Locals tell us these Basin buildings are haunted by ‘friendly’ spirits
PERMIAN BASIN (KMID/KPEJ)- With its vast, open spaces and rich wild west history, it’s no wonder that many people have reported ghostly sightings across West Texas. As the spooky season approaches, we are taking you on a tour of some of the most “haunted” sites in the area.
Shafter Lake, Andrews
Shafter Lake was discovered in the 19th century by a Union Army officer. Colonel William Shafter, for whom the lake is named, was looking for a source of water in West Texas when he stumbled upon the lake.
“Colonel Shafter was tasked to come to this area and find a sustainable water source, to let people know that there was water here and they could come and ranch and farm in the area,” said property owner, Chris Tom, in an interview in 2021.
The news inspired about 500 people to flock to the area. The tiny town later vied with Andrews for the county seat and lost. That loss, along with a Smallpox epidemic that wiped out much of the younger population, caused those remaining to migrate to Andrews, where they settled into new lives.
However, that doesn’t mean the mystery of the small town and its cemetery was forgotten. To this day, curious visitors stop by to learn more about the area’s history and ghost stories.
“The cemetery here on the southwestern part of the lake was established when the community moved in and is where they buried their dead,” Tom said. “They had to be relocated throughout the years because there’s been a lot of vandalism. So, we’ve locked the yard to kind of protect that from happening again.”
Tom and his family have owned the property since the early 1960s and operate a ranch in the area. Tom said he’s never seen anything otherworldly, but with the ancient graveyard and pumpjacks looming over the water, it’s easy to see why many people think the area is haunted.
“I’ve never seen anything…I’ve been out here all my life, but I guess when you’re in a small place like Andrews, Texas, you have to have something to talk about,” Tom said.
While Tom hasn’t seen any spirits lurking about, he said he loves that Shafter Lake is still a topic of conversation, especially since only two families remain in the area.
“It’s a barren area, but it’s a very special place for those who’ve lived there,” he said.
Hotel Settles, Big Spring
Hotel Settles is an iconic hotel in Big Spring famous for its height, history, and hauntings. The hotel opened in 1930 and, at the time, was the tallest building between El Paso and Dallas and attracted high-end guests, from movie stars to presidents.
The hotel closed its doors in the 1980s and remained vacant until it was restored in 2012. Despite being closed for nearly 30 years, visitors and employees said some guests never left.
Two years ago, we sat down with Big Spring Ghost Tour co-founder Shonda Folsom who talked about some of the ghostly sightings.
“They reported glasses flying off of shelves, things breaking when there’s nobody around. We have both employees who work here and guests who stay here who report seeing a couple of different children. One is a little girl with a ball in the basement, the other is a six or seven-year-old boy,” she said.
There’s no one story telling who, or what, may be haunting the hotel, but Folsom said since it was once the tallest building around, some guests reportedly jumped to their death.
Folsom’s ghost tour partner, Camilla Strande, said downtown Big Spring in the 1900’s was quite a “hectic” place.
“Downtown was such a vibrant part of Big Spring for so long and I think there were just so many things going on…shootouts in front of the saloons or whatever and I think that’s a lot of what’s led to that ghost activity,” Strande said.
Many people claim they’ve seen and heard things throughout the halls of the historic hotel; former mixologist Amanda Morrow said she once took a photo of what she believes captured a ghost in the hotel lobby.
In the upper righthand corner, Morrow said you can see what appears to be a bluish figure.
“It is a full ghost. From head to toe,” she said in an interview in 2021. “He’s got a full beard, you can tell he’s looking down, he’s got a tux and you can tell it’s an old-timey tux.”
Morrow also said there’s been reports of paranormal activity in the judge’s chambers.
“A lot of action has happened down there, like doors slamming,” she said.
It may seem like a scary place to stay, but Morrow said you don’t need to be alarmed.
“You know, they’re just cool stories, they’re experiences, but it still spooks me. But so far, it’s been…positive and it’s just like they’re showing their faces to say, ‘Hi, I’m still here,” she said.
If you feel brave, and want to experience the hotel for yourself, you can book your stay here.
West of the Pecos Museum, Pecos
Part of the West of the Pecos Museum is the Number 11 Saloon, built in 1896. The room has maintained its character through the years, complete with bullet holes courtesy of some of its original patrons, as well as plaques denoting where people were killed within the building many years ago. The building’s history has many people wondering if there are strange happenings withing its walls.
It’s a fair question, said Executive Director Dorinda Millian, who reported seeing things she can’t explain, like the animated figure, in the likeness of the saloon’s first bartender, moving without reason.
“Jess, our bartender starts talking. He’s motion activated…you have to pass a certain point before he speaks. I don’t know what activates it, he will start talking and no one is there,” she said.
A few years ago, a few ghost finders visited the museum, with some interesting results.
“It was a lot of activity. Something might have happened back in the railroad room, which at the time was probably the loading area for the liquor,” Millian said.
According to Millian, other museum patrons have also reported spooky happenings. She said a mother and daughter were touring the museum when the child felt a “presence” and asked if anyone had ever died there.
“It was like giving her orders of what not to do. She said it was so strange, he was welcoming…like, ‘thanks for coming, but you’re not supposed to be touching anything’,” Millian said.
Another part of the museum with a chilling story belongs to a hotel that was built in 1908. Visitors said they walked down the hall and saw shadows that they couldn’t explain.
“They’ll be looking at an exhibit and see somebody passing by…but they look around to see who is there and find no one,” Millian said.
Millian also reported other odd things, like smelling a woman’s perfume when no one is around and flickering lights. She said she’s often asked questions that she can’t answer.
“Who was there at two o’clock in the morning, because the lights are going on and off…I don’t know. It’s one of those things,” she said.
Millian said the spirits should not stop you from visiting.
“They’re welcoming you. They’re taking care of our history as I am- not that I’m a ghost yet but anyway…if they’re here, it’s good spirits, not bad spirits.”
If you’d like to visit the museum, click here for all you need to know before you go.
The Barn Door Steakhouse, Odessa
Odessa is home to many ghost stories; one of the most well-known stories is that of “Billy”, who reportedly haunts the Barn Door Steakhouse.
Built in the 1800s, the Pecos Depot originally served as a train stop in Pecos. In the 1970s, it was moved to Odessa, and installed as a bar area as part of an expansion to the popular restaurant.
“It is so cool for us to actually have a piece of history that sits right here,” said former owner Roy Gillean in an interview in 2021.
After the depot was moved to Odessa, some patrons began to notice some odd happenings.
“They were like, ‘Oh yeah, we can see it. It’s right there in the ticket office,'” Gillean said.
Several customers described a spirit they could “sense”, while others claimed they could see it.
“A short man with a dirty hat, white shirt, khaki pants, black shoes. He was just kind of hanging out and watching,” Gillean described.
Those at the Barn Door Steakhouse have named the ghost “Billy”. Gillean said he’s had a few run-ins himself.
“It was dark…after hours, I’d always talk to Billy,” he said.
Other employees reported seeing ashtrays scattered across the floor and a light in the ticket office flickering on and off.
Billy’s spirit has made the restaurant a popular destination for ghost hunters.
“We had a group that stayed there until about 4:00 a.m. The next day, they (told me) there was a lady screaming…’Help me’ in the restroom,” Gillean said.
Legend has it that Billy was a drifter who stayed at the depot to look for work. After not finding work, Billy became a nuisance and started begging for a handout; that’s when locals presumably took matters into their own hands and gunned him down.
For those interested in learning more about Billy’s personality, there’s an entire section of the menu dedicated to “Billy’s Favorites”. The restaurant is located at 2140 Andrews Highway.
Odessa High School Auditorium, Odessa
Another well-known ghost story out of Odessa is that of Betty Wiliams, who reportedly haunts the auditorium.
Betty was an OHS theater student who was murdered in the 1960s. Her boyfriend admitted to shooting and killing her but told police that she begged him to do it. He was later acquitted.
Theater students for generations have reported seeing Betty roaming the rooms, especially when rehearsing late at night.
“I have no explanation for it whatsoever,” said 2008 OHS theater grad, Thomas Demorrow, who said he’s encountered Betty first-hand.
He recalled a time after finishing a performance.
“I was going upstairs to turn off the system, basically our lights and sound, and came back down and my mother noticed a purple lipstick mark on my arm. My first thought was, did someone kiss my arm, I don’t remember it,” he said.
Demorrow said his peers thought it was Betty giving a kiss of approval for his performance.
Another person who said she’s encountered Betty is OHS theater grad, Maija Johnson.
“One night, a cast of ten of us were on stage working and there was someone in the balcony,” Johnson said. “Clearly a figure in the balcony.”
She said she saw and even felt Betty’s presence over the years and it’s such a common story around campus that tudents have passed down tips over the years on how to summon Betty.
“There’s a stop sign right there at Golder,” Johnson said. “You park at the stop sign, run up to the steps and leave her a treat. You go back to your car and flash your lights three times and then you’ll see her in the window. And we did.”
The students we spoke with described Betty as a “peaceful” ghost. Some even said they aren’t surprised that she feels at home near the stage, so many years after her death.
Encounters with Betty are common among students and the story is so well-known, there was even a book written about it. Washed in the Blood, by Shelton L. Williams, details Betty’s death in even greater detail.
The Copper Rose Building, Odessa
The Copper Rose building is one of the oldest structures in downtown Odessa. It’s been home to many businesses, including a funeral home, that may have left a few ghosts behind.
“When I’m in here by myself, I don’t know, I’ve felt something…I’ve heard noises and different things and I just write it off as, it’s an older building,” said owner John Herriage in an interview several years ago.
Others, however, said they believe something supernatural is at play.
“We had different people in the building say it’s haunted, they’ve felt spirits, they’ve seen orbs…flashes of light,” Herriage said.
The building originally housed Odessa National Bank and was later a courthouse, and a funeral home; it’s now known as The Copper Rose Building and hosts a number of businesses. One previous tenant has caused Herriage to wonder about that spooky feeling.
“The funeral home had several deaths and there was not enough refrigeration to hold them…the basement stays pretty cool, and they did hold bodies there for a while,’ he said.
One of Herriage’s tenants described a ghost-like experience while working in a beauty shop located within the building.
“We do have one tenant that prefers not to work after hours by herself…she said she’s felt someone touch her. She’s seen orbs, she’s smelled different things and just felt like someone was around her,” he said.
Herriage said there are parts of the building that give him pause, including an underground tunnel connecting one building to another and an old elevator. He said sometimes, the building just “feels alive”.
“It’s just part of the building, it’s part of the history.”
Taking advantage of the spooky rumors surrounding the building, Herriage said he used to host haunted building tours each year, but the pandemic sidelined that event. We’ll keep you posted if Herriage decides to bring those tours back in the future.