Are ghosts real? A true tale

We saw something weird that night. Whether they were spirits, who knows? Something spooked us.

In the center of Waxahachie, a town of some 30,000 about 30 miles south of Dallas where movies such as Tender Mercies and Places in the Heart were filmed, stands the Catfish Plantation. The restaurant, converted from a Victorian house built in 1895 where former Major League Baseball manager and player Paul Richards — among others — was born, serves a wide variety of Southern Cajun-style cuisine, notably blackened catfish, chicken fried steak, sweet potato fries, fried dill pickles, and bread pudding.

The eatery also serves as a backdrop for some wild tales of the paranormal, some of which have been chronicled by the likes of the Travel Channel and Dallas television programs. In 1984, restaurateurs Tom and Melissa Baker converted the empty house. Weird things happened as workers disturbed the cobwebs.

One morning, Melissa arrived to find a large steel tea urn in the middle of the floor, well away from where it had been the previous evening. Another time, she smelled coffee brewing as she unlocked the door and discovered a fresh pot waiting for her in the kitchen.

Upon opening for business, employees reported a can of chives flying off the shelf, a fry basket levitating in the kitchen, a glowing blue light illuminating an empty room, and the ghostly figure of a bride by a front window, among other strange occurrences. Paranormal investigators concluded there were several friendly but mischievous spirits haunting the building. One named Elizabeth Anderson reportedly appeared during a seance held by a local psychic. She had allegedly been strangled by a jealous ex-lover in the dwelling on the day of her wedding around 1920 and is believed to be the ghostly bride looking out the bay window. She’s also known to follow some customers to their home or lodging.

A farmer named Will Anderson, the father of Elizabeth, died there in the 1930s. Some said they spotted his figure on the front porch dressed in overalls before vanishing. Caroline Mooney, who lived in the house from 1953 until 1970, is another presence cited. Some have witnessed a fourth spirit, Lola Roller, who was reportedly murdered nearby in 1929.

The place burned in 2003 but was rebuilt. During renovations, workers said tools disappeared or were moved. As one worker put up a pane of glass, he noticed writing in dust on the window that read, “Don’t be scared.”

In 2007, the Bakers sold the restaurant to family friends, including Ann and Richard Landis. They invited researchers with the Association for the Study of Unexplained Phenomenon, who employed high-tech equipment to confirm some ghostly presences. While filming a segment for the Travel Channel, several people observed an apparition behind an investigator as he spoke with them that had seemed to materialize from a nearby restroom. It reportedly vanished when someone pointed out its existence.

Customers continue to report instances of silverware moving, strange voices, restroom lights going on and off by themselves, and more. Workers continue to get interrupted, plates knocked out of their hands, ovens turned off, dishes flying. “When something raises up into the air in front of your face, it doesn’t register in your mind,” Shawn Sparks, an executive chef there, told a CBS television affiliate in 2016. “You think, ‘Wait, no, that’s not supposed to happen.’ And then you look at the person next to you, and they’re like, ‘Yes. We saw it, too.’ And you’re like, ‘Thank God! I don’t need a CAT scan!’”

Personal experience

Growing up in Dallas and working for newspapers such as The Dallas Morning News, I was curious enough to visit the Catfish Plantation several times. I never experienced anything out of the ordinary there, but did so in a bed and breakfast about a block away.

In October 1996, I visited Waxahachie to write a Halloween-themed article about how cities used haunted attractions to draw visitors. My then-wife, Michelle, and I visited several haunted attractions, including Screams Halloween Theme Park in Waxahachie. We slept one night at the Chaska House, a Victorian Revival-style bed and breakfast converted from a 1900 home just down the street from the Catfish Plantation.

We went to sleep before midnight not expecting anything unusual. But around 2 a.m., I woke up, hearing laughter. I first glanced over at Michelle. To my horror and surprise, her eyes were wide open. A look of fear dominated her face as she fixed her gaze above the bed.

Then I heard the distinct sound of laughter again. It was high-pitched like an adolescent. I heard a voice say something like, “Look, she’s scared.” And then laugh.

I looked up and observed some ghostly figures flying in a figure-eight motion above the bed near the ceiling, a mere few feet away. There were at least two, maybe three. They looked like wisps of light for their bodies, with detailed faces. One had the face of a young woman with gentle, laughing eyes and straight hair that she wore close to her head. She appeared to be in a frock decorated with embroidery and lace. Could that have been Elizabeth, the Catfish Plantation spirit who reportedly liked to travel around town?

Needless to say, I was surprised, but only slightly frightened. I wondered if I was dreaming for a moment. I had read about ghost stories since I was a kid and heard a few tales from my mom that were interesting. She believed she had seen the spirit of my older sister, who had died when she was only nine. I had also covered stories of psychics and haunted houses, including about the late Dallas medium Frances Baskerville and Maryland investigative medium Laine Crosby.

But I hadn’t seen or heard a ghost until this incident. I was fascinated and sat up, trying to look closer to make sure I was really seeing this. Before I could form any questions, I glanced again at Michelle, who seemed frozen in fear. I told our visitors to leave in a fairly loud, firm voice. They did, seemingly vanishing in the air.

I arose, looked outside the bedroom, and didn’t see anything. The following morning, Michelle and I told the Chaska House host what we had seen and asked if others had ever reported any similar incidents. He said they had, but unlike the Catfish Plantation, they didn’t like to publicize their ghostly visits. He said similar reports came from several other century-old homes in the Waxahachie area.

I haven’t heard or seen anything like that myself since 1996 — at least nothing that clear. As I think back on this, trying to figure out if it could have been joint imagination figments or what, all I know is it seemed real at the time. And it seemed real to Michelle as well. We weren’t trying to provoke a paranormal experience when it occurred. Neither of us had been drinking or taking prescribed or illicit drugs.

Numerous others have reported strange sightings and occurrences in that town and many other cities worldwide. A survey of 2,000 people released this month by Groupon found that more than 60 percent believed they had seen a ghost at some point in their lives. The top response upon apparently seeing an apparition was to scream and run away, with some crying, hiding, and fainting.

Me, I was curious more than anything after getting over the initial surprise. I’ve seen enough weird stuff in this world to not get too freaked out by the unexpected. I just wish I had thought to grab my camera before telling those otherworldly visitors to leave.

Written for 45+ newspapers/mags. Written some books — see Visited 48 states, 30+ countries.

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