Texas Travel: Terrors and Thrills
Do you want to scare up a little fun this Halloween? Whether you’re looking for a place where your little “monster” can giggle with the ghouls or an all-out fear fest that challenges adults to conquer their demons, numerous attractions in the Lone Star State will get you in the spirit for a fright night to remember.
As traditional as trick-or treating in the capital city, people who like to party are invited to come as they aren’t to 6th Street. In this historical area, costumed revelers roam in a cordoned-off area and make history of their own in costumes as fanciful as their imaginations.
Not all Halloween fun takes place at night, though; an afternoon of fun at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center celebrates an ever-growing love for all things Halloween at “Goblins in the Garden.” On Oct. 28 the seeds for family-oriented fun will be planted as tiny terrors become enchanted by watching a witch perform magical plant spells at the “Not-So-Haunted Tower.” Of course, fun in the garden means a little earthy fun and kids can dig up clues in the gardens during a “Trail-of-Bones” scavenger hunt, and go batty over the sight of creatures of the night during a visit to the bat stations in the Visitors Gallery. Information, www.wildflower.org.
Pet lovers can give their pups something to howl about during the Halloween season by visiting an annual Fido-centric festival, Dogtoberfest. Benefiting Austin-area animal rescue groups, on Oct. 20 dogs will don disguises at The Domain for the Canine Costume Contest during a day of play that will include a silent auction and pet-related demonstrations. Information, www.dogtoberfestaustin.org.
Dallas/Fort Worth Area
The Dallas/Fort Worth area is home to several special Halloween attractions that go beyond the term “Texas-sized” and are considered world leaders. You’ll have a killer time at the many haunted attractions in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area, including the Cutting Edge Haunted House in Fort Worth. The goosebump-inducing spook house holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest walk through haunted house. Information, www.cuttingedgehauntedhouse.com.
At a haunt with a heart, visitors to Hangman’s House of Horrors are cowering for good causes. This annual fright fest has conjured up more than $1.7 million for local organizations since it started scaring people silly back in 1988, making it the nation’s No. 1 charity-benefiting haunted house. An attraction with a funhouse atmosphere and a line up of bands that will belt out tunes to wake the dead, Hangman’s provides more gasps than gore. Information, www.hangmans.com.
Billed as the world’s largest Halloween theme park, SCREAMS in Waxahachie offers five terrifying attractions for haunted house enthusiasts, while scaredy cats can enjoy the cinematic spookiness of some of the silver screen’s classic scream kings like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff. Information, www.screamspark.com.
Since its construction in 1911, the Hotel Galvez has been a haunt for presidents, paparazzi magnets and countless patrons who appreciate the beauty of the Queen of the Gulf, but over the years a few incorporeal inhabitants also have made the retreat their permanent residence. Throughout October, the Hotel Galvez offers a “Dinner with the Ghosts” package, which gives visitors the chance to enjoy overnight accommodations and a three-course repast for two. Next, they’ll feast their eyes on the hallway where a friendly phantom hangs around the portrait of Bernardo de Galvez then visit the hotel’s west turret, where the “Ghost Bride” – who still lingers in Room 501, waiting for a love she thought was lost at sea – ended her life. Information, www.wyndham.com/hotels/GLSHG/main.wnt.
If you’re interested in additional spectral sightings, don’t give up the ghost, as this area has a large population of “spirit”ed citizens. The Galveston Historical Foundation offers ghost tours of the harbor, local cemeteries, and majestic mansions. Tour Ashton Villa, an 1859 edifice which “Miss Bettie,” the daughter of the home’s first owner James Moreau Brown, still considers home, and Bishop’s Palace, a hauntingly beautiful sight seen by candlelight as a tour guide takes history lovers on a trip back in time. Information, www.galvestonhistory.org.
As October is the traditional season for screamin’, the arrival of November has always been a nightmare for Halloween buffs, until now. Housed in a 19th-century building which is forever bound to the real-life horror of Galveston’s 1900 hurricane, Haunted Mayfield Manor is a permanent fright site for those who wish to experience fear throughout the year. The 20-minute visit to the abode of demented Dr. Mayfield and his family of supernatural fiends, which features the handiwork of the “Godfather of haunting” Leonard Pickel, is located on the Strand at 23rd Street next to a treasure trove of entertainment, Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast. Information, www.hauntedmayfieldmanor.com.
And while it can be frightfully difficult these days for parents to find fear-free events for their little pumpkins, at Saengerfest Park, children age 11 and under have a Halloween happening all their own. A carnival as sweet as candy corn, the “Mini Monster Bash” includes trick-or-treating, costume contests, games and prizes. Information, www.galveston.com.
No matter how hard we try to hide them, we all have irrational fears, and the eight attractions at Phobia prey on each one. An intense terror trip that’s been scaring visitors since 1996, the haunts are a bloody good time for hard-core fans of gore, but are not for the faint of heart. Information, www.darke.com.
If there’s a ghost of a chance that you can see a specter this October, it will be during the Haunted Heights Ghost Tour, which will part the veil between the present and the past to reveal the mysteries behind Houston’s history. Offered throughout the year, the two-hour Ghost Tours of Texas walking tours (which have a PG-13 rating due to the gruesome nature of the real-life deaths) also take place in Kemah and Galveston. Information, www.ghosttoursoftexas.com.
The East Texas town of Jefferson is proud of its distinction as the most haunted small town in Texas. The Historic Jefferson Ghost Walk invites visitors to follow in the footsteps of phantoms during a lantern-lit tour that illuminates the dark corners of the past. Information, www.jeffersonghostwalk.com.
As a train whistle’s scream stabs the night air, it sets the wheels in locomotion for a PG-13 presentation as the Runaway Freight Train travels through the zombie-filled Piney Woods. Will it be the end of the line for the brave souls on board? For those who want their trip to produce giggles rather than goosebumps, the train’s first excursion of the evening is G-rated, as is an early walk through the “Creepy Screamin’ Corn Maze,” which transforms into a labyrinth where maniacal clowns and skeletons with a bone to pick with anyone who disturbs their lair lurk as the clock ticks closer to the witching hour. Making its debut in 2012, the CarnEvil of the Damned Haunted House will have your knees knocking before you knock on its door. Information, www.jeffersonrailway.com.
The Alamo City’s longest-running scare show, Nightmare on Grayson is a haunted attraction that’s become a San Antonio staple as much for its carnival-style atmosphere as for the fear it induces. Outside the haunted house, folks can enjoy some monster entertainment, including flamethrowers, a magician and palm readers. Information, www.nightmareongrayson.com.
Howl-O-Scream at SeaWorld San Antonio is a treat for children during the daylight hours with a pumpkin bash, a “FantaSea” festival and a countdown to Halloween with Count Von Count, Elmo and other Sesame Street characters. When the sun sinks into the horizon, however, it marks the start of a descent into terror with attractions for mature audiences. Information, www.seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-sanantonio.
The past is ever present in many of the city’s landmarks, and several tours will take those intrigued by the structures’ supernatural nature on an exploration of the unexplained, including Alamo City Ghost Tours, Ghost Hunts of San Antonio Texas Tour and the Sisters Grimm Ghost Tour.
“Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream/Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream”…and so is the afterlife by the looks of the ghosts who float by on funerary boxes during Bud Light Coffins on Parade, which takes place Oct. 27. The San Antonio River resembles the river Styx as caskets cruise for two laps along the River Walk, starting at the International Building.
If you dare to look into all of the scares the Lone Star State has to offer, let the Internet capture your imagination by visiting www.ghosttourdirectory.com, www.hauntedhouse.com, www.hauntedtexas.com and www.texashauntsociety.com. Happy haunting!
About the authors: Paris Permenter and John Bigley are the authors of 28 guidebooks, many covering the Lone Star State. The Texas residents are also the publishers of TexasTripper.com travel guide and DogTipper.com for dog lovers.