Texas Traveler: Galveston Ghosts

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Dash Beardsley is a legend, both in his own mind, and in real life. The Robert Plant look-alike, owner and operator of Ghost Tours of Galveston, shows up for tours wearing a floor-length black duster, silver rings on every finger, and sunglasses. At 8 o'clock at night. Before the tour starts, he designates someone to be his "lantern-bearer." He carries with him a backpack blaring songs from The Doors, and quotes openly from Jim Morrison.

Texas Traveler has been on a couple of different ghost tours. We've done Haunted Prague, and the Jack the Ripper Tour in London, along with some places closer to home. It's a fun way to see a different side of a city. But never have we seen a tour as popular as Ghost Tours of Galveston. When we arrive, at 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, at least 70 people are waiting on the steps of the island's art deco Railroad Museum. At $15 a head, that's some kind of racket. More people arrive for a second tour, which starts at 8:30 p.m.

Ghost Tours of Galveston originally started with Beardsley and his two-hour walk of the Strand. Though he was born and raised in The Heights, his grandfather, an accountant for Gulf Oil for more than 40 years, had land in Galveston, and would share with Beardsley his stories of the island's fables. About a decade ago, Beardsley came down to Galveston himself and started doing his own research into the island's history, to see if it matched up with some of the stories he'd heard.

To be sure, Galveston has some of the most interesting history in the state. At one point it was considered the New York City of the South. People from Houston know this, but for the rest of the country, Galveston's effect on trade and culture in the Victorian era is essentially unknown, thanks to the Great Storm of 1900, which ended everything.

But even before that, Galveston was home to larger-than life characters like the pirate Jean Lafitte, who established the first township on the island, and the Karankawa Indians. The first 20 minutes of Beardsley's tour include a rundown of Galveston history, and specifically, a history of the Strand area.

The ghost tour has all the usual trappings you would expect -- lots of visions of girls in white Victorian dresses, unrequited love stories and unfinished business. There are even a few vampires stories in there, since vampires are the hot new trend these days. But it's also peppered with personal anecdotes from Beardsley, who is obviously a man-about-town. He gets called out by name by the ubiquitous bikers at Crow's Cantina, and by drivers of The Strand's horse-drawn carriages. Random vehicles pull up to the tour group so the passengers can say hello to our guide.

Galveston should be glad to have him as a local character. He's one of the strongest advocates of the island's resurgence, and advocates the preservation of the island's historical buildings. Plus his nightly tours are drawing plenty of tourist dollars into the area.

Now he's had to hire extra tour guides, people to help run the business, and help for the launch of a second walk, the "Secret Society" tour through the Old City Cemetery. He's got other plans too. He's writing a book of Galveston's lost history -- "of stuff that's not on the tour" -- and he plans one day to have his own ghost-hunting reality show. In a few months he's going to a paranormal convention in Beaumont.

Now, you might not believe in this nonsense, but even if you don't, the walking tour is worthwhile for the history it reveals. As Beardsley says, "If you're expecting my head to spin around while I spew pea soup for you, you will be sorely disappointed." But if you like a good story, Beardsley has plenty.

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