History and stories seep from the town where I live. The century old buildings and nearby lands whisper tales of the Battle of San Jacinto, the prisoner of war camp, the losses from the Great Storm of 1900 and of a horrific train explosion near the center of town. One the first free towns in the South was established by the Barrett family after the Civil War and in nearby Dayton it is said that descendants of the crew for the pirate Lafitte still live along the bayous and sloughs leading in from the Gulf where his stash of gold is rumored to be buried. There is a lake not far from here about which old men share stories told to them by their grandfathers. They swear that there was a time you could paddle to the middle of that lake and see the tip of a mast of a great sailing ship just beneath the brackish water’s surface, but now just silt and fodder for yarns and legends. The story I’m going to tell takes place just a few miles from my house and curiously enough, you’ve probably heard it before, but this account is not the Hollywood version, but the real story.
A slow-moving muddy river borders the land to the east and was owned by one man during the 1800’s, a wealthy plantation owner. After the Civil War, he deeded tracts of land to freed slaves for a homestead which they christened Black Hope. For a time the community thrived as homes, a school, a church and cemetery were built, but growing industry in the area and better wages drew the younger people away, that, coupled with a devastating fire, caused the community to decline. Although the last headstone in the cemetery reads a death in 1939, by this time Black Hope is nothing but a pathway to an old burial-place. More time passes, the remaining buildings decay and fall, and the Black Hope Cemetery is swallowed by the woods and darkness.
It is the late 1970′s – home building has taken off and a beautiful, well-planned subdivision is filling up with new young families who marvel at the modern architecture, exquisite landscaping and other popular amenities. The developers of this new subdivision made use of cul-de-sacs and short u-shaped streets to enhance the community feel of the neighborhood. The area is surrounded by dense pine and oak hardwoods on all sides, broken only by narrow ancient dirt trails leading down to the river. At the far end of the subdivision at the edge of the woods, is a quiet street with a whimsical name ready for families migrating from the crowded inner city.
At first it was small things that the family noticed, toilets that flushed by themselves, electrical problems, and as the yard settled, sunken spots appeared in various places. Also strange was that many of the trees in and near their yard had odd markings, obviously not natural, but more curious than concerning, probably the work of bored teenagers while the homes were being built. They brushed off the strange happenings as plumbing and electrical problems, filled in the depressions in their yard and set about making the house their own. Summer in this part of the country is long and hot so backyard pools are popular and the family joined many of their neighbors in this trend. Articles from that time tell how the family received a visit from an older gentleman who said that he noticed that they were about to start construction in their backyard and he wanted to let them know that their home was sitting directly on top of the Black Hope Cemetery. Curious, the family took him into the backyard and he was able to point out that the two sunken spots were actually graves. Apparently this man had family buried at Black Hope or was somehow involved with the cemetery around the time the last burial took place. The depressions were excavated and the final resting places of a husband and his wife were discovered, much to the horror of the living residents.
Building on burial grounds seems to be a running theme for many haunted places, but this wasn’t a ghost story, there were open graves in a backyard and there had to be others. After researching land records, talking to local descendants of Black Hope residents, exploration of surrounding acreage began and other headstones from the Black Hope Cemetery were found in the woods near the house and further expansion of the new subdivision in that area was halted. The homeowners remained for a time after the discovery, but eventually abandoned their home, unable to reconcile their love of the house with the circumstances of it location, as well as the two bodies that were reinterred in their backyard. Other homes in the area reported some of the same experiences, as well as hearing disembodied voices and feelings of being watched, but no more graves were found and some homeowners reject the claims of haunting saying they have never seen or heard anything out of the ordinary. There are also many stories of a curse that wrecked havoc in the lives of everyone who lived in the house, but I cannot speak as to the truth of those claims.
A few of the homeowners did eventually sue the developer of the land for financial loss and mental anguish, asserting that during the land clearing, contractors discovered the graves, removed the headstones and continued home-building thereby desecrating the burial places of the dead. The court was unable to determine fault, due to the possibility the graves were unmarked and the case was eventually dismissed. New families filled the houses, but I’ve heard there is a large turnover in owners and there is still the occasional “ghost hunter” and curious sightseers wanting to have a look.
The Black Hope Horror: The True Story of a Haunting by John Bruce Shoemaker was written in 1993 and there was also a movie called Grave Secrets based on these events. Of course, there’s also a blockbuster movie called Poltergeist, though allegedly not based on this family’s story, runs along similar lines.
Is there a Black Hope curse? Did the homebuilders know about the graves yet desecrated them anyway? I don’t know. What I do know is that those that rest at Black Hope were a group of extraordinary people, no longer encumbered by the immorality of slavery, they rose up and claimed life as free men and women. They built a community, raised families, worshipped God, and when they lay down one last time, were buried on land made sacred by the lives they lived. That is the real story, the one that should be immortalized and shared, the living human triumph known as Black Hope.
©2014-2015 itsa5doglife All Rights Reserved
Note: Facts, historical details and stories were taken from articles and historical documents, but I apologize in advance for any factual errors. The photos (other than the first photo, which is mine) appeared in many places so I am unable to determine ownership, but will immediately remove any at the request of the owner. The graveyard is on private land and no attempt should be made to investigate – please let the living and the dead rest in peace.