Monthly Archives: October 2017

Spooky Devil’s Backbone Tavern

In today’s post, Michael O. Varhola, author of Ghosthunting San Antonio, Austin, and Texas Hill Country, shares with us his experiences when visiting the spooky Devil’s Backbone Tavern.

One spot that travelers might want to visit along the Devil’s Backbone—a haunted highway in the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio—is the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, a watering hole located on the site of an old Indian campground and what was once a stagecoach stop. It is patronized by ranchers, bikers, and locals (including the late paranormal author Bert Wall). It’s even the subject of a song. The “Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern” was written by musician Todd Snider after he spent a summer in the 1980s performing there on Friday nights.

Devil's Backbon Tavern

Devil’s Backbone Tavern is not generally open at times when I am conducting paranormal investigation along the haunted highway, but I have stopped there for a beer and chatted about the history of the establishment and paranormal phenomena people have experienced there. Tavern staff, in fact, readily acknowledge that it is haunted and are generally happy to talk about its resident spirits, as I was pleased to discover when my wife and I stopped there with some friends in September 2014.

We ordered beers and then explored the small taproom, large dancehall, and primitive restroom facilities while chatting with the bartender, Lincoln, about some of the things she and others have experienced at the tavern. She pointed out a number of interesting details to us, including a protrusion shaped like a devil’s face in the rock of the wall above the fireplace, signs acknowledging the presence of ghosts, and some pictures of deceased patrons—one framed photo once flew off the wall and struck the wife of the person shown in it when she was complaining about him! She also said that the jukebox sometimes turns on by itself and, what’s more, starts playing songs people were just talking about.

Other staff and regulars are similarly open about things they have experienced at the tavern, which include hearing disembodied footsteps and female bar staff feeling invisible hands touching
their hair.

“It felt a little spooky last night,” bartender Melaine Walker posted to the “Devil’s Backbone Tavern (Ir)Regulars” Facebook page in November 2014. “I opened the doors because it was so muggy and the next thing I saw was this weird fog swirling around in the bar. Creepy when you’re all alone! It was swirling above the shuffleboard, came up behind me and over my head as I was cleaning it.” She went on to say she thought it might have been the spirit of her deceased father, who had frequented the tavern.

“I actually have a picture of that kind of fog,” Lila McCall responded about something she experienced at the tavern around 2008. “It’s a distinct human shape.”

There is no guarantee that you will experience any of these things if you visit the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, but there is a chance that you will—and, at the least, you can enjoy a cold one and chat about the ghosts whom many believe to be present there.

Minnesota State Fairgrounds

Today we join the authors of the  Twin Cities Haunted Handbook on a trip to the Minnesota State Fair!

History: The first state fair to occur on these fairgrounds started on September 7, 1885. The site was chosen because it was about halfway between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Each city had previously had its own fair, and the state wanted to hold just one giant fair everyone could attend. As the years have passed and attendance has increased, the Minnesota State Fair has become the largest fair in the United States in terms of daily attendance.

On September 7, 1901, a week to the day before becoming President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt made an appearance at the Minnesota State Fair.

During this appearance, he made the most famous statement of his career: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Many of the buildings and rides in the fairgrounds have been around for many years. The oldest ride in the fairgrounds, Ye Old Mill, was built in 1915. It is a series of dark tunnels that you float through on a small boat. Children’s music plays in the background, and small fairy tale scenes are displayed from time to time throughout the ride.

Strange Things Are Happening When Riding Ye Old Mill

Ghost story: A couple ghosts supposedly haunt the fairgrounds. The first ghost is that of a young blond man who is always spotted in the grandstand area. While many times this young man is seen at night, he is also occasionally seen in broad daylight. Witnesses who encounter this apparition see him walking around before he mysteriously vanishes into thin air. He is seen most often near a small building behind the grandstand stage that the employees refer to as “The Bunker.”

The other ghost haunts the area around Ye Old Mill ride at the fairgrounds just off Wright Avenue, adjacent to the grandstand. For many years, a man named Wayne Murray was a maintenance worker at Ye Old Mill ride. Murray passed away in 1986, and soon after his death, something strange began to happen at the fairgrounds. Every year since 1986, a small brown bird flies into the fairgrounds and disappears into Ye Old Mill ride. Those who have witnessed this bird appear year after year for the fair say that it is perhaps the ghost of Wayne Murray, keeping an eye on the ride that he spent so much time working on.

Other witnesses report strange things happening while riding Ye Old Mill ride. People will feel a presence behind them in the boat even though there is no one there. Others feel someone tap them on their shoulder despite there being no one behind them.

Twin Cities Haunted Handbook
Twin Cities Haunted Handbook

Visiting: The fairgrounds are open for the Minnesota State Fair for 12 days a year. The fair ends on Labor Day, so it typically runs from the end of August until Labor Day in September. This is the only time that you are able to actually ride Ye Old Mill ride. The fairgrounds are open from time to time throughout the rest of the year, though, as other events are regularly held at the fairgrounds. These other events are constantly changing, so you need to check the schedule on their Web site in order to tell when the grounds are open to the public.

Directions: From St. Paul, take I-94 North for about 3 miles to exit 238, Snelling Avenue. At the end of the exit ramp, turn right onto Snelling Avenue. Follow Snelling Avenue for a little more than 2 miles. The Minnesota State Fairgrounds will be on your left. They are huge and you can’t miss them. To get to the grandstand, take a left onto Dan Patch Avenue.

Address: 1265 North Snelling Avenue N., St. Paul, Minnesota

Photo credit: By BenFranske (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Lonely Ghosts of Foscue Plantation House

Kala Ambrose, author of  Spirits of New Orleans and Ghosthunting North Carolina, shares with us the story of the lonely Ghosts of Foscue Plantation House.

Simon Foscue once made his living serving as a justice of the peace. He later expanded his career by building the Foscue Plantation House in 1804. At one time, the plantation spanned more than 10,000 acres. During the Civil War, the Foscue Plantation was taken over by Union troops and used as a hospital. Historic records show that in this area of North Carolina along the Trent River, Union troops destroyed all other houses in the vicinity. For a long period of time after the war, Foscue Plantation was the only house still standing in the area.

Apparitions of wounded soldiers and slaves in chains are reported around the Foscue Plantation House.

Traveling out to see the plantation, I couldn’t help but think about its history, a place of bondage for 40 slaves who worked on the plantation; a hospital for soldiers, many of whom undoubtedly died on the grounds; and a house ransacked by Union soldiers and then left alone, depleted and desolate after the war.

Here I was again, traveling to a home that had been built by a family who would end up having to flee to find safety during the Civil War. This War Between the States may have been the event most directly responsible for creating so many ghosts in the South—at no other time did brother fight against brother across this land.

As I approached the plantation home,
it appeared smaller to me than I had pictured it on the ride. While it certainly isn’t a small cottage by any means (the house has three floors and a basement), it just seemed too small to have held such sorrow.

The home itself is beautifully restored, and the architecture is quite interesting, including the bricks of the home, which were made by hand on the property. The house has remained in family ownership for eight generations, which is a testament to the strength and commitment of the family, who undoubtedly had to struggle to make ends meet for some time after the war.

The small graveyard located behind the home includes the grave of John Foscue and reminds one of the many deaths this place has seen over the years. Iron gates greeted me at the entrance to the plantation. There are several magical theories about iron, which state that iron can be used as a barrier to contain spirits in one space.

Apparitions of wounded soldiers and slaves in chains are reported around the home and grounds. While walking around the area, I could feel a presence watching me. It felt like a guardian, who kept a watchful eye for the slaves and was still attached to the land. It’s hard for me to shake the sadness I felt on this land; it still haunts me to this day.

Photo credit:
Front view by Government & Exterior, Heritage Library, State Library of NC from Raleigh, NC, United States [CC BY 2.0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Close-up by Tradewinds (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons