An estimated 8,000 poor souls lost their lives when the Great Storm of 1900 kicked Galveston's butt in our nation's deadliest natural disaster. While the survivors struggled with the decimation of 3,600 buildings, they also had to deal with the bodies of the deceased in that early-September heat. The Butterowe Building, strong enough to withstand the 130- to 140-mile-per-hour winds, was turned into a morgue until the families could identify their loved ones.
Now renamed Haunted Mayfield Manor and with a fictionalized back story, this 12-room mansion near 23rd and Strand has been turned into a year-round haunted house that delivers psychological thrills. The story goes that Dr. Horace Mayfield, who had been conducting dubious experiments dealing with fear and mental illness, lost his bride, his parents and his life's work in the storm, causing him to go insane.
The creative folks over at the Galveston Historical Foundation have mined stories like these and turned Galveston into Spooky-town this October, with inventive tours at several architectural landmarks. Explore the life (and possible afterlife) of Bettie Brown at Ashton Villa, experience Bishop's Palace by lantern light or take part in a séance with a spirit guide at Menard House.
The Haunted Harbor Tours explore the same waters where Jean Lafitte did his privateering (what's yours is mine) and coast past "The Face," where a man betrayed by his greedy children appears every night in spite of repeated attempts to power wash or sandblast his image away. The 50-foot passenger boat also explores a scuttled concrete oil tanker at Pelican Flats (which possibly housed spies, ghosts and a recluse), as well as the ghosts of a train that succumbed to the Great Storm.
Many born-on-islanders swear by the veracity of the ghost bride of Hotel Galvez, who resided in Room 501. Every time her seafaring fiancé was scheduled to return, she would climb up to the turret and wait for her lover. During one such trip, it was reported that his ship was lost and she hanged herself in despair; the tragedy deepened when the seaman eventually returned to discover his beautiful bride was dead.