A huge mural fills the wall of Company Café on Greenville Avenue. The subjects are familiar faces -- Big Tex on Fire, Bob the Nomad Keyboardist, a wisp of a woman hovering above a lake... Wait, a minute. What woman? And what lake? We have so many.
Turns out the Lady of the Lake is a ghost who haunts White Rock. She was waiting for a date who never showed, the story goes, so she drowned herself. Why is she wearing a white night gown in the mural? Nobody knows. Probably a booty call. The point is, Dallas has ghosts, and if you want to hear about some of them, you need to take a tour. A g-g-g-ghost tour.
There's one by Dallas Ghost Tours that runs every night in the West End. For $25 you get a 90-minute guided walking tour of literally four city blocks. For $40 you get the tour and a meal at Ellen's Southern Kitchen. I took the tour recently but skipped the meal, because who wants a gut full of food when they have to walk and stand for 90 minutes? Half the tour, that's who. Dummies. Of course, half the group also wore heels.
When you sign up for a ghost tour, you expect a few things -- ghost stories, actual ghosts and, of course, fanny packs. We scored two out of three.
The fanny-packer hailed from Corinth and was gifted in supernatural ways. In addition to being an avid fan of Ghost Hunters, she also communicated with her husband's grandmother from the great beyond. Grandma gave her explicit instructions on where she wanted to be buried, "along the river where we used to go." When the fanny-packing medium told her husband this he knew exactly where to go.
All this information was gleaned on the walk from Ellen's to the former Old Red Courthouse -- now museum -- where the tour officially began. The courthouse is ground zero for ghosts on account of all the public hangings that took place there back in 1800s, according to our guide. In order to haunt a place you have to die there, according to our cynical, tattooed, dressed-in-all-black tour guide. (Technically, except for one notorious lynching, official public hangings took place down the street a bit, but if tourists with full stomachs wearing heels can walk a few blocks, why can't ghosts?)
Our guide tells us he grew up in the suburbs of Dallas and thought the city "sucked" until adulthood when he realized "just the suburbs suck." Now that we, the city, won him over, he spends most of his time researching Dallas and talks to anyone who has lived or worked in the city for the better part of the last century, so he can gather stories of deaths and ghost-sightings, which he passes along to the touring masses. The result is a little more of a history lesson than a ghost tour, but entertaining enough for $25.
One actual ghost story about Old Red tells of a man who, before he was hanged, proclaimed his innocence and vowed to return the next day and stop the courthouse clock to prove it. The next day, our guide told us, the clock stopped.
Which sadly wasn't enough to break Dallas County of the habit of convicting the innocent. DAMN YOU, DALLAS OF YESTERYEAR!!
The spookiest part of the tour was a trip inside the old West End Marketplace and its empty theater. It was pitch black, no electricity and no ventilation. If you grew up in Dallas, the place really is haunting, because you remember a time when this was the place to be. There was a freaking mall in there with one of those recording booths where you could make a music video and act like you could actually carry a tune. Sigh. The tour guide launched another downer rocket when he said the building was sold to a California hotel developer so all those Tilt tickets tucked in your sock drawer are now worthless.
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Most recently the marketplace was used by Dollz, a Halloween haunted house amusement, our guide said. One of the "cast members" quit because she was grabbed and pulled under a crib inside the "nursery room," by a ghost or something similar, but definitely not by another employee of the haunted house. We know this because all the employees denied doing it, and teenagers never lie. Like, ever. Besides, the haunted house's nursery-themed room was a hotbed for creepy shit. There's even a teddy bear from it left on the marketplace's third floor that keeps popping up in different spots in the building, moved no doubt by ghostly hands.
OK, so a construction crew has full access to the building, but there's no logical reason any of them would move a teddy bear, so ... ghosts.
Other suspicious activity in the marketplace involved what appeared to be an unidentified security guard who was wearing a non-sanctioned uniform. He passed a mother and daughter working at the haunted house in the projection room and reappeared on the elevator. Sure, it could've just been some weirdo that wandered in off the streets, but then again, this wasn't a weirdo-security-imposter tour, now was it? Nope. It was a ghost tour so ... GHOST!
Speaking of the return of the dead, the streets of the West End were packed. Seriously. There were so many people down there, you'd swear it was 1992. For a Dallasite, it was equal parts exciting and odd to see so many people willingly hanging out in the West End. But maybe it's not that strange after all -- we do have a Dick's Last Resort - or maybe they were all phantoms from entertainment's past. Who knows? If you get a chance, take the tour. Not only does it help support a local business and fuel a surly tour guide's hobby, it'll also give you a little more insight into this crazy, slightly fucked-up city you choose to call home. And it's guaranteed almost factual!