By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
We round a corner to see White Rock Lake shimmering under a crescent moon. A few fishermen sit on the docks with lanterns, smoking and waiting for the crappie to bite. Michelle Nuñez is just as patient. After leading us through oak groves and up the path that winds along the lake by the old Dallas Waterworks, she heads toward the bridge to the boathouse, certain it will be worth the walk. "Me and my family, we used to come here, and when we went past that boathouse, I felt it. There's activity in there." By activity, she means ghosts.
Nuñez and her friends are members of the Ghaste Studies Dallas Metro Ghost Hunting group, and they've come looking for the Lady of White Rock Lake, a female ghost described in local legends since the 1940s. According to the stories, a drenched girl in a 1930s-era Neiman Marcus gown appears on roads near the lake and hails passing cars for help. When someone stops, she says she's had an accident and directs the driver to a house on Gaston Avenue. By the time they pull up to the home, the girl has vanished, leaving only a puddle of water in the backseat. The old man who answers the door supposedly says his daughter drowned in the lake years before. The ghost hunters haven't seen the ghostly girl, but they're about to find something else, and Nuñez is leading them toward it.
She stops on the bridge and takes a picture of the boathouse, a low structure on the shore built in the 1930s.
"You have to be careful," says Dawn Marshall, a self-described medium and the group's organizer. "When there's lights it can end up looking like an orb." She's talking about the round, white shapes that appear in photographs and that ghost enthusiasts believe are spirits if unaccounted for by glares, water droplets or other technical glitches. Marshall winces and touches her forehead. "I'm getting Benjamin," she says, referring to a name that has just popped into her mind—ostensibly a name that belongs to a spirit.
It's a fairly small group tonight, and six of us mill around the creaky boathouse and peer inside at the rowboats. Aside from lapping water, the only sound is the frogs. "I just saw a spirit sitting on the dock," Marshall declares. "It was someone young, a boy, late teens—15—putting on his shoes. That's who Benjamin is."
Nuñez is snapping pictures of the windows with a pink digital Kodak, the one she always takes on ghost hunting expeditions. I head over to the other end of the building, but as I'm walking past the windows I hear a shriek somewhere to my left. I turn to see Nuñez with her hand on her chest, staring at the camera's preview screen. The rest of us run over to her. "Oh my God!" she says, showing us the camera. "There was a boy looking at me! See him?"
Marshall, the medium, nods. "I think that's Benjamin," she says solemnly. "I think he stays here and plays—he's saying he's stuck here because he wasn't supposed to be here, and he drowned."
There's a blurry flash of light in the center of the photograph, which is strange since there's no pane in the windows and nothing nearby that seems likely to have caused a reflection. I assure myself there could be other explanations. It's not until the next day, when I look at the photograph on my computer, that I'm able to make out the small, shadowy image of a boy's face, turned slightly to the side. It looks like a faded daguerrotype, and he appears to be wearing a dress shirt and vest. Wondering if I'm just seeing something I'd imagined after hearing the women talk, I show it to a colleague and ask what she sees. "Oh my God, that's a person," she says without hesitation.
It was at one of Albuquerque's oldest restaurants that I once thought I saw a ghost. I was about 13. A 12-room hacienda dating to the early 19th century, Maria Teresa was full of antique wooden furniture, frayed Navajo rugs and black and white photographs in large metal frames. One was a portrait of an old woman with piercing eyes. As I looked at it, it seemed as if she were staring right back, and not nicely. I attributed it to my overactive imagination and sat down, but shortly after, I thought I saw a white, shadowy form glide across the large mirror that hung on the wall behind our table. I suddenly had chills—and an urgent desire to get out of there. When I told my parents, I expected them to laugh or nod indulgently before returning to their meals. But my father, a physician famous for dismissing unproven claims, caught me off guard. He nodded, unsurprised, and said he felt the same thing. We left and never went back. While researching this story, I came across a Web site linked to A Ghost in My Suitcase: A Guide to Haunted Travel in America, which is available on Amazon.com. Maria Teresa was listed as the most haunted place in my hometown. "Most of the reported sightings are in the mirrors of the restaurant," says a caption next to a picture of the room where we sat that night. The author wrote that staff said the piano in the Armijo room would sometimes play by itself in the wee hours and that they'd set the table and lock up at night only to return the next day to find the silverware piled in the middle of the tables. And there was a picture of that photograph I remembered, the one of the old woman, whom the author identifies as Doña Jesusita Salazar de Baca. A waiter, the caption reads, jokingly insulted her one night and afterward tripped or dropped something every time he passed the portrait.