Shelly Tucker dares “anyone brave enough” among the small group clustered around her to press their hands against the window of a vacant building just off the downtown Denton Square.
And if they’re really brave, Tucker said, they can press their foreheads up against the glass. Some people have said they’ve seen “the dude” staring back at them, his hands pressed against the glass from the inside.
Shelly Tucker, a professional storyteller and Denton resident, dons a portable microphone after dark every Thursday, Friday and Saturday and guides local ghost hunters and spooky story lovers around the Square. She’s half of the local volunteer ghost tour called Denton Haunts.
Tucker said she jumped onto the one-man bandwagon started by University of North Texas communications studies professor Shaun Treat almost as soon as she discovered it.
“This is right up my alley,” said Tucker, who is a familiar face from the Texas Storytelling Festival, which is held in Denton every March. “I’ve always loved ghost stories, and I love telling them. There’s nothing like a good ghost story. When I finally met Shaun, I basically told him I’d scrub his toilet if he’d only let me start helping with the tours.”
Treat said he leans toward presenting the tour as a collection of historical tales.
“I don’t consider myself a storyteller, but I pay attention when I’m giving a tour. If I feel like I’m losing them, I’ll concentrate more on the creepy parts of the stories,” Treat said. “Shelly brings a lot to her tours as a professional storyteller.”
Treat said ghost stories are popular because they’re a balm for the living. An expertly told ghost story can help the listener confront fears without being in real danger. And most ghost stories touch on a lot of truths that disturb people — our mortality, mistakes and offenses of the past, and the loss of loved ones and childhood illusions.
“I’ve always been a fan of ghost stories, and whenever I go someplace new, I take a ghost tour if I can. I’ve been on a lot of them, in New Orleans and Arkansas, where I’m from,” Treat said. “When I got to Denton, I was surprised that there wasn’t a tour, or a comprehensive collection of parts of the city people say is haunted.”
Treat said he learned of the few famous Denton ghosts, like the “goatman,” who is said to haunt Old Alton Bridge, and “nurse Betty,” who is said to haunt what used to be Flow Hospital. What was lacking, he said, was a reliable collection of those stories and a tour.
Over the last few years, Treat said he’s been researching old stories and hunting for stories he’s never heard. He launched the tour right before Halloween last year. He was considering taking a break from the tours over the summer so he could focus on his courses at UNT, and Treat said Tucker helped keep the tours running.
In researching the ghost stories, Treat said that he’s encountered an uncomfortable fact or two. Back when North Texas was racially segregated, prairie and warehouse fires were blamed on slave rebellions.
“This was about the time that they were making those long prairie matches, and were using phosphorus for the first time,” Treat said. “After some big fires, there was a scientist who said the fires were probably caused by the heat. The dry, hot summers didn’t mix too well with the matches that were stored. The scientist thought the heat had led to an explosion. He was silenced, and in Fort Worth, the leaders made it illegal to talk about any other possible reason for these fires than slave uprisings.”
Tucker said she’s helping Treat track down ghost stories that aren’t legend or lore — yet.
“Some people won’t talk about it. I’ll go into a business and sometimes ask if you’ve ever heard of any unexplained things or activity,” Tucker said. “You can tell when there’s something there. People will get really quiet, and other people will ask if you’ve heard about something strange. A lot of people have named their ghosts.”
The downtown walking tour isn’t “too scary, and we don’t tell any stories about spirits that are evil or who do bad things to people,” Tucker said. “Some of the stories will give you the creeps, but the tour doesn’t have stories about ghosts who do harm.”
Private tours are available, and Denton Haunts is now offering “Shocktober 2012 Halloween Haunts.”
This month, take the “Denton Haunted History” tour at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with storyteller Doc T.
Tucker will lead her usual “Paranormal Scares on the Square” at 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturday. The tours during “Schocktober” will debut new stories, more ghosts and even some secret history.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
What: A one-hour walking tour of haunted hot spots in downtown Denton
When: 9 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
Where: Tours begin at the grave of John B. Denton on the east side of the historic downtown Denton Square, 110 W. Hickory St. Look for the sign.
Details: Admission is $10 per person. For reservations, send an e-mail including number of tourists and the date you would like to take the tour to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Tours are canceled during bad weather. Tourists are urged to bring drinking water during the summer and the fall. Tour is not recommended for children under the age of 12.
For more information: Visit www.dentonhaunts.word
To report a haunted spot: Send an e-mail to denton
Where the spooks are
The Abbey Inn
101 W. Hickory St.
Employees and the owner have noticed the elevator doors opening and closing before and after hours and when the basement bar, The Abbey Underground, is empty. And is it a playful spirit that likes to turn on the restaurant computers as soon as the last staffer in the restaurant has turned off all the lights.
122 N. Locust St.
The help at Andy’s have reported a spine-tingling wailing in the walls. A devastating fire once destroyed part of the Locust Street side of the Square, and Denton Haunts has heard stories about people who were trapped and burned to death where Paschall Bar now stands — which is on the top floor just above Andy’s Bar.
Former Black Bottle Recording
221 N. Locust St.
When this vacant space was Black Bottle Recording, the staff and crew reported seeing “the dude,” a man with shoulder-length hair, wearing a long-sleeve shirt and boots. The dude was sighted crouching in corners, watching recording sessions. Staff members said recording sessions were occasionally interrupted by sounds — like the sound of someone dropping a coin that would roll across the floor. Sessions would be stopped and no source of noises would be found. And sometimes, strange noises would turn up on sound files that reportedly weren’t audible when musicians and the crew were recording.