The cries of Ana Salazar Esparza rang through the stone walls. She had survived the attack, but her husband Jose Gregorio was killed while manning a cannon lose to where his wife was hidden. Ana watched as her dear young soldier suffered a mortal blow to the side by a swift sword and then took a bullet in the chest, knocking him backwards with an inhuman force. He was twenty-six years old. They were newlyweds. As he fell to the ground spilling blood near her feet, the carnage burned into her mind’s eye; the indelible impression would feed her mournful sobbing for some time to come. But 160 years?
During a routine inventory of the Alamo gift shop in 1994, employees sequestered in the basement were interrupted from their tasks by the eerie sounds of a woman wailing. The noises were coming from behind the walls and they continued on relentlessly. Inventory lasted for two days and so did the crying, frequently reducing the employees—the ones who hadn’t fled already, that is—to tears themselves. This is just one account of the strange goings on that have been recorded as the Alamo’s second history.
The first history left the ground surrounding the Alamo soaked in blood. The 13-day siege in 1836 that ended in the battle of March 6 left close to 2000 men dead, and it is said that nearly 950 bodies are buried directly on the property—not only as a result of the infamous battle, but in burial grounds serving the missions that came before. If there is anywhere in Texas that paranormal activity might occur, it would be on this square mile of hallowed ground. And with the sheer number of lives lost violently before their time, it’s no wonder these crowded spirits have sought out some elbow room over the years, spreading out into the historic buildings nearby.
Hotels like the Gunter, the Menger, and the Emily Morgan have helped stablish the area’s reputation for being haunted with tales of ghostly encounters that both encourage overnight guests and also drive them away. A city so rich in history - murderous and otherwise—can’t deny its past, so it isn’t left with much of a choice than to embrace Ana Esparza and her spectral brethren, wailing walls and all. But more than offering up a gesture of tolerance, San Antonio seems to believe.
Martin Leal believes too. Ghost hunter and founder of the fledgling club Alamo City Paranormal, Leal works with psychics to attempt to prove the existence of spirits by collecting data—we’re not sure the word scientific applies—to support what paranormal investigators have come to expect from these types of phenomena. Using rudimentary equipment such as cameras (including one with an infrared lens), a non-contact thermometer, compasses, and an electromagnetic field ( EMF) meter, Leal records cold spots and energy fluctuations—signs which herald an otherworldly visitor, of course.
A harder tool to come by, the dark lenses of Dycinianien glasses, are designed to make the aura, or the distinct quality of a living thing, visible to the naked eye. Also a member of the International Ghost Hunters Society, Leal conducts an informal Hauntings History of San Antonio tour of the area surrounding the Alamo complete with demonstrations of his equipment, insight into the spiritual beliefs of the Mexican-American community, and the most chilling elements of all—the ghost stories themselves.
Alamo City Paranormal
Martin Leal has a ghost story of his own. When he was just eight years old, he was visiting his grandmother when he saw a strange woman in the house. He asked his mother who this lady was and she told him there was nobody there. But Martin saw the woman again, and he didn’t give up his questioning easily. Finally, his mother conceded and asked Martin’s grandfather (who was interested in the paranormal and had an extensive collection of books on the subject) to tell Martin that the woman he had seen was in fact an apparition of his great-grandmother.
“I wasn’t afraid, I just wanted to know who she was. I thought ghosts would look like Casper, but since she was an apparition she looked just like a regular lady. My grandfather had seen her too. After that, I started reading his books.”
Now, after stints in real estate, banking and time spent as a ski instructor, Martin—who doesn’t consider himself to have strong psychic abilities—is making ghost hunting a priority. Aside from conducting a nightly tour of the downtown area near the Alamo, he has also made himself available to investigate paranormal activity around the city with hopes of providing clients with data from infrared cameras and electromagnetic field meters which proves the creaky floorboards are more than just the house settling.
One of his clients, the wife of a San Antonio sports figure, is afraid her house is haunted by her sister who died a number of years ago after she fell off a balcony. “She wants us to see if we can get some readings so she can convince her husband to let some psychics in there to see if they can communicate with her sister, to find out if she was pushed,” he says. Another incident takes him to the property of an apartment complex, in fear of losing tenants, that has been plagued for the last two years by sightings of an eight or nine year old boy.
“Without the use of instruments, I did feel cold spots in Washington D.C. in some old buildings there, and at Gettysburg, but you can substantiate this stuff now. I’ll get readings in a certain area of a hotel and then I’ll call a psychic who has investigated there and ask why I’m getting high EMF numbers in this one stairwell and they’ll say, ‘Oh, that was this cowboy who got shot in the back and fell down the stairwell and died right there.’”
Still, the social aspects of the Hauntings Tour are what inspire Martin the most. Leading folks to where they might get a glimpse of the dark-coated specter