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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Haunted House
in Mason County

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Folks said the old stone house in Mason County was haunted.

Back in the early 1900s, when people started talking about the place, it could not have been all that old as vintage structures go – maybe a half-century. No one remembered when it had been built or by whom, but no one had lived in it for a long time. Its roof about gone, it lacked windows and a door.

One thing is for sure. A structure standing empty and in disrepair sooner or later will attract a ghost story as sure as a burn full of mice lures snakes and cats.

The spooky story connected to the Mason County house came from Stella Gipson Polk, older sister of one of the county’s more famous natives, Fred Gipson. While his name may not be a household word today, he wrote the classic children’s novel “Old Yeller.” Stella, as everyone called her, could spin a pretty good yarn herself, either in person or writing.

The gist of the tale is that a lot of people claimed to have heard noises inside the old house, including the mysterious tinkling of a bell. Eventually folks became convinced it had a resident ghost.

Finally, some brave soul took up a dare to spend the night in the abandoned house. For protection, as if someone already dead could be killed, the self-assured fellow who made the bet toted a loaded gun along with his bedroll.

Settled for the night, the disbeliever eventually drifted off. Either a light sleeper or not entirely confident he would win his bet, at some point late that moonlit night a noise awakened him. Listening carefully, he heard something moving toward the old house he lay in. Its pace seemed slow, deliberate.

Then the sound of the little bell that others had reported as accompanying the apparition. At that, acting on instinct rather than logic, the bet-taker hefted the old six-shooter he’d brought along and eased the hammer back.

As the noise grew louder, he raised the weapon and pointed it toward the door. Fortunately, only seconds before pulling the trigger, the young man realized the silhouette entering the house had horns – goat horns. The tinkle came from the small bell hanging on its collar.

Shooing the intrusive critter away, he settled back for a good night’s sleep, confident he had confronted a “ghost” and lived not only to tell the tale but collect his money.

Austinite Sloan Rodgers had a spooky experience one night in the 1931-vintage Travis County courthouse. Newly returned in 1995 from a hitch in the Army that had included combat duty during the U.S. invasion of Panama, Rodgers worked as a security guard for the county.

By this time, the sheriff’s office had moved to another building downtown and the original jail on the top floor of the courthouse sat empty, all the prisoners having been relocated to a new lockup in a building across from the courthouse.

Well aware of all that, as Rodgers made his rounds in the empty building he started hearing voices. Checking the building floor-by-floor, he found no one. But the voices got louder the closer he got to the old jail.

Walking from tank to tank in the jail, which the county planned to dismantle and convert to badly needed office space, Rodgers could not find anyone. But he still heard loud voices. Finally, he came to a ladder leading to a trapdoor opening into an attic-like area above the jail.

Climbing the ladder, he pushed open the door. Clearly, the voices came from this area. Sweeping the area with his flashlight, he finally discovered their source: Someone had left a radio blaring at top volume. The voices he had been hearing were those of people calling in to get their proverbial two cents worth in with a late-night talk show host.

Rodgers turned off the radio and resumed his watch.

A history buff, Rodgers found another explainable ghost story while looking for something else in an old newspaper.

Back when Texas had small, single-room rural school houses presided over by one teacher, some of the older kids at such a school in North Texas decided to have a little fun at their teacher’s expense. Demonstrating a level of intelligence that under other circumstances doubtless would have made their teacher proud, the ring leaders of the plot attached a long piece of wire to something heavy-but-movable in the crawl space above their classroom.

One October evening as the shadows outside grew long, the teacher stayed late to grade some papers. That’s when he started hearing something above his head. It sounded like someone slowly dragging something from one end of the storage space to another, stopping periodically, only to resume the effort. Trouble was, he knew no one was in the school house but him.

Soon, to the delight of the kids hidden in a nearby creek bottom at the other end of the wire, they saw their teacher emerging from the school moving with more than normal purpose, nervously turning every once in a while to look back as he added distance between him and the school house.

© Mike Cox - October 26, 2011 column
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