In this photo from the 1980’s, the Texas Travel Center used to be situated in the foyer of the Texas State Capitol. The young woman to the right, behind the desk is Mary Jackson.
We at Austin Ghost Tours have always maintained that if the titled of “Ambassador of Texas” was ever a “thing”, the undisputed winner, tiara and sash would go to Mary. Her authentic twang and greeting of “Howdy, Y’all” as you mosey up the the counter of the Travel Desk at the Capitol Visitors Center are the epitome of Lone Star State hospitality.
She has called AGT Founder Jeanine a friend for over 20 years, and she calls tour guide Monica “the Ghost Whisperer.” Whenever a visitor, co-worker or even a DPS officer has something strange to report in or around the Texas State Capitol complex, Mary sends that story to us. She has worked in the Capitol Building, the Visitors Center and the Greer Building where the Highway Department is headquartered.
One week a few Octobers ago, Mary felt generous and gave us a story every weekday. Take it away, Mary!
Y’all! I have five ghost stories from 30 years of working here, and I’m going to give you one each day!
1.The first is the “Lady in Red” at the Capitol. Rumor is that many years ago, she was in love with a legislator who was not available to marry her. Like that never happens. So, she’s given to hanging around the halls and foyers and hoping that things will turn out differently. A visitor reported seeing her one afternoon, and noticing her red Victorian dress, attempted to ask her if there was going to be a reenactment in the building, but she got annoyed and disappeared. She also scared the crap out of one of our custodians here at the Visitors Center when she got annoyed about all the sweeping around the staircase. Not sure why she was “slumming it” over in this building!
2. A Saturday morning, about 7:45 am, building locked up tight and empty except for me and one security guard. But, behind closed doors in the Capitol Gift Shop, I clearly hear women laughing and having a conversation. saying things like: “Look at this one!” and “Over here!” and “This one is darling!” and whispers and giggles and intimate conversation. So, I assume Shawn and Angela who work the store must have come in early, and are getting weirdly excited over items they stocked the shelves with in the first place. But, when I push the door open to say “Good morning!” the gift shop is empty. Completely. Empty. I go back to my counter to stock literature, and the security guard Gary walks up and begins a conversation with me, during the course of which, those women in the gift shop start right up again! Gary asks me “Who’s in there?” and I say, “Beats me! Go look and see!” Ha! Was he surprised! I call them “the Daughters” for their likely membership in the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and maybe the Daughters of the Alamo. Women dedicated to God, family, the Republic of Texas, Jefferson Davis and this building! This building, which was the site of many monthly Daughter-inspired meetings and two museums dedicated to the histories of the confederacy and the Republic of Texas! Sure, they might occasionally open a window or shut a door or admire someone’s scarf and forget to put it back or rearrange our brochures with a particular affection for wildflower festivals or freak out an employee by walking by him in the attic. But, as ghosts go, I like them! And, I feel they like us, too! (Right after God, family, the Republic of Texas and Jeffferson Davis, of course!)
3. I worked at the Dewitt C. Greer Highway Building from 5 to 10 pm at one point in my career. During the 1980s, before we had an adequate emergency road condition reporting system, during one particularly horrendous storm event that was flooding all of Houston and putting citizens in near panic mode, some supervisor or other indicated that while they understood it was a lot to ask, I would be remembered in the annals of TxDOT history if I was willing to stay behind the Greer counter and answer the phone until 10 pm. Adding the words “you can take tomorrow off, if you want!” So, I waved goodbye to departing TxDOT personnel as they filed off the elevator and went home. The night watchman said he’d see me back at 10 pm. (What?) Answering road condition calls means you never put the phone down. You just tap the receiver to pick up one call after another. Call after call after call after call after call. My voice saying: “State Department of Highways and Public Transportation! May I help you?” Over and over and over and over. Good thing I was born with the ability to stay perky! About 7 pm, the best way I can explain it, is some invisible yet strangely all encompassing presence filled the lobby, like it came downstairs to see just what the hell was going on. It felt like something was curious I was there. Around 8 pm, the presence seemed to be saying “Why is she still here? What is she doing? Who is she?” and about 8:30 it seemed to be addressing me directly: “You! Yes, you! With your endlessly ringing phone and annoying voice! How long are you going to be here, exactly?” By 9 pm, I was feeling it get very annoyed. “Jesus Tap-dancing Christ do you have NOWHERE else to be?” (Yes, it was just like that!) By 9:30 pm, nervous because I understand how irritating I can be to something that’s not used to me and feeling this presence was about to get a bit hostile, I shouted between calls: “Living people have a right to be here, too!” which made absolutely no sense whatsoever but I felt better saying it and the mood actually seemed to lighten up a little! At 10 pm the night watchman returned from getting a beer or whatever and when I opened the door to leave, the door slammed back hard on the back of my heel, prompting the watchman to ask if I was all right. Probably just a fluke.
4. “Ghosts Just Wanna Have Fun!” We had a cute DPS trooper named Cindy, who would wear her long blonde hair in an adorably high ponytail. Cindy had been complaining about strange noises in the Lieutenant Governor’s Reception Room. One morning (forget midnight! Our ghosts love predawn!) a lot of noises were coming from this room, so Cindy made a coworker go in with her. Investigating by quietly walking around the room, Cindy felt someone pull her ponytail, hard! When she spun around to yell at her coworker, she saw him standing across the room with an expression that said, “Why did your hair just do that?”
5. “Shifton and the School Boy!” Dewitt C. Greer Building, circa 1986
Security Guard extraordinaire and part-time barber, Shifton MacShan has this conversation with me one morning in the Capitol Visitors Center:
Him: Is there any chance the Highway building is built on the sight of an old elementary school?
Me: I have no idea. Why?
Him: Don’t think I’m crazy.
Me: Late for that. But, okay.
Him: A few months ago, a little school boy walked by my counter, and he was back again last night.
Him: A schoolboy.
Me: A what?
Him: A school boy! A damn school boy! You know what a damn schoolboy is!
Me: When did he walk by?
Him: About two o’clock this morning.
Me: Why did you let him in?
Him: I didn’t let him in! First I see him, he’s already walking by!
Me: How did he get in?
Him: Well, how the hell would I know?
Me: Did you tell anybody?
Him: I’m telling you! You gonna tell somebody?
Me: Not unless you want us both to get drug tested.
Him: I’m telling you, that twice now a damn school boy walked by, with his damn school boy cap and his damn school boy knickers and his damn school books tied up with a damn leather strap!
Me: Well, damn! Did he say anything to you?”
Him: No. He just walks by real fast, turns right at the elevator and disappears down that hall!
Me: Into the human resources office?
Him: I guess that’s what it is.
Me: Why would a school boy need the human resources office?
Him: Because, I think he thinks he’s back at school and he’s trying to get to class! Maybe the human resources used to be a class room all those years ago.
Me: He sounds conscientious!
Him: He’s unnerving!
Him: Because he’s a damn school boy walking by my damn counter at two o’clock in the goddamn morning! Would you like that?
Me: I see your point. Does he acknowledge you in any way?
Him: I don’t think he even realizes I’m here. Like I said, he’s in a hurry.
Me: Maybe you could both just ignore each other?
(And, that is just what they did! When the little school boy would appear and walk quickly by, Shifton would keep his eyes on his newspaper and say, “Just get on down the hall, little school boy. I ain’t gonna look at you.”
And so they lived (and un-lived!) happily ever after!
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