Deep in the Haunted Texas

Haunted TexasTexas is known for many things—cowboys, cowgirls, cowboy boots, cowboy hats, cows and ghosts. Ghosts? Yep. Ghosts. Whether you believe in spooks or not, what could be more fun this Halloween, than exploring some of the “haunted” spots in the Lone Star state? Let’s stop off at two of my favorite Texas cities, Fort Worth and San Antonio and see what we can scare up!

Now, before we get into this subject, there’s something you need to know about me. I’m a little bit of a… Oh, how can I put this? Well, I’m a yellow-bellied-lily-livered-chicken. There. I said it. So, if it’s all the same to you, let’s hold hands while we go ghost hunting. I’ve got the flashlight all ready!

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Haunt Texas

Fort Worth may be best known for its Stockyards, but it is also known for its hauntings! Ghost tours are big business in Cowtown! Here are a couple of the popular stops:

The Stock Exchange Building—The Stock Exchange was built in 1902, when the cattle industry was booming. Smack dab in the Stockyards, the Stock Exchange Building housed telegraph and post offices, railroad offices, commission businesses and four monstrous vaults. It is the current home to a few businesses, the Stockyard museum and, if the stories are to be believed, a couple of ghosts!

Haunted Stock Exchange

One of those ghosts is reported to be that of a little girl who died in an upstairs vault. While visiting her father at work, in the early 1900’s, she went exploring. Thinking she had trotted on home, her father didn’t become alarmed until he arrived home and found her gone. Her body was discovered the following morning. Security guards report that the ghost of a young girl can sometimes be spotted in an attic window. There’s even a story about a tiny handprint in the condensation on a window that is going to require you to hold my hand a little more tightly! I’m skeered!

Miss Molly’s B & B—Miss Molly’s Bed and Breakfast sits about a block west of the old Stockyards. This B & B has a colorful past! In 1910, it was a boarding house. During prohibition, it was a speakeasy. By the 1940’s, it was a bordello. When the government cracked down on prostitution, the building was sold. The ground floor became the Star Café and the upper floors became Miss Molly’s.Miss Molly's B&B

Good golly, Miss Molly! The building is considered to be one of the most haunted buildings in Texas. Manifestations have included:

  • A young girl, looking to be about 8 or 9-yrs-old, has appeared to the owners of the B&B.
  • A visitor reportedly awoke in the middle of the night, to see a seductive blond sitting on the edge of his bed.
  • People report feeling cold spots and smelling perfume where they should just smell air!
  • Toilets flush when no one is there and lights turn on and off.
  • Someone is a big tipper because coins have appeared in rooms that were just cleaned.

Ballad of the Alamo Ghosts

San Antonio is not about to be outdone by Fort Worth. Here are my two favorite ghostly spots in San Antonio:

The Alamo—Remember the Alamo? Well, it’s hard to forget it with a bunch of Alamo ghosts keeping tourists on their toes! Franciscan Monks constructed the Alamo between the years of 1718-1724, but it gained its place in the history books in 1835-1836 when it served as the location for the legendary battle for Texas’ independence.The Alamo hauntings are said to have started soon after the Texans’ ill-fated stand. You can’t really blame the guys. I mean, they fought valiantly, only to end up in a mass grave. General Santa Anna ordered Mexican engineers to tear down the Alamo, shortly after the battle. That might have happened if ghostly hands hadn’t emerged from the walls to stop them. ¡Ay, carumba! When a loud, ghostly voice warned the engineers to stop tearing down the Alamo or face a terrible death, the engineers must have decided that it would be a shame to destroy such remarkable architecture!

Alamo Ghosts

Since that time, there have been reports of:

  • Apparitions emerging from the Alamo’s walls to take evening strolls.
  • Sounds of children’s laughter (believed to be the children who died in the Alamo) are often heard at night.
  • Shaking furniture in the Alamo Hall is often reported.
  • An apparition of a cowboy, dressed in 1880’s attire is frequently spotted in the Alamo Hall.
  • Lights go on and off. Windows and doors open and close.
  • An apparition has been spotted running along the top of the Alamo, looking for an escape route. (Now, where’d I put that flashlight?!)

Alamo

The Menger Hotel—Constructed in 1859, the Menger Hotel is almost as steeped in history as the Alamo. It has been a destination of such folks as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Mae West, Babe Ruth and Theodore Roosevelt. It’s also said to be a favorite spot of at least 32 different ghosts! Here are a few of the more notable spooks:

Captain Richard KingCaptain Richard King, the original owner of the King Ranch, was especially fond of the Menger. It is said that he was so fond of it that he’s still there! Over the years, the ghost of Captain King has appeared to guests and hotel employees. It makes sense that he is usually spotted entering the King Suite. Old habits die hard, so he is said to go right through the wall, at the location the door used to be, prior to a remodel!

In life, Sallie White was a maid at the Menger Hotel. She must have been dedicated to her job because she didn’t let a little thing like the fact her husband murdered her prevent her from showing up to work! Sallie White is said to continue to walk the halls, carrying a load of clean towels to deliver to guests. She is said to wear a long, grey skirt, with a bandana tied around her forehead. I’m pretty sure I won’t ask for extra towels during my next stay at the Menger!Menden Hotel

The Menger is in such close proximity to the Alamo that it is believed some of the battle weary ghosts made their way to the luxury hotel. Guests have reportedly spotted a man in a buckskin jacket and grey pants demanding to know, “Are you gonna stay or are you gonna go?” I would be gone before he finished his question!

Yellow (When It Comes To) Ghosts of Texas

Keep in mind that this could have turned into a blog series, but my heart wouldn’t stop palpitatin’. Happy Halloween, from a yellow-bellied-lily-livered-chicken! And remember, the stars at night are big and bright, deep in the haunted Texas!

Here’s a little video about the haunted Menger Hotel . . . enjoy!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

Clever Hans, the Horse Who Could Count

Clever HansA lot of good tales came out of Germany, in the 1800s. Let’s see, there was Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and The Frog Prince. But not all of the great stories were fairy tales transcribed by The Brothers Grimm. One of my favorite stories to come out of Germany in that era, is the tale of Clever Hans. But what makes it all the more special is this: It’s not a fairy tale, it’s a true story! Fasten your seatbelts and lend an ear to one of my favorite horse stories . . . of all time!

Clever Who?

HansWilhelm Von Osten, who was, among other things, a high school mathematics teacher, owned a horse named Clever Hans, who was, among other things, an unusual breed called the Orlov Trotter. In the late 1800s, Wilhelm Von Osten was hard at work testing new mathematical theories and generally trying to be a man of science. He had a background in engineering, but spent a good deal of time studying phrenology, the pseudoscience that essentially believed that we could tell all kinds of things about intelligence and personality by measuring and studying the lumps and bumps of a human skull. Von Osten also bought his first horse, during that time, and named it Hans. Yeah, that horse part doesn’t seem to tie into the science part, but trust me, it does! Von Osten wasn’t just interested in human intelligence. He also pondered the intelligence of animals.

Von Osten, being a man of science and a math teacher, decided to experiment with Hans’ intelligence, and began tutoring Hans in mathematics. And Hans showed some aptitude! It was not long before Von Osten realized that he had more than an ordinary horse named Hans on his hands. He had a very “Clever Hans,” and he gave him that name, after a character in a Grimm’s fairy tale.

Clever HansClever Hans soon learned to count. He could use his hoof to tap out the numbers Von Osten would write on a blackboard. As a public school teacher who was probably accustomed to the blank stares of his students, that had to fill Von Osten’s heart with joy! He had a horse that could recognize numerals 1-9! So, Von Osten stepped up the program.

Before long, Von Osten was training Clever Hans to solve a variety of mathematical problems. He was convinced his horse could even understand square roots and fractions, which, to be honest, can still give me fits! Clever Hans was even said to be able to spell, read, tell time, and understand German, which is not the simplest of languages. He did all of this by tapping out the appropriate answer.

Taking the Show on the Road

Hans in a crowdWhat would you do if you were convinced you had the world’s most clever horse? You guessed it . . . Von Osten took his show on the road! Clever Hans began trotting around Germany, tapping out his answers and astounding audiences. The word spread. Crowds gathered. And Clever Hans just kept tapping away! Clever Hans could answer both written and oral questions. If he had been a child, he would have been tapping at a ninth grade level!

Of course, not everyone believed the horse was actually solving the problems. When the New York Times published a front-page story about Hans, people wanted verification. So, Germany’s board of education formed the Hans Commission to put Clever Hans to the test. The Hans Commission consisted of educators, a psychologist, a horse trainer, a couple of zoologists, and a circus manager who was thrown in for good measure. That was okie-dokie with Von Osten, who was, after all, a man of science. He had nothing to hide! In 1904, the horse was examined and found to be answering correctly approximately 89% of the time, with no trickery involved.

The Clever Hans Effect

HansThe Hans Commission then contacted psychologist Oskar Pfungst, who thought he could provide some insight into Clever Hans’ mad math skills. Pfungst erected a large tent to serve as a sort of isolation booth for his experiments. He compiled a long list of questions. He considered the variables. And, he began testing Clever Hans.

Clever Hans did amazingly well when Wilhelm Von Osten asked the questions. But, then again, he did amazingly well with other questioners. Then, Pfungst threw a monkey wrench into the works. He had the questioners stand farther away. Clever Hans’ ability to answer correctly decreased, although it was still a pretty impressive percentage for a horse.

Hans6Next, Pfungst wanted to see what would happen if the questioner didn’t know the answer to the questions in advance. What happened was that Clever Hans didn’t know the answers to the questions! His grade dropped from a B+ to a Z-! Pfungst studied what happened when the questioner knew the answer, but was hidden from Clever Hans when asking the question. Again, it was discovered that Hans went from Clever Hans to Remedial Hans. Poor Hans.

Pfungst changed the direction of his experiments. He began studying the questioners. What he learned was that the questioners’ breathing, facial expressions, and posture changed each time Clever Hans tapped his hoof. When Clever Hans tapped off the correct answer, the tension disappeared from each questioner’s face. When the questioner did not know the answer in advance, there was no tension.

Von OustenWhile this indicated that Clever Hans had no grasp of math (That’s okay, Hans. Neither do I!), it did show that Clever Hans was a whiz at reading non-verbal cues! Even when the questioners attempted to suppress their non-verbal cues, Clever Hans could still pick up on them.

Today, the term “Clever Hans Effect” is still used by psychologists to describe how a questioner’s intentional or unintentional non-verbal cues can influence a subject. It has led to the “double-blind method” of scientific experimentation, in which researchers and subjects are unaware of many of the details of an experiment until the results have been recorded.

Is a Horse a Horse, of Course of Course?

The Clever Hans EffectWilhelm Von Osten couldn’t accept that his horse wasn’t academically gifted. Remember, he never intended to mislead anyone and Clever Hans did appear to be performing math problems. At any rate, the story of Clever Hans is no fairy tale. The horse had game! And, I believe that any creature that could read non-verbal cues with the expertise of an FBI profiler is still mighty impressive.

You see, a horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse of course. That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Clever Hans. (May the writers of the “Mister Ed” theme song forgive me, but that slight alteration of the original lyrics seemed apropos!)

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

The Long Haired Oregon Wonder Horses

The Oregon Wonder HorsesSometimes life has a way of humbling you. I fancy myself as being a sort of expert when it comes to horses. I mean, I’m not exactly a city slicker. So, when I came across a breed of horse from the 1880’s that I had never heard of before – –  and that looked like something from a fairy tale – –  I was left scratching my head. How in the Sam Hill had the Oregon Wonder horses eluded me up until a few weeks ago? Prior to reading up on this breed, I would have considered them to be as mythical as a unicorn . . . but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

However it happened that I had not heard of the Oregon Wonder horses, I feel it my duty to enlighten those who may not have heard of them either. Or, if you’re already a fan of this breed from the past, you can have the pleasure of feeling smug!

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Long Hair

RapunzelWhat made the Oregon Wonder horses so wondrous? Let’s just say if the breed had a theme song, it would be “Hair,” from the musical of the same name. “Gimme a head with hair—long, beautiful hair. Shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen…” Oh, yeah, the Oregon Wonder horses had enough hair to earn them the reputation of being the Rapunzels of the horse world. If anyone had ever put an Oregon Wonder horse in the top of a fairy-tale tower, a prince could have rescued it simply by climbing up its flowing mane or tail. One stallion had a tail that measured 17 feet long and a mane that measured in at 14 feet.

Tall Tails = Tall Tales

Long-haired horseLegends say that the original Oregon Wonder horses had been captured from a wild herd that roamed freely through the mountains of Oregon. In reality, they appear to have been bred from draft horses. There may have been some Andalusian blood running through the breed, as well. But, let’s get one thing straight. Those were some seriously high maintenance ponies. It’s difficult to imagine that they were ever capable of running wild and free. It would have been like those pretty girls on “Survivor” who try to turn their team bandanas into an entire outfit. Some animals were just never intended to survive in the wild, any more than a dental hygienist from Akron should be expected catch a fish with her bare hands.

Domesticated Oregon Wonder horses slept with their tails and manes in braids to avoid waking up in knots. An unkempt Wonder horse would have looked like a My Little Pony that’s been wedged in the car seat alongside a pile of Cheerios. Therefore, I maintain that the breed was not simply discovered in the wild.

Sideshow Pony or the Mane Event?

Carnival sideshowThe carnival sideshow business was HUGE in the 1880s. And, if you were fortunate, you would find an Oregon Wonder horse touring alongside the muscle men and bearded ladies. These horses drew in big crowds. As was common with sideshows, grand stories accompanied the attractions. That’s likely where the idea of a wild herd of horses with hair resembling Crystal Gayle’s originated.

Perhaps the most famous of the Oregon Wonder horses was Linus. He was known as the Sampson of horses. There was an entire sideshow schpiel surrounding Linus’ ancestry. The sideshow barkers said he been sired by the “Wild King of Oregon Wonder Horses,” who had his own harem of beautiful mares and adventures to rival those of any Western legend. As the story went, Linus’ dam was the exquisite “Oregon Queen.” Her capture led to Linus becoming the first Oregon Wonder horse born in captivity. The boring fact of the matter was that Linus’ dam was named Oregon Beauty and his sire was unknown. But, apparently Americans have long been suckers for a good story about royalty—even of the horse variety. Linus was ¾ Clydesdale, ¼ Percheron. And, from the looks of his photos, he was approximately 96% hair.

LinusLinus was a star! He was bred in about 1884 and, by 1890 he was sold for $30,000 to the Eaton Brothers. The Eaton Brothers were shrewd promoters of the horse, and shrewd businessmen. They told tall tales about Linus’ rapid hair growth (as much as three inches per month) and the beauty regime for Linus (cold water wash with no tonics applied). Linus died in 1894, at the age of ten. But he didn’t die before siring Aurelius and Linus II, who followed in their father’s sideshow footsteps. Aurelius was a regular at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles. Linus II appeared in prestigious venues in New York and also toured the UK, with exhibits in England, Scotland and Ireland.

Blog6In at least one case, a Wonder Horse was still considered an intriguing specimen, even after he died. Prince Imperial, a famous Oregon Wonder Horse who was credited with having the longest mane, was even taxidermied. Stuffed Prince Imperial continued to travel the sideshow circuit. I’m sorry, but I can’t help giggling a little when I imagine a bunch of barefoot kids showing up with their pennies to see a stuffed horse with long hair. When not on the road, Prince Imperial was displayed in his owner’s living room, which, in my opinion, is taking Western decorating too far! He remained in the family for years before changing hands a couple of times. Ultimately, Prince Imperial found a home as a permanent exhibit in Marion, Ohio, at the Heritage Hall.

Hair Yesterday, Gone Today

Wonder horseIt was common for sideshow barkers to say that the Wonder Horses’ tails and manes became more luxurious with each passing generation. How then did the breed become extinct? No one really knows the answer to that. Perhaps it was an issue of the “long hair gene” dying out. However the end came for this curious breed, it is doubtful that it will make a reappearance. But no matter what happened, I hope you’re as delighted as I am to look at the old sepia photos of a remarkable breed, long gone.

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

The Return of Big Tex

Big TexIt has been almost a year since Big Tex, the larger than life cowboy that had presided over the State Fair of Texas, for sixty years, burned to the ground. Since that time, there’s been a lot of chatter about Big Tex coming back to the State Fair, like a Western Phoenix, rising from his (sizable) pile of ashes. Texans have been waiting and speculating. Would he be like the Big Tex everyone knew and loved? Or would he be so changed that he would seem like a stranger beckoning visitors to “The Land of Fried Foods”?

Hey, Texas! It’s a Boy!

Big TexTexans had been growing anxious as the date for the unveiling of the new Big Tex approached. He was supposed to make his grand appearance on September 27, the opening day of the State Fair of Texas. But, the weather had a different date in mind. Proving that the wind doesn’t just come sweeping down the plains of Oklahoma, the massive white draping that concealed the giant cowboy was whipping around like your grandma’s bloomers on a clothesline. Fair officials decided to take control of the situation by showing the world what was behind curtain #1, a day early.

Instead of swarms of fair goers, only fair workers and members of the media witnessed Big Tex’s grand entrance. Word of the unveiling soon spread to the masses, however, and people turned on their televisions and logged onto their computers to catch an early glimpse of the big guy. For many, it was an emotional moment. It felt like someone needed to pass out the world’s biggest cigars to commemorate the occasion.

Does Bigger Mean Better?

Big Tex - Side ShotEven before most people could see him in person, reactions to the “new” cowboy icon were mixed. He’s new, but is he improved? It depends on whom you ask! Big Tex has had a growth spurt. He measures in at 55-feet tall, which is three feet taller than the previous Big Tex. He’s put on 19,000 pounds, causing him to tip the scales at 25,000 pounds. He also has a fire-suppression system, which does seem prudent, given last year’s unfortunate “Ring of Fire” incident. No, Texan’s don’t begrudge Big Tex for wanting a little peace of mind and flame retardant clothing. But, as for the other changes…

Most people understood that this was the chance to make some changes to Big Tex’s wardrobe. His 95-gallon hat is getting good marks. It’s pretty much what people have come to expect from the world’s largest cowboy. His shirt is red, white and blue with stars and the traditional “Dickies” label. That seems about right. The giant belt buckle looks substantial enough to help hold up his monstrously large blue jeans. So far, so good!

Big Tex BootsThe part of his wardrobe that is proving to be the most divisive is kind of surprising. It’s his boots! What? Texans like boots. Texans like cowboy boots. Big Tex is even wearing Lucchese boots. What’s not to like? Even people who are not fans of the new footwear will admit that the idea was good. Big Tex is wearing boots modeled after a pair of 1949 Luccheses, honoring the state of Texas. There’s a lot happening on that pair of size 96 boots! There are bluebonnets, mockingbirds, longhorns, the Texas Capitol building, the Texas flag, the American flag, and, lest anyone should become confused as to what state they’re in, the word, “TEXAS,” is written across the top of the boots. A mortal size pair of those boots would set you back $10,000! There’s something about seeing them in a size 96 that is making people do a double take. Some people seem to feel they’re just a little too “Las Vegas strip” and not enough “riding the range.”

About Face

Big Tex FaceHis wardrobe isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Big Tex is very different in other ways. How can I put this, delicately? All of that extra weight has left him looking like he’s had a few too many corny dogs. (Yes, other parts of the country might call them “corn dogs,” but, in Texas, they’re “corny dogs.” Do not ask me why. I don’t make up the rules.)

Big Tex’s face has undergone some major changes, as well. It’s fuller—quite a bit fuller. His nose is more rounded. He has the beginning of a double chin. Some folks have complained that his eyes look a little, well, crazed. Maybe he’s just startled by people’s reactions. He also looks a little tired. And then there’s the skin tone… Dallas/Fort Worth news stations couldn’t help noting that Big Tex is much darker now, leading people to ask if he’s gotten a spray tan.

Howdy, Folks!

Tex7Big Tex has even received a new voice. You see, when Big Tex speaks, it isn’t just an audio recording; it’s a live man with a microphone. For the previous eleven years, Bill Bragg was the voice of Big Tex, and the people of Texas loved him. Fair officials chose not to renew Bill Bragg’s contract and that has more than a few people about as hot under the collar as Big Tex was last year.
Texans heard the new voice of Big Tex on opening day. The new voice of the world’s most famous 55-ft cowboy wishes to remain anonymous. Whoever he is, he has big boots to fill and I wish him well.

Changing of the Guard

Tex8A flash poll conducted by one Dallas news station revealed that 78% of the people surveyed were unhappy with the new Big Tex. What can I say? Change is hard. But, knowing Texans as I do, I’m guessing that most people will eventually come to love the new Big Tex, with his colorful new boots, fuller figure, wider eyes, darker skin and different voice.

Perhaps, in a dozen or so years, they’ll even stop referring to him as, “the new Big Tex”. When that day comes, they’ll stop treating him with the suspicion reserved for Yankee in-laws at a Texas family reunion and just treat him as family. It may not happen until the children of today have children of their own, but it will surely happen. In the meantime, folks can still visit the old Big Tex’s belt buckle in one of the fair pavilions. Yep, change comes hard in Texas. I am hoping that any disgruntled Texans will take solace in this year’s new and improved offerings of fried foods. I understand there’s a “deep-fried Thanksgiving dinner,” this year. That should help!

Watch a little video of Big Tex, and see what folks have to say about him!

Happy Trails y’all!
Anita Lequoia