Even during the day, San Antonio, Texas can be a spooky place.
This southern Texas city of nearly two million people was the site of numerous battles during the 19th-century Texas revolution against Mexico. Founded along the quaint San Antonio River, the city is home to several Spanish missions recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The history of San Antonio goes back hundreds of years, with nearly as many ghost stories.
The most famous landmark is the Alamo. Founded in the early 1700s as Mission San Antonio De Valero, the outpost preached Catholicism to local Native American tribes. The site remained in Mexican hands until 1835 when it was lost to the Texan army in the Battle of Bexar. The Mexican army regained control in March 1836 following the infamous Battle of the Alamo. This resounding defeat galvanized the Texan army who rallied around Sam Houston and forced the Mexican army back across the Rio Grande River.
Today, the Alamo Plaza, the area surrounding the original building, encompasses numerous family tourist attractions within several blocks. The street immediately in front of the building is zoned for pedestrian traffic only. With hundreds of lives lost at this spot, it’s considered hallowed ground. It was here that our walk began with the Sisters Grimm Ghost Tour.
Shortly after sunset on a hot and steamy night, we were told of the ferocious hand-to-hand fighting that took place in the Alamo barracks in front of us. Most historians place the number of dead at around 500. Apparently, several weeks following the battle, Mexican Gen. Santa Anna sent his soldiers back to the Alamo to destroy the building, in order to prevent it from becoming a rallying point for the Texan rebels. The soldiers were greeted by several ghostly figures, brandishing flaming swords, warning the soldiers not to touch the Alamo. Santa Anna’s men fled in fear.
Adjacent to the Alamo sits one of the oldest continuously operating hotels west of the Mississippi River. The Menger Hotel first opened in 1859. The staff claims some 38 different spirits haunt the hotel. With an admittedly spooky vibe, one can easily imagine the Menger as the setting for a horror film.
The hotel has several well-known ghosts. There’s chambermaid Sallie White, murdered by her husband in 1876, and buried at the hotel’s expense. Rancher Capt. Richard King, founder of King’s Ranch in south Texas, who spent his final months in the hotel in 1885. Most famous of all is the ghost of former U.S. president Teddy Roosevelt, who has been seen drinking in the hotel bar.
A short walk from the Menger is the Spanish Governor’s Palace, dating to 1722. Named by National Geographic as the “Most Beautiful Building in San Antonio,” this small stucco compound is reportedly haunted by a maid who was brutally murdered within its walls.
Walking past numerous 18th and 19th century buildings, we were told stories of soldiers, in various military uniforms, appearing out of thin air. Other haunted buildings formerly housed hospitals or were the sites of gruesome murders.
Among the most vivid tales were those told of the building that’s currently the Holiday Inn Express River Walk. Built during the late 19th century as the Bexar County Jail, the building has had numerous guests claiming to have seen unusual occurrences. The second and third floors of the hotel are particularly active, having been the location of the prison’s gallows. A prisoner whose 1923 botched hanging led to his near decapitation, is among those who regularly appear as apparitions to guests and staff alike.
When not searching for ghosts, visitors enjoy many of San Antonio’s other attractions. The River Walk is an eight-kilometre, tree-lined park that snakes along the banks of the San Antonio River downtown. Numerous shops, eateries and hotels surround the scenic path. With San Antonio’s mild winter climate, the River Walk is a year-round attraction.
Not to be missed is the Tower of the Americas. Constructed in time for the 1968 San Antonio World’s Fair, this 750-foot observation tower provides a stunning 360-degree view of the entire city.
San Antonio’s Jewish community is a small, cohesive group that made national headlines this past summer due to a wave of anti-Semitic vandalism that struck the area around Congregation Rodfei Sholom, the city’s lone Orthodox synagogue.
Following the incident, many segments of the city’s population lent support to the Jewish community. Volunteers aided with the cleanup and increased neighbourhood watch activities in Jewish areas. Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, spiritual leader of Rodfei Sholom for nearly 50 years, said following the vandalism, “This is not the San Antonio community. The religious community, the civic community and law enforcement have all been terrific.”
Rabbi Scheinberg’s personal friend, famed Pastor John Hagee of the nearby Cornerstone Church, spent several hours following the attack visiting Rodfei Sholom. In an effort to illustrate the unity found in San Antonio, Pastor Hagee remarked “If a line has to be drawn, draw it around Christians and Jews. We are united.”
Michael Stavsky acknowledges the assistance of the San Antonio Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in arranging his family’s trip to San Antonio