The name of Sam Bass lives on in Texas folklore as a beloved railroad Robinhood bandit betrayed in his darkest hours by his good boo pard, but such Wild West pulp fiction is betrayed by a haunted history of two Texas youths entangled in the post-Civil War Reconstruction chaos of poverty, desperation, and lawlessness. These ghosts of Denton remind us of a dark past when our outlaws became heroes.
Archive for the ‘Denton Ghost Stories’ Category
Denton’s beloved Campus Theater isn’t just a place to enjoy wonderful community plays, it is also the haunt for one of Denton’s guardian spirits, Mr. Harrison! Over the years, Denton has showcased numerous entertainment venues like the regal Wright Opera House (now home to Recycled Books) and movie cinemas in Andy’s Paschall Building as well as the infamous 1920s-50s “Theater Row” on the West side of the Denton Square. The Campus Theater was opened in 1949 with the film I Was A Male War Bride starring Dentonite Ann Sheridan and Cary Grant, then later hosted Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s red-carpet world premiere of Bonnie & Clyde in 1967. The theater closed in 1985 for almost 10 years before being remodeled to house the Denton Community Theater, which is about to celebrate its 43rd consecutive season as one of the oldest such groups in the nation. In 2009, the building was designated a Texas Historical Landmark.
J.P. Harrison was the Texas Interstate Theaters’ business manager for The Campus Theater when it first opened, known for sharply dressing in a gray suit and his wily sense of humor. He famously constructed elaborate lobby displays with local high school drama clubs and was an active civic leader. Theater folk are a superstitious bunch and Harrison is also said to have had great fun in pranking his employees… a proclivity that has not ended even after his passing! There are many stories of this mischievous manager continuing to startle performers and patrons with ghostly footsteps patrolling the halls, relocating objects in offices and onstage, or tinkering with the lights during late night rehearsals, but it’s considered bad luck if a production does NOT experience Mr. Harrison’s ghost! Needless to say, most shows have been very successful indeed.
The DENTON HAUNTS GHOST TOUR will share some of these hair-raising encounters during our twilight ghost walk of the haunted Denton Square!! LIKE us on Facebook to to stay up-to-date on our tour schedule!
Is Denton haunted by a forgotten past? Come hear acclaimed “American Masterpiece” storyteller Shelly Tucker spin tales about local spirits and lingering spectres in a haunted history of historic downtown Denton! This 1-hour walking tour of the Denton Square begins at the gravesite of John B. Denton on the courthouse lawn, cost is $10 per person.
Shelly’s Summer DENTON HAUNTS Ghost Walk tour will be on Fridays & Saturdays at 9:00pm, so you can reserve a space and stay current on tour happenings if you “Like” us on Facebook for schedule updates and special offers! Hope to see you there… and share with a hundred of your closest Facebook friends! You’ll need a hand to hold!
DENTON HAUNTS is ready to dish Halloween scares on the Denton Square! This week features the ghost walk tour starting on Thursday October 27 through Friday and Saturday Oct. 28 & 29 starting at 7pm, then TWO tours on All Hallow’s Eve Monday at 7pm and 9pm!! Admission is a donation of $10, and there will be a special invitation for Sunday October 30 exclusive to Facebook friends of DENTON HAUNTS, so ‘like’ us and we’ll like ya back!
Special thanks to Texas storyteller Shelly Tucker for her gracious review, and don’t forget the other Halloween happenings around Denton! Have a happy and safe holiday, we hope to see you on the tour!
Several famous Dentonians merit special attention because their ghosts continue to influence the community they loved so much. The wandering ghost of Nurse Betty from the old Homer Flow Memorial Hospital has not been deterred by the student housing on Scripture Hill that replaced the free community clinic, where her spirit after death still ministers those in need. Nurse Betty has been sighted tending to the victims of car accidents near Fry Street and spooking away stalkers of women near the UNT campus. Likewise patrolling Denton streets is the benevolent Blind Sheriff Hodges and his boxer Candy, and Emily Fowler is still found in the library that bears her name well after her 1971 death! There are also also tales of more malevolent predators from Denton’s past, such as the Manson Family’s Charles “Tex” Watson, the still-unsolved mystery of the murdered Flower Girl, the horrifying trail of Texas serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, and the Texarkana Phantom‘s possible TWU victims.
Denton has numerous ghosts, but none are as famous as the ghoul of the Old Alton Bridge, built in 1884 to connect Alton (the county seat prior to Denton) and Lewisville near what is now Argyle. Well-known by locals as “Goatman’s Bridge,” this oldest Denton legend has it that a turn-of-the-century goat farmer named Oscar Washburn lived with his family near the bridge and was an honest Black entrepreneur to his neighbors. After he posted a sign “This way to the Goatman” on the popular passageway, outraged Ku Klux Klansmen dragged him from his homestead and hanged him by throwing him from the bridge BUT were shocked to find only an empty noose dangling below. The panicked Night Riders brutally murdered his family by burning their shanty and rumors of devil worship soon circulated. However, while some versions date events around August of 1938, there are older accounts that date the origins even earlier to a late 1800s Argyle Goatman named Jack Kendall, the work of drunken cowboys during the pre-bridge 1860s “Texas Terror” lynchings, or perhaps a 1895 Denton lynching that preceded the Quakertown eviction. Regardless of the true origin date, mysterious apparitions and unexplained disappearances have plagued the bridge area for generations. Denton locals still tell the story of this half man, half beast wraith to their children and follow it with a warning: those who cross the bridge and thrice rap on its steel trusses, or any who turn off their lights and honk 3 times in summons, will be visited by the ghostly Goatman. Particularly vulnerable, the old-timers say, are the unsuspecting descendants of Ku Klux Klan whom the vengeance-seeking Goatman ravenously preys upon and spirits away. Or is this fearsome horned creature with glowing red eyes a Satanic stalker of wayward women preceded by an overwhelming stench of death? Eyewitness accounts also tell of a ghostly woman, thought to be the Goatman’s murdered wife, roaming the woods searching for her slain children but eagerly claiming any youth she encounters. This haunted location and its eerie experiences have been featured in numerous books, paranormal investigations, and even TV programs such as “Unexplained Mysteries.”
Universities are often sites of hauntings, and the University of North Texas in Denton is no exception. UNT’s Bruce Hall is purported to be haunted by at least three different spirits: a ghost named “Wanda” who frequents the fourth floor and attic, the mischievous “elevator-surfer,” and the basement‘s “Boiler Room Bill.” The Student Union is also rumored to be home to a ghost nicknamed “Brandy” who turns lights or office equipment on and off, locks doors, and disturbs papers on desks. Maple Hall has its own spirit called “Brenda” roaming an outside alleyway, while the Health Center has reports of a forlorn shirtless guy on occasion and the Crumley Hall Screamer continues to spook students.
Details for these stories will be revealed on the DENTON HAUNTS & GHOST TOUR!
This past Friday, Texas Woman’s University hosted a Ghost Stories Tour for their freshman Pioneer Camp and shared some of their fabled campus hauntings. TWU‘s haunted spaces include the moaning voices of Old Main, The Music building’s mysterious melodies, the vanishings of Hubbard Hall, Stoddard Hall’s mischievous phantom, The Little Chapel in the Woods’ hooded lady, the spirit of Dr. John in Guinn Hall, and many more! Fun was had by all, but even veteran tour guides admitted to some of their own eerie encounters.
DENTON HAUNTS is privy to the true stories and chilling events behind many of these hauntings at TWU and UNT, some of which will be shared in our Haunted History Tour discussion of Denton’s Emily Fowler Library and TWU’s Quakertown connections.
Denton’s first radio station, KDNT, has a rich history intimately tied to the Denton Square. Virgil William “V. W.” Shepard, a carpenter by trade, had no intention to go into funeral services but, because he was frequently called upon to build wooden coffins, this turned into a long-term lucrative family business and partnership known as “McGill and Shepard Furniture and Undertaking.” The turn-of-the-century business was first set up on the west side of the Denton town square (where the Fine Arts Theater is now located) and later known as Shepard Furniture and Embalming, then Shepard Funeral Home. V.W.’s son Harwell Shepard was an amateur radio enthusiast who set out to establish Denton’s very own radio station in the early 1930s.
By 1947, after several incarnations, KDNT moved to the former site of Harwell Shepard’s parents’ funeral home and personal residence. The funeral home operated on the first floor, while his parents’ residence was upstairs. Originally constructed in 1921, the Hickory Street location was remodeled to house KDNT after an upstairs fire and dubbed “Radio Center.” Shepard, proud of both of his business ventures—funeral home and radio station—once said, “I talk ‘em to death, then I bury ‘em.” According to KDNT’s oral history:
The Hickory Street studios were not without their share of excitement. Several former employees had encounters with a ghost at Radio Center. Betty Whatley, wife of late Chief Engineer Hal Whatley, explains: “(Hal) was working late one night at the console, probably doing his Saturday night program, when a young woman walked in. She was wearing a long, gray dress and a fancy hat, like those worn in the 1800s. Her perfume had a strong, terrible odor. As she crossed the room and approached Hal, she never said a word. As Hal was about to speak to her, she turned and walked away, then disappeared. Hal searched everywhere, but found that he was alone. He said she couldn’t have come in from outside because all of the doors were locked.” 1970s News Director Roger Daniel recalls the same: “My theory was that she was the original news director checking by to see if they were ever going to update the equipment! Although I did not believe in ghosts, I never saw her, but yet Hal had me so spooked (that) I’d be afraid to go to sleep at night.” Even 1960s nighttime DJ Bill Orton reported seeing the same ghost several times around midnight.
This address now houses the offices of Denton’s DATCU Credit Union or First Bank, yet reports of restless specters persist to this day! Not too far away, the studio of Denton’s Grammy-winning legendaries Brave Combo experience their own phantom christened “The Dude”, perhaps influencing their 2003 album “Box of Ghosts“!?!
The Barrow brothers had amassed a certain ‘reputation’ in North Texas as small-time thieves, so they were often pursued by police and Denton was one of their favorite hideaway haunts. On November 29 of 1929, with some moonshine under their belts, the barely-20 Clyde with his brother Buck Barrow and a third man named Sydney burglarized the Motor Mark Garage just off the Denton Square. Unable to open the safe, they loaded it into their stolen car and proceeded erratically through town until a curious squadcar sparked a high-speed chase. Clyde tried to take a corner too fast and slammed into a light pole, where the force of the crash threw everyone out of the car. Police set up a dragnet to catch the fleeing thieves, and Buck was captured when wounded in a shootout and subsequently sent to prison in Eastham for a five-year term. Only the slippery Clyde eluded police by hiding under a vacant house and hitchhiking back to Dallas.
In January of 1930, Clyde Barrow’s life changed when he called on a sick friend in Dallas where he met a Marco’s Cafe waitress named Bonnie Parker. Bonnie became aware of Clyde’s past when the “laws” rousted him from her bed a month later and took him back to Denton about the Motor Mark Garage heist. When prosecutors could not make the charges stick, police transferred him to Waco where fingerprints linked him to several burglaries and car thefts. He was convicted and sentenced to two years on each count. In March 1930, using a gun smuggled to him by Bonnie Parker (who walked into the Waco jail with a gun strapped to her thigh), Clyde escaped with two others from the McClellan County jail and his career as an outlaw began in earnest.
The story of Bonnie and Clyde is then a series of barely successful robberies, usually accompanied by unnecessary and ruthless violence. In fact, the mostly small-time outlaws never robbed anything but greasy spoons, gas stations and a handful of rural banks. They largest take for any of their forays barely crested the $1,500 mark.
Bonnie and Clyde used the secluded areas north of Grapevine’s Denton Creek and Denton County for sometimes hiding out or meeting friends and family between crime sprees, and several members of their gang through the years hailed from Denton. Clyde Barrow’s Gang aborted their plan to rob two banks on the Denton Square on April 11 of 1932 after spotting two Texas Rangers staking out the area on a tip. (Ironically, ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly robbed his first bank in Denton later that same year.) The wily lovers eluded capture until a friend named Henry Methvin cooperated with police to set up a trap. Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and a posse set up a roadblock in rural Louisiana on May 23, 1934. The posse awaited the arrival of Parker and Barrow’s car then ambushed the outlaws with a hail of gunfire. 187 bullets were pumped into Bonnie and Clyde, who died with guns in their hands but never had a chance to fire a shot. In all, Bonnie and Clyde had committed 200 robberies in twenty states and killed at least thirteen people, including nine law enforcement officers, during their reign of terror.
Clyde was buried in a West Dallas cemetery on May 25 next to his brother Buck. Thousands of onlookers were present, some snatching the flowers from his grave. Bonnie’s mother refused to have Bonnie buried next to Clyde and so she was buried on May 27 at the West Dallas Fishtrap Cemetery. Numerous bridges around North Texas were named after the duo, presumed to help their escapes. On October of 1967 the world premiere of “Bonnie and Clyde,” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, was held in Denton’s Campus Theatre since much of it had been filmed in and around Denton and rural North Texas. Some say the ghost of Clyde Barrow has been spotted in Denton’s old City Hall jail, his doomed spirit sentenced to an eternity between the violence-tainted haunts he terrorized in life.
Sam Bass is one of the more notorious outlaws from in and around DFW, and his story is intimately tied to Denton’s history. As an Old West legend, the accounts of the life of “Texas’ Beloved Bandit” or “Robin Hood on a Fast Horse” (documented for cowboy firesides in “The Ballad of Sam Bass”) are as varied as the number of folks telling the tale, but few disagree that his story begins in Denton County around 1870. Young orphan Sam handled horses in the stables of the Lacy House Hotel on the Denton Square and later worked for Denton County Sheriff William F. ‘Uncle Bill’ Egan caring for livestock, cutting firewood, building fences, and spending time as a freighter between Denton County and the railroad towns of Dallas and Sherman. Bass soon became enamored with horse racing and, after acquiring a fleet filly that became known across Texas as “The Denton Mare” in 1874, he turned his attention to professional racing and gambling after an ultimatum from Egan (who would later hunt the outlaw). Competing his speedy mare around the territories, the charming rogue quickly fell in with thieving scoundrels headed north after squandering earnings and in 1877 he and the Collins brothers along with three others held up an eastbound Union Pacific passenger train in Big Springs, Nebraska. The gang stole a jaw-dropping sum of $60,000 in newly minted twenty-dollar gold pieces (still to this day the largest single robbery of the Union Pacific Railroad) and $1,300 plus four gold watches from the passengers. After dividing the loot, the bandits decided to go in pairs in different directions so Sam made his way back to Denton County disguised as an itinerant farmer.
The fate of Sam’s impressive cut of the heist has fueled treasure-hunter legends about hidden gold in “Sam Bass’ Cave” for years, since by 1878 his Sam Bass Gang quickly resumed a crime wave of robbing stagecoaches and trains within twenty-five miles of Dallas while hiding out in the thickets of the rural Denton County area. One account has the bandits’ horses confiscated to Denton after Sheriff Egan spooked their camp, only to be reclaimed at sunrise by a mounted Sam awakening Egan by playfully exclaiming to his former employer: “Wake up, Bill! I hear there’s thieving scallywags roaming these parts!” Within mere months, the Sam Bass Gang were soon wanted outlaws who led the Texas Rangers and railway-hired Pinkerton Men on a spirited chase across North Texas. Before Sam met his legendary end in Round Rock, Texas on his twenty-seventh birthday later that year, however, there was a very notable encounter with his pursuers on the Denton Square that will be included on the tour (along with accounts of Sam Bass’ ghost continuing to haunt Denton County in search of his hidden gold and to torment the lingering spirit of his ‘Judas‘ Jim Murphy)! The legend was immortalized in the cowboy Ballad of Sam Bass, making him a Texas hero. Stay tuned!