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South Texas Living

Investigating the Paranormal

Investigating the Paranormal
Gloria Garcia with Atascosa Paranormal Investigators employs, among other equipment, a headlamp and special “apps” on her cell phone to locate paranormal activity.

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Pascalle Bippert
WCN Correspondent
January 30, 2013
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‘Ghost hunters’ spend the night in the slammer

FLORESVILLE -- The quaint, historic old jail sitting on the courthouse square in downtown Floresville holds many stories, some of them untold, and lost to the passage of time. Until recently, that is. The jailhouse, once home to the county’s sheriff and those who operated outside the law and were brought to justice, has seen an influx of visitors in recent months, most in the dark of night...

The historic Wilson County Jailhouse Museum features unique items from the late 1800s through the early 1900s, including household appliances, clothing, photographs, and personal memorabilia. The jailhouse operated from 1887 until 1974. One of the most unique items in the museum is a book containing photographs of one of the jail’s former prisoners, Maximo Martinez, who was hanged outside the jailhouse in 1897. His was the first legal execution in Wilson County. An article detailing the execution was featured in the San Antonio Light on July 30, 1897.

By day and night

By day the museum looks much like any other historic building, but by night, the museum takes on a much different appearance and feeling. This is what is attracting the newest visitors to the jailhouse: paranormal investigators. Several such teams have “camped out” for hours and hours after the sun goes down to capture what they hope are spirits of inmates or other people who are part of the jailhouse’s history. Infrared and motion-activated cameras, gausmeters, light thermal leak detectors, night-vision cameras, microphones, K-2 meters, even dowsing rods, are all standard equipment with these modern-day ghost hunters. Cameras are set up in all the rooms and the crews split up to take different shifts in the jail cells, kitchen, dining room, and bedrooms to see if they will be visited by the spirits of folks who might have lived in the building or been incarcerated there.

In the slammer

The jail cells have a central latch connected to each door. When museum docent Ralph Gerhardt with the Wilson County Historical Society threw the switch to close the cell doors, a resounding boom! echoed throughout the jail, jarring the senses. The jail once had a gallows installed; when the trapdoor malfunctioned, they took the prisoner outside to be hanged.

Inside the cells are names and dates of former prisoners that were scratched on the walls through layers and layers of paint. The cells are very small and each one holds four beds. The toilet is out in the open where privacy is nonexistent. The sheriff in bygone days lived on the bottom floor of the jailhouse with his family. The sheriff’s wife cooked all the meals for the prisoners. The family’s bedrooms are in a separate part of the building on the second floor.

Hunting ghosts

Gloria Garcia, the founder of Atascosa Paranormal Investigators, said she has been very successful at capturing sounds and images of specters. She and her team worked through the wee hours one morning, capturing words and messages on their equipment. (For more, see “Atascosa Paranormal” on this page.)

The night I witnessed this team in action, we saw and heard some interesting things. Some of the objects in the rooms, such as a pair of old shoes and an antique dress, moved from one place to another when none of the team members had been in that room since photographing it.

The team will use certain items as “triggers”-- such as cigarettes, food, paper, and a pencil placed in strategic locations -- that might generate a reaction if spirits are present. Electronic apps on cell phones also were used to capture words and reactions to “yes and no” questions posed by the team. It was a very long night, but very interesting to be part of a real “ghost hunt.”

So far, four paranormal organizations have visited the jailhouse. In addition, a film crew set up shop for several hours recently for a movie, “Devil Deal Blues,” a project being filmed by a Columbia University graduate student for his thesis.

Paranormal groups can arrange a night visit to test their paranormal investigation skills. Gerhardt requests only a $10 per person donation to the museum. It is pretty astonishing that a building that has so much history continues to make history in the present day.

Atascosa Paranormal

Gloria Garcia with Atascosa Paranormal Investigators offers home visits for people who believe their homes may harbor another “presence.” She does not charge for this service. Gloria’s “day job” is in the mental health field, so she reassures people they are not crazy if they experience something unusual involving “things that go bump in the night.”

Contact her at 210-232-6764 or visit www.atascosaparanormalinvestigators.com.

Museum visits

The old jailhouse is well worth a visit -- by day or night! Day visits to the Wilson County Jailhouse Museum are $2 each and free for children 12 and under, accompanied by an adult.

The museum is open for tours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the Floresville Peanut Festival and some other dates during the year.
For tours or more information, call:

•Ralph Gerhardt, 210-413-1158
•Louise Thurman, 830-216-2225
•LaJuana Newnam-Leus 830-393-2166.

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