Ever Seen a Ghost?

Spirit hunters like Lisa Olive prowl local historic sites, searching for haunted souls

Flabbergasted, I e-mailed the Web address to my father, who replied, "Yeah, I never did go back there. It closed a couple years ago."


Dawn Marshall, a 30-year-old mother of two, started the Dallas ghost group three months ago through the popular networking Web site Meetup.com. They've held three ghost hunts and attracted nearly 60 members. Hers is one of several local ghost groups formed in the past few years; they've proliferated nationwide as the Internet has enabled instant networking and shows such as Medium and Ghost Whisperer have made ghost tracking a fixture of popular culture. Of the six largest ghost-hunting groups listed on Meetup.com, three are in Texas, and Fort Worth's is the largest in the country, with more than 500 registered members.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in April, Marshall waits for people to arrive for a ghost hunt at Fort Worth's Log Cabin Village historical museum, a collection of original settler homesteads from the Old West. While people park and walk over with cameras around their necks, Nuñez stands talking to another investigator, a brown-haired woman named Sabrina. "We're new," announces a blond woman with fashionable sunglasses. She has arrived with two men carrying large cameras. "So, this place is supposed to be really active?" Marshall nods and surveys the group of around a dozen people. "We just walk around, take pictures; some people feel things, some people don't, so sometimes it's just going back and looking at the pictures." While they wait for stragglers, there's talk of previous hunts—prime haunted spots such as the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, cold spots, orbs. "You guys catching those with your 35 mm or your digital?" asks a man with a camera around his neck.

Rumor has it that ghosts from the frontier days still make their home at Log Cabin Village, a living history museum in Fort Worth.
Rumor has it that ghosts from the frontier days still make their home at Log Cabin Village, a living history museum in Fort Worth.
Dorothy Poole is a docent at Log Cabin Village. "There's energy all around us, it's just not everyone's tuned into it," she says, telling of frequent ghost sightings in the frontier houses.
Dorothy Poole is a docent at Log Cabin Village. "There's energy all around us, it's just not everyone's tuned into it," she says, telling of frequent ghost sightings in the frontier houses.

"Digital."

He nods. "Yeah, 'cause I've seen them more with my digital." A petite gray-haired woman with pearl earrings and a sweater draped over her shoulders looks more suited to a country club than a ghost hunt, but it turns out she's a veteran. Her name is Olyve Hallmark Abbot, and she's a Fort Worth author who has written three books about Texas ghosts. She tells everyone about the time at the Baker Hotel when she saw a figure dart across a dark hallway on one of the upper floors. "I think it's because spirits are more active at night," she says.

We go into the first cabin, where the Foster family lived, and view the frontier memorabilia before walking out the other side into an outdoor area with tall trees and manicured pathways. I hear a scream and turn to see the blond woman stumble away from a wooden door. She leans over with her hands on her knees, breathing hard. "There's a real person in there!" she says. Indeed, there is a gray-haired woman in period dress sitting in a rocking chair inside the cabin. Everyone laughs, and Marshall says, "Sorry, I should have told you it's a living history museum."

When I walk up, the woman inside is narrating the place's history. "This cabin was built in 1851," she says. "The Tompkins family lived here. They came from Missouri with five children..." Abbot is busy taking pictures, but not of the woman in costume. She's aiming her lens at the stove and dining room table, hoping to catch some orbs. I ask Marshall if she's seen anything.

Yes, she replies, there was a male ghost who wanted to teach her how to use the gristmill.

"What did he look like?" I ask.

"Sandy brown hair, suspenders, dirty white shirt."

She catches up to Sabrina, who's walking ahead to the next cabin. "You getting anything, Sabrina?"

"Not really. I was really drawn to it when we got here, though."

Suddenly Marshall stops and touches her temple. "I'm getting a pain here," she says. "Sometimes that's how they tell me how they passed."

She doesn't say anything more about the apparently fatal head wound, so I decide it's time to do a little exploring by myself. Down at the Parker cabin, a two-room log house split by a wooden deck, a woman stands in the bedroom next to an old washbasin and tells a visitor the famous story of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped by Comanches. The woman resembles Mrs. Claus, with jaw-length white hair neatly tucked under a navy headband and kind blue eyes behind wire-rimmed spectacles. Her name is Dorothy Poole, and she's one of the museum's historical interpreters. When another costumed employee walks up and tells her we're looking for ghosts, I expect her to nod politely and turn away. Instead, she smiles. "Well, I think the whole world's haunted!" she says with a hearty laugh. "Are you from Dr. Barth's class?" I shake my head and learn that Dr. Tim Barth teaches a parapsychology class at Texas Christian University and that many of his students visit the cabins for research papers.

Poole rattles off ghost stories as if they're part of her family tree. "Someone took a picture in the Foster cabin, near the gift shop, and it was a white orb that looks like a woman. They say that's Jane. I think Jane was the housekeeper for Mr. Foster. Bill is the one who lives in the Howard cabin—sometimes you smell his smoke."

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