Oct 10, 2018–G-g-g-g-g-ghosts?
“Every building on Main Street has a ghost story,” said Derek Spence, head wraith wrangler for his new endeavor, Fredericksburg Ghost Tours. “The hardest part has been narrowing the scope to keep the tour under an hour and a half!”
The idea for a Fredericksburg-style ghost tour started about four years ago. Spence, a musician who tours regularly, had come across ghost tours in cities around the country. He noted their popularity and knew it was only a matter of time before someone started doing one in this popular Hill Country community.
“It was going to happen here, so why not do it myself?” he asked.
Spence has been an avid history buff all his life, participating in reenactments at Civil War battlegrounds and working at both the Pioneer Museum and the Nimitz Museum, so he had no problem doing the research. Part of it was walking up and down Main Street and asking storeowners if there were any eerie tales associated with their buildings. To his surprise, every store had a story.
“Unless you ask, they don’t talk about it,” he said. “But once you do ask, they open up and tell their stories.”
Some even provided archival evidence, such as the photo of the headless woman wandering the courtyard at El Milagro (posted on their web site www.fredericksburgghosts.com).
Then his job became selecting only the most compelling tales for a walk-able tour. While each was haunting, he mostly chose stories set in the 1850s to 1880s that were tied to an historical event that happened in that location.
“Having a basis in the historical record makes it more interesting,” he said. “Anybody can say here is what happened, but we tell people why it happened.”
I took one of the first tours, to find out what spooky stories lurk along Fredericksburg famous Hauptstrasse. The group met outside the Nimitz Museum, the building with the most documented ghost stories in town. As dusk descended, Spence set the scene from Fredericksburg’s earliest trials. In some years, fully 10% of the population succumbed to cholera, diphtheria, and other plagues. Two-wheeled oxcarts filled with bodies bound for Der Friedhof cemetery were common sights along Main Street.
With that image in our heads, we set off.
The route, about a mile long, took us down the south side of Main Street all the way to Adams, where we crossed and worked our way to Keidel Clinic, then looped around behind the Bush Gallery back to the starting point.
While I pledged under threat of personal haunting not to reveal details, just know that you’ll hear of murders on Main Street, cadavers in basements, bodies on meat hooks, apparitions in windows, and unexplained anomalies that make you want to stay close to the group.
While the stories are graphic, they are more informational than scary. One of our group was a 10-year-old girl, and she might have been the most enthusiastic participant.
There were even moments of humor. Outside Clear River Pecan, Pence was describing the curious goings on when it was a saloon and gambling house with a boarding house upstairs. As Spence was detailing the creepy antics, we noticed a pair of young ladies sitting on the bench who seemed to take an inordinate interest in the story.
Finally, one spoke out.
“Are you talking about this B&B?” she asked tentatively, pointing to the door.
“Yes,” said Spence.
“But that’s where we’re staying!” she said. “This happened a long time ago, right?”
“Yes, but you’re really not going to like what I’m going to say next,” he said, proceeding to describe in great detail an incident from three years ago that involved images in mirrors, unexplained sounds, and things going bump in the night. Sweet dreams.
Spence’s biggest problem might be keeping random passers-by from joining the group. At every stop, tourists would linger at the edges to catch a word about the ghostly goings-on at the particular establishment.
In a way, that’s gratifying for Spence, whose larger goal is to instill interest in history for the younger generation.
“We’ve got to make history entertaining, especially for the millennials coming to drink wine,” he said. “They might not go to a museum, but a good ghost story can grab them with a mix of history and folklore.”
Does Spence himself believe the stories he shares?
“I don’t know what ghosts are,” he admitted. “I am a Christian and believe you go to heaven or hell, and never bought into that stuff about spirits. But when you look at stars, the light you see is 3000 years old. Isn’t that kind of a ghost light?”
The tour wraps up with a personal story of an apparition Spence and his wife, Heidi, experienced late one cold February night returning home along Austin Street. It was along the same route the two-wheeled ox carts took to the cemetery…
But, you’ll have to take the tour to hear Spence tell the rest of that story.
Fredericksburg Ghost Tours are scheduled every Thursday through Sunday at 8 and 9:30 p.m. Private tours are available. Advance tickets required. Information and tickets online at www.fredericksburgghosts.com. Tickets also available at The Vintage Vault, 406 West Main, Fredericksburg.