Texans like to project an image of no non-sense pragmatism. The Lone Star (the state’s symbol) is supposed to shine a bright light on an oil rich, cattle-raising rugged land that yields riches by the grace of the Almighty. And yet when I moved to Austin, I discovered that behind that ‘straight’, pious image that Texans live by, there lurked a shadowy world; a collective imaginary that left plenty of room for un-Christian apparitions, mysticism, ghosts even.
On our first evening in Austin, we did what all newcomers do: we walked down 6th Street, the Mecca of music venues that made Austin famous worldwide. Along that street we came across The Driskill – a nineteenth century hotel brimming with fine southern architecture and exuding the Wild West origins of the place. Perusing the menu, I spotted an interesting statement on behalf of the hotel’s management: “The Driskill is the most haunted building in Austin and the most haunted hotel in Texas – perhaps the United States.” At the menu’s back there were accounts of particular ghost ‘encounters’, including one when Annie Lennox (of Eurythmics fame) came out of the bathroom to find her favourite gown spread out on the double bed – even though it was previously hanging in the cupboard and there was no one else in the (locked) room. “Another clever marketing strategy”, I thought.
A few months later, while planning a road trip to the art town of Marfa, close to the Mexican border and the Chinati mountain range, friends suggested that we try to catch a glimpse of the ‘Mystery Ghost Lights’. Searching the web I came across accounts of ranchers, Apaches, high school kids, as well as famous scientists, who claim to have seen inexplicable dancing lights southeast of Marfa – a perfect desert landscape utterly unpopulated and brilliantly seductive.
The seven-hour long drive to Marfa was a delight. We spent hours touring Donald Judd’s house and the Chinati Foundation in which his work is on display. After the sun set on Marfa, we set out to drive back to the ranch where we were staying, fifty miles southeast of Marfa. Suddenly the twilight’s beauty made me take my camera out, aim it at the landscape and produce a stream of images from the moving car. That night, after a Texan dinner was had, and with a glass of wine in my hand, I downloaded and looked at the pictures I had taken on my laptop. And suddenly I discovered that the Ghosts of Texas had mysteriously appeared on my screen…