Galveston Ghost Tour:
A Hauntingly Good Time
By Terry Card
“What did you think of the tour?” “Well, I never would have guessed that Galveston had so many ghost houses and buildings in such a compact area. It made walking really easy! The tour itself was fascinating and the guide was not only knowledgeable, but really got into it and made the whole experience a real blast! I guess that’s why they call him Johnny Blast!”
Walter Kowalski, a.k.a. Johnny Blast is the owner of the company providing the Galveston Ghost Tour. Tours are scheduled every night from March 1st to November 4th at 8pm and 10pm. From November 5th to March 1st there is only one tour at 7:30pm. The walking tour generally lasts about an hour and a half with frequent stops during which people on the tour see some of Galveston’s amazing historic houses and receive an intoxicating review of the history of them. The guide makes the past come alive and then relates the sometimes eerie stories of how the ghost or ghosts came to inhabit the buildings. This is all part of Galveston’s ghost history, which is a result of the unprecedented death toll caused by the 1900 storm, the worst natural U.S. disaster. Because of that and other factors, Galveston is occupied by more ghosts than any other location in America.
Walter was born in Chicago. His mother was a social worker and his father was a businessman. After finishing high school in Chicago, Walter attended the University of Illinois where he obtained both a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Advertising. Subsequently, he attended the School of Law at both Kent State University and Southern Methodist in Dallas. Thrown in was a bachelor’s degree from the London School of Economics.
All of this led to a 22-year career in law. After retiring from law, he knew that he never wanted to work in an office again. During his career, he had made numerous trips to Galveston, a place he found fascinating with all its history and a city he grew to love.
In 2012, he decided to make the move. During his many previous trips, he had always learned all he could about Galveston history, admired the beautiful architecture of its historical buildings, and absorbed historic ghost information and ghost stories. Once in the city permanently, he researched all of the information he could find available on Galveston’s history, its buildings, and its ghosts.
Finally, to put his knowledge to the test, he joined Segway as a tour guide and worked with them from 2016 to 2017 and was a tour guide for Ghost Tours Texas from 2016 to 2018.
Confident in his knowledge and tour skills, he started Galveston Ghost Tour in June 2018. The first month he had only two guests per night, but by July his business surged to 80 guests per night. This led to hiring two tour guides to work with him.
Walter revealed that with a ghost tour it is not unusual for startling things to happen. He related the time he was conducting a tour and was standing in front of the Robert Durst house just east of 23rd and Avenue L. Often locals will take the tour just to enjoy the history and stories of Galveston. One of the locals then chilled the group as he told them that he was in his rented upstairs bedroom, while Robert Durst was downstairs dismembering Morris Black, an elderly neighbor, before dumping his three remains in Galveston Bay.
Why is Galveston the ghost capital of the U.S.A? The primary factor is, of course, the more than 6000 deaths in 1900 Storm. Sudden deaths, unfinished business, demonic possession, and often for very wealthy people, the reluctance to leave the good life, all contribute to ghosts wandering the earth. Galveston has had more than its share of all of these.
In addition, Galveston’s history is unique. It has been home to famous pirates like Jean Lafitte. It has also been occupied by Indians, cannibals, slaves, and been the site of a battle during the Civil War.
Galveston, the port city, has always had an active Red Light District which was referred to as “The Line.” It was a hotbed for gambling, robbery, and murder and is thought to be a contributing factor. Until recently, “The Line” was not talked about but it is coming to the forefront, placing Galveston in company with other famous ghost hosting cities like New Orleans and Savannah.
Approximately 90% of the people who take the tour are visitors. The 10% of locals taking the tour often have seen or been suspicious of ghosts appearing in their homes. One homeowner, whose house in the Historic District was a former dance studio, described seeing ghostlike figures dancing in his dining room. Only in Galveston do ghosts dance instead of haunt! What a City!
Looking to the future, Walter is planning to purchase a bus with easy accessibility, a great viewing capability for his more extended tours, and also for large and handicap groups.
He has recently been hired by Netflix to give a tour to some of its writers for a family-based story including Galveston history, ghosts, and its relationship with “The Line.” The writers have already reached the outline stage and are currently in the character development stage. Potentially, it will result in a Netflix series.
For reservations with a regular tour, book online at historicgalvestonghosttours.com.
For private tours, the company can schedule tours to accommodate many requirements. For example on one tour, the guests started at 8am, stopped for lunch, and then stopped again for a couple of afternoon drinks before finishing their tour.
It is all about keeping their customers happy – oh – and the ghosts too!