Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Ghost of Miss Bettie

Galveston Island on the Gulf of Mexico is one of Texas’s oldest seaports. One of the islands most beautiful mansions called Ashton Villa located on Broadway was the first brick house on the island built in the Italianate style. 

The daughter of the man who built this mansion haunts it.

The home was first built in 1859 by one of Texas’ prominent businessmen. James M. Brown was a hardware magnate who made even more wealth from his interests in the railroad, insurance, and banking. A widower, he moved into the mansion with his five children. 

His eldest daughter Rebecca Ashton Brown known as “Miss Bettie” later inherited the home. Her father used the house to entertain many of his business associates.

When James Brown died in 1895 he left a massive fortune to his children. He left his beloved mansion Ashton Villa to his eldest daughter. After her father’s death Miss Bettie continued to throw lavish parties at the home. 

She was an independent woman who had a mind of her own. “It is said that once she had one of her admirers drink champagne from her golden slipper.” 

Miss Bettie never married. She traveled the world without chaperones -- rude behavior for a single woman at the turn of the century. Her life reflected the true "Modern Woman."

Ashton Villa today is a museum operated by the Galveston Historical Society. Many items that Miss Bettie collected during her world travels are displayed. 

One ornate chest she bought in the Middle East no longer has the key to its lock. But docents in the home find this trunk sometimes open and sometimes locked. This is just one of many unusual things that happens in the mansion.

In 1993, Lucie Testa who was a former manager at the Ashton Villa described to a reporter what she encountered.

She states that on February 18 of 1991 the mansion's alarm went off without cause, later that same day as she closed the mansion she noticed the ceiling fan at the top of the stairs was on--she turned it off--but the next morning she found the fan on again. 

She later discovered this date February 18th was Miss Bettie’s birthday. 

Another strange incident happened to the villa’s caretaker who was awakened around 3:00 AM to hear piano music coming from the Mansion’s parlor. 

Thinking someone had broken in--he entered the room in time to observe a figure of a woman at the piano. The woman was wearing 19th century clothing and as he watched she slowly faded away then the music stopped. 

He admitted he left all the lights on and didn’t sleep the rest of that night.

Docents that work in the museum have reported another ongoing and annoying phenomenon in the mansion. In the bedroom that was Miss Betties the bedspread is regularly found mussed. The docents will straighten this spread only to find it “rumpled and wrinkled.” again within a short period of time.

One famous sighting of Miss Bettie’s ghost happened during Galveston’s annual “Dickens Christmas on the Strand” in 1991. An apparition of a female was seen wearing a turquoise Victorian gown standing at the top of the grand staircase. 

The docent that spotted her was surprised because the mansion was not yet open to the public for that evening’s event. She discovered that none of the other staff were wearing a turquoise gown--Miss Bettie’s favorite color.

Several of the stories I mentioned above can be found in D.S. Williams book Ghosts Along the Texas Coast.

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