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Ghosts of Corpus Christi Beach

By Paula Bonillas

Jumping salt shakers! There are ghosts on Corpus Christi Beach. But this should come as no surprise, given the long, colorful, and often dramatic history of the small peninsula just north of Corpus Christi — or, as locals say, “on the other side of the bridge”

The USS Lexington, also known as The Blue Ghost, is home to the most well-known ghosts on the beach. A few extra crew members seem to be hanging around to guide tourists and share knowledge about the decommissioned aircraft carrier, which has a rich history of its own.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, the GhostCam aboard the Blue Ghost is eerie enough to entice even the most adamant naysayers. The camera, situated in the aft engine room, focuses on an area where at least one mysterious fellow likes to hang out.

That would be Charly, a blue-eyed, well-dressed charmer who favors a summer white Navy uniform no longer used by the ship’s earthly staff. Charly is easily the ship’s most popular and personable apparition. His intimate knowledge of the ship and its engines, which he freely shares when the mood strikes, has dazzled visitors and tour guides alike.

You can catch live viewings every 90 seconds at: www.caller2.com/multimedia/cams/ghostcam.

But it’s not only Charly who keeps the ghost stories coming and the cameras rolling: Some staffers and visitors at the Lexington have heard unseen chains being dragged across the flight deck, elevators carrying equipment, the rustling of crisply starched uniforms on phantom sailors, along with close encounters with other friendly but unworldly crew members who are more than willing to assist the floating museum’s visitors. Sightings of a one particularly misguided ghost dressed in a Japanese aviator uniform have also been reported.

During its illustrious World War II exploits, the Lexington was so legendary that the Japanese believed they had sunk the aggressive, battle-scarred aircraft carrier four times. It was the infinitely mysterious Tokyo Rose who dubbed it the Blue Ghost after tales of its persistent emergence evolved into folklore in Japan.

Could these polite, well-groomed apparitions be loyal sailors who refused to abandon their ship?

In contrast to the helpful ghosts on the Lexington, a mischievous ghost, perhaps more aptly called a poltergeist, sometimes taunts and haunts the staff and owners of Blackbeard’s, a popular beach restaurant.

Soon after purchasing the storied building in 1991, the current owners of Blackbeard’s often had an unseen visitor who commuted to and from work with them for a while before settling back into his old habits at the restaurant.

Although he’s never seen, his actions are: doors opening spontaneously; jumping salt shakers; chairs moving; video tapes popping in and out of the VCR, to name a few. During his commuting days with the owners, he enjoyed toying with their thermostat – hiking it to the highest temperature one day, and then plummeting to freezing the next. Moving ordinary items around the house seemed to keep him entertained for a short time before he moved back to the restaurant.

The history of Blackbeard’s prankster is unclear. Some say a skirmish over a red-haired woman left one man dead when the establishment was a bar in its early years. The bar, which now serves as the restaurant’s kitchen, is where the most likely story began.

Late one night, a lonely patron who was despondent over having lost his wife left when the bar closed. He walked the few yards to the depression-era work camp across the street where he lived, sat down on his bed, reached for his gun. And the rest is history.

Ghost hunters and students of the paranormal often say traumatic death sometimes gives rise to ghosts, who live out the events of their lives as if they never ended. Some are angry or have unfinished business. Others seem to guide and help their earthly counterparts.

Given its often traumatic history, it’s no wonder Corpus Christi Beach plays host to a few ghosts.

Cannibalistic Karankawa Indians once roamed the Texas Coast from Galveston to Corpus Christi. After killing their enemies, they ceremoniously ate their victims to magically capture their courage.

Merciless pirates terrorized hapless sailors and ships as they murdered and plundered their way through area bays. Some say that the “gentleman” pirate Jean Lafitte settled here after receiving presidential pardons for his freebooting ways.

During the war between Mexico and Texas, General Zachary Taylor set up a staging ground on Corpus Christi Beach and the general area to settle by battle how the disputed ground surrounding the Nueces River would be controlled.

The Hurricane of 1919 wiped out most of the structures on Corpus Christi Beach, including the city’s first hospital, Spohn Sanitarium. Several patients and at least one of the nuns who helped establish the medical facility died that tragic day.

Today, Corpus Christi Beach bustles with activity most of the year. People come here to play, swim, snuggle, laugh, eat, drink, relax, listen to music, to leave mundane life behind, if only for a short time. The history is easily forgotten – the trauma, the calm, the history, the mystery.

One wonders just how many ghosts wander among us, unseen, unheard, lost amidst the gaiety and merriment that defines the beach today.

But on those cold, slow nights in the winter, the managers at Blackbeard’s still leave a bottle of beer on the bar for their mischievous ghost, and the ghostcam on the Blue Ghost silently rolls on.

Two updates on the ghost(s) of Blackbeard’s:
(1) In 2007, Corpus Christi Ghosthunters captured what was dubbed “the holy grail” of ghosthunters – an apparition strolling through back dining area hours after the restaurant had closed. His (her?) appearance began from an area where there is no door.

(2) This September, while Hurricane Ike was ravaging the upper Gulf Coast, Blackbeard’s, which had closed for the storm, had an unexpected visitor who jacked up the music and left a shot glass for the manager to find upon opening the next day. None of the managers with keys had been in the restaurant and nothing else was touched.