The Galvez was built after the Great Storm of 1900.

We were in the lobby of the Hotel Galvez, waiting to embark upon one of its famous ghost tours. I was sipping a glass of the hotel’s house cab, feeling worldly and oh-so-removed from any nervousness the other guests might be feeling. Instead I busied myself exchanging what I imagined to be impishly skeptical glances with my boyfriend, Aldo, a dedicated scientist who reads skeptics’ blogs daily, only trusts peer-reviewed facts, and is in no way inclined to believe in ghosts.

Soon our tour guide, Melissa Hall, introduced herself, and as she explained how the evening would play out, I was dismayed to realize I was feeling a little anxious. I gulped my wine down and hastily ordered another glass before she led our group of about 20 across the beautiful, historic lobby to a quiet hallway, stopping at the foot of a portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez, the namesake of both the hotel—a six-story circa-1911 confection—and the island itself.

“I’m not going to try to convince you the Galvez is haunted. I’ll leave that up to you,” Melissa said. “But remember to take pictures in threes as we move through the hotel tonight, and to keep an open mind about what you’re seeing. Ghosts resonate differently with people. You may capture something yourselves.”

Aldo glanced at me, raising his eyebrows, and I winked back archly. But as he turned away, I took a large swallow of wine. I hadn’t meant to lie to him when, ahead of our trip, I’d proclaimed that believing in ghosts was ridiculous. After all, at the time, safe inside my own un-haunted apartment, I’d convinced myself it was true.

Yet this too is true: I won’t pick up heads-down pennies, I’d rather walk an extra mile than duck under a ladder, and I never eat oysters on a full moon—yes, I came up with that one on my own. I’ve also seen some strange things out of the corner of my eye when visiting older homes and felt weird pressures around me when going through the closet of a long dead relative.

He didn’t need to know all that, though.

Standing in front of the Galvez painting, Melissa began to explain why so many believe the hotel is haunted. It’s really the story of the island itself: a long, dark tale peopled with cannibals (either the native tribes or the first Spanish explorers, depending on who is telling the story), pirates, soldiers, and the criminal underworld. But the greatest tragedy of all was the Hurricane of 1900, which killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people and remains the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

The city’s remaining fathers constructed the hotel as proof that Galveston had been humbled but not broken, to help the city move on from the loss. But some say it was built atop the graves of hurricane victims, including the bodies of an entire orphanage that had been lost in the storm. After it opened, there were rumors of strange happenings, Melissa told us. Guests reported seeing children in white wandering the halls at night. Others heard childish laughter or felt small hands tug at their blankets as they slept.

As we marched on, Melissa told stories, sharing how a spa employee who’d cleaned the glass doors before locking up only the night before had found tiny handprints on the inside of the glass that morning, and telling us about the time earlier this year when a medium had visited the hotel. She’d tried to help a nun’s spirit cross over but had been rebuffed. The guide pulled up a photo on her iPad that seemed to capture the outline of a woman in a black-and-white habit standing in the back corner.

The Hotel Galvez's dining room

I nodded solemnly but whispered to Aldo, “I … don’t see it. Do you?” He shook his head and we both chortled, trying not to laugh outright. I was starting to feel more confident. I could do this. The tour was halfway over. There was no need, I thought smugly, to poke fun at what others were taking in with complete seriousness.

Melissa stood close as she shared her next story, about the ghosts in the downstairs bathroom. “Now there is an active spot,” she said, relaying how guests had reported hearing a woman laughing, spotted a man with a shaved head and blank expression lurking in the corners, and noted unexplained shadows in their photos. Guests also reported feeling something—or someone—fiddling with their jewelry, even though there was no one around.

At that I chugged the rest of my wine and, suddenly, felt brave. Well, that, and I needed a restroom. As the rest of the tour made its way into the Music Hall—“the actual spot where the orphans and the nuns who died with them were probably buried”—I squeezed Aldo’s hand, pointed toward the door, and pushed it open.

It was spookier than a hotel lobby toilet had any right to be. The marble and tile echoed with every move I made, the pipes moaning and gurgling. One of the automated toilets flushed even though I was the only one there. Bravery out the window, I felt my heart smacking in my chest as I crept toward a stall. As I slid the bolt shut, I couldn’t shake the feeling I wasn’t alone. Cautiously I opened my eyes and leaned forward so I could look under the other stalls for any ghostly feet.

“If you’re here,” I whispered, “it would, um, be fine if you’d show yourself.”

I sucked in my breath, forcing myself to sit there and listen. And … nothing. No feet appeared, and I didn’t feel anything breathing on me. I began to relax again as I exited and washed my hands. Some photos had shown the baldheaded ghost, who Melissa believed was an apparition of one “Mr. Noble” who had worked at the Galvez back in the 1960s, standing in the corner mirror of the bathroom.

“Hey, Mr. Noble?” I called softly. “Hope you’re having a nice night!”

I dried my hands, pulled out my phone, and, for fun, started taking shots in threes, just as Melissa had instructed. I was still standing in front of the mirrors, scrolling through the images, when it happened. My right earring dropped from my earlobe and bounced across the floor.

I stared at it, frozen on the spot, not daring to lift my eyes or look around the room. Was that the air-conditioning, or was something blowing on my neck? Out of nowhere, one of the toilets flushed yet again for no reason. I emitted a squeak, scooped the earring off the floor, and hustled out of the room and back to the group.

During the end of the tour, I shuddered through stories of the ghost of Room 501 and shivered at tales of the unquiet spirits of Galveston gangsters who still, legend has it, roam the hotel’s halls. I tried not to cling to Aldo too desperately as we made our way back to the lobby.

Afterward we had an excellent three-course meal at the hotel restaurant. We smiled and talked politics while everyone else traded ghost stories, and I took it easy on the water, ensuring I’d avoid the need for another trip to the bathroom. The evening was pleasant enough. It’s hard not to enjoy a perfectly cooked steak.

Still, when we climbed into the king-sized bed later that night and the lights were off, I had to tell him. What would he think after learning that I am, in fact, a Frankenstein villager to my core? 

“Aldo!” I whispered. “I have a confession. I do believe in ghosts, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep tonight! A ghost made my earring fall out of my ear in the downstairs bathroom!”

“Okay,” he replied from the darkness. “But you do realize that an earring has fallen out of your ear every hour or so since you put that pair on this morning, right?”

“So?”

“So that’s not a ghost, that’s wearing earrings that don’t stay in, and gravity.”

“Tell that to Mr. Noble.” But I was already feeling better. “Psst,” I whispered. “Is it not the worst that this guy apparently is in the afterlife and assigned to haunt a bathroom?"

Traveler's Tips

Stay

Eat & Drink

  • Visit The Mosquito Café, located inside an 1870s-era building, for fresh-squeezed orange juice, challah-French toast, omelets of all kinds, and a delectable pastry display from PattyCakes, the shop across the street.
  • The Hotel Galvez’s Dinner with the Ghosts is held Tuesdays through Fridays throughout October, and takes place once a month the rest of the year. $65 per person for a one-hour tour, three-course meal, drinks, and gratuity. Call 409-765-7721 for reservations.
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