I live in a small town and like most small communities; this one has its share of ghost stories and horror tales. Stories about specters and wraiths seen in graveyards and next to railroad tracks, or phantom soldiers marching through fields on lonely nights searching for long-dead comrades. There are the ghosts of the prisoner of war camp, the Great Storm of 1900, the train explosion, and the slave settlement. All stories, but in this small town there is one that stands out and curiously enough, you’ve probably already heard one version or another and don’t know it.
This area is awash in history and is one of the oldest in the State and many interesting events took place nearby including the Battle of San Jacinto. In nearby Dayton it is said that the pirate Lafitte hid his ships along the bayous and sloughs leading in from the Gulf and there are rumors that his stash of gold is buried somewhere in the swamps and that many of the locals are descendents of his crew. This story, however, takes place just a few miles from my house.
A slow-moving muddy river borders the land to the east and at one time was owned by one man. He provided employment on his plantation for many of the local families and eventually he deeded tracts of land to the loyal workers for homes, a church and a graveyard. The group of workers grows into a community of family and friends they name Black Hope and then declines. Time passes, the buildings decay and fall, and the Black Hope Cemetery is swallowed by the woods and darkness.
It is the early 1980′s – home building has taken off and a beautiful, well-planned subdivision is filling up with new young families who are taken with 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 whimsically named Poppet’s Way, and one by one its newly constructed houses fill up with families migrating from the crowded inner city. For one family on this street, the excitement of their new beginning would be short-lived and they would end up abandoning their beautiful home.
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. They easily 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 extremely popular and the family joined many of their neighbors in this trend. The pool was staked out and soon a bulldozer was busy at work in their backyard, digging and cutting through the thick clay-filled soil, making progress – until it hit the first coffin.
Building on burial grounds seems to be a running theme in many ghost stories and haunted places, but this wasn’t a story passed around the front porch of the local barber shop, there were open graves in their backyard. After researching land records and exploring surrounding acreage, other headstones from the overgrown Black Hope Cemetery were discovered in the woods near the house. The family remained for a time, but eventually abandoned their home, unable to reconcile their love of the house with the circumstances of it location. Other homes in the area reported some of the same experiences, as well as hearing disembodied voices and feelings of being watched. Luckily, no other graves were found, and other owners rejected the claims of hauntings saying they have never seen or heard anything out of the ordinary.
A few of the homeowners did eventually sue the developer of the land, asserting that during the land clearing, contractors discovered the graves, removed the headstones and continued home-building. The court was unable to determine fault, due to the possibility the graves were unmarked and the case was eventually dismissed. New families fill 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 little movie called Poltergeist, though claimed not to be based on this family’s story, runs along similar lines.
I didn’t grow up in this town so I’ve never explored the woods looking for the graves, but many have and they say it is an unusual place, but, after all, it is a graveyard at the center of a ghost story. I don’t believe in the paranormal, there are enough things to be afraid of in the real world, but many people do and I have to admit, this mysterious old town is the perfect setting for a ghost story.
©2011-2012 itsa5doglife All Rights Reserved
Note: Factual information and recounting obtained from archived articles originally printed in the Houston Post and the Houston Chronicle.