‘Swampy’ is a good word to describe the atmosphere the night I joined the Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours for dinner and a jaunt about town. The air was thick and the lighting was low as we entered the Menger Hotel, known as Texas’ most haunted inn.
The dinners began Valentine’s Day 2012, as an addition to the already popular nightly ghost tours put on by sisters Allison Schiess and Lauren Schiess Swartz. The original tours started in 2011 after the siblings decided to take their love of spooky stories and the family’s 300-year history in San Antonio to the next level.
“Growing up, I used to be the weird one, and Halloween was my favorite time of the year,” Swartz said. “I used to do tours for family and friends and it grew to where it wasn’t just [family] anymore.”
When they started shopping around for a venue to host dinners in, the Menger Hotel was an obvious choice due to its storied past.
The meal kicked off at 7 p.m., with three courses cooked by the staff at the Colonial Restaurant: a house salad, choice of chicken, rib-eye steak or vegetarian entrée, and choice of dessert. You aren’t going to find any sort of culinary envelopes being pushed here, the food is more or less what you’d expect from a hotel restaurant. If anything, it serves as fuel for the trek across downtown SA. Guests were seated near the back of the dimly lit hall and asked to introduce themselves to each other.
As an admitted buff of anything eerie who watches all iterations ever aired of paranormal shows, I was giddy to hear why my tablemates decided to partake: The mother-daughter duo from Floresville to the left were seasoned veterans of cemetery tours. The husband and wife team across the table were visiting from Florida for a conference and decided to take in some Alamo City tales.
Once dinner wrapped, guests made their way to the lobby where everyone was briefed on what the tour would involve. And I do mean everyone: there wasn’t a specific guest demographic. Attendees ranged from families with iPhone-happy preteens to young couples on a date and lastly, early 20-somethings clutching what seemed like double vodka tonics (we lost them somewhere after the tour stop closest to Hard Rock Cafe). The group was divided into believers and skeptics.
“It’s usually the wives that drive the husbands along. We try to divulge a lot of history to satisfy both types of people,” Swartz said.
As paranormal activity goes, technology is all the rage and its part on our tour became apparent as the period garb-wearing Swartz seemingly pulled out an iPad from under her petticoat, the better to show us historical images and photos submitted by tour-goers past.
“I get photos in our email or on our Facebook after every tour,” Swartz said, though some skeptics question the images’ validity.
The group made its way through the Menger’s common areas on the second and third floors while learning of deceased chambermaid Sally White, Richard King of the King Ranch, and, of course, Teddy Roosevelt’s famous ride through the Menger Bar as he recruited his Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. We continued to a case of relics near the concierge desk before heading outdoors to the Alamo, arguably San Antonio’s most haunted site.
The tour’s jumpy vibe was a bit hard to maintain once the outdoor portion kicked off (imagine walking through downtown alongside high-heeled club-goers), but the information was free flowing. Led by Swartz’s husband James and their Australian sheep dog, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Obi for short), the group made its way to historical spots including San Fernando Cathedral, the Spanish Governor’s Palace and the former Bexar County Jail (which has found new life as a Holiday Inn Express). Each stop featured a boatload of info on past events and a ghost tale or two.
Did I see an apparition or connect with a see-through baddie? Sadly, no, but I did learn a lot about San Antonio while walking a hole through my chanclas. For history buffs, traipsing the streets of SA and learning about forgotten locales usually obscured by the bright downtown lights might make up for the cheese-factor; believers, on the other hand, might face the spirits of the city or find out exactly what happened to our lost tour members.
Sisters Grimm Dinner and Ghost Tour
$54.95 adults, $29.95 children 1-12 (reservations required)
7pm, Oct 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19
Halloween Dinner and Ghost Tour
6:30pm and 7:30 pm, Oct 25, 26, 7pm Oct 31
$61.95 adults, $39.95 children 1-12 (reservations required)
204 Alamo Plaza