Written by Shaun Treat
Halloween is upon us, which seems the perfect opportunity to revisit some of Denton’s most legendary ghost stories. Although most TV and movies tell us that ghosts are frightfully vengeful ghouls, there are also tales of dear departed Dentonites who linger on as guardian spirits. We're going to take this opportunity to warn you of a few of the ghastly souls you should be on the look out for this Halloween.
Most ghost stories that get sensationalized are about vengeful or malevolent spirits, like the terrifying tale of the Goatman of the Old Alton Bridge, but not all ghosts are scary monsters. In fact, there are a number of local spectres who are loitering as guardian spirits to our fair community. One is the ghost of Nurse Betty from the old Homer Flow Memorial Hospital.
Many a Dentonite claim their honest-to-Betsy local bonafides by having been born in the old Flow Memorial Hospital, founded with a 1949 post-mortem donation by Homer Flow who is himself buried in the IOOF Cemetery.
Apparently old Homer had donated his property and a chunk of change to the city and Denton County jointly on the condition that they bankroll a charity hospital that provided affordable medical care to the poor. A downright Christian mission that worked for almost forty years, until politics and some municipal tax disputes contributed to the controversial bankruptcy of the Flow Hospital in 1986. Developers have since turned its lot into student housing on Scripture Hill, but stories of a ghostly nurse had already been haunting the hospital grounds for decades.
Laura Douglas, a librarian at the Emily Fowler Library, has kept records on the ghost often called Nurse Betty after her mother’s own accounts as a nurse there were passed down. As early as the 1950s, night staff, security guards, and even patients had inexplicable encounters with a woman dressed in a nurse’s white gown and cap. Many told of a dedicated young nurse at the Flow Hospital, pregnant from a tryst with a married doctor, who had died in the elevator after collapsing from a botched back-alley abortion yet her spirit still lingered as a caretaker. A new mother groggily saw a nurse in “a vintage uniform” close a window and then blanket her newborn in the middle of a chilly night, but was later told by the night nurse on duty that there was no one else on the floor. Even after the hospital closed, one shaken co-ed claimed that a woman “dressed in a nurse costume” had spooked away a potential attacker during her walk home in the wee hours after the campus bars had closed. Most accounts of Nurse Betty are similarly benevolent or benign, even if often unnerving.
Another public servant who continues her mission even after death is a well-known namesake of Denton’s public library. Emily Fowler was a dedicated crusader for free public literacy who served as librarian from 1943 to 1969. After her passing, numerous witnesses have had enough strange occurrences in the library to warrant several teams of paranormal investigators. In one of our favorite tales, a paranormal team was taking readings and recordings for EVP by prompting ghostly response with questions. When they reviewed their tapes, they were surprised by a faint but firm response: “Shhhhhhh!” Apparently, the lingering librarian likes her peace and quiet! Ms. Fowler also has a habit of stacking improperly indexed books in the middle of the floor, maybe because she is a real stickler for abiding by the Dewey Decimal System. Because of this, Laura Douglas has been working on having The Emily Fowler branch officially designated as a haunted library.
Denton has other guardian spirits, like Blind Sheriff Hodges and his boxer Candy or the mischievous Mr. Harrison of the Campus Theater, who still patrol our favorite local haunts. We’d like to think that when someone remarks on our fair town’s pretty remarkable community spirit, we can wink at each other knowing it also includes some civic-minded Dentonites from back in the day who are still lurking about.
Back in The Day is an ongoing WDDI contribution from Shaun Treat, an assistant professor in Communication Studies at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc Treat has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of the fine folks with the Denton County Historical Commission and local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past.