Friday, July 1, 2011

Haunted Texas Graveyard

Many apologies to my readers for being tardy with my weekly blog. I just flew in from Texas, and my arms are really tired. Sorry, old joke. So, the question is, are there cemeteries in Texas? You bet. No one ever talks about them, those graveyards of the old west, except for maybe Boot Hill (and that’s in Tombstone, Arizona, anyway). I can unequivocally say that there are cemeteries in Texas – simple ones, abandoned ones, even opulent Victorian ones, family cemeteries, and haunted graveyards. I found some of each right around San Antonio, where I was teaching for a few days this past weekend.What I want to write about here is one in particular, a haunted one – the Loma China Cemetery south of San Antonio, in Bexar County.

In preparation for my trip, I surfed the Web for interesting local cemeteries. Through a Facebook Friend, Melissa Dean, I found this gem:

San Antonio - Chinese Graveyard - Go down Zarzamora after you pass Loop 410 keep going the road will make a slight turn to the right and on the right (it is hard to see so go slow) there will be a big white cross. Pull in turn the car off along with lights its better with the windows down. Quickly flash your lights five times and look and listen for talking and white apparitions around the very small graveyard. (ref)

And this entry from (who I also thank for the photo above of the sign):

There are "No Trespassing" signs posted, including a sign that reads "No Witchcraft". We've been told that people will pull up at night,turn off the car, open their windows and flash the car headlights five times. White figures will begin to run around, and the sound of voices can be heard.

Heaven on the front seat of my car.
Your favorite Cemetery Traveler could not resist a temptation like that! In fact the “Chinese Graveyard” (also known as Loma China Cemetery) was my first stop after deplaning, as they say. Well, actually, my first stop was to check out the local cuisine. Munching on alligator nuggets and frogs legs, rockin’ to Mexican radio, I headed south through San Antonio last Friday afternoon.

About the weather: I wrote in my last blog that the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced was on Sodus Bay, New York, on Lake Ontario. Well, I just experienced the torrential Texan sun and I have never been so hot in my life! Jesus H. Chrissmus, how do you people TOLERATE that? A hundred and seventeen degrees in Lubbock this weekend?! San Antone was was so hot that birds were bursting into flame as they flew through the sun beams reflected off the tall, glass-windowed office buildings (*see note at end). The digital temp readout on my rental car's dashboard blanked out after it hit a hundred, it just started flashing out of range. Thank the gods for air conditioning!

Anyway, Zarzamora street runs north-south through San Antonio. After crossing 410 south of the city, it heads off into rural Texas as a sparsely traveled four-lane lost highway. About a quarter mile from that intersection, I came upon the small graveyard on the right side of the road. I pulled into the space in front of the gate (oddly, there was only room for one car to park) and got out to survey the opportunity.  It looked like new cyclone fence had been erected around the old entrance gate since the lostdestinations photos were taken (the author’s account was published in the book, Weird Texas).

My rental at the gate
At the top of the gate in faded paint you could read something like “Guzman Burial Ground.” Given the fact that I didn’t see a “big white cross,” I began to wonder if I was in the right place. The gate was locked but not insurmountable. Still, if I don’t have to scale a fence, I won’t, so I checked for an opening. The left side of the cemetery was fenced off to an industrial equipment site and the right side was open to woods. The front fence on the right actually ended at the woods, so all I had to do was go around the fence, climb over a pile of old cemetery decorations, and enter the grounds. I didn’t see any “No Trespassing” signs, so I didn’t feel like I was. I grabbed my DSLR and a couple Holgas and went inside.

It was a cemetery alright, but a very meager and informal one. The grounds themselves were only about sixty feet wide, maybe two city blocks deep. Certainly not the type of affluent cemetery that would invite grave robbers, though such an atrocity did happen here in 2009 (link to video, "Vandals Desecrate Corpse"). There were tombstones, but not very elaborate ones, wooden crosses with names carved into them, mortar grave borders mixed with sea shells (a la New Orleans). Many of the graves on the left were members of the Guzman family, which made me think the place was a private family burial ground. There are some Chinese graves on the right, but not really that many. Those had trinkets and ornaments around the stones, along with brightly colored plastic flowers, which could have been new, could have been twenty years old, hard to say. There were headstones as recent as 1996, some so old you couldn’t read the dates. I grabbed a few pieces of shell, some broken glass ornamentation, and rocks for souvenirs.

I really was thinking I was in the wrong place until I came upon this sign in the weeds, amidst old beer bottles and other trash.  It’s the same sign you see on the lostdestinations site. Toward the back of the cemetery I found this concrete bench on which was painted “Loma China Cemetary” [sic], which confirmed that I had found the right place. To my utter disappointment, the "No Witchcraft" sign must have been stolen. 

When I eventually made it to the back of the graveyard where the bench is, I found some old headstones covered in cacti, all shaded by a couple great old cemetery trees – you know, the kind of gnarly old things that seem to only grow in cemeteries. Across from them was a grave with a rectangular wooden headstone with this painted plaster angel on it! The angel's  face was so startlingly lifelike that as I was photographing it, I half expected it to open its eyes. Creepy.

The absence of traffic on the four-lane Zanzamora street was weird. Even though the Chinese Cemetery bordered some sort of construction equipment supply place on one side, all was quiet there on Friday afternoon.  I comforted my uneasiness with the fact that other than the tourists, the locals must be too smart to go out in this weather. At a 114 degree 'real feel' temperature, I was sweating like crazy. It dripped off my sunburned face as I lay on my back in the sand, photographing the cacti-covered headstones. Red ants were everywhere − I shook them off the Holgas. I felt that if the cemetery were really haunted, this is exactly where you would experience the weirdness. But I thought the ghosties wouldn’t be around in broad daylight in this heat. You know, if you were to see one, it would be lying in the shade, weakly holding up a small sign that said “Boo.” With the creepy angel face and the painted bench behind me, I thought I felt something inside the leg of my shorts.

Back section of the "Chinese Cemetery"
Now, in all candor, I must say I had forgotten all about rattlesnakes. It wasn’t until days later as I’m writing this blog that it even occurs to me to look that up! Who knew Texas has TEN varieties of rattlesnake? More than any other state besides Arizona? Had I known this, I would’ve exercised a bit more caution.

But no serpents, thank you very much. However, as I looked down, I saw six-inch lizards scurrying everywhere! Yaahhhh !!!! Jump up, shake pant leg. Nothing. Wait – the lizards were actually all … heading for the angel head. This is too weird. Maybe time to go. I gathered up all my camera gear and was ready to head out of there when I realized the lens cap was missing from my DSLR. I had been snapping it on between shots to keep the sweat from dripping onto the lens. Now, years ago I used to lose these things left and right, until I started buying those elastic bands that stretch around the lens base with the button at the end of a tether that sticks to the lens cap. You pop the cap off and drop it – the tether lets it dangle until you’re ready to put it back on the lens. Haven’t lost a cap in ten years. Until now, that is. In fact, the elastic band was gone too!

With some reluctance, I retraced my steps and searched for about twenty minutes, to no avail. It wasn’t like it fell into bushes or tall grass, its just basically sand there. A four-inch black lens cap should be easy to locate, but the sweat was pouring off me and my glasses were a mess. Under the unrelenting Texas sun, I felt like that line from the Fountains of Wayne song, “And the sun is beating me senseless, I feel defenseless like a dying lamb….” (click for video). I gave up and headed back to the car. Threw my gear in the trunk with the suitcases and pulled away from Loma China Cemetery.

A mere twenty feet down Zarzamora I see one of those roadside memorials. At some point I intend to blog about them, so I pulled off the road into the drainage ditch to grab a few photos. As the memory card in my DLSR was almost full I decided to change it. I popped the full one out, and it fell between the seat and shifting console! After spewing some imprecations, I moved the electric seat forward, got out and crawled into the back and fished around for it. Finally got it. Jeez Louise.

I went down to shoot the memorial, and the word “Brother” was facing the wrong direction, so I clambered around to the other side. I grabbed a handful of what I thought was just bracken, to pull it out of the way so I could photograph the front of the memorial, and my left hand was bloodied by dozens of invisible thorns! Holy shit, did that hurt! (You can see the innocuous little fern-like plants at the bottom of the sign in the photo). 

I began to seriously think the spirits of Loma China Cemetery were messing with me for nicking some souvenirs. Bugger all, man, it’s worth the price of a lens cap! So off I went to check into my hotel.

After a shower a few hours later, I began unpacking my bags. When I got to the bottom of one of my locked suitcases, guess what was in there? My lens cap with the tether! WTF!?  − ghosts that like to play parlor tricks? I guess it was a sign that they really could harm me if they wanted to! But that wasn’t the end of the weirdness. My bad luck streak continued for six days.

One of the reasons I’m late posting this blog is because after writing it the first time, my laptop decided to “Restart,” and I apparently did not save my document. So what you’re reading is Version 2.0 (which reminds me to hit “Save” at this point…). As I left San Antonio, my plane was delayed so I nearly missed my connecting flight in Houston (remember those TV commercials of O.J. Simpson running through the airport?). Upon my arrival in Philadelphia, the announcement that it was 79 degrees and cloudy made it seem like paradise compared to what I had endured over the past four days! Texans must be a hardy people. So around midnight, in relatively high spirits, the airport shuttle dropped me off in front of my car – which had a flat tire.

When I got into work the next day, I noticed that the hard drive with all my blogs and years of photographs was missing. No big dealI had disconnected it, put it in my bag and took it home with me last week. I spent the last several days looking for that damned thing, everywhere! I had given it up for lost. My bad luck ended (I hope) yesterday when I walked into my office and found the drive under a sheet of paper. Now, this is one of those instances where it wasn’t there the LAST four times you looked there, but now its there. Plausible explanation? My wife thinks it must have decided that I had worked hard enough to find it, so it decided to reappear. The quantum physicists might say that it’s waveform had just temporarily collapsed. My advice? If you decide to visit Loma China Cemetery, be sure to take your lucky amulet or anti-witchcraft talisman with you.


It was really difficult finding information on this cemetery on the internet before I visited, but when I returned home and searched for “Guzman Burial Ground” (the words painted on the entrance sign),  I found something that explained a bit of the place’s history. In a 2009 interview ("Horror haunt in San Antonio unearths ghostly tales"), local  citizen Joey Guzman says that the Chinese Cemetery is in fact his family’s private burial ground, which had originated over a hundred years ago. And the Chinese connection? The ghostly apparition you supposedly see when you flash your headlights? Read on:

“Supposedly, a Great uncle of mine was seeing a Chinese woman and they were in love,” said Guzman who oversees the cemetery. ”My Great grandfather forbade him from seeing her.” According to Guzman, what’s now a burial ground was a rendezvous spot for his great uncle and his Asian love. The curse: continue to see her and lightning will strike you down.

[Folklorist for the Institute of Texan Cultures, Mr. Rhett] Rushing said this was the Romeo and Juliet story of Bexar County at the time. The woman, whose name has never been unearthed, was reportedly a Chinese immigrant.“She was remarkable,” said Rushing. “She was very, very tall even being described as being seven feet.”

Guzman said family accounts claim the curse came to fruition. His great uncle was killed on the very horse he rode in on. In fact, familiar legend said great uncle Guzman was buried with his horse. Folklore said his Asian love died too. The two reportedly doomed to aimlessly search for each other throughout eternity.

References and Further Reading:

* Just kidding about the birds bursting into flame.

My thanks to Melissa Dean and for background material, and to the Marks at Weird NJ/US/Texas for their wonderfully informative publications!
Lost Destinations: Chinese Graveyard
News Video: Vandals Desecrate Corpse