It sounds like something out of a bad horror movie, but is based in all too verifiable fact. Within the confines of the fourth largest city in the United States, there is a haunted hospital with a history like no other.
An Old Houston Haunted Hospital
A beautiful, four story red brick structure with all the fineries that early 20th century architecture had to offer, this hospital spent the majority of its existence in various states of disrepair and abandonment. Some would say that it is due to the unique nature of the urban expansion Houston faced throughout the 20th century, but there are others who suggest other, darker reasons.
It may be the stories of strange encounters and mysterious screams, or the presence of eerie figures found in places they don’t belong, but Jefferson Davis Hospital has always had its share of creepy stories. As with any place of death, most hospitals have their share of spirits and specters, but there’s something about Jefferson Davis that’s always made it stand out from the rest when it comes to the pure creepiness.
Possibly the thousands of disturbed graves that lie mere feet beneath its foundations.
Before the hospital broke ground, the empty land where Jefferson Davis now stands was converted into a municipal cemetery in the 1840s with the intention of replacing the Old City Cemetery. It soon became home to an eclectic mix of the city’s dead from all walks of life, from Confederate soldiers to former slaves and even city politicians. When outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera swept through the city, the cemetery was used to stem the tide of bodies from the city. All told, well over 6,000 people were buried on this site until the city formally discontinued its status as an active cemetery in 1879, though private families still handled burials onsite until well into the 1890s.
By the early 20th century, the cemetery was in such a horrid state of disrepair that Houston politicians began debating whether or not its land could be used for alternative purposes. In the 1920s it was determined that the best course of action would be to build a hospital on these hallowed grounds with the intent of providing affordable aid to the city’s indigent population. Naturally, this decision was met with a fair amount of skepticism and uproar over the disturbing of gravesites. Promises were made that all the graves would be moved respectfully off-site to alleviate the concerns of the local citizenry and family members, but further investigations have found these claims to be dubious at best. That businesses developing nearby land into other projects still found graves into the 1980s indicates to many that this location remains the final resting place of many, many of Houston’s dead.
Nonetheless, construction persisted in 1924, and in 1925 Jefferson Davis Hospital, so named as a means of consoling the family members of Confederate dead who were buried on these grounds, was opened. The first city-owned hospital that welcomed an indigent population, it was no doubt hoped that Jefferson Davis Hospital would long remain a Houston fixture.
Unfortunately, this was not meant to be. With Houston’s rapid metropolitan expansion, Jefferson Davis Hospital was unable to keep up with the growth of the city’s indigent population. By 1938, medical services were rerouted to what is now known as the Texas Medical Center, while Jefferson Davis fell by the wayside.
In the decades that followed, Houston tried to find a use for the building, but purposes rarely stuck for long. By the 1980s, Jefferson Davis Hospital was abandoned and left to rot, becoming an icon of urban blight and a haven for gangs and the homeless, even appearing as a drug lab in the film Robocop 2. Though there were some rumblings over the years of doing something to reinvigorate what was once a beautiful Houston landmark, little momentum was gained until 2003, when a group of teenagers on a ghost hunt at Jefferson Davis Hospital were shot at and robbed by local criminals. After being declared a city landmark, the main hospital building was purchased and developed into the Elder Street Artists Lofts in 2005.
Though it has gone through its ups and downs over the years, the restored Jefferson Davis Hospital building remains a beautiful sight and a classic piece of Houston history that demands to be seen by all visitors to the city, living and ghostly alike.
Of course, with a history as colorful as this, there are definitely some stories and speculations of haunting. Nearly everyone in town has heard a story from a “friend of a friend” about mysterious goings-on at Jefferson Davis Hospital, as its hallowed grounds did make it a popular (and free) Halloween destination for teens during the years it was abandoned, but just because it has this reputation doesn’t mean that there haven’t been compelling tales over the years.
The stories of unearthly happenings go back to when Jefferson Davis Hospital was active and serving the public, with doctors, nurses, and patients reporting a variety of mysterious goings-on. Strange, pale figures were not an uncommon sight, nor were mysterious crying and wailing sounds believed to be the upset spirits of the disturbed graves beneath the hospital. Once the hospital was abandoned, reports of the paranormal remained unabated, with those who wandered the abandoned building often telling stories of strange noises and an overwhelming feeling of being watched. Given the increased frequency of these reports in the years after the hospital’s closure to the public, it is speculated by many that those who died in the hospital building only added to the robust ghost population brought on by the cemetery, a theory few are ready to dispute.
Stories from the connected probation building include strange noises in the attic and a ghostly woman seen wandering what used to be the old nurses quarters, sometimes entering restrooms but never seen walking out of them. During one incident in which a fire alarm was reported in the building, it is said that the normally stolid police dogs sent in response refused to enter the building for unknown reasons.
At the end of the day, the former Jefferson Davis Hospital remains a definite curiosity of Houston’s haunted history. Though its status as an organized set of residential units doesn’t make it prime ghost hunting real estate as it might once have been, that doesn’t make it any less of a paranormal hotspot than it was when it was once abandoned. Some say that the dead are often made more active by the energy of the living and that people once again living on this land might again disturb the slumber of those long-buried. After all, there still remain many bodies buried on this land, disturbed, waiting…
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