Haunted Texas Hotels

     This time of year, Texas travel can take on a spookier theme when tourists seek out the most haunted hotels in their area.

     Our state has no shortage of hotels with stories of resident spirits and unnatural occurrences. Some are based in fact. Some are more of a “reach.” If you want to test your nerves by staying at a property that might be home to unearthly beings, here are a few to try:

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The Hotel Galvez, Galveston

  2. The Driskill Hotel, Austin

  3. Sheraton Gunter Hotel, San Antonio

  4. Menger Hotel, San Antonio

  5. Nutt House, Granbury

  6. The Excelsior Hotel, Jefferson

  7. Jefferson Hotel, Jefferson

  8. Baker Hotel, Mineral Wells

  9. The Ott Hotel, Liberty

  10. Renaissance Casa de las Palmas, McAllen

  11. Gage Hotel, Marathon

  12. Le Meridien Stoneleigh, Dallas

  13. Queen Isabel Inn, Port Isabel

     Of course, this list is far from complete, but it’s a good place to start…or a lucky 13 places.

     If you’re planning to brave a potentially haunted hotel in hope of having your own other-worldly experience you may make your reservations pretty far ahead of your stay.

     Read the stories about the resident spirit(s) and experiences of others. If there is a particular room in the hotel that is purported to be the center of the activity and you want to stay in it (like room 501 at The Hotel Galvez),  plan to book your room MONTHS in advance. These rooms are incredibly popular! If you’re thinking about staying there in October, you may need to book even further out.

     Don’t trust your own senses, but don’t have expensive “ghost hunting” electronics? No problem. Just download one of the many apps available that claim to detect the presence of spirits…but if the information they give you creeps you out, don’t blame me!

     A few to check out:

  1. Ghost Radar: Classic by Spud Pickles

  2. Ghost Communicator by Andrew Gronek

  3. Ghost Detector Free by Purple Penguin.com

  4. Ghost Locator by Sebastien Mougey

  5. Ghost Observer by AKEV

  6. Ghost Recorder by MEDL Mobile, Inc.

  7. Ghost O Meter by Adrian 3

     But remember, if all of this ghostly talk isn’t your style, there’s no shame in checking into a brand new hotel, cuing up “Hocus Pocus” on pay-per-view and digging into some Halloween candy instead!

Test Your Dia de los Muertos Trivia IQ

 

Stacy Anderson Photography


If you think that Dia de los Muertos is a creepy holiday, or the same as Halloween . . . think again! This Latin American holiday is rooted in the love of family and traditions.

     My friend Stacy, from the Hurried Hostess blog, and I got to visit with Houston Life TV and share a bit about this special tradition.

     Here are the trivia questions that I posed to the hosts. Give them a try to see how you do!

How many days does the celebration of Dia de los Muertos span?

  1. one

  2. two

  3. three

  4. four

Dia de los Muertos coincides with which two Catholic holidays?

  1. Halloween and All Souls’ Day

  2. Assumption and Good Friday

  3. All Saints Day and All Souls Day

  4. Halloween and Our Lady of Autumn

What is the traditional flower to leave on graves during the Day of the Dead celebrations?

  1. roses

  2. marigolds

  3. tulips

  4. mums

Dia de los Muertos was originally celebrated in what month?

  1. December

  2. August

  3. March

  4. January

The iconic woman skeleton character in a dress and hat is known as:

  1. la Madre

  2. la Madrina

  3. la Muertida

  4. la Catrina

In the United States, pumpkins are associated with Halloween. What traditional food does Mexico associate with Dia de los Muertos?

  1. corn

  2. beans

  3. potatoes

  4. butternut squash

Which people were the first to practice the beginnings of this tradition?

  1. Spanish

  2. Hondurans

  3. Aztecs

  4. Mayans

Answers:

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.

.

Did you peek?

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How many days does the celebration of Dia de los Muertos span?

Three. October 31 is All Hallow’s Eve, a day of preparation for the return of the spirits. November 1 is El Dia de los Innocentes (day of the children). On this day celebrants welcome the spirits of lost children. The last day is November 2, or Day of the Dead, when the rest of the family members and friends who have passed on are reunited with their loved ones for one day.

 

Dia de los Muertos coincides with which two Catholic holidays?

All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2)

 

What is the traditional flower to leave on graves during the Day of the Dead celebrations?

Marigolds! The brilliant color and strong fragrance of this flower is thought to attract the spirits and lead them in the direction of the celebrations.

 

Dia de los Muertos was originally celebrated in what month?

The celebration originally fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, which was around early August.

 

The iconic woman skeleton character in a dress and hat is known as:

La Calavera Catrina (the skeleton Catrina), also known as the elegant skull, comes from an etching created by Mexican cartoonist and illustrator Jose’ Guadalupe Posada around 1910. Wearing her fancy hat, she serves as a reminder that death does not discriminate between classes and comes even to the wealthy.

 

In the United States, pumpkins are associated with Halloween. What traditional food does Mexico associate with Dia de los Muertos?

Butternut squash is traditionally candied and enjoyed as a dessert, but squash recipes of all types can be found during the holiday.

 

Which people were the first to practice the beginnings of this tradition?

Aztecs. The origins of the rituals practiced during Dia de los Muertos can be traced back 3,000 years!

 

     So, how did you do? Share the quiz with your friends to see how their Day of the Dead knowledge matches up!

 

Watch Courtney Zavala And Derrick Shore of Houston Life TV

try their hand at the same questions, here!


 

     To find ideas for how to celebrate with a party of your own, see my previous post, here.


Pumpkins and Corn and Pies…Oh My!

‘Tis the season to enjoy some outdoor fall fun!

When I’m traveling, I keep an eye out for local farmer’s markets. They’re a great resource to pick up fresh fruit and veggies for car snacks or, if wherever I’m staying has a kitchen, cook for an easy meal.

My favorite local spot to hit for this is Froberg’s Farm in Alvin.

Pie, oh my! Froberg’s has one of my family’s favorite (and most decadent) treats: fried pies! Of course they have full-sized pies too, but the smaller versions? Too tempting and good. Let’s see: peach cream, chocolate pecan, apple raisin, coconut…how’s a girl to choose? Our solution is usually to get a few different ones and cut them into “sampler plates” when we get home. But it’s fun to get one and take it outside under to the trees to enjoy while its still warm, too. Ah, decisions, decisions.  


Froberg’s also has the best variety I’ve seen of small autumn pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn. It’s a great stop to pick up an assortment to use for decor, or let the kids decorate. What is it about tiny pumpkins? They’re just so hard to resist!

The Froberg family has created a kind of fall wonderland for all ages in back of the market, too! But it’s only open through November 4, so you’ll want to get it on your calendar.

 

My girlfriend and I were eager to check out the new “Flower Picking” option, because…well.. fields of flowers! For three dollars, you get a good old fashioned red Dixie cup, and are set loose in the fields to fill it with as many flower as will fit in the cup. Want more flowers? Just buy another cup.

 It’s a great place to take families to run off some of that weekend energy, too. They have a cornfield maze, Berry Fun Land (with slides and climbing obstacles), bean bag toss, strawberry planting booth, basket toss, face painting, “Bee Coaster” ride, rubber duck races, a trailer ride farm tour, corn cannon, gemstone mining and more. Check out their website for details and prices: https://frobergsfarm.com




What fall fun have you found?

 

Cozy Cottage with a Historic View

I recently learned that the former Ranger’s Cottage at Varner-Hogg Plantation in West Columbia is now available to rent for overnight stays. I didn’t hesitate to make a reservation immediately!

The Varner Hogg Plantation is a State Historic Site featuring the original plantation home and several outbuildings. See my previous post for more about it:  https://bit.ly/2Nxki0L

Though the website had basic information about the cottage, the photos online don’t do it justice. Being a Girl Scout leader, I know that the word “cottage” sometimes means extremely rustic and bare bones. While that won’t scare me away, I was pleasantly surprised with this location.

Built in the 1920s, the Ranger’s cottage sits slightly back across the site road from the main house, beneath large pecan trees that probably predate my grandmother.

Rocking chairs and a bistro table and chair set wait on the porch, inviting guests to linger and enjoy the immense trees, heavily draped with Southern moss. I honestly wasn’t sure I’d get much further, since I have in incurable weakness for porches, but I’m glad I did.

 

 

 




The entire cottage has been updated and decorated with comfortable, modern furnishings. No detail has been overlooked in making each room a welcoming space. The living room even has a basket of monogrammed blankets so family or friends can curl up on the sofa to enjoy an evening movie.

 

To the right of the living room is a brightly colored, spacious master bedroom with space enough to do a little dancing before bedtime. The master bath has a dressing room with sink and mirror, and a separate room with shower and toilet. The amenities (towels, shampoo items, gels) are more who I would have expected from a hotel than a historic cottage on a state historic site! 

The kitchen was the next pleasant surprise (and by the time I saw it I was regretting not bringing a group of friends with me!). Stocked with serve ware and basic cookware, it features a full size refrigerator/freezer, microwave, range and coffeemaker. It would be such fun to stay here with family or friends and gather on the barstools at the counter to chat while fixing a meal! The attractive concrete counters, by the way, were made by one of the site employees (and I wonder if he would mind stopping by my house to make some for me!).
Just outside the kitchen door is a small back porch big enough for a couple of chairs. It would be a relaxing spot for a chat and cup of coffee or cocoa.

A stairway from the rear of the cottage leads to the second floor, and an additional full bath and two large bedrooms. Again, I was surprised by the size of the rooms, considering the age and original use of the cottage!

The yellow bedroom with twin beds and floral bedding seemed bright and cheery even on the dreary rainy day that I arrived. 

The second upstairs bedroom was decorated in a lovely shabby chic violet, with full beds.

The cottage was so comfy, it would have been easy to just nest inside, but of course one of the major advantages of staying on site at the plantation is being able to explore the grounds even after visiting hours. Everything on site is within easy walking distance, including the main house, the ruins of the sugar mill and slave quarters, picnic grounds, the old family cemetery and more.

It was a special treat to wander around after an evening rain taking in the beauty and history while being serenaded by the frogs in Varner Creek.

I’m already planning a girls’ trip to share this wonderful find!

For information about making a reservation for your stay at the Varner-Hogg Plantation, visit https://bit.ly/2oHdpkB

Have you ever stayed at a historic site? If so, which one and did you enjoy it?

Stepping Back in Time at Varner-Hogg Plantation

Don’t you just love visiting a place that makes history come to life?

The Varner-Hogg Plantation in West Columbia is one of those sites.

When most of us think of plantations, our thoughts go immediately to Louisiana or Mississippi. But just an hour south of downtown Houston an enchanting reminder of the past sits tucked backed on acreage covered by magnolia trees and a pecan orchard, beside a lazy, winding creek.

The Varner-Hogg Plantation Historic Site shares the story of three owners and their families.

Martin Varner came to the area in 1824 and was granted 4,428 acres by Stephen F. Austin. Along with the two male slaves they brought to the area, his family raised a small amount of livestock and established a rum distillery.

Ruins of sugar mill

Ten years later, Columbus R. Patton moved from Kentucky with a large number of slaves. He became active in politics and served in the Texan army. During the years the plantation was known as the Patton Place, between 40 and 60 slaves made bricks by hand, constructed a plantation house, smokehouse, sugar mill and their own living quarters.

Sugar mill boiling kettles

The two-story sugar mill, which sat across Varner creek within sight of the front porch (now the back) of the main house, made Patton highly successful.

View of main house from site of sugar mill.
The original front entrance now serves as a back porch.


His long-running, open relationship with a slave named Rachel was unpopular in the community. She had many of the rights a white wife would have, and was known to have ruled over the other slaves in a harsh manner.

Patton’s extended family also disapproved, and his nephew and brother were disinherited by Patton because of their actions against her. The extended family had Patton declared insane in 1854, and had him committed to an asylum in South Carolina where he died in 1856. After his death and a prolonged court battle, Rachel was granted her freedom and an annual stipend.

Between 1869 and 1901, the site changed hands several times. Many of the original buildings, including the slave quarters and sugar mill were destroyed during the 1900 hurricane.Governor Hogg purchased the plantation in 1901, convinced that there were oil reserves beneath the land. His 1906 will recommended that his children retain the mineral rights, and the discovery of oil a short time later made the family extremely wealthy.

His daughter Ima was a renowned collector of antiques and decorative arts, and furnished the main house with exquisite pieces before donating the plantation to the state of Texas in 1958.


 

 

A stairway leading from the second floor to the third floor, where the boys of families of former residents would have slept, is off limits to current visitors. Luckily, I was allowed access so that I could share these phots with my readers.

Stairway to third floor.

Though the quarter round windows would have originally allowed light into the space, it’s hard to imagine how the heat of summer would have been tolerable.

The original, covered quarter-round windows as seen on the third floor.

A much smaller set of stairs, tucked beneath what was possibly an original eave, then leads from the third floor to the glassed-in cupola atop the plantation house.

Stairs from third floor to the cupola.
View from cupola
View from cupola.

A feature of the plantation site that kids find especially fun is

“Governor Hogg’s Tub” and Swimming Hole.


Fed by a natural spring creating a small fountain from a pipe, the water is retained in a square, brick lined “tub” before continuing to a small lake. The well-maintained feature is now enjoyed by local wildlife.

One of the things this site does so well is to preserve the beauty of this time period and lifestyles, without romanticizing the sacrifices of others that made them possible. In the outbuidling known as Ima’s cottage, where she stayed on her visits in later years, a fascinating account has been gathered of what the lives of slaves on the plantation were like. Visitors can even listen to recordings of reminiscences of former slaves in their own words.


During your visit make sure you visit the barn, where you can see antique carriages. The yard to the barn is now used for special events.







The visitors center, immediately to the left as you enter the grounds, has a small exhibit room as well as a great selection of local history books and souvenirs.

In my next blog post, I’ll share a special place to stay overnight when you

visit the Varner-Hogg Plantation! 




 

 

Start Your Own Dia de los Muertos Party Tradition

    Texas traditions can originate from almost anywhere in the world, thanks to our diverse history of immigration. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that some of Mexico’s customs have been brought north of the border. The most colorful, and thought by many to be mysterious, celebration is Dia de los Muertos.

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Stacy Anderson Photography

    When I first approached a group of friends about having a Dia de los Muertos party, they were a bit hesitant. “Isn’t that kind of morbid?” “Isn’t that a celebration of death?”

    The simple answer is no – it’s something much more upbeat than you may think.

    Luckily, a few of them had seen the Disney Pixar movie “Coco” that familiarized American audiences with the celebration through a powerful story about family, community, tradition and remembrance. Think about Memorial Day, and the concept doesn’t seem so strange.

Dia de los Muertos vignette at the National Museum of Funeral History

    The gist is to celebrate the lives of our ancestors, rather than mourn their passing, by incorporating food, drink and activities they enjoyed in life. Family members create “altars” in their homes with photos of loved ones surrounded by offerings of food, flowers and mementos. Others visit family cemeteries to decorate ancestors’ graves and share stories about their lives. The days of the celebration surround the Catholic “All Souls Day” on November 2. (So it isn’t really a ‘Halloween thing” like many think.)

Stacy Anderson Photography

    Many of us no longer live in the communities of our ancestors, so circles of friends tend to become our new families. That’s why I thought having our own Dia de los Muertos celebration together would be a fun chance to celebrate all of our families and have some fun and great food at the same time! (Plus, I have some talented friends, so we’re always up for a reason to celebrate together!)

    You can easily put together your own party as well.

    Be sure to incorporate photos of loved ones who’ve passed, and share their stories. It keeps their spirit and your family lore alive.

    I not only included photos of my mother, who we lost last year to Alzheimers, but also made tissue paper flowers for decorations – a craft she taught me as a child.

Stacy Anderson Photography

    Attention to the smallest details can make a theme like this really come together. The talented Evangeline Event Designs made adorable sugar skull invitations and colorful menu cards, and I found some adorable small decorative accents, as well as a beautiful embroidered skull dishcloth at Hendley Market. The bright Fiestaware plates and platters are from Yesterday’s Best.

Stacy Anderson Photography

    No Mexican theme meal is complete without tamales. We loved these from Pennie’s Tex Mex Takeout.

Stacy Anderson Photography

    Alicia from The Kitchen Chick made chorizo with apricot sauce, Bob Armstrong queso (from the “Queso!” recipe book she carries in her store), and an amazing  Blackberry Mezcal Smash Cocktail.

    Our friend Stacy, otherwise known as the Hurried Hostess, made amazing fruit tacos and a churro bar. Yum-ola!

Stacy Anderson Photography

    But the item that really  had us all gasping in disbelief were the gorgeous cookies created by Jennifer from Good Gosh GanacheI mean, really…look at these beauties!

     Our friends Hailey and Tamara used their styling talents to help our buffet look amazing. Making this event such a group effort made it even more special.

    Many communities in Texas offer the opportunity to experience Dia de los Muertos, including San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Victoria and Austin. Check your local community calendar to see if there’s one near you, and celebrate!