Austin is dead to me. Live Music Capital of the World? Sure, but it turns out, Austin, Texas is busting with gruesome tales of the dead, haunted sites, and plenty of ghost stories. The land itself may explain why so many spirits linger — Austin has beautiful, rocky hills and woodsy watering holes. Native tribes wandered through area, and designated many places as sacred. Spanish colonists arrived in the mid-1700s, but the Austin we know was born when the young Republic of Texas moved its capital from Houston to the sleepy Waterloo (redubbed “Austin” in honor of The Father of Texas Stephen F. Austin).
Mount Bonnell is perhaps the most impressive physical feature on the Austin landscape. As far back as the Spanish colonial era, the 780-foot bluff has been romanticized. In one of Texas’ most frequently-told tales, Antonia’s Leap persists to present day. The Spanish maiden Antonia was a colonist from a nearby San Antonio mission. A Comanche chief became enamored with Antonia, and kidnapped her, but Antonia’s finance came to the rescue. The Comanche warriors tracked them to Mount Bonnell and impaled the gallant Spanish paramour with 50 arrows. In her sorrow, Antonia leapt to her death.
Toughest Texan on Two-Wooden Legs Everyone loves pizza, right? Even ghosts of paraplegic Swedish immigrants? Ja! When Swen Beryman arrived in Galveston following a boat ride from Sweden in 1852, he took any job he could find on the Texas frontier. He settled outside of Austin. Following an excursion through sacred tribal land in the hills known as the Devil’s Backbone, Swen found himself trapped in a freak hail storm, and later lost both of his legs to frostbite. Ever the hard-working immigrant, Swen traded his farm for a general store in Oatmanville, where he got around on two wooden legs. Today, his Old Stone Storehouse is home to Austin Pizza Garden, and some patrons report hearing mysterious footsteps — perhaps from Swen’s own wooden legs.
The 1885 Serial Killings
In 1884 and 1885, eight people were murdered, but no police record exists today of the horrific event in Texas history. The serial killer employed an ax, a knife, and long thin metal pin. The victims, 6 women, one man, and a girl, were never avenged. Austin would be forever changed by the ghastly acts. The community sought ways to catch the killer, and settled on moonlight towers to illuminate the neighborhoods at night. The sites are lost to the development of Downtown, but the imprint of the murdered souls is thought to remain.
“ANOTHER WOMAN MURDERED IN THE NIGHT BY SOME UNKNOWN ASSASSIN, BENT ON PLUNDER. ANOTHER NIGHT OF DEVILRY IN THE CRIMSON CATALOG OF CRIME”
— Austin Daily Statesman, May 8, 1885