Texas Traveler has never been much of a believer, nor have we ever been much for re-heated frozen fake Italian food. But after we heard that the Spaghetti Warehouse downtown was named one of the most haunted buildings in America, we decided to have a look for ourselves.
See, Texas Traveler grew up in Oklahoma, and the only thing haunting the Spaghetti Warehouse there were the panhandlers hanging out on the corner. After all, we want to believe, and what better way to spend an October night than dining in one of Houston's creepiest buildings?
Downtown's Market Square area has an interesting history. La Carafe has its own stories to tell, and the Franklin Street Bridge over Buffalo Bayou at Louisiana once housed a family vault -- the vault is still there but the bodies are now in Glenwood Cemetery.
The Desel-Boettcher warehouse, built in the early 1900s, was bought by Spaghetti Warehouse in 1974 as a second location for the Dallas-based chain. The restaurant was filled with millions of dollars in antiques, including a staircase from a European castle. Over the past couple of years, stories about the warehouse's haunting have become prominent in the news.
Manager Sandra McMasters, who has worked at the restaurant for 15 years, tells it like this: back in the day, the warehouse was home to a pharmacy. The pharmacists who worked there accidentally fell down the elevator shaft one day and died. Oddly enough, it's not the pharmacist who haunts the building but his heartbroken wife, who died exactly a year later. "Of a broken heart."
Plenty of people have claimed to experience ghosts in the warehouse, or to have taken photos of "orbs." The hauntings take place mostly on the second floor, which houses an original city of Houston trolley car and an urn cabinet. The second floor is only open for special occasions -- the rest of the time the lights stay off, though it's still open to curious diners downstairs. The darkness certainly adds to the creep factor.
Most of the people who've had "experiences" at the restaurant are so-called experts. Lone Star Spirits have even made measurements with their "Geiger counters", McMasters said. "People come in all the time and say 'We want to sit where it's haunted.'"
McMasters said the long-term employees who have had encounters refuse to speak of them. But our waitress, Patti Chapa, is willing to talk. Although initially she didn't want to give us her last name. "They already think I'm batty with this spirit stuff."
Patti has a lot of trouble with her shoelaces when she works upstairs. They're always coming untied, even when she double- and triple-knots them. While waitressing a private party, a coworker called Patti's attention to her shoelace, which was stretched out straight and floating parallel to the ground. Patti said to her coworker "I hope I don't step on anyone," and as soon as the words left her mouth the shoelace dropped.
McMasters said voices of children are often heard upstairs, near the urn cabinet, a kind of furniture often used in orphanages that didn't have the space to bury their dead charges. She said she believes the spirits of the dead get associated with objects, which is why a building like the Warehouse, filled with antiques, become so haunted.
"The spirits somehow get stuck," she said. "Here. In the restaurant. And they can't get out."
McMasters is adamant about one thing: she calls the things -- whatever they are -- spirits, not ghosts.
"'Ghost' sounds more scary," she says. "'(Spirit)' doesn't sound as bad as what people see in ghosts. It's not scary, not haunted. Nothing bad has happened."
Still, something about the building freaks her out.
"I don't come in in the mornings early, and I don't stay late. It's just... it's weird. I don't come in even in the daylight hours by myself." Chapa says the same thing.
"I've seen the one in the front window. It's just like you'd see in a comic. It never hurts us but it lets is know it's here."
We go to diner with an open mind. In fact, we're hoping to catch something odd. But downstairs, it's much too loud to hear someone from the netherworld whisper your voice. Although the screaming child at the table next to use may be possessed. Even after two glasses of wine we feel nothing, not even on the darkened second floor.
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But the stories still compel us, like the one about the gentleman who paces around in the men's room downstairs, or the time McMasters called the cops after arriving to open the restaurant on an early Saturday morning. She heard voices in the kitchen, cutting up and cooler doors slamming. She left the building and called the cops, who came in with a German shepherd. Neither the dog nor the cops could find a single item disturbed. That was about a year ago, she said.
"That was the last time I really experienced anything."
The oddest thing is that McMasters is the quoted source for almost every story Texas Traveler reads in research of this article. And she tells the same anecdotes over and over again -- the man pacing the bathroom, the widow with a broken heart. Spaghetti Warehouse even has a flyer, a kind of press release, detailing the history of the building and its supposed hauntings. Which makes us wonder -- are any of the stories the employees tell true? Or is it just a marketing ploy, an effort to drum up business for an otherwise mediocre restaurant?
What say you, readers? Had any encounters you'd like to share?