Sunday, September 06, 2015

Best Tales of Texas Ghosts by Docia Schultz Williams (1998)

My dear Dr. Mystery bought this copy of Best Tales of Texas Ghosts by Docia Schultz Williams (1998) from the author herself when we were on one of her ghost tours of San Antonio as part of an archives conference I was attending. The tour was a little silly, but in a nice way, and Ms. Williams was a wonderful and enthusiastic host.

Although that was nearly ten years ago, I've finally gotten around to doing more than just skimming through the book. Now, I'm not going to say this is a great book or even that anyone interested in ghosts or Texas should read it, but if you are a combination of interested in ghost stories, interested in Texas history, good-natured about Texas ladies of a certain generation, and patient enough to handle a little repetition, this is a pretty fun read.

Williams interviewed people from all over the state who witnessed ghosts or unexplained phenomena at their properties. She combines these first-hand accounts with extensive research in local newspapers and, in some cases, in-person visits to the properties themselves. The book is organized by region and covers the entire state, although the majority of the stories come from the Dallas and San Antonio areas. As an archivist, the background research she did on small Texas towns and their historic properties is probably the most interesting part of the book, and Williams includes photographs that help illustrate the locations. While the stories themselves generally fall into a few preset categories (strange noises! cold spots! smell of perfume! seeing a woman wearing old fashioned clothes! things disappearing and reappearing!) some of them stand out from the crowd a bit and there is always enough variety to keep things a little interesting.

My one big criticism is Williams descriptions of people held under slavery (characterized more as "servants" with much of the cruelty glossed over or ignored) and Native American tribes (seen only as terrorizing bad guys who threatened the safety of the white settlers). This doesn't come up in every story but it made me cringe a little every time it did. This isn't unusual or even bad-intentioned, but it does date the author and take away from the impact of some of the tales.

To end things on a positive note, I'm going to share one of Williams' ghost poems, which are sprinkled throughout the book. She read several of these on our ghost tour and they were so sweet that Dr. M and I still quote one of them all the time ("At the Inn they call the Menger..."):

"Ghosts" by Docia Williams

Ghosts fly high... and ghosts fly low...
Where they come from we don't know...
Ghosts take off in roaring flight,
Most often in the dead of night.
They're often felt in spots of cold,
You feel their presence, we've been told. 
Some are large, and some are small,
Some, merely shadows on the wall.
Some are friendly, some are bad...
Some are playful, others sad.
They're often heard, on creaking floors,
Opening windows, slamming doors!
Wails and moans they sometimes make,
Making us poor mortals quake!
They like all kinds of dreary places,
Houses, churches, and open spaces....
Sometimes they swell in mist and fold, 
They're heard, we're told, in howls of dogs....
Some, balls of fire seen in the night,
All in black, or dressed in white; 
Some show a glimpse of shadowy faces,
Then, they're gone. They leave no traces
To ever let us mortals know
Where they come from... or where they go....

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