Pat Snuffer is a hardheaded businessman who took cheese fries and big, sloppy hamburgers and turned them into one of Dallas’ best known and most successful restaurants. So when Pat Snuffer says he has seen ghosts — at his Greenville Avenue location, no less — people take notice.
“And it’s not just me, either,” says Snuffer, who saw the first of what he describes as two apparitions that inhabit his restaurant in January 1979, shortly after it opened.
“I went in the next day, figuring people would think I was crazy, but they told me the same thing. They had seen it, too.”
Ghosts, it seems, are not just something that attract attention around Halloween. There’s White Rock Lake’s Lady of the Lake, a nationally known spirit who has attracted ghost hunters, psychics and paranormal researchers from around the country. But she’s far from the only one haunting this part of town, as Snuffer’s ghosts would attest (if they were in the spirit to do so, of course). How about the Comanche of Flagpole Hill, survivors of a settler massacre who are said to roam the hill, still throwing rocks at their attackers? Or the man in the dark suit and top hat who supposedly haunts a nightclub at the end of Swiss Avenue?
One can argue that these are nothing more than legends, the by-products of overactive imaginations, teenaged pranksters, or witnesses who have over indulged. Perhaps. But go through newspaper clippings and interview older residents, and there are plenty of stories dating to the early decades of the last century, both here and elsewhere in Dallas.
Two spirits, witnesses claim, still haunt Old City Park south of downtown. A pioneer family has been seen wandering up and down Preston Road between Northwest Highway and Arapaho, eternally trying to get back to their farm. Then there’s the case of Elizabeth, Lake Highlands High School’s Phantom of the Opera.
“When I started researching my book, I really didn’t expect to find too much in the way of ghost stories,” says Mitchel Whitington, the author of Ghosts of North Texas. “After all, Dallas is a city of chrome and steel. How could it be haunted?
“But there is a rich history of ghosts here, ghosts that are worth exploring.”
A ghostly business
A surprising number of people do explore the neighborhood apparitions. Ghosts may not be a high-margin business, but they are a steady one. There are almost a half-dozen paranormal research groups in and around Dallas that visit cemeteries, stake out haunted houses, and investigate supernatural claims, and that doesn’t include the dozens of books, Web sites, and newspaper and magazine articles detailing who is haunting what and where.
Says Roger Ramsdell, who runs DFW Paranormal Research of North Texas and has investigated the Lady of the Lake and Flagpole Hill phenomena: “We keep busy. Some of this stuff is obviously an urban legend. But some of the others? There may be something there.”
This outlook may seem a bit silly in the first years of the 21st century. After all, there are rational scientific explanations for occurrences that people as recently as a couple of hundred years ago would have attributed to ghosts. But, says University of Texas-Arlington sociologist Raymond Eve, who studies this sort of thing, ghosts have been part of the culture for so long that it’s difficult to dismiss them entirely — no matter how modern people consider themselves to be.
“It’s really only been in the last 200 years of the 4,000 years of human history that we can describe physical forces without having to give them human characteristics,” he says, adding that there are also neurological and psychological explanations for the continued existence of ghosts (assuming one doesn’t believe, of course). This includes lucid dreaming, when a sleeper is convinced he or she is awake and having genuine experiences, but when their brain is actually confusing them with parts of their imagination.
The other thing to remember? “Ghosts are just plain fun,” says Eve. “It’s more pleasant to believe in the fantastic rather than the realistic. I can give my students a lecture, or I can tell them a ghost story. What’s going to tickle the neurons of their brain more?”
Tell this to Pat Snuffer, though, and he just shakes his head.
“I’m about the last person in the world to believe in ghosts,” he says, noting his parochial school education. He then names several long-time employees and customers who have also seen the ghosts.
“There is something there.”
Two somethings, to be precise, neither of which is threatening or belligerent or has hurt anyone (something that’s key in assessing a poltergeist’s reason for being). Their most obvious manifestations are table settings that have been rearranged, chairs that have been moved and overturned ashtrays, Snuffer says.
One ghost is a figure who spends a lot of time around the men’s restroom in the old section of the restaurant. The wooden floors creak for no reason and witnesses hear two footsteps, usually late at night, but don’t see anyone there. No one has seen the figure exactly; they assume he’s a man because the restroom door opens.
The other is a stern-looking woman of indeterminate age wearing some sort of butcher’s apron and perhaps dressed in black. When she’s around (again, in the oldest section of the restaurant and usually late at night), the room temperature has dropped as much as 30 degrees before immediately warming up again. She has also been seen walking out the locked and closed side door.
Snuffer says he heard a story about a man who was stabbed in the early 1970s in the men’s room in one of the bars that preceded his restaurant at that location. And, in fact, a 1971 Dallas city directory says a bar called Smokey’s Lounge was at that address. Was anyone killed at Smokey’s? Is that man one of the Snuffer’s ghosts? A Dallas policeman who patrolled that area 30 years ago doesn’t remember Smokey’s and doesn’t remember Greenville Avenue being the kind of place where someone would have been stabbed in a bar.
It’s even less clear who the woman might be. There doesn’t seem to be any record that the site was used as a butcher’s shop or grocery store, and there is even less indication that there was the sort of foul play in the location’s history that seems to be a requirement for a haunting.
Still, Snuffer has seen what he has seen, as have the people who are sure they have seen many of the other ghosts. An official at Old City Park even gets a little huffy when someone questions the existence of her spirits, or wonders why the facts in so many of the stories seem to keep changing.
Because it is difficult to argue with eyewitnesses.
“I could hear a scream that was actually the most blood-curdling scream,” a woman named Phyllis Thompson, who was sitting on a dock by the lake, told the Dallas Times Herald in 1985, describing her run-in with the Lady of the Lake.
“It was definitely a woman. It was there, and then it was gone.”
Isn’t that just like a ghost?
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