I love Jefferson, Texas. It is steeped in Texas history, sits on Caddo Lake (truly a swamp), and offers a wealth of ideas for my writing. It is a spooky and beautiful location. Jefferson is said to be the most haunted town in East Texas—maybe all of Texas.
There are several sites, including The Grove and The Jefferson Hotel, with documented hauntings.The Excelsior House Hotel is also said to be visited by spirits, although the owners of the hotel, The Excelsior Foundation and the Jessie Allen Wise Garden Club, do not encourage such a reputation. They believe it detracts from the history. I only know the spooky rumors do not affect my opinion of the hotel.
The Excelsior House was built in the 1850s, and has been in continuous operation since, making it the oldest hotel in East Texas according to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Excelsior is built on property once owned by a steamboat captain named William Perry. This land was a gift from the City of Jefferson in 1846 as a thank you For Perry’s hard work to keep the Big Cypress Bayou navigable.
William Perry, realizing the need for a hotel in this rowdy part of town, constructed the Irving House. Today, this is the oldest part of the hotel, forming the northwest portion of the Excelsior. The southwest section was added sometime between the end of the Civil War and 1872.
The Big Cypress Bayou once allowed riverboat traffic to reach Jefferson from both New Orleans and St. Louis, via the Mississippi and Red Rivers. Its main export was cotton, which was brought in from towns as far away as Dallas and sold to commercial merchants. During this time, Jefferson was a bustling port town. It was also known as one of the most violent towns in Texas. Many deaths occurred here.
The most notable was of Diamond Bessie, or Bessie Moore, aka Annie Stone. Diamond Bessie was dubbed as such because she sported large diamond rings wherever she went. She met a tragic end in January of 1877.
Diamond Bessie and Abe Rothschild came to Jefferson a few days earlier. They registered at the Brooks House as "A. Munroe and wife, “although most accounts say they never married.
Their short, two-year relationship was tumultuous. It is rumored Rothschild forced Diamond Bessie to prostitute herself so he had money for alcohol. It all ended when Abe and Bessie took a picnic lunch across the bridge at Cypress Bayou, walking away from town along the Marshall road. Abe returned without Diamond Bessie, saying she had gone into the bayou to visit friends.
Bessie was found a week later with a bullet to her head. Abraham Rothschild was charged with the murder and, after three trials, acquitted. Many people felt it was an injustice for Rothschild to be found not guilty. It was written up in the newspapers as a miscarriage of justice.
This tragic tale is a familiar one when it comes to hauntings. There are differing accounts about Diamond Bessie staying at the Excelsior Hotel. Yet, it is rumored that she is one of the phantoms which haunt it. There are also reports of a headless man sited in the corridors, a woman in black gripping a child to keep it close, phantom cigar smoke and perfume-like smells, and top covers being torn away from sleeping guests.
While at least three rooms are allegedly haunted, the most haunted one is said to be the Jay Gould Room. A simple Google search will tell you the rocking chair in this room is said to rock on its own, and the door will slam shut on its own.
Maybe the most notable eyewitness account is from film Director, Steven Spielberg. He was in Jefferson during the 1970s, filming his movie Sugarland Express. According to rumor, Spielberg stayed in the Jay Gould room where he tossed his briefcase on a chair, only to have it fly right back at him. In the early morning hours, a small boy awakened the director, asking if he was ready for breakfast. Spielberg awoke his crew and checked out of the hotel.
(An interesting note: Spielberg wrote and produced the film Poltergeist soon after his visit to the Excelsior House Hotel.)
If you get a chance to visit Jefferson. I recommend you check out The Excelsior House Hotel. The history alone is worth the visit. If you run into an apparition, well, maybe it’s a bonus…Or not.
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