Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. This is one such case. This is a story, (or maybe not), of a historical landmark here in my hometown of Houston, TX. I have been fascinated with the place since my teenage years. I’ve spent countless hours on the internet researching it, and even more hours crawling through the hallways and stairs exploring it. I’ve even had my own weird experiences there!I’ve taken the time to share the history of this building with you. I hope that you experience the same sweet shivers up your spine that the place still gives me when I see it today. So pull the covers up over your head as I hope you enjoy this ghost story.
To coin a phrase from the band Dangerous Toys “Man I think, really think that I think…I like being scared!”
Stay Scared! – Renfield Rasputin
On your many travels through Texas, try to make a stop somewhere in Houston. A youthful city, barely over 170 years old, it is not nearly as old as the other metropolises in the state; however it has rapidly grown to become the fourth largest city in America. Fueled by the oil boom of the 70’s and 80’s, as well as mission control of NASA, and the largest medical district in the world, it is a modern global city of multiculturalism mixed into a deep southern fried batter with hints of Spanish seasoning influence. After the “War of Northern Aggression” the many bayous were expanded to better allow for water flow between Houston and nearby Galveston, thus giving Houston its nickname “the BayouCity”.
Being that Houston is a younger city, it does not have many of the old and creepy buildings that one might find in most southern cities. Most all buildings in Houston are knocked down when they get old and either a parking lot or a strip mall is built upon them. One such building is not the case however. Perhaps with the history that haunts the old hospital, it should have been demolished, but the souls that lie buried beneath it would make their presence known one way or the other.
When Houston’s first cemetery, “Founder’s Cemetery” ran out of room for more graves, the area that the hospital now sits on was used. Simply called, “City Cemetery” Freemason’s, orphans, criminals, and Civil War Confederate veterans all made this soil their final resting place. It is estimated that over 5000 corpses have been laid to rest there, some in mass trench graves. Archeological digs conducted by the University of Houston in the area concluded that black earth graves, used at the time to bury black plague victims, were found in the area possibly date back to early 1600 English settlements.
Overtime Houston needed a hospital for the rapidly growing population. With no other land available, the cemetery grounds came to mind.
The idea to build upon the sacred ground was not without problems. The first problem was digging for the foundation where several thousand bodies were buried. Obviously digging up and relocating all of the bodies for the sake of building an indigent hospital was not an option.
Another problem was pacifying the minds of many of Houston’s citizens that lay to rest their loved ones there. Several of the families made protests to city hall while others took actions into their own hands. One such individual was Thomas Super, a proud son of a Confederate soldier. When the construction crew arrived the morning of the ground breaking, Thomas Super was waiting for them in the graveyard with a shotgun. When reasonable talk between the supervisor and Super grew stagnant, Super chased the foreman off the ground while shooting buckshot over the worker’s head.
Eventually, an agreement came to an end with an amicable compromise. The city would get their land for the new hospital, and the families would get the tribute to their fallen family members as the hospital would be named after the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.
The hospital was completed in 1924. It was turned on the top of the hill on Elder St. to face the downtown structures. Tall red brick walls fortified the structure with magnificent Greek revival columns that welcomed the indigent patients of Houston through the front door. The morgue which was referred to as the “basement” was in reality built above ground as not to disturb the graves.
Since its construction, the building has served as a hospital, a drug rehab, a detention home to juveniles, a psychiatric hospital, and a storage facility for the county hospital district. It was even used in the filming of Robocop 2 as the manufacturing plant for the drug “Quake”.
Many tales of the hospital have been told over the years. Tales of ghosts, suicides, unseen voices, late night occult rituals, and ghostly lights. Some tales were created to scare kids away, while all it did was cultivate curiosity and promote trespassing. Eventually unwanted activity lead to armed guards patrolled the grounds during the night and the nearby fire station taking guard to watch over it by day.
Trespassers, or ghost hunters as they like to call themselves, reported shadows zipping down hallways and darting into rooms at all hours of the day. The curious onlookers from the street report mysterious lights that pass by the broken out windows. An official paranormal group based out of southern Texas has reportedly captured disembodied voices on tape both threatening the listener as well as pleading for earthly help.
Walking around the hospital today, it is easy to say that the once elegant decor has given away to time but it is still possible to find beauty in its decay. Ivy grows up the side, breaking brick foundation and pulling the gutter away from the roofline. Antiquated hospital beds litter the hallways and outer grounds. The drywall has been kicked in and graffiti of gang names and the occasional “wuz here”, and of course the obligatory pentagrams hovering over several burnt down candles on the floor near small animal carcasses.
One will encounter the shelves in the ground level floor that served as the morgue, now only hold empty glass medicine bottles. Patient rooms on the second and third floors house sliced up mattresses, broken chairs, and antiquated medical equipment. The elevator has taken one last ride and shattered at the base of the elevator shaft. Stairways are pitch black with tripping hazards in the form of broken bottles, trash, and torn out pages from patient charts.
A popular ghost that still calls the abandoned hospital home is a little girl that is often seen crying in the corner of a treatment room. Many people hear her before they see her. It is said that if you follow the sound of her cries, they will lead you to the weeping child. She is usually seen in a room on the second floor in the east wing. Reports have her dressed in a black dress with a lace white collar. Many reports that she is sitting in a corner on the floor weeping while other have her face out the window of the room while she cries her sorrow song. Of course, the child vanishes before she can be approached. No one can be sure who the child was or why she is spending her lonely eternity in such a melancholy manner.
Many of the disturbing stories that I know I originally read from medical notes that I found in a box in what appeared to once be a supply room. Judging by the blackened walls and the looks of the other boxes and folders that lay scattered, squatters had used the paper materials to keep warm and cook a meal of what looked like a rodent they had captured.
The one entry that I remember specifically details a patient named Mary Catherine and the birth of her baby. Mary Catherine was admitted to JeffDavisHospital on May 13th, 1932. The 23 year old was 37 weeks into labor and experiencing complications with pain and vaginal bleeding. The interesting part of the patient’s medical history was her multiple diagnosis of mental problems. She had seen her share of the insides of several mental wards throughout Texas and Louisiana since the age of seven. There was no father listed on the birth records of Mary Catherine’s child, so a pertinent history could not be obtained.
On that morning, Mary Catherine walked to the hospital alone. It was noted that she wore a blue dress with blood stains on the groin area, appeared pale and aloof to her surroundings. She was immediately taken to the maternity ward where she was prepped for an emergency delivery. Despite the best efforts of the doctors and nurses, Mary Catherine experienced complications and passed away shortly after the birth of the child. This was a common problem at the time so the staff expected this to occur after the substantial amount of blood that she had lost. What they did not expect was the uncanny situation surrounding the child.
Birth defects were a common complication back in the day. However the abnormal findings on this particular child were more than they had expected. The baby boy was of normal birth weight and size, with an instant cry and startle effect. What worried the staff was that the child’s physical abnormalities included feet that resembled hooves, a small digit coming from the tailbone like a tail, a full set of teeth, and finally the most disturbing feature, a pair of small lumps on the frontal forehead that resembled horns as they protruded out of the skin.
The notes continue to say that the child lived for only a short while after Mary Catherine passed, and then he followed her in death. No other notes followed explaining an autopsy of mother or child, who the bodies was released to, or where the bodies were entombed afterwards.
Another interesting piece of the history that I found was a story on the elevator. When you stroll around the decrepit ruins of the hospital one can find the elevator located in the center of the south hall, just inside the front doors. It serviced the three stories during the entirety of the building’s history, but today the remains of what is left of the cab is resting on the basement floor of the structure. A peculiar story involving the elevator revolves around the time Jeff Davis hospital was used as a psychiatric ward, in which a nurse fell to her death in the shaft from the third floor.
Outside of the obvious tragedy of this, is the mystery that surrounds it. The further research showed that the nurse was having an affair with a staff physician who was married. Their forbidden lust was discovered after a patient found them making love in an empty patient room. Of course they tried to patch up the incident as a misunderstanding by the deranged mental client, but that only thwarted off gossiping staff members for awhile.
When the rumors became unbound about the scandalous couple, the physician’s wife threatened to leave him and take his money and children with her. The doctor, enraged, returned to the hospital and caused a distraction by cursing at staff, punching a wall, and turning over tables in an operating room. Shortly after that the nurse was found by a patient’s family member lying lifeless at the on top of the elevator cab.
Suspicions quickly arose that the cheating doctor was to blame. The nurse’s diary was found and details of the affair were confirmed, as well as her pregnancy at the time of her death. The journal detailed how she intended to have the baby in Austin and give it up for adoption, and how she pondered suicide if the truth about the affair ever got out. The curious part of the story was how she also feared the physician would kill her if she got pregnant by him.
The physician did not escape the controversy either. The police searched for him later that day and located him in his office, dead from an overdose of morphine. The needle was still hanging out of arm at the time they had found him.
We still do not completely understand the details surrounding nurse’s mysterious death. Her body was found laying on her back which suggested that she was pushed to her death, but even today some historians still believe that it was a suicide.
Of course no good tragedy is without its alleged haunting. People have claimed that they see a young woman with dark hair and pale skin wearing vintage nursing clothes staring into the elevator shaft. Others say that while they have stared down the deep shaft they can feel a tug on their clothes. When they turn around a woman matching the same description is standing behind them. Is the nurse trying to save another person from undergoing the same misfortune as her?
The physician is believed to also roam the halls the he once knew. A very angry doctor has been seen in the windows and walking the halls. He is described as middle age, dark hair, wearing striking dress clothes of the time under a white lab coat. He is known to be a more dark spirit which likes to attack visitors.
After scavenging through websites on a long afternoon, I encountered a few that spoke of documented investigations that had encounters with the physician. Apparently the hospital had been professional investigated several times by different teams. All of which returned reporting much of the same activity. Psychic mediums were brought in to attempt to make contact with the entity. Communications failed in every instance. What did happen to most all groups were flashlights going out with new batteries installed, cameras failing to capture images (one report of a lens shattering on its own), and of course the obligatory spikes on the EMF detectors. More menacing events included cold spots, pungent odors that send people gasping for air, men being pushed into walls, and woman reporting hands in intimate areas on their body. One attempt to communicate ended with a psychic being scratched through his shirt. Further examination showed a bleeding pinhole over a vein in his arm that looked very much like that of a needle stick.
On more of a real-life horror story, there have been multiple police reports documenting attacks and even one murder inside the abandoned building. The story goes that a handful of thrill seekers entered the building one night hoping to see a ghost, scare each other, and drink a few beers. The last two goals they achieved, but the only phantom they did encounter wasn’t exactly dead, but rather a living monster.
The five University of Houston students entered the hospital around 1 A.M. on a summer night in 1998, according to the survivor. Of the three girls and two males, one girl was able to escape that night and tell police investigators what happened. Long story short, the group reported hearing footsteps following them through the hospital and became frightened. When the first female disappeared, the group decided to search for her rather than leave and call the police for fear of getting in trouble for trespassing. Another group member disappeared, this time a male, and then another female. The survivor and the remaining male stumbled upon the bodies of their friends only to find their throats slit and their eyes had been stabbed out.
When the couple tried to leave the premises, they encountered a person dressed in solid black wearing a clown mask and holding a survival knife with a dark substance staining the blade. The couple ran but not before the attacker assaulted the man with the knife and killed him. The attacker was never found, however three weeks later a homeless man’s body was found floating in Buffalo Bayou close by what was thought to be his makeshift camp on the shore. In his tent police found a knife similar to a Marine’s ka-bar, a clown mask, and discharge paperwork from a local psychiatric hospital.
No teams have reported staying overnight in the hospital. Several have mentioned the possibility but all have declined due to lack of safety and security in and around the building. Other than the obvious safety hazards inside the building, the neighborhood that it presides in today is riddled full of crime.
Jefferson Davis Hospital was revamped and entered the new millennium with a facelift and a new role in Houston Housing. A private company bought the property and invested several millions in restorations to establish Elder Street Artist Lofts. The new facility gave a home to starving artists with low rate rent. But new paint cannot hide the wickedness that had seeped deep into the walls of the former hospital over the years. Soon after moving in, residents reported the same haunting voices, shadows, and apparitions as before. In 2011 the Elder Street Artist Lofts closed their doors due to a combination of funding problems and lack of residents (which one could only assume why).
At the time of this writing, a fire occurred on the third floor in the east wing of the historical landmark. That at one time was the location of the children’s psychiatric wing. Arson was naturally assumed, as many candles and occult literature were found at the scene.
Despite the difficulty to stay the night or explore, it doesn’t stop visitors from pulling up at curbside and snapping a few pictures. Some braver souls sneak past the fence and stick their heads in the door. Others are happy enough posing for pictures by the remnants of the few tombstones that still remain in front of the hospital. Whatever your level of thrill seeking may be, whenever you are passing through Houston, stop at Jeff Davis Hospital and get a look for yourself at a structure that inspires actual Hollywood haunted house movies.
Just do one thing; when you stand on the property and look in, remember that you are standing on sacred ground. The history of loved ones are buried at your feet, staring back at you through broken windows, and circling around you as you gaze into their final resting place with goose bumps on your arms and chills running up your spine. Respect the area, and remember the old epitaph that was carved into many of the early Texas settler’s headstones; for they “Were once as you are now, and you will soon be as they now are”.