AUSTIN (KXAN) — A lot has changed in Austin over the past 30 years, and so, too, has its paranormal activity appeal.
For 30 years, Jeanine Plumer has operated Austin Ghost Tours. What began as a promenade tour exploring the history of Austin’s downtown corridor has since expanded to delve into Austin’s spooky and spiritual history, with an emphasis on haunted sites in and beyond the city center.
And as Austin’s evolved, so has the number of spiritual interactions, Plumer said.
“I would say our ghost interactions are stronger than ever because as the city has become more chaotic, there’s something about the steadiness,” she said. “Each location that we’ve been to, we’ve had something happen — the tour had something happening. So, one or two stories is now 50 stories, and people are now having their own experiences. It’s almost like [the spirits’] voices are louder, if that makes any sense.”
For 19 years, Monica Ballard has worked as a tour guide and, later, as an investigator with Austin Ghost Tours.
Austin Ghost Tours has four featured tours: The Austin Haunted Walking Tour, the Haunted Bartlett Walking Tour, the Haunted Bartlett Experience and the newest offering, Matrimony, Murder & Mayhem.
The tour was designed with bachelor and bachelorette parties in mind, Ballard said, adding she’s a “sucker for a good love story.”
The tour begins and ends at The Driskill and touches on the Servant Girl murders as well as the story of Empress Carlota and her husband, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian.
“I wanted to tell stories about love that went right, love that went horribly wrong. Families broken up, families that were in the process of being saved,” Ballard said.
Some of those spiritual happenings are more well known than others, Ballard said. Many have heard the tale of The Driskill’s paranormal activity, which Ballard says persists even as new hotel owners come and go.
“I’ve seen that hotel change hands, maybe four times in the years that I’ve been on with the ghost tours. And it always starts the same: The new owners say ‘Oh, no, no, we’re not haunted — get out of here with your little tourism ghost stories and stuff,'” she recalled, laughing. “And then about a year and a half in, it’s kind of like ‘OK, there may be something going on here.'”
But some hauntings are lesser known. Take the Marshall family ranch in Westlake Hills. The reoccurring legend was there was an invisible ghost wagon that the Marshall children would hear, with the grounds rumbling and the sound of metal and leather slapping against horses.
In November 1991, as Loop 360 was being built, crews came across a shallow grave in the ground. In that grave, crews found a body that dated back to the 1800s, when cedar trees covered the land and crews were hired to chop them down for wealthy families’ homes.
There was one path connecting Westlake to Austin; as farmers returned from the city with their payments, they were often robbed. Following the body’s discovery in 1991, Plumer said her team found a newspaper reference from the 1880s, where someone had been murdered along the path but their body had never been found.
It’s stories like these that enthrall people across cultures and generations, Plumer said.
“Every country on this planet and every society is interested in this,” she said, adding: “All of us have something that you may or may not know has happened in your life, and these are things that we literally remember forever, because they don’t make sense.”
There can also be a comfort in knowing some sort of connection lives on after a person dies, both Ballard and Plumer said. Ballard said the holidays in particular are very popular for the ghost tours, as families — and personal losses — are more top of mind.
“People miss their loved ones who have passed over,” Ballard said. “And so to get that validation that life continues …. that we lose this form but our energy continues and we have the ability to communicate? That’s very, very, very comforting.”