Old Ballinger Hotel is a Hub of History and Paranormal Activity
The following story includes testimony by a West Texan who experienced a paranormal encounter at the Olde Park Hotel & Antiques in Ballinger, and the testimony of the building’s owner. San Angelo LIVE! apologizes for the story’s length, but there are two different stories told here; so, read on at your own risk and know that what you’re about to read is not fiction.
Testimony of a Past Paranormal Encounter
About 15 years ago, when Midland native Wes Childers attended Angelo State University, he was a young man interested in history, cowboy memorabilia and all things Native American. Wes’ father taught history and instilled a love of the topic in him, so whenever he could, the college student would grab a hold of history books that discussed everything that happened in and around the Concho Valley, got in his car and took off to explore all the areas that caught his interest; and along the way, he collected that cowboy memorabilia along with Native American art and artifacts, particularly arrowheads.
One day, Ballinger caught his eye, so on a Sunday, Wes decided to take the 30-minute drive to the town.
“I just wanted to explore the area,” he said. “I always thought it looked like an old painting in the Saturday morning post. You know, the Normal Rockwell type.”
It was about 12:30 or 1 p.m. by the time Wes drove into town, and as he made his way down Hutchings Ave., or U.S. 67 from San Angelo, a building caught his attention in the town square.
“It was sitting on the southeast corner across from the courthouse. It was a little two story hotel. It had a banner that was hanging loosely from the balcony that said ‘Antiques: We’re Open.’”
At that moment, Wes decided to check things out. He pulled in front of the Olde Park Hotel & Antiques at 107 S. 6th St., got out of his car and made his way to the door of the old building. Initially, he figured the store would be closed with it being Sunday, but that wasn’t the case. He went inside, and in the lobby area, an elderly lady behind the counter greeted him. Not to far from her sat an older man, her husband, who sat on a piece of wood.
“She was a real nice lady,” Wes noted. “She hollered to her husband and said, ‘Hey honey we have a visitor!’”
The woman’s husband grunted in acknowledgement, and Wes got the feeling the man didn’t care for younger people being in his shop. Maybe he figured Wes a punk college kid who had no business in an antique shop.
Despite the man’s reaction, Wes asked the woman, “Do you have any old west memorabilia?”
“I’m not sure if we do,” she responded. “If we do, it would be upstairs in one of the rooms, so help yourself.”
With the woman’s direction, the young man made his way to the left and saw the narrow wooden staircase leading to the second floor. As he began to ascend the stairs, a musty smell overwhelmed him, an odor that represented the age of the building.
“I walked up the staircase, and for a fleeting moment, I had this thought that if I was filming a horror movie, this would be the best location. The steps would creek and sometimes a plume of dust would come up,” Wes said.
Once he made his way up to the landing, he began to explore a few rooms toward the front of the building’s second floor, but nothing caught his interest; thus, he started walking down the hall toward the back rooms. Midway down the hall, Wes noticed the opened windows with see-through curtains covering them, but he couldn’t shake the chill of the dark hallway.
“It was almost like I had to squint just to kind of see, even though sunlight was pouring through the rooms,” Wes explained.
As the young man makes his way from room to room looking at things, he heard what sounded like boot steps.
“My first thought is I’m in an old building, so my mind’s playing tricks on me; I didn’t give it much thought,” stated Wes. “As I kept walking down the hallway, however, the boot steps became more pronounced, more belligerent. They were coming from the rooms I had just been in.”
At first, Wes thought maybe the owner’s husband decided to check on him. After all, the man had glared at him, so maybe he wanted to make sure the college student wasn’t stealing or vandalizing something. Or, maybe the couple had a housekeeper to help keep the more than 40-room building tidy. However, as Wes started to scope out another room, he got a distinct feeling someone was watching him. The hair on the back of his neck slowly started to rise and he felt a presence. He knew at that point he wasn’t alone.
Thinking that presence a person, Wes continued to meander throughout the rooms, and when he made it into the last room toward the end of the hall, he noticed a large mahogany table sitting in the middle of the room. It had a bunch of National Geographic magazines thrown on top of it. He picked up one of the magazines and started flipping through it with his head down. Once more, the sound of footsteps approaching from the joining room caught his attention.
“I heard them stop in the doorway, and I glanced up fully expecting to see somebody,” Wes stated. “When I glanced up, I saw—I guess the best way to describe it—a vaporish-type image. You know, when you see heat evaporate or gasoline; it’s kind of like that. So I’m looking at the thing thinking, ‘Is there an air vent close by that would cause this?’ As I got to looking at it, I could see a pair of eyes appear out of this mist. It started to take shape, and it started to look like a person. It was transparent, but in other words, it wasn’t a full-body apparition—at least not yet. It was starting to form and I was starting to see that it was an older gentleman, and he was resting his arm on the chair I was sitting next to by the doorway. He was staring right at me. He had kind of a smirk on his face as if to say, ‘Who are you; what are you doing?’”
Wes didn’t cower in fear, nor did he run out of the room screaming after witnessing the vapor-like image. Instead, he rubbed his eyes and questioned his sanity for a moment.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I suddenly feel unwelcome. I actually feel like I need to leave,’” Wes said. “As crazy as it sounds, I went as far as to apologize to this thing that was still in the process of trying to materialize. I didn’t particularly want to hang around to see what it would come to. I just kind of kept my composure as best I could.”
Trying to contain that composure, Wes rushed down the stairs and figured he’d get in his car, head home and try to process what he just witnessed. As he was leaving, and when he made it a few yards to the door, the elderly lady jumped in his path and asked, “Oh, you’re leaving so soon? Did you find everything you needed?”
Before Wes could respond, the woman explained she and her husband didn’t get many visitors, so when they do, they like to know where they’re from and have them sign the guest book.
As she continued to talk, Wes wondered if he should tell her about what he saw because he didn’t know if she would think him “nuts” for saying something like that. The young man decided to take his chances.
“Ma’am, you’re going to think I’m insane, and that’s fine if you do, but I got to tell you what I witnessed up there,” Wes stated. As he explained the events that took place, the kind-looking woman stared at him with a stoic expression on her face. Wes got the feeling the woman knew something, especially after he waited for the woman to roll her eyes or contradict him in some way, but that never happened.
Instead, the woman turned toward her husband who continued to sit on that same piece of wood, and said, “Honey, this guy saw the ghost of the owner.”
“You mean this is real? You know he’s there?” asked Wes.
“Yes, we know he’s there,” responded the woman. “We haven’t personally seen him. We have a living quarters behind this hotel that separates the shop from our living quarters. We know he’s there because people have seen him in the past. The spirit sounds like the owner, but this building is also home to several other ghosts.”
With that, the women proceeded to provide Wes with a condensed version of the building’s history, and how it used to be a hotel, a school house and a saloon. At night, the woman would hear the sounds of children running up and down the hallways.
“They’ve been here longer than I’ve been here,” continued the owner. “I’ve made peace with the fact that they’re here, but as long as I never have to see them. If I have to see them, that’s not going to be good.”
The woman then proceeded to point to a porcelain doll.
“Everything you see in the shop is for sale except that doll,” noted the woman. “The porcelain doll used to belong to my mother when she was a little girl. We tried to sell that doll at one point. I watched that doll levitate from one shelf to another, and I took that as a sign that doll was not for sale; so ever since then, the doll has been up here.”
Once the woman finished her story, Wes said his goodbye and left that old antique shop in awe of what took place. Today, he works in the oil field and has moved on with life, but that experience hasn’t left him. Wes said he considers himself a spiritual person and believes spirits live around us whether they’re angelic or demonic. He’s had enough experiences to prove there’s a spirit realm.
Additionally, Wes tried to do some research on the hotel, but he wasn’t able to get anywhere much to his dismay; but he mentioned his story to other people and many of them said they heard Olde Park Hotel & Antiques was indeed haunted. A year or so ago, Wes contacted the Ballinger Chamber of Commerce because the story has stayed with him all these years, and he learned the place had been passed down to another family member.
The Testimony of That Family Member, Jeanette Findlay
Jeanette Findlay has lived all over the place because her father was in the military; however, the Olde Park Hotel & Antique shop belonged to her great grandmother and has been in the family since the turn of the last century. It has passed through many relatives’ hands, including her parents: the couple Wes Childers met 15 years ago.
One of her aunts who owned the building had to go into a nursing home, so the woman had to sell the property to afford to do so. In the 1980s, when Jeanette and her father returned to Ballinger for a funeral and heard the property was out of the family and up for sale, the two of them bought it back. Originally, when they bought the hotel back, it was full of stuff, but by the time Jeanette and her parents took the building over, someone had removed everything, so the family of antiquers restocked and have been doing business since.
“I’ve been doing antiques for 51 years and both my parents who have passed away since. They had been doing antiques for as long as I have,” said Jeanette.
The old hotel has been standing in the same place since before Ballinger became a town, during a time when there were no electric poles, but rather, gas lights. The building used to be a bunkhouse for the railroad workers before there was a town. The day of the town lot sale was July of 1886, and old pictures show the building before Jeanette’s family added all the additional parts of the building. One part of the building was moved in from the City of Runnels on logs, and two local historians, Bubba Wright and Newman Smith, told Jeanette the other building, that’s part of the hotel, may have been the old courthouse for the City of Runnels; however, Jeanette couldn’t verify that as fact.
Regardless, the antique shop/hotel has lots of history, and the building has had many functions, including a place where Ballinger residents used to drink and gamble during prohibition. For Jeanette, however, it’s the place that defines her family. She gets to walk through the rooms where her great grandmother and great grandfather slept. Her mother was also born in that hotel.
Unfortunately for the older woman, Jeanette has lost many of her family members, including her parents, husband, aunts, best friend and more. However, the spirits of those family members, along with the spirits of many other people inhabit the once old Ballinger hotel, so Wes’ experience 15 years ago wasn’t unique. In fact, many people over the years have visited the hotel because they heard of the many sightings there. Sightings that continue to happen every day for Jeanette.
“Sometimes it will be 8 or 10 in a week; sometimes it will just be one, but it’s very active,” she said about the spirits who inhabit the hotel. “They’re in and out.”
Additionally, the stern man Wes met those years ago, Jeanette’s father, still roams the hotel even though he’s passed on. However, like Jeanette’s father, there are a few spirits who keep Jeanette company day and night.
First, there’s Glen. Glen lives in the closet in one of the rooms on the bottom floor.
“He’s around all the time,” said Jeanette.
Then there’s Cowboy, the man most people see. Jeanette described the cowboy as younger, taller than 6 feet, slim, and he wears a cowboy hat, a handkerchief and a long coat. He has boots and spurs, and people see him mostly around the lower part of the stairs.
“He’s up and down, up and down, and people will see him from outside,” explained Jeanette.
Uncle Spike lives in the room close to the door that faces the courtyard. Uncle Spike was one of the previous owners, so when Jeanette's mom mentioned an owner, it's possible that's who Wes saw all those years ago. Many people have seen Uncle Spike.
However, there are many spirit residents, and they show themselves often to Jeanette.
“In the evenings, as I’m turning off the lights, you can see…it’s amazing…it’s like clouds just going whoosh, whoosh, whoosh,” described Jeanette. “In the evening, you can see them better because there’s not a window in the back. You can see fog, and there will be like eight of them, or more sometimes.”
Then there are the girls, Marjorie and Margaret who live downstairs in the last room on the left. One day, Jeanette was working at her flower shop in the Bastrop, Texas area when she got a call from a woman wanting to look at her antiques.
“I’m here at your store,” the woman told Jeanette, “but your employee won’t let me in.”
“Employee? I don’t have an employee,” Jeanette told the woman.
“You don’t? Well, I’m looking right at her. She looks like she’d work here with her dated clothes,” the woman proclaimed.
It's possible the woman was looking at either Marjorie or Margaret.
Other regulars at the hotel include Simon, Dennis, Jeanette’s Uncle Spike, and occasionally, Jeanette’s aunts who were raised in the hotel, Helen, Gertrude and Virginia, will appear now and then upstairs along with another spirit, Robin.
Not to mention, because of a three-phase electric meter in the back of the building, Jeanette said many other spirits come and go, but they don’t stay for long.
“Energy sources like that are vortexes for spirits coming in and out, so I have spirits coming in and out of here all the time. Lots of them have nothing to do with the hotel,” explained Jeanette.
The ones who are permanent residents, however, are particular to their living quarters and their wants and needs. For instance, Margaret wants Jeanette to turn one part of the hotel into a parlor.
“When my husband and I, who also passed away, were redoing upstairs, there used to be cheesecloth on the walls and they put wallpaper on top of it; and as we were taking that down, there was red velvet wallpaper on the wal. No decent woman of the period would have allowed red velvet wallpaper.”
Simon, a 9- to 11-year-old boy, can be mischievous at times. Jeanette described him as “a little bitty short shit” who’s not even 5 feet tall, and who wears a cone hat and a cape as if he thinks he’s a wizard.
“He reminds me of Simon Lagree,” Jeanette said laughing. The antiquer said she used to have a lot of military items in cases, and Simon was the protector of the military guys. She said she knows he’s around when she feels the coolness of him, and because of his height, it’s easy to identify him. Hot air rises with him as well. Jeanette has had to get on Simon now and then for scaring visitors.
“He would swoop down and scare people,” she noted.
Dennis is also young. He’s about 11 or 12 and runs around in overalls with one of his straps down.
As for the other spirits who have come and gone, they have also made an impact with their presence.
Once, Jeanette was in one of the rooms that used to be her bedroom. She was lying in her bed eating candy and doing crossword puzzles when a visitor showed up. Her room was not too far from three-phase electric meter.
“All of a sudden, I see a woman [in the doorway]. She comes into the room. She was dressed in a full length skirt, bubble sleeves, long, with buttons. Her hair’s up in Gibson style, and she’s got a little hat type of thing on there. She’s wearing a pinafore, and she’s got a high neck with a broach. I’m lying in the bed, wide awake. She comes in, takes the book out of my hand, sets it on the table next to me, pulls the cover up to my chin, and turns off the light.”
Overall, all of Jeanette’s paranormal guests, other than scaring her real guests, aren’t a problem, but one time a passer through who stayed a while did cause some problems.
“I don’t know who he was, but he’s the only one that was truly a negative spirit,” she stated. “He’s since been banished, and I haven’t seen him in several months since July.”
Jeanette described the spirit as aggressive. One time when her granddaughter was staying with her, he pinned her to the bed in a room upstairs. Jeanette went up to that room afterward (because her granddaughter “has some problems”) to check things out, and that’s when she noticed him. The aggressive spirit didn’t physically touch her, she said, but while she was sleeping, he woke her up and took her to a building through a vision. It was a prison where she witnessed “an evil, evil, evil man” who laughed and cackled. She didn’t know if he personally experienced that situation, but she knew that it was “Horrible, horrible, horrible.”
After that, Jeanette painted the ceiling haint blue, the walls a bright yellow and let in a lot of sunlight into that room. Her sister also did a banishing with sage, which Jeanette has a plentiful supply of and burns around the house just in case.
“I have to,” she said.
Apparently, haint blue is known for chasing away evil spirits, and the yellow confuses them because they think they’re outside or the walls are water.
“It’s real common in the New Orleans area to find haint blue,” noted Jeanette.
Other temporary spirits that impacted the woman’s life were five young spirits who used to stay in the back of the building. Jeanette learned her uncle "ran girls out of the back" of that building from some older men who said they visited the hotel in the late 1940s when her aunt and uncle owned the place. Her aunt was in a wheelchair back then and couldn't go to the back of the building. Jeanette believed these spirits a part of that time.
“I would see them all the time,” she said. “I got sick a few years ago and went to the hospital, and those girls came with me. I’m in the hospital and a nurse comes in chastising me, ‘It’s too late. These girls have to go! That’s too many guests anyway!’”
Jeanette didn’t have anyone with her, but she knew she couldn’t say so to the nurse. After that visit, however, the girls didn’t return with the woman and she hasn’t seen them since. Jeanette believes they may have gotten familiar with the spirits at the hospital or maybe got comfortable there because they didn’t return with her.
Despite all of the paranormal activity, Jeanette has no fear and has grown accustomed to the spirits who have made the hotel their home.
“It’s not about believing. It’s knowing and not knowing,” Jeanette noted. “If you’ve experienced it, you don’t have a question. It happened. It’s not believing it or believing it. It’s experiencing or not experiencing it.”
And many people have experienced the activity at the hotel, which is why Jeanette knows she's not crazy. She’s not the only one to witness all the craziness. Even the people who go to the hotel as skeptics walk out with a different perspective.
When Jeanette and her parents originally opened the hotel, they also had a bed and breakfast. They had couples come all the time, and many of the women heard about the spirits. This was back in the 80s. The women believed in the ghosts, but the men didn’t. One day a man who had this mindset came down from his room after spending the night and asked, “Okay who was the man standing at the end of the bed?” When Jeanette pulled out her family album and showed it to the man, he said, “Oh that’s him!”
The man the visitor saw was Jeanette’s Uncle Spike. He was the only regular spirit in the family.
Even Jeanette’s mother once was a skeptic. One Christmas though, after Jeanette’s grandmother passed away, they were decorating a Christmas tree in the center of what’s now the main area of the antique shop.
“Now, we had gone through grandmother’s house, and one of the things my grandmother did is she would buy all these dolls and dress them up as angels and hang them in the tree at Christmastime,” explained Jeanette. “Mom didn’t believe in ghosts either until one day she was standing here decorating the tree, and one of the dolls comes straight out and [moves] slowly around the corner of the tree, gets right in front of her, hovers and then drops to the ground. Now how does a doll come from over there by itself?”
After that, Jeanette’s mother started to accept there were ghosts, especially when they would hear children running up and down the hall giggling, laughing and slamming doors.
“She was already going that direction, but she didn’t want to believe,” Jeanette said, which explains why she told Wes what she did about not wanting to see them.
Jeanette said because of the hotel’s reputation, many people have come through her doors throughout the years.
“There’s numerous, numerous, numerous people who have seen things,” she said. “Some people will come in not knowing anything and will get the creeps and leave. Other people are fascinated by it.”
Jeanette has also received many requests from paranormal groups who want to go into the hotel and bring all their equipment.
“These guys live here,” she said. “This is their home. No, you cannot come in here and screw with my ghosts. You want proof they’re here? Walk through.”
Jeanette said that’s where she’s like Simon with his protective nature toward the military guys. She feels protective of the beings who live in the hotel.
“This is their space and I want them to be comfortable here,” she said. “They were here before I was. Some of them were relatives. So when you [ask] do I have spirits? Hell yeah! How do you deny it? I don’t market it that way.”
At this time, Jeanette is selling the building for personal reasons; however, she’s selling it as is. The antiquer is in the process of doing major renovations and turning the top floors into apartment-style homes. She’s selling the building for $137,000 and is willing to owner finance for $100,000.
Some people tell Jeanette she’s going to have a hard time selling the building because the spirits don’t want her to do so. Glen, in fact, is actively trying to interrupt her sale. When she sells the building, she said, she’ll have to sell it to somebody who is going to be protective, be aware and be sensitive to the spirits. If they go into the building and try to do repairs and the spirits don’t like it, they’re going to let them know. Lights will fall down, plumbing will break and electric will go out.
Prime example, Jeanette said once she walked into the kitchen and things started flying off the walls, and she knew it was her Aunt Helen. The spirit didn’t like the color Jeanette painted it, so she changed it and nothing else happened.
“The spirit of this building is also the spirit of my family,” Jeanette maintained. “My mother, my father and all of my relatives are here, and as long as I’m here, I can’t go forward. I need to let go of my mother, my father, my husband, and all my aunts and cousins. I lost nine people in five years, and I’m talking about my best friend and my aunts I took to the doctor, and I took them camping two or three times a year. We traveled all over together. My cousin, who I’d take three month trips with, she has passed. So many of them are tied to this place.”
Also, because Jeanette is a floral designer in the Bastrop area, she can’t be in both places. It’s too much.
She stated, “That’s a fresh start where this is the past. I cannot let go. I can’t if it’s all around me.”
Author’s Note: I don’t normally do this for these stories, but I felt compelled to after what my colleague, John Basquez, and I experienced. During our visit to the old hotel in Ballinger, we both encountered some interesting things. In the picture above, you can see three orbs. That was a dark hallway that Jeanette told us had a lot of activity. We didn’t see the orbs when we looked, but John caught them on camera. He didn’t use a flash for that image because his camera catches the lighting of dark areas.
Currently, the people at West Texas Paranormal are reviewing the images and feel there’s enough evidence to conduct a visit. For those of you who happen to visit the hotel in Ballinger, expect to feel the hair on your arms and neck rise, to feel pinpricks on your face as it flushes hot, and experience the overwhelming cold areas where the regular spirits reside.