By Austin Eck
From cattle rustlers to young lovers jumping off a cliff to be with each other for eternity, Waco has picked up a few ghost stories along the way.
The stories can be shared between co-workers, police officers in squad cars or children during sleepovers, but regardless of where they are told, they capture people’s imaginations.
“When it comes to folklore, a lot of people obsess or try to find out if this stuff is true or not,” said Bradley Turner, assistant professor at McLennan Community College and author of the book “Cotton Bales, Goatmen & Witches: Legends from the Heart of Texas.” “When it comes to folklore think of it as telling a joke, specifically an Aggie joke. I don’t know if an Aggie ever walked into a bar and said something or not. Whether or not it happened doesn’t make it any less funny. Meaning, the purpose of the story isn’t necessarily that it happened. The purpose of the story might be entertainment, might be moral, etcetera.”
Witch’s Castle, sometimes called Witch’s House, is the most well-known ghost story in Waco. There are a few variations, but Baylor 2013 alumnus Stephen O’Beirne of Waco told the two versions he had heard.
The first story took place in the late 1800s or early 1900s. A woman people suspected of witchcraft lived in the woods of Cameron Park, and people went missing in the woods. Residents of Waco believed the woman was the cause of the disappearances. They formed a mob and burned down the woman’s house while she was inside.
The second story involves a woman and a boy. The boy would invite his friends over to his house, and every time the boy’s friend would go missing. Supposedly, the boy was murdering his friends and hiding the bodies in Cameron Park. People took notice, but blamed the woman who they suspected was a witch. A mob burned her house down, but the boy was never found.
The first time O’Beirne went to Witch’s Castle was during his sophomore year at Baylor.
“You go through this gate,” O’Beirne said. “You can’t drive your car because the gate is actually closed, but you can walk through it. Eventually, you’ll go down there and you’ll see some ruins.”
Around the area there are concrete walls and brick walls crumbling.
“There is no actual house,” he said. “You’ll see these walls, and you walk around. You’ll see these areas that actually still have have crumbling walls in places.”
On his first trip, he and his friends encountered something unusual around the witching hour.
“We went there about 2:30 a.m. We were just running around the trails, just kind of looking around,” he said. “It was a pretty still night, and all of a sudden, the wind picked up out of nowhere. It started blowing hard, and someone asked what time it was. I flipped open my phone, and it was 3 a.m. exactly.”
He and his friends quickly left the area.
“We didn’t see any witches — nothing out of the ordinary,” he said. “It is just kind of a spooky place.”
Another tale focuses on a woman living by Proctor Springs who would lure people to her house, kill and sacrifice them. One night after killing some travelers, she killed herself. Tales include people approaching where she lived and smelling the decaying corpses.
Other tales focus on a woman, or a witch, wandering the woods and in some cases chasing after a person in the woods of Cameron Park.
“The Cameron Park Witch was actually a Victorian nanny to the Cameron children,” Turner said. “This one is probably the most fitting.”
Before the park was dedicated, the Cameron family owned it, but while they owned it, vagrants would camp out on the property. When the Cameron children would play in the forest, the nanny would go along with them, and if they encountered a vagrant trespassing, the nanny would chase the intruders off of the land. To shoo them away she would use a switch.
“Legend is, she was probably called the witch while she was still living,” Turner said.
She fell sick and died quickly.
“Legend says that the bums and the vagrants, in particular, would still see her ghost walking through the park chasing after them,” Turner said. “She’d fetch a switch. In some cases, she would look frantic like she lost the children, and she would attack the person thinking they had kidnapped them. In the winter, she would be carrying a lantern, crying out for them, and whenever she came across you she would beat you with a switch or knock you senseless.”
Lindsey Hollow Road
Another ghost story in Cameron Park O’Beirne has heard involves two cattle thieves.
In the late 1800s, a couple of men stole horses. They were captured and hanged from a tree on Lindsey Hollow Road in Cameron Park, he said.
“From what I’ve heard that is an actual true story,” O’Beirne said. “Where it gets kind of crazy, people who drive along or walk along Lindsey Hollow see their bodies hanging from the tree.”
Decca Lamar West wrote one of the earliest documentations of the Lovers’ Leap story in 1912. The original can be found as part of The Texas Collection.
In West’s version of the tale, Wah-Wah-Tee, the daughter of the Chief of the Wacos, fell in love with an Apache man. As the Apaches are threatening an attack on Wah-Wah-Tee, she goes to meet her lover, but a member of her tribe followed her. Wah-Wah-Tee’s spy tells her father about the rendezvous. Her father and her brothers go to kill the Apache, but before they could kill him, the Apache and Wah-Wah-Tee embrace and jump off the cliff. The cliff is now known as Lovers’ Leap.
West goes on to say in the book that when the moon and river is full, the figures of the two can be seen on the cliff.
“There’s Lovers’ Leaps all over — everywhere,” Turner said. “It’s always the same legend. Anywhere from Jamaica, North Carolina; it doesn’t matter.”