A Travelogue with Rick Rose
With my degree in theatre meeting an innate desire in me for drama (I am part gay after all), I love this time of year when creative sorts break down the fourth wall and evoke fear in willing participants, like me, of “haunted” houses and “spooky” hay rides. I scream my way through a Halloween weekend with the best of them.
This year, though, I opted to experience the real deal with a ride on the Graceful Ghost on Caddo Lake and the Jefferson Ghost Walk, both in East Texas. And Saturday night, under a crescent moon, I joined a couple friends, Alicia and Chloe, for the Ghosts of the Mansfield Civil War Battlefield, 30 miles from my home in Shreveport, LA. Here scenes from the famous battle lead by Major General Richard Taylor were reenacted as we walked between staged vignettes complete with the real horses, history, ghosts and gore. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/mansfield.html
The Graceful Ghost is a replica of an 1800’s era steamboat and is the last known wood-burning, steam powered, stern paddle-wheel touring vessel in the world. With my friends Eva, Ezra and Ethan, we boarded the Ghost near Shady Glade Marina in Uncertain, Texas. We learned the history of Uncertain’s name and residents from the area as we glided through the naturally mystical images of Caddo Lake which sits beautifully, yet eerily, between LA and TX.
The sound of her steam whistle resounded across the rippled waters as we witnessed diverse aquatic animal and plant species. The hour ride was timeless: a journey among majestic cypress trees draped in stately, surreal, Spanish moss. The few photos I have posted give you a glimpse of why, although most will describe the Lake as “gorgeous,” it is more creepy than that. Mystifying and mystical, enchanting and delightful, definitively prehistoric, uniquely haunting are my adjectives of choice. These words mirror those of journalist Steve Blow who wrote of his Caddo Lake experience in DALLAS MAGAZINE: “There are plenty of pretty spots scattered about East Texas. Pretty and predictable. But one is mystical. Caddo Lake is unlike any place you have ever been”.
At 12 years old, Ezra got it. “It’s a huge water forest,” he said of its 35,000 acres of sloughs, bayous, swamps and cypress trees. As the sun began to set, there In the upper recesses of Caddo, the four of us, along with 20 others, the Captain and his First Mate, we felt the hand of the supernatural. It ran down my neck and back and felt as if IT drove us along, not the wood being burned.
We bid farewell to her “gracefulness” at the Dallas Caddo Hunting and Fishing Club, which has been an active hotspot for outdoors folks since 1912. There we began to feel the presence of spirits on land. It is amazing how history can be brought to life through residual energy. Those who frolicked around the grounds and estate here certainly years ago, still remain in some form or another and are delighted by those of us who have come to do the same, years after. Friendly ghosts, that’s what they were here.
After a scenic half mile car ride from Uncertain, we landed with certainty in Jefferson, TX. The austere presence of this wonderfully historic downtown area quickly makes you understand why Lady Bird Johnson was a blend of classy and outdoorsy at the same time. She hailed from East Texas, and her family spent a lot of time on Caddo Lake and in downtown Jefferson, owning much of the land around these arts. It is clear to see that Howard Hughes spent much time in this area as well, a starting place for his amassed millions, harvesting the natural oil and petro of this region and garnering culture from Jefferson’s fine establishments.
We were here to take in historian Jodi Brenkenridge’s acclaimed Jefferson Ghost Walk. Between the first natural ghost experience and the one to follow at 8pm, we had time to meet up with our friends Darla and Ben to take in a delicious dinner downtown Jefferson at Austin Street Bistro www.austinstreetbistro.com whose proprietor, Gena, makes you feel welcome as she shares a bit of her southern California epicurean experiences with you through her salad and bread courses, amazing pecan planked salmon and 10 different desserts. With five children, Gena knows how to cook and loves using her gift to please many. 6 fully smiling faces headed out to the streets with 6 fully satisfied stomachs.
There we met Jodi amidst a group of 60 others to begin our Jefferson Ghost Walk www.jeffersonghostwalk.com. We were joined by my friends Mark, Nycki, Nicholas and Gabi, and set out to learn the history and the hauntings attached to the past lives of Jefferson, TX. By the glow of lantern light, we traveled through dark alleys and courtyards, stopped outside inns and former brothels, shared vivid accounts of historic tragedy, murder and ghostly encounters. We even had our own bumps in the night during our last stop where we spent a half hour in an old vacated office building. Mark and Eva captured some unexplained images on their cameras. Jodi was in awe.
As have been many who have taken this tour over the last score of years. Steven Spielberg spent a night in Jefferson about 40 years ago. He awoke terrified as he saw an apparition of a little boy standing by his bed asking him if he was ready for breakfast. TheExcelsior House has welcomed travelers since the late 1850’s. Famous people who have signed the register, and still frequent the hotel, some say, include Ulysses S. Grant, Oscar Wilde, Rutherford B. Hayes and Lady Bird Johnson herself.
Jodi’s tour is so special, so real, so haunted and a “must do” that Bio Channel and A&E flew her out to California to shoot a show called “My Ghost Story” last year! Moreover, Syfy, Discovery and Travel channels have come here to engage in what is considered “the most haunted small town in Texas!” One account in THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE shares of a man named Colin’s stay at the Excelsior with his family. “My wife and my son got hit by french fries flying across the room,” Colin says. “All four of us were sitting watching TV, and our leftovers were sitting across the room.”
And on that note, Happy Halloween, y’all!