic nightmares.
Old Town Spring also makes a fine jumping-off point for another activity the company offers: guided ghost hunts. While HGT makes no promises about sightings—there’s even a note to that effect posted on the website—the hunts visit “places that we know for a fact are really, really active,” says Danny.
October, of course, is busy season for HGT, and throughout the month the company is offering daily walking tours along with a number of macabrely fun special events, including a Victorian-style séance on October 4. Houston may not boast the same spooky credentials as Savannah or New Orleans, shrugs Lindy, but these tours still provide chills to spare—even now that Spaghetti Warehouse is gone.
“I think the only issue is that Houston’s not on the map for being known as this really big haunted place,” she offers, “so that’s kind of our job to get out there and tell people.”