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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Of Ghosts and Men

Lubbock Stories

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Mac Davis and his “happiness is Lubbock in my review mirror” line to the contrary, the Hub City of the Plains has a lot going for it. There’s exciting college football in the fall, the Buddy Holly museum, the world’s largest collection of vintage windmills and plenty of friendly residents.

As windy as it can be, especially in the spring, Lubbock doesn’t seem like a place that would have any particular appeal to ethereal apparitions, but not according to Rob Weiner, a librarian at Texas Tech University. Speaking at the recent meeting of the West Texas Historical Association, he offered two Lubbock ghost stories and one strange tale of a man who made his amends for a ghastly crime one brick at a time.

Before getting started, Weiner stressed that so far as he knew, none of the local legends have any basis in fact. He moved to Lubbock with his family when he was 10, first heard the stories as a kid, and has continued to hear them as an adult, he said. None of them have ever been published.

The first tale centers on a nameless Lubbock doctor of long ago who despite his Hippocratic oath didn’t care much for kids. In fact, the story goes, this particular MD disliked children so much that he took to killing them.

He didn’t go around town overtly doing away with children, of course. But when kids ended up in his hospital, a worrisome percentage of them never made it home. They mysteriously died during treatment. Even tonsillectomies tended to have tragic outcomes.

In a twist that only makes sense in a folk tale the good-bad doctor covered his evil tracks by burying his clinical “mistakes” on the hospital grounds.

The killer physician’s malevolent malpractice continued until the ghosts of his young victims, demonstrating surprising awareness of the ancient “eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth” philosophical concept, in some way killed the doctor. And even though their work on earth was done, the baby ghosts continued to hang around the hospital watching over other kids admitted to the facility. Just in case.

“This story is never associated with any particular hospital,” Weiner said. “But I’ve heard it for years.”

Weiner’s next tale centers on a suburban Lubbock residence locally known as the “Prison Man’s House.”

Since someone still lives there, the address will go unreported. But anyone happening to drive by is likely to notice something strikingly unusual about the one-story brick house: It does not at all match the other houses in the neighborhood. It looks very much like a prison unit, minus the bars.

The legend is that back in the 1940s, a man killed his wife. While duly arrested and convicted of murder, he drew prison time in lieu of the death penalty. But he got released from Huntsville on some manner of legal loophole and returned to the free world.

Having grown remorseful during his time behind bars, the man came to the conclusion that on the cosmic scheme of things, he still had a debt to pay for doing away with his significant other. So, legend has it, he built his own personal prison.

“The way the house looks lends to the mythology,” Weiner said. “Whoever built it just kept building on, the result being a pretty dreadful-looking place very reminiscent of a prison.”

Indeed, photos Weiner took of the house through his car window show a low-slung, rambling reddish-orange brick structure with high, narrow rectangular windows. All in all, the house presents a decidedly institutional look.

Though the Prison Man’s House is still occupied, its builder has long since gone to face a higher tribunal in the death of his wife, leaving behind only his grim architecture.

Finally, Weiner told the tale of the “Memphis Man.”

First some geographical background: Lubbock is an easy city to get around in. Most of the east-west streets are numbered, 1st through 146th. Most of the north-south avenues are designated with letters in alphabetical order. Mixed in, mostly also in alphabetical order, are streets named for proper nouns, including states and cities.

Memphis Street, then, is a north-south thoroughfare that intersects various numbered streets, including 66th. It is at this intersection that a ghost known as the Memphis Man supposedly hangs out.

According to Weiner, a Lubbock man who preferred leaving the driving to others patiently stood at that corner waiting on a bus one icy winter morning only to end up catching a free ride to a destination he had not had in mind. As the bus approached, the large vehicle skidded on the ice and crashed into the hapless commuter.

The traffic fatality, with the assistance of an optical illusion, eventually gave rise to the legend that the intersection was not only busy, it was haunted.

“If you’re driving north on Memphis, when you get to that intersection, it looks like there’s a man leaning on a utility post near the bus stop,” Weiner said. “But when you get closer, you see it’s just a circuit breaker near the pole.”

That completely logical explanation aside, it’s a lot more fun to envision some poor spirit forever waiting on a bus at Memphis and 66th.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
April 7, 2011 column
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