A Haunting We Will Go

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The Galvez Hotel

Opened in 1911 as a way to attract tourists back to the island after the Storm of 1900, the Galvez is known as the “Playground of the Southwest” due to the number of socialites that have stayed there throughout the ages (Frank Sinatra, FDR, LBJ, Eisenhower, General Douglas MacArthur, Jimmy Stewart, and Howard Hughes). Many of the 6th and 7th floor rooms are named after these guests. It has 228 pricey suites, starting at $176 for a single room.

HotelA benefactor from our favorite family, the Moody family, bought the hotel in the 40’s and used it to house an illegal gambling ring that was shut down a decade later by the Texas Rangers. Previously, during WWII, the Galvez was used to house the Coastal Guard and was not open for tourists. Currently, the hotel is a part of Wyndham Hotels and Spa, and remains a very popular attraction.

Named after Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez, for which Galveston is named, the hotel is also one of the most haunted places on the island, and possibly in America. Be prepared to get spooky.

 

The Grounds for a Haunting Orphanage

The storm of 1900 was a category 4 storm that killed over 6,000 people (Katrina was a category 5 and killed 1,200). It leveled most of the island, caused $21 million in damages, and is considered one of the most horrible natural disasters in American History. This is one of the reasons that Galveston is so insanely haunted. One of the most famous stories from the hurricane was that of St. Mary’s Orphanage.

The orphanage housed 90 children and was run by 10 nuns. When the storm began, they were advised to stay put until it passed. Soon enough, the waves reached the girl’s dormitory where they were all hiding, and they witnessed the other half of the building succumbing to the raging sea. The sisters grabbed some clothesline and tied 6 to 8 children around their waists in an attempt to save them from the storm. The building was lifted from its foundation, the roof caved in, and only 3 children survived. According to one online article, “one of the boys remembered a sister tightly holding two small children in her arms, promising not to let go”.[1] The three survivors floated for two days before floating into a town and telling the story of what happened at the orphanage. When the rescue teams took over the island after the hurricane had blown away, they would find one nun and pull a whole strand of dead children out of the sand. In regards to the nuns, the same online article said “one of them was tightly holding two small children in her arms. Even in death she had kept her promise not to let go”.

Since the orphanage was completely destroyed, in 1911 the Galvez Hotel was built on the property due to its seaside prominence. Because of this, people have reported hearing children laughing and singing, and in the lobby, and a child playing with a bouncy ball has been sighted multiple times. If you wish to know more about this tragedy, Discovery did an episode of Ghost Stories called the Ghost of Sister Katherine.

 

The Portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez

Bernardo de Gálvez (1746-1786) is the namesake of Galveston Island. He was a Spanish military leader who served as colonial governor of Louisiana and Cuba. He fought on the side of the Colonies, leading Spanish forces against the British during the American Revolution. He defeated the British at the Siege of Pensacola (1781) and reconquered Florida for Spain. The last two years of his life were spent as the Viceroy of New Spain before dying in 1786. To this day, there are rumors that he was poisoned by his enemies with the approval of the Spanish Court.

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The Hotel Galvez is named for him as well, and at the end of a downstairs hallway hangs a domineering portrait of the man himself. It is said to be one of the 10 most haunted portraits in the world, and understandably so. Most people who walk by it get a weird feeling in the pit of their stomach as well as a chill up their spine. Its eyes seem to follow you as you walk around it, and they don’t look at you, they watch you. If you wish to take a picture of it, you must ask permission from the ghost first. If you don’t, your picture will come out blurry, unclear, or as something entirely different altogether, popularly, a solid black canvas. Coincidentally, I was unable to put a picture of it in this packet; this may be attributed to my lack of basic computer skills, however, I’ll credit it to something a bit more sinister.

There have been reports of people that say that after viewing the painting, they have felt followed, and have had constant goosebumps up their arms for a couple hours after leaving the Galvez. Whether it is the ghost of Bernardo de Galvez personally haunting them is up to your discretion, but this is a haunting portrait, in more ways than one.

 

The Ghost Bride

 Half a century ago, a young girl named Audra checked into room 501 and never checked out. She no longer has to pay for the room, however, I guess she technically paid with her life. She was engaged to a mariner who had to go out to sea after their engagement. She rented a room in the Galvez that faces the ocean, and every day she would go up into the west turret to await the arrival of her fiancé.

Hotel tower

One day, a terrible storm rampaged through the island and left no news of the ship. Audra was told that the ship had capsized and left no survivors. Distraught and forlorn, she ran up to the same turret she used to wait for him, and she hung herself. A couple days later, her fiancé returned from sea; he had returned to marry his bride. Nobody enjoyed giving him the news.

“Her spirit is locked inside the hotel – she never crossed over,”[2] suggested the senior concierge Jackie Hasan who gives ghost tours of the hotel. They say that the spirit of Audra still inhabits room 501 and wanders around the 5th floor. An eerie crying can be heard in stall #3 of the ladies bathroom next to the spa that is rumored to be Audra weeping for her mariner. Guests who stay there are more than willing to look for her.

 

Other Haunts

There are many other unexplained phenomena that happen in the hotel. The music hall has had glasses fly off of tables, and people have witnessed groups of women in Victorian style dresses wandering the room; like they are attending a social gathering. Hotel staff has reported the figure of a man in the laundry rooms, as well as heavy breathing in the bathrooms. In the main lobby, candles often get blown out and dishes as well as glasses fly off the tables or just moving locations. For more information on the Galvez Hotel, check out the endnotes.

 

  The Tale of Jean LafitteLafitte

                        “He left a Corsair’s name to other times,

                    Link’d with one virtue, and a thousand crimes.”

                                -Lord Byron The Corsair (1814)

 

 

Jean Lafitte haunted the gulf coast like an uneasy spirit for years. His tale is filled with everything you could ask for in an adventure story; pirates, romance, mystery, treasure, moral ambiguity, and Lord Byron.

 

Pirate or Privateer?

Most people nowadays can seldom tell the difference between a Pirate and a Privateer. The word “pirate” has become a generic term used to group all ocean faring miscreants together. This is wrong. I’m here to tell you that the only difference between the pair is consent. A Pirate pillages and plunders for their own personal gain with little to no regard for others; a Pirate breaks the law. A Privateer is the exact same thing but with the consent of their government and the rule stating they can only attack the ships of the government’s enemies. A Privateer is a locally owned Pirate. So which one is Jean Lafitte? If you answered both, you are correct. Captain Jean Lafitte was both a Pirate and a Privateer, possibly at the same time. This is evident in the Lord Byron quote above. The quote was taken from a poem that is said to be based on Lafitte, the more you read it, the more you understand how.

 

Lafitte’s Feats and Legacy

 Jean Lafitte (1780- c. 1823?) was a French born native who decided to get involved in the smuggling business. He and his brother Pierre moved to New Orleans and by 1810, the pair had opened an extremely successful smuggling port. The brothers had developed quite a name for themselves in smuggling and piracy, so much so that in September of 1814 the American Navy invaded their port and arrested the duo and captured most of Lafitte’s fleet. In return for a legal pardon, Lafitte and his crew aided Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British in the final battle of the War of 1812. This is the “one virtue” that Byron referred to in his poem. Afterwards, Lafitte decided to return to a more exciting life of moral ambiguities and enlisted as a spy for the Spanish during the Mexican War for Independence where he took up residence in Galveston Island. [3]

Missing his life of crime and piracy, Lafitte established a Pirate colony named Campeche. In doing so, he was able to raise a crew and begin attacking merchant ships once more. Sometime around 1820, Lafitte Madeline Regaud, either the widow or daughter of a French colonist who had died during an ill-fated expedition to Galveston (Pirates had other priorities besides bookkeeping). She had his only known son, Jean Pierre Lafitte (d. 1832). In 1821, the USS Enterprise was sent to remove Lafitte and his colony of Pirates, like RidX on an ant farm. Lafitte’s men burned down the Maison Rouge, and Lafitte escaped with his mulatto mistress, his infant son, and copious amounts of treasure. All that remains is the foundation of Maison Rouge standing in ruin (1417 Harborside Drive).

Between 1821 and his possible death in 1823, he took on many Privateering jobs where it was unclear what side he worked for. He did it for the thrill of being bad. For the rest of his life, he had several more struggles and escapes from the law all throughout the Caribbean, particularly in Cuba and Colombia. In the words of Captain Jack Sparrow “You can always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest. Honestly. It’s the honest ones you want to watch out for.”

Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead… most likely

There was never any evidence that Jean Lafitte died other than his body never returned from sea. No newspaper published his obituary, and he has no grave. In February 1823, he attempted to take two Spanish merchant ships, and as the story goes, he was mortally wounded, died, and was buried at sea the next day. A couple me from his crew carried his obituary back, but “you can always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest”.

There are all sorts of rumors speculating what must’ve happened to Lafitte. My favorite is one that says he rescues Napoleon and they lived out the rest of their lives together in Louisiana. Mirabeau Lamar himself looked into this rumor and found no evidence of it being true. As far as we know, his body is forever floating out in the briny deep.

 

                 Lafitte’s Life is in Ruins

 

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Jean Lafitte left some very interesting things behind;

the most interesting being his treasure that was never found. Occasionally, a gold coin finds its way into rivers and beaches, but no one has been able to trace it to its source. One such place that has been searched like crazy is the ruins of Maison Rouge (which is Red House in French). These were his headquarters, so it would make sense for the treasure to be buried there. A fence was erected in the 60’s to stop treasure hunters from digging up the site.

The haunting of this site masquerades as something cute and happy. A pack of 12 black dogs haunts this site. It is rumored that Louisiana’s Voodoo Queen did a ritual over Lafitte’s dog as it gave birth to puppies, which resulted in this ghostly omen. Hell Hounds are bad omens, and there are 12 of them here. Legend has it that if you look one in the eye, you’re dead in a year. People say that they smell wet dog, hear barking or growling, or feel a dog brush up against their leg when they visit this site. There have also been reports of two men arguing loudly where there’s nobody, and balls of floating, moving light. Neighbors of the area say that seeing the balls of light are so common that they don’t pay attention to them anymore[4].  Lafitte may be gone, but he’s far from forgotten.

[1] http://www.1900storm.com/orphanage.html

[2] http://pressroom.mitchellhistoricproperties.com/hotel-galvez-spa/backgrounders/hotel-galvez-story-of-ghost-bride-235043

[3] http://jeanlafitte.net/

[4] http://www.galvestonghost.com/MaisonRouge.html

 

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