A tale of the supernatural in the neighborhood
In August of 2008, not long after moving in to the two-story Victorian wood frame house at 123 Cedar Street, the new Proprietress, her two young sons, and their Governess, who was older and more sensitive than the rest of them, returned from a long weekend in the country and noticed something amiss. The Governess climbed the staircase to the first landing and protested loudly and repeatedly.
“What’s got her so stirred up?” the elder boy asked.
In 1891, Hugo Griesenbeck purchased a parcel of land on Cedar Street from Robert H. Krause, and in 1903, he and his wife, Lulu McAllister Griesenbeck, built the house at 123 Cedar Street. The house remained in the Griesenbeck family until 1961, when the Griesenbeck heirs sold it to Catarino and Gregoria Amaro. The following year, in 1962, the Amaros sold the house to Roma Claudia Osborne, who then sold it to Martin and Lola B. Garza in 1965. After her husband passed, Lola B. Garza lived alone in the house for many years, and died there, in the kitchen, of natural causes, in 1984.
Shortly thereafter, John and Betty Gatlin purchased the house from her estate. Unexplained noises and strange sensations marked the Gatlins’ early days in their new home. An interior decorator was enlisted, and he brought paint samples and wallpaper swatches to help them transform the house at 123 Cedar Street into something more reflective of their own aesthetic. You can imagine the collective amazement when the book of wallpaper swatches was inexplicably seized from the hands of the decorator and flung through the air. Chastened but undeterred, they decided new paint would be in order, so they ordered a cream colored paint for some portion of the interior. When the paint arrived, they opened the cans and found the cream-colored paint had turn lavender. So they re-ordered the creamcolored paint and when it came, they opened the cans only to discover that the new batch had likewise turned lavender. One room in the house had been painted lavender before, and they were soon to learn discover lavender had been the previous owner’s favored color. It seemed that she objected to their proposed changes to the house’s color palette, and she made her objections known.
Despite the unexplained obstacles and occurrences, the couple settled into their new home comfortably. Two years later, in 1986, Mr. Gatlin died. Not long afterward, Mrs. Gatlin came home to discover her deceased husband’s Seth Thomas clock – which once belonged to his grandfather – had moved from the entry hall wall to the floor near the staircase. The glass and wood casing were intact, with neither a crack nor scratch to be found, but thereafter the clock no longer told time. And for years after her husband passed, she continued to smell Aramis – his favorite cologne, with scents of lavender and sage – in the vicinity of the staircase, where his clock had been found.
The Proprietress knew nothing of the history of 123 Cedar Street when she took possession. The owners before – Melissa and Kelton Morgan, and Laura Hernandez – reported no untimely deaths or paranormal harassments, so she started her own renovations, which included interior painting, a new bathroom, and extensive excavation of the grounds for the installation of irrigation to support new gardens and grasses, with all the attendant disruption and ado caused by work and workmen underfoot.
Several mornings after the work commended, she asked her sons if they’d slept well. The elder boy simply nodded, but the younger boy said, “I slept fine, Mom, but sometimes it’s hard with those people in my room.”
“What people?” she wondered.
A couple of weeks later, after a gentleman friend from the neighborhood came calling, the elder son said: “Mom, I don’t know what kind of perfume that guy was wearing, but he must have spilled some on the stairs and now the smell won’t go away.”
“Men don’t wear perfume, bud, they wear cologne,” she explained. “But he wasn’t wearing cologne, and he certainly didn’t go up the stairs.”
During this time and even past the Autumnal Equinox, the Governess remained in a constant state of agitation, and, although the workers conducted themselves in a workman-like manner, progress was slow and things seemed unsettled. The wall colors didn’t come out right, the Governess couldn’t sleep and spent all night pacing the halls, and water wouldn’t flow in the garden as water’s wont to do. Fortunately, the Proprietress employed a House Manager who was very good at keeping things in order. When the Proprietress complained of unexplained smells, discolorations, visitations, and errant natural phenomena, the House Manager, who also practiced the art of Curanderismo, matter-of-factly replied, “Sí, señora, entiendo. Tenemos una fantasma viviendo en la casa y necesitamos limpiarla por medidas de quemar unas salviatitas.”
The Proprietess thought for a moment and replied, “Me parece que tenemos dos fantasmas….”
No sooner than the Proprietress spilled the beans to the House Manager did word get out. Dolores from next door, who was something of a caution in the neighborhood, started coming by constantly. She was always welcome, at least during daylight hours, because the boys adored her and she loved to gossip with the House Manager in Spanish, and make eyes at the workers. But the Governess and Dolores had terrible rows, which the others suffered patiently.
The House Manager made all arrangements and a date was set. The Proprietress, her young sons, the Governess, the House Manager, and Dolores all gathered on the appointed night.
“Maybe it’s just a boy who’s lost his shadow in the upstairs window,” the elder boy said.
“I’m afraid boys and their shadows don’t get separated anymore,” the Proprietress replied.
They all joined hands and the House Manager recited prayers and incantations and struck a long match and held the flame to a bundle of dried sage. The sage burned brightly then went out. She took the smoldering sage and, with a sweeping motion, spread the smoke throughout the house. When the ritual was over, they all retired to the backyard for a barbecue. The next day nothing had changed. The stairs smelled of Aramis cologne, walls newly painted in mint turned out lavender, and water flowed up hill. When the House Manager arrived, the Proprietress gave her a puzzled look.
“Las fantasmas les gustan la salvia quemada, senora. Y no las quieren salir.” The Proprietress, who had a head for history and a heart for theatre, began to nose around in the archives and discovered that a distinguished movie actor from Hollywood had come to San Antonio in 1913 to star in The Immortal Alamo, shot at Star Film Ranch on the grounds of the Hot Wells Hotel and Spa. It was the first motion picture rendering of the eponymous siege and massacre of 1836. The Hollywood actor brought Salvia Greatae – lavender sage – native only to California, as a gift to prominent San Antonians. Socialites of the day fawned and fought for a cutting of the herbal elixir, and the chance to cultivate one of their own. The ghosts of 123 Cedar Street must have been among them.
“The key to the mystery is lavender, which is a color, as well as a fragrance and an herb,” the Proprietress explained.
“They love lavender and they love sage. We’ll never get them to leave this house, so we might as well be about the business of finding a way to live together.”
By this time, October 31 was approaching. Halloween decorations were going up, and preparations were underway. Instead of the orange and black of the season, the Proprietress, her young sons, and the Governess put something lavender – a work of art, a candle, soap, dried flowers, a tapestry – in each room of the house, and she instructed the workers to plant the grounds and gardens in plants that bloom in various shades of lavender, including plumbago, wandering Jew, cenizo, columbine, dahlia, foxglove, periwinkle, verbena, monkshood, violet, bellflower, phlox, and the centerpiece of the new garden: A heart-shaped bed of lavender sage.
On Halloween, All Hallows Day, and Dia de Los Muertos, they all gathered to offer alms and give observance and celebrate the living souls, the saints, and the dearly departed who lived at 123 Cedar Street. And there they lived, happily ever after.
Sources: Spirits of San Antonio and South Texas by Docia Schultz Williams and Reneta Byrne; and Down the Acequia Madre: in the King William Historic District by Mary V. Burkholder.