By Kylie Kinnett
There are numerous ways a community can be brought together; for Downtown Bryan, a reoccurring theme of unexplained ghost stories connects many businesses in a spirited way.
Open a conversation with Cindy Peaslee and Debbie Jasek, the duo leading ghost tours and other informational jaunts in Downtown Bryan, and you will quickly get a sense of how the paranormal tales swirl around the historic area – and the people who live and work there.
“There simply is not a building in downtown Bryan that does not have some type of unexplainable story to go with it. Whether they are true or not, there is a spirited story to be told,” says Peaslee, whose ethereal interest was sparked by general curiosity about the history of Bryan. She explains this theme gives the shops and businesses something in common, which brings the community even closer together…especially when the topic of interest is hearing disembodied footsteps in a building with no one else around.
There is a correlation between old construction and haunted feelings with some Downtown buildings dating back to 1875. When researching for tours, Jasek and Peaslee seek out stories of what happened inside the buildings. This area witnessed Bryan’s Wild West saloon life playing out, early settlers battling pernicious diseases, families sending loved ones to fight in the World Wars, and calamitous fires ravaging structures.
It’s the history of each building that brings to life the anecdotes of spirits and strange occurrences told throughout decades. “People are interested in more than just the ghosts,” Jasek says; the history draws people in. For some, ghost stories are hard to believe without a tangible element – understanding the context and history behind the stories and buildings helps make the tales tangible.
With a town as historically rich as Bryan, it is not surprising a lot of these stories stem from shop owners. The experiences shop owners share are not only friendly, but in some cases, helpful. Peaslee says some encounters with these friendly spirits include a helpful hand opening a heavy door, and the sounds of children laughing and playing together. Peaslee also shares the story of a picture flying off the wall when an owner expressed, out loud, that she didn’t like the photo: the intent was helpful, even if the action was startling.
At first, a ghostly encounter can feel terrifying, acknowledges Peaslee, but in her experience, most people living and working in Downtown seem comfortable with these otherwise harmless acts by spirits from Bryan’s past. Jasek describes a few experiences of her own in her shop, Brazos Glassworks. After tearing down a wall in the store, it seemed as if the spirits had been stirred up. For a couple of weeks after the renovations, an iPod would turn on by itself, play a couple of songs, and then turn off. In addition to the mysterious music, Jasek noticed glass sun-catchers falling off the window where they were hanging. “They would hit the concrete and not one of them broke, not one of them chipped,” Jasek says, as if someone was picking them up to admire and then gently placing them on the floor. After this happened several times, she took it upon herself to tell the ghost that she appreciated the help, but politely asked for it to stop. Sure enough, there has not been a sun-catcher peculiarly taken off the window since.
There are lots of reasons people seek out ghost stories and unusual tales; it’s sometimes fun to be scared of the unknown. The fascination with the Downtown Bryan ghost stories is fueled by the attachment to something physical, often buildings, and grounded in the history of the city. “These stories do exist, and these unexplainable things do happen,” says Peaslee.
Downtown Bryan has a lot going on and is very spirited, both in the here and now and in its historic past. “I like to refer to it as high-energy downtown,” says Peaslee, both in the normal – and paranormal – sense.