Well, it being Halloween—one of my favorite holidays—I thought I’d post something suitable. <g>
Now, you’d think that I’d meet a lot of ghosts, what with my habit of walking battlefields, handling historical artifacts, touring ancient castles and houses, etc., but noooooo.
In fact, I’ve only met two ghosts in my life (I did have one that haunted my house for awhile, but she wasn’t conscious of me, so no interaction there)—and the only strange thing about both occurrences is how utterly normal they both seemed. About fifteen years ago, though, a friend asked me to write up the first encounter for a newsletter published by the "Psychic Writers Network" (no, I haven’t the slightest idea), so I did. Later, a (now defunct) website called www.allaboutghosts.com asked for permission to use it as well. So some of you may have seen this piece before. But for all of you—
THE GHOST IN THE ALAMO
Copyright © 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All Rights Reserved.
In May of 1990, I was at a writer’s conference in San Antonio, staying at the Menger Hotel, a rather charming old place built in the late 1800′s. It’s also located across the street from the Alamo, which now stands in a little botanical park, full of trees and shrubs, each with a little metal label bearing its name.
A friend had driven up from Houston to see me, and he suggested that we go walk through the Alamo, he being a botanist and therefore interested in the plants. He also thought I might find the building interesting. He said he’d been there several times as a child, and had found it "evocative." So we strolled through the garden, looking at plants, and then went inside.
The present memorial is the single main church building, which is essentially no more than a gutted masonry shell. There’s nothing at all in the church proper—stone floor and stone walls, bearing the marks of hundreds of thousands of bullets; the stone looks chewed. There are a couple of smaller semi open rooms at the front of the church where the baptismal font and a small chapel used to be originally separated from the main room by stone pillars and partial walls.
Around the edges of the main room are a few museum display cases, holding such artifacts of the defenders as the Daughters of Texas have managed to scrape together— rather a pitiful collection, including spoons, buttons, and (scraping the bottom of the barrel, if you ask me) a diploma certifying that one of the defenders had graduated from law school (this, like a number of other artifacts, wasn’t present in the Alamo, but was obtained later from the family of the man to whom it belonged).
The walls are lined with perfectly horrible oil paintings, showing various of the defenders in assorted "heroic" poses. I suspect them all of having been executed by the Daughters of Texas in a special arts and crafts class held for the purpose, though I admit that I might be maligning the D of T by this supposition. At any rate, as museums go, this one doesn’t.
It is quiet—owing to the presence of the woman waving the "Silence,Please! THIS IS A SHRINE!" sign in the middle of the room—but is not otherwise either spooky or reverent in atmosphere. It’s just a big, empty room. My friend and I cruised slowly around the room, making sotto voce remarks about the paintings and looking at the artifacts.
And then I walked into a ghost. He was near the front of the main room, about ten feet in from the wall, near the smaller room on the left (as you enter the church). I was very surprised by the encounter, since I hadn’t expected to meet a ghost, and if I had, he wasn’t what I would have expected.
I saw nothing, experienced no chill or feeling of oppression or malaise. The air felt slightly warmer where I stood, but not so much as to be really noticeable. The only really distinct feeling was one of…communication. Very distinct communication. I knew he was there—and he certainly knew I was. It was the feeling you get when you meet the eyes of a stranger and know at once this is someone you’d like.
I wasn’t frightened in the least; just intensely surprised. I had a strong urge to continue standing there, "talking" (as it were; there were no words exchanged then) to this man. Because it was a man; I could "feel" him distinctly, and had a strong sense of his personality. I rather naturally assumed that I was imagining this, and turned to find my friend, to re-establish a sense of reality. He was about six feet away, and I started to walk toward him. Within a couple of feet, I lost contact with the ghost; couldn’t feel him anymore. It was like leaving someone at a bus stop; a sense of broken communication.
Without speaking to my friend, I turned and went back to the spot where I had encountered the ghost. There he was. Again, he was quite conscious of me, too, though he didn’t say anything in words. It was a feeling of "Oh, there you are!" on both parts.
I tried the experiment two or three more times—stepping away and coming back—with similar results each time. If I moved away, I couldn’t feel him; if I moved back, I could. By this time, my friend was becoming understandably curious. He came over and whispered, "Is this what a writer does?," meaning to be funny. Since he evidently didn’t sense the ghost —he was standing approximately where I had been—I didn’t say anything about it, but merely smiled and went on outside with him, where we continued our botanical investigations.
The whole occurrence struck me as so very odd—while at the same time feeling utterly "normal"—that I went back to the Alamo—alone, this time—on each of the next two days. Same thing; he was there, in the same spot, and he knew me. Each time, I would just stand there, engaged in what I can only call mental communication. As soon as I left the spot—it was an area maybe two to three feet square—I couldn’t sense him anymore.
I did wonder who he was, of course. There are brass plates at intervals around the walls of the church, listing the vital statistics of all the Alamo defenders, and I’d strolled along looking at these, trying to see if any of them "rang a bell," so to speak. None did.
Now, I did mention the occurrence to a few of the writers at the conference, all of whom were very interested. I don’t think any of them went to the Alamo themselves—if they did, they didn’t tell me—but more than one of them suggested that perhaps the ghost wanted me to tell his story, I being a writer and all. I said dubiously that I didn’t think that’s what he wanted, but the next—and last—time I went to the Alamo, I did ask him, in so many words.
I stood there and thought—consciously, in words "What do you want? I can’t really do anything for you. All I can give you is the knowledge that I know you’re there; I care that you lived and I care that you died here."
And he said—not out loud, but I heard the words distinctly inside my head; it was the only time he spoke—he said "That’s enough."
At once, I had a feeling of completion. It was enough; that’s all he wanted. I turned and went away. This time, I took a slightly different path out of the church, because there was a group of tourists in my way. Instead of leaving in a straight line to the door, I passed around the pillar dividing the main church from one of the smaller rooms. There was a small brass plate in the angle of the wall there, not visible from the main room.
The plate said that the smaller room had been used as a powder magazine during the defense of the fort. During the last hours of the siege, when it became apparent that the fort would fall, one of the defenders had made an effort to blow up the magazine, in order to destroy the fort and take as many of the attackers as possible with it. However, the man had been shot and killed just outside the smaller room, before he could succeed in his mission—more or less on the spot where I met the ghost.
So I don’t know for sure; he didn’t tell me his name, and I got no clear idea of his appearance—just a general impression that he was fairly tall; he spoke "down" to me, somehow. But for what it’s worth, the man who was killed trying to blow up the powder magazine was named Robert Evans; one of the survivors of the Alamo described him as being "black haired, blue eyed, nearly six feet tall, and always merry." That last bit sounds like the man I met, all right, but there’s no telling. I got this description, by the way, from a book titled ALAMO DEFENDERS, which I bought in the museum bookshop as I was leaving. I had never heard of Robert Evans or the powder magazine before.
And that’s the whole story.
I love how you make me feel like I’m right there with you in your story telling.
What an excellent ghost story. I grew up with a not so pleasant ghost who held door knobs on me and played other nasty tricks such as very noisily walking into a room and then just standing there and scaring the life out of me.
So glad your experience was different!
Diana, you have an open mind and an observant nature. I thank God that he also gave you the gift of writing so clearly. Bless you for sharing. I have had “paranormal” experience in my life, also. My experiences have been much like your own. We both belonged in that time and space.
Oooh, very cool. And interesting that it wasn't a scary experience, either. My only supernatural experiences have been with my Dad, but I can hardly call him a ghost! He's just "Dad" & that's it. And he speaks in my head, not so much words, but impressions, as your ghost. Thanks for the story – and we'll all be looking for a tall, ghostly, kilted stranger this Eve…
Thanks for a good Texas ghost story. Being a native Texan, the main story of the Alamo was drilled into me up through junior high school. So it’s neat to learn one of those interesting, but lesser-known, tidbits about the place.
Even if the ghost didn’t give you chills, reading your story (and feeling the truth of it) did inspire a few in me.
Great story, Diana. It seems as though he was waiting for you so that you could give him life.
Taking tours of castles in England and Scotland was amazing, especially the stories in the Tower of London that the Beefeaters tell you. Have you been on ghost walks? When I get back to Edinburgh (!), I want to go on one. I’ve heard they’re amazing, as well as entertaining.
I’d read that before and it still gives me chills!
What an awesome experience.
I’ve only had one ‘ghostly’ experience. My father had been in hospice for three weeks. I was so exhausted never leaving his side that I put my head on the bed, next to him. I dozed off and distinctly remember someone tapping on my shoulder, hard, to wake me, just as he took his last breath. I want to believe it was his way of saying goodbye.
Thank you for the great story and making me (as always ) feel like I’m there with you.
Thanks for telling this story, I have heard you tell it before, but I could hear it again and again. I am fascinated by other’s interactions with ghosts. My daughter and I have experienced something in our house, we have both heard someone calling our name and no one was around. It doesn’t scare me at all, I know who ever it is, is just connecting with us.
Happy Halloween Diana!
Being Halloween and all, there was a brief discussion of similar encounters at the LOL Books Board today. I have an awareness of a couple presences in my house. One is a young person and the other is a male. They belong to the house, are aware of me but unaware of my DH and sons. I always sense the younger one standing in the doorway to my younger son’s bedroom. The male presence is sometimes behind me, looking over my shoulder. I will feel the hair on my neck or head suddenly stand on end, but it’s not an unpleasant sensation. Once in awhile I’ll greet him out loud, but I don’t expect a response.
I have been aware of them almost from the moment we moved into our house eleven years ago. I am not afraid. They are company.
Happy Halloween to you,
I was born and raised in Texas and now live in San Antonio–have for many years. I love reading your experiences at the Alamo. The next time I’m there…we always take out of town relatives to see it…I’ll be sure to look for him.
When I visited the Alamo, I couldn’t stay there very long. I had to go outside and wait for my family, because I started feeling sick. I’ve always wanted to go back and see if it was something more than the heat (it was only in the 80′s at the time).
Love your story. Thanks for sharing and hope you had a great Halloween!
Diana, I know exactly what you experienced! I had a similar experience almost 30 years ago after the death of my father. For two weeks after his death, I could feel his presence in our house, watching me everywhere. Then one day, as I was making my bed, I ‘heard’ him say to me “I have to go now” and without uttering a word, I answered with “It’s ok, we’ll be all right.” I never felt his presence again.
We had communicated in the same way that you did with the man at the Alamo, by thoughts alone…
I love this story and, of course, I recognize the substance of it in Claire’s encounter with Otter Tooth in Fiery Cross. Knowing that you are a person of faith and that Catholics pray for the dead, did you think to pray for this man? Just curious.
Thank you so much for your wonderful books! Claire and Jamie et al are like family to me.
Yes–though my impression of him was not of someone in any distress.
Thank you for the story of your Alamo ghost. I particularly love ghost stories, and yours is just great.
I visited the Alamo some time ago, and it’s remarkable to me how the dusty memory of an old incident like that takes on a brand new shine with the rubbing up of another person’s experience. Just one more example of the importance of human connection through writing. You enriched both my immediate moment and my own recollection with your charming remembrance. Your vivid account summoned me to be right there with you.
I also wanted to mention that you gave me a good lesson in the discipline of writing with your story. As I am a huge fan of yours, I was more than a little shocked at first to feel disappointment with you, making as you did small snooty fun at the expense of the poor clueless Daughters of Texas and their inept (as you saw it) efforts on behalf of the Alamo. Especially catty was the line about the lady with the sign “waving it about”, insisting on quiet, to honor the place. You made her sound quite daft, quite loony with the ‘waving about’ bit. So I admit to having been a bit offended for them, and perhaps hurt, that a hero of mine, you, would be so deprecating towards such an innocent, thankless, and quite right endeavor.
you turned it around with your abrupt intersection into the wonderful masculine entity that inhabited one of the Alamo’s dark corners, bringing to life his particular heroism, and reminding by inference the many terrible sacrifices human beings made there.
From one voice to its opposite, and it was seamless.
Thank you for the lesson. I’m trying hard to pay attention and learn.
I just adore you.
No offense was intended toward the Daughters of Texas, I assure you. [smile] It was, as you fortunately perceived, merely a painting of the apparent atmosphere of the place–an apparently hapless attempt to evoke respect in a place devoid of anything apparent to the casual onlooker…but there is indeed something there worthy of respect (and by extent, in all such places, whether the casual onlooker is fortunate enough to see it or not).
Sorry. Not “waving it about”— Just “waving”…
Did I just somehow preempt my comment? Oh well, it wasn’t that good anyway.
It’s the “Daughters of the _Republic_ of Texas” not the “Daughters of Texas.” They saved the Alamo from certain ruin and established it as a “shrine of Texas liberty.” I’m not surprised to know ghosts can be heard there. It’s a haunting place, even more so when one knows details of the Alamo story and its significance in the fight for Texas independence from Mexico.
I would also add:
The Alamo is to Texans much like Culloden is to Scots.
Laurie, …a perfect analogy, “the Alamo is to Texans what culloden is to the Scots”.
The Menger Hotel itself is also known to be haunted!