With centuries of history and no shortage of tragic events, including the Great Storm of 1900, Galveston has a lock on being the ghost capital of Texas. But this side of the Mississippi we're also hearing reports of hauntings coming out of Old Town Spring, a historic town with Victorian-style shops about 20 miles north of Houston that some insiders are labeling the "sixth most haunted town in Old West USA."
Tommy Phillips, a tattoo artist and owner of Noble Street Tattoo Parlour, had no idea what he was getting into when he purchased the building at 26515 Preston Avenue in Spring. Phillips spent many a night remodeling the space, often working into the early hours of the morning, and still never encountered any spirits. But that all changed on the night of his grand opening in February 2017 when the building hosted almost 250 revelers.
"As it got late, one of my friends said, 'Hey Tommy, I think someone is locked in the bathroom.' I was worried, were they sick, passed out; something was going on. I knocked on the door; no answer. I kicked the door in. [There was] nothing inside the restroom," says Phillips, who says there were about ten to 15 people who witnessed the event. The bathroom itself has bars on the windows and the only way to lock the door is with a hook and latch from the inside.
That was opening night. Since opening his shop Phillips says other strange things have happened in the circa 1906 building. Artists will be in the back room working on a customer and they'll hear the bell on the front door ring. But when they go up front to check, nobody's there. "That kind of stuff is very creepy," says Phillips. It's not uncommon to find objects knocked on the floor, and a sunglass-wearing dog sculpture that sits by the register has fallen so many times he should be renamed Humpty Dumpty.
For Phillips the kicker was the day he went in to install some insulation. "I found a hole in the floor of the attic. There was a four by four room with a floor sturdy enough to stand on and nothing in it." Phillips says he's since heard from ghost enthusiasts that these types of rooms were made as a place where spirits could stay. "Never put anything in that room or you'll cause a disruption in the patterns," warns Phillips. "It's really kind of nerve-wracking."
Noble Street isn't the only business that has experienced mysterious events. Almost 40 of the 100 shops in the area have a tale to tell and local author Cathy Nance, founder of Woodlands Paranormal, decided to document Old Town Spring's spookiest sites in her book, Haunted Old Town Spring.
We find Noble Street's unexplained activities in Nance's book, as well as how the spurned, lovestruck ghost of "Uncle Charlie" still putters around Wunsche Brothers Café and how a dead girl plays with her friends in a barn at Doering Court (once the homestead of Henry Doering). It's rumored that Doering's youngest daughter broke her leg in a fall and died six weeks later from gangrene.
The book is a nice blend of facts, history, legend and superstition, and it's paired with a map, putting it on anybody's list of must-reads before heading up to Old Town Spring.
Stop in at Ellen's Cafe and ask Jessica Lynn about the tea kettles that mysteriously fall off the shelves, or visit Simply Texas Gourmet Foods and let owner Matthew Potter tell you about how his inventory keeps getting moved around — and not by living, breathing customers. Then watch for the mysterious lantern of the headless railroad switchman as he tries to warn off phantom trains on course for a collision.
Grab a glass at Envy Wine Room, constructed from an abandoned boys' home, and ask the staff about the sounds of children running through the place, the illuminated balls of light, or how a wine bottle flew into the air of its own volition. Or how the Shabby Rose was once the childhood home of Judge Vernon Doering, son of Henry and the town's hanging judge; at certain times curtains can be seen moving in the windows.
Earlier this year the podcast History Goes Bump In The Night covered the region, devoting almost an hour of episode 254 to Old Town Spring; visit historygoesbump.blogspot.com/2018/04/hgb-ep-254-old-town-spring.html to listen.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
So how exactly could Old Town Spring have become so haunted? In the podcast we learn that many of the homes in Old Town Spring were relocated from Houston Heights, the same killing grounds where Dean Corll, the Candyman Killer, brutally murdered at least 28 boys and men in the early 1970s. One theory is that the tortured souls of the serial killer's victims have been trapped in those homes. Others speculate that the town is haunted by the spirit of a Native American upset at having his land settled upon, or that the town is visited by ghosts from a nearby cemetery on Aldine Westfield.
Business owners and residents of Old Town Spring interested in learning more about paranormal phenomena can connect with Cathy Nance and other case managers on her team at woodlandsparanormal.com.
Several ghost tours are available as well:
Houston Ghost Tour, houstonghosttour.com
Spirit Quest Paranormal, TheSpiritQuestCenter.com (updated; they no longer do tours)
Old Town Spring Ghost Walk, oldtownspringghostwalk.com