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Ghosts live on in Galveston legend

Amelia Rayno, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Travel News

During breakfast at the counter of an off-the-beaten path nook called Sonny's Place, we asked the 89-year-old proprietor if he had any ghost stories.

"No," he said, "no ghosts," dismissing the topic quickly.

Along the Strand, the name given to the town's historic core, we talked to everyone we met, from the Old Strand Emporium, a general store featuring an ice cream shop, to La King's Confectionery, a candy shop with wooden floors and exposed brick walls. In a contemporary section of town, we looked for clues in clothing boutiques and hipster coffee shops.

After lunch -- a feast of crawfish and whole crabs at Benno's on the Beach -- we checked out a handful of antique shops and chatted with the cashiers. One chuckled at our unearthly query.

"There's been a lot of talk about that," she said. "But I haven't seen anything."

Elsewhere, though, the theme was pretty steadily reinforced.

HANDPRINTS ON THE VANITY

Between strolls along the city's dramatic sea wall and down the pleasure pier, where we played the midway and downed sugary slushies, we learned more about Galveston's calamitous past. The 1900 storm had killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people. Afterward, bodies lined the streets. As many as 4,000 were burned on the beach, the smell drifting all the way to Houston 50 miles away, according to stories. As for the remainder, the city's mayor instructed the islanders to "bury them where you find them."

"So they're under every block," said Blake, a tour guide who gave us a horse-carriage ride through palm-lined neighborhoods replete with Victorian mansions. "When they do roadwork, they're always pulling up a femur or something."

In a city that has been dealt more than its fair share of pain, the sad stories run deep. Perhaps none is more crushing than the tale of the St. Mary's orphanage. During the 1900 storm, the nuns tied groups of children together with clotheslines and fastened the lines to themselves in an effort to keep track of the 90 kids. It proved a fateful strategy. When the building collapsed, the nuns were sucked into the powerful water surge. Only two children survived.

Today, a Walmart occupies the spot.

"People who work there will come in in the morning and there will be bicycles in the grocery section, Barbie dolls opened and played with," Blake said. 'They can't get anybody to work there."

Back at the Tremont House, the eeriness persisted. Each night, something would rustle me from sleep at exactly 4 a.m. I'd stay awake then until it was time to get up, pierced by the thought that something -- or someone -- was near. Once I thought I felt something brush against my arm, then my face. My travel companion had similar experiences.

Were they with us? Or had we just become brainwashed with the thought?

We told the Tremont House bartender about our shuddering bathroom door. She smiled.

"That's a new one," she said.

She encouraged us to take photos around the hotel. Unseen spirits sometimes show up in photos, she said.

The night before we left, I took a handful of snaps. By the bar. In the elevators. In the corners of the rooms. And in the mirror in our shuddering-door bathroom.

As we drove away from the city, I studied them.

Everything appeared normal. No shadowy figures. No faces in the shower curtain. No man in the mirror.

... But wait.

Had I made that handprint above the vanity?

I zoomed again and took another look. The finger marks spread wide as if someone had held up a hand to stop something. I didn't remember touching the mirror in this way.

I put my phone away, but the thought persisted. The tingles had returned.

Surely it was one of our hands. Whose else could it have been?

Unless ...

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