Category Archives: Places

The Real Story

IMG_0852History 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.CEM46631930_109855823483

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-blueprintsacs 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. black_hope_curse4 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 hpoppetswayforestad 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 everyoneBook 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.

100_2100Is 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.

 


As the Crow Flies

cloudIt’s stormy again today.  My phone beeps at regular intervals, letting me know that we are under this severe warning or that, but like most people who live inland from the coast, storms are a part of our life and Mother Nature has to do something pretty spectacular to get our attention.  From my desk I look out to the south and I know that past the fence, the fields and the far tree line, across another small town, then an inlet bay, lies the Gulf, her ever churning water stirring up the sand and silt.  As the crow flies, it’s not that far and we know her by the gulls that fly inland, the ancient sea shells we dig up now and again that say she once breached our borders, and by the clouds and storms she tosses across the coastal grassy plains of our home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor a time, my husband and I owned a small plane and I remember flying home, watching for her, watching for the faint line of darkness that signaled a vastness 151beyond, and as we flew closer to make the turn that would lead us back to earth, a reflection of light over moving waters would welcome us. We loved to fly along the coast, heading east over towns with names like High Island,  Boliver, Oak Island, Gilchrist, over beaches, wildlife preserves and empty places where homes used to be, claimed by the waters when the great storms struck.  Just along the edge of the sand, where the water washes up and recedes again, you can make out the shadow of an old highway that once ran the length of her shore, but now dormant and broken, slowly giving itself up to the sea.  Sometimes as we rose from the runway, we would point the nose southwestward, climbing up over Burnett Bay, rising across Kemah OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwith Galveston a sliver of sand in the distance, slowly coming into focus and then we’d bank to the right over Surfside heading due west as we leveled the wings. We would head towards Matagorda, sailing on air over the sands and jetties, the inlets and canals punctuated with fishing boats. Out the right window oil rigs and the dark silhouettes of ships far out to sea offered themselves up to us, and to the north, clusters of small fishing communities surrounded by fertile green inland fields beckoned, back-dropped by the shadows of cities and the broad expanse of Texas beyond.

I’ve known her all my life, I feel her presence just past the horizon.  I’ve lived through her storms, first Alicia, as a young wife, bracing against the storm in a small frame house with my husband. A hand-held radio and flashlight between us in the darkness, the sound of a hundred trains barreling outside our walls, tossing debris and swirling, cutting a path through our town.  The silence of the eye of the storm, the strange brief interlude of sunlight, neighbors cautiously stepping outside to see how the world had changed and then quickly back ihurricanenside again when the other wall of wind arrives.  I can remember the stillness and the light rain that was still falling when the wind finally passed.  It was a different world then, no cell phones or social media, no online reports of damages or loss of life, so you just waited until the world came back on again, until the lines were connected once more.  You opened your windows, sat outside with neighbors and shared what you had.  There were rumors of barges piled up on the freeway that ran behind our house along with tug boats blown inland from the ship channel, so groups of the brave, curious and bored hiked the distance down the highway to see for themselves.  It would be seventeen days before we had water or lights, but youth lends an elasticity to tolerance and we coped with the help of family and neighbors.

Hurricane Ike was a storm of a different kind and by that time we had lived in this small town and on this land for  almost ten years and our children were now adults.  Of course, after witnessing the human suffering and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the panicked evacuation of Rita, everyone paid attention when reports started coming in of athCAOF0VM4 possible storm in the Gulf.  If you live on or near the Gulf coast, you understand how it plays out as the winds of Africa push unstable air out into the ocean, as it bubbles up into tropical waves and you watch to see where it goes, how it grows and if the Gulf will pull it in and slam it against the land.  You watch the storm track, those wildly erratic colored lines creeping in every direction until the lines begin to come together and you see if it’s your time to worry.  We live far enough inland that storm surges cannot reach us, our worry is the wind and the tornadoes that the walls of the storm toss out, the wind that uproots trees and crashes them into roofs and windows, the wind that flattens metal buildings and wood houses, consuming the lives within.   The land we live on is flat and much of it treeless, we have no natural barriers to the wind and debris, but we have a sturdy home, built with storms in mind and there are many in danger that must evacuate so it’s reasonable that we stay put, off the roads and out of the way.

ike_041It’s the solemnity of the hours before it hit that I remember, the unknowing hours of wondering what life would look like tomorrow on the other side of our boarded up windows.  We watch the skies, recognizing the dark outer bands of clouds as the storm moves closer, we worry about our older son on duty out on the streets, whose only shelter will be a patrol car.  From the television we learn of those choosing to stay on Galveston and other islands, mostly older people who would not leave. They insist they will be okay at home with a beloved dog or cat, and thastorm pict their shelves are stocked with water and food and they tell of past storms they have weathered in their stilt houses on the beach overlooking the storm barreling inland.  I believe that in spite of reassurances, their greater fear was being swallowed up in a shelter at the mercy of agencies and strangers, terrified their pets would be taken from them, so sadly they threw their lot in with the Gulf and let her decide their fate.  Twelve hours later we would hear that those that stayed behind were simply gone, their homes nothing but beams and posts sticking out of the sand.  Just gone.

027I’ve walked her beaches as a child, braved the waves as a teen, honeymooned at the Flagship Hotel, and held the hands of my two little boys and now my grandchildren at the edge of her brown-tinted waters.  I have dug countless pennies and bottle-caps from the warm sand while treasure-hunting the beaches with my father. When I’m there, I feel the history of that city that sits on her shores, the beginnings and endings and the starting over, time and again.  Beneath my feet, I am aware that far down below lies the original elevation of the island, as it was before the Great Storm, before the city was raised and the sea wall was built. The stately houses and century-old buildings along the Strand have not bowed, though great losses are evidenced in the high water marks documented on small brass plaques far above my head.  I know from history passed down that some of those houses hide scars as well, under the fancy rugs and carpets, are the marks of axes where the floors were opened in the hope the rising water would anchor the house down and they might be saved in the rooms above, only to be washed away through attic windows when the angry Gulf waters reached the roof.

The cries of those lost in those terrible years, 1900, 1983, 2008, stillmemorial carry on the wind there, blowing in a mist off the water, winding through the streets and alleyways, whipping the sails of boats and beach umbrellas, and then back to the water, always back to the water.  She is a constant, that vast unknowable body of water, both wonderful and terrible in turn, but always there, past the fence, over the tree line, across the bay, as the crow flies.

©2014-2015 itsa5doglife/Rhonda Alford Owens All Rights Reserved


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