In the 19th Century, tragedies washed over Galveston as regularly as the tides: deadly fires, yellow-fever epidemics, and hurricanes. Anecdotally, this legacy of destruction left Galveston one of the nation’s most haunted cities. Even for travelers without a taste for the macabre, the wide range of said-to-be-haunted sites offers a fascinating glimpse into Galveston’s colorful past. In fact, I’ve come to the Island to learn more about local history, largely by looking for ghosts.
I’m among a group of tour-goers cruising aboard the Seagull II, a 50-foot motorcraft that Galveston Historical Foundation uses for field trips—including Haunted Harbor Tours—each October, just in time for Halloween. As the autumn sun edges toward the horizon, we pass the shrimp boats that comprise Galveston Island’s fishing flotilla known as the Mosquito Fleet. With their nets hanging loose, there is something gauzy and ghost-like in the appearance of these vessels.
Anchored on the Island’s east end, the Mosquito Fleet occupies a spot on the harbor not far from where legendary pirate Jean Lafitte first settled on Galveston in 1817. Having been chased out of Louisiana around his 40th birthday, Lafitte was one of the first Europeans to call Galveston home, and his followers numbered in the hundreds. Some say Lafitte’s ghost still haunts the Island.
Pirate legends represent just one aspect of Galveston’s spooky past. In addition to the harbor tours, each October GHF offers cemetery visits and explores the spooky side of the 1859 Ashton Villa mansion. The Island also has its own dedicated “ghost man” in Dash Beardsley, who guides paranormal and history walks along The Strand year round. During this trip, I discover that even my hotel—the luxurious Hotel Galvez—has its share of ghosts.
In addition to guest tours, the Hotel Galvez & Spa (2024 Seawall Blvd.) offers the public a Thursday-evening haunted tour (includes dinner) with Jackie Hasan through October. Tickets are offered through the gift shop; ticket holders receive a 20 percent discount at the hotel’s Bernardo’s Restaurant. The hourlong exploration leaves at 5:30 p.m. Call 409/765-7721; www.wyndham.com/hotels/GLSHG/main.wnt.
For information on Galveston events, attractions, restaurants, and lodging, contact the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2328 Broadway, 888/GAL-ISLE; www.galveston.com/cvb.