A Haunting Experience

by Pete Kendall

Hood County News – October 29, 2003

Aston House in Granbury

Jean and Charlie Cate took possession of the fabled Aston House in 1970. Much to their surprise, the century-old Bridge Street mansion soon possessed them. Talk about a Happy Halloween. “Charlie was an airline pilot, so he was gone a lot of the time,” Jean said. “His first trip after we moved in, I was in the house with four kids and heard what sounded like scratching on a window. “I thought, ‘Those must be pecan tree branches. We need to get those trimmed.’ When I looked the next morning, there were no branches near that window.” The Aston House spirits were merely warming up. “The kids were in school one day, and Charlie was on a flight,” she said. “I was working downstairs and heard footsteps above. I knew I was the only one in the house.

“I went up the back stairs, looked to the left and saw the figure of a woman turning the corner to go downstairs. Nobody locked their doors back then. I thought, ‘I wonder who that was?’

“I went back downstairs, and nobody was there. After that, I’d hear the footsteps once every couple of weeks.

“Another time, I heard what sounded like a skirt brushing the floor. I got so used to the noises that I liked having her in the house when I was by myself.”

“Her,” Jean decided, was probably Dolly Aston, in life a pillar of polite society and in death an apparently genial and caring spirit.

“She came there as a young bride. Andy Aston said he’d build her the finest house in Hood County if she’d marry him. He did.

“She entertained a lot in that house. She was a most proper lady. Even in the heat of summer, she’d wear a fresh dress, gloves and hat.”

Dolly’s dress might have needed laundering by 1970, but she remained a gracious hostess. She even cooked, cleaned and took out the trash.

“I’d be in bed at night and hear what sounded like pots and pans in the kitchen,” Jean said.

“Occasionally, I would hear the sound of someone rolling a trash can.

“Charlie heard the trash can one night. He said, ‘Oh, it’s the darned dogs.’ I said, ‘Honey, the dogs are in the upstairs sitting room.’”

A doting type, Dolly watched over the Cate sons. “Jimmy said a lady would look in on them at night fairly often. I didn’t say anything about that to my husband or anyone else. I was afraid they might have me committed.”

Their daughter Eileen met a conservatively-attired male spirit at the Aston House.

“Her bedroom was at the top of the front staircase immediately to the left,” Jean said. “It had a bay window. We had a toy chest built to fit in that window.

“One morning, Eileen came downstairs and said, ‘I can’t decide if the man was sad or happy.’ I said, ‘What man?’ She said, ‘The man on the toy chest.’

“I said, ‘A man was sitting on your toy chest?’ She said, ‘Umm hmm.’ I said, ‘What did he look like?’ She said, ‘He had a black suit, dark like daddy’s.’ She saw him several times. She wasn’t the least bit frightened.

“All I can figure is that the gentleman might have been a tenant of a Mrs. Riley, who bought the house and rented out rooms.”

It was several years later that Ardyce Pfanstiel began composing a ghostly essay and called on Jean in search of material. Pfanstiel had already gathered an assortment of spine-tingling anecdotes from Cissy Wilson, Aston House occupant of that moment.

“I told Ardyce about my experiences and my kids’ experiences at the Aston House,” Jean said. “She asked if I’d shared the stories with anyone else. I said, ‘No, of course not.’

“She looked at me kind of funny and said, ‘Jean, except for one thing, you told me the same things Cissy told me about that house, right down to the old gentleman sitting on the toy chest.’

“Another time, Cissy’s family was visiting Granbury, and they decided to see friends in Dallas. The grandmother stayed behind at Aston House. When they returned, the grandmother was asked if everything was okay. She said, ‘Yes, but who is that woman upstairs?’

“One of Cissy’s friends in Dallas was telling her she could get rid of whatever was there by saying, ‘If you mean us harm, I command you to leave. If you mean us no harm, you may stay.’

“Sometime later, Bob (Wilson) was doing night rounds at the hospital. Cissy was uncomfortable at the house. She didn’t like being there alone. She announced, ‘Whoever is here, if you mean us harm, I command you to leave.’

“A knocking started in the back of the house and got louder as it started moving forward. It really frightened her. She called Bob, who heard the noise over the phone and immediately came home.
“The knocking eventually got to the very front of the house. And then it was gone.”

The Cate family departed Aston House in 1978. Cate has warm memories of the abode. “It’s a wonderful house,” she said.

It’s been unoccupied for two lengthy stretches in its history … unoccupied except for the ghosts, anyway.

“The Astons sold it to the Shoemaker family,” Jean said. “Mrs. Riley bought it from the Shoemakers and gave piano lessons. The house sat empty for 12 years. Not a single window was broken.

“Hugh Raupe bought the house. Then he sold it to Joe Nutt. The house stood empty for two more years before we bought it.”

Aston House caused Jean no nightmares.

“I was never frightened there. Maybe it was just such a happy place that the people decided to leave something of themselves behind.”

Something ghostly. Something other-worldly. Something too real to dismiss as folly.