Irish Ghosts of America: The Rocking Chair of James McGloin, Texas

Impresario James McGloin: He founded an Irish town that is more haunted than any town really needs to be.

So many ghost stories are filled with detail, but who knows where the details came from? The storytellers will offer dates, full names, and vivid descriptions of events that include minute-by-minute accounts, but it’s impossible to chase down any sources for these picturesque details.

I like the story of James McGloin’s haunted rocking chair, because I know exactly where it came from: The Dallas Morning News, August 9, 1975, and a columnist named Frank X. Tolbert. He says there is a rocking chair in San Patricio, it belonged to McGloin, and the specter of a girl is said to rock it. And I like Tolbert, because he doesn’t care about anything else. He doesn’t know who the girl is, and he doesn’t want to know. No, the ghost story is just an excuse for him to talk about Sligo native McGloin, San Patricio, and the fact that the town was created by the Mexican government as a place to settle 200 Irish Catholics.

Tolbert is a man after my own heart.

I will talk about McGloin and the town, but this is a ghost story, and so I must address the question of the ghost first. The closest current account I can find is a tale of a young Mexican Captain named Marcelino Garcia, who was friend with McGloin and would stay with him, and who loved a fair young woman. But Garcia was injured in the war for Texan Independence, and McGloin took the wounded man in, and before Garcia died the incorporeal figure of a young woman appeared to him. She stayed when he died, she stayed when he was buried, and perhaps it is still her, rocking a chair on McGloin’s porch. Or, at least, until 1969, when the then-owners of the house tore down the porch. “We didn’t tear down the front porch to get rid of the ghost,” the owners told the press, and of course they didn’t — they could just have thrown out the rocking chair!

Gacria was a real man — you can see his grave in the Old Cemetery on the Hill in San Patricio. As to his death and the ghost of his bride-to-be? John L. Linn wrote of Garcia in his memoir “Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas,” saying the he was gravely wounded in the Battle of the Nueces, 1835, and that he died at the house of his friend James McGloin. No mention of spectral apparitions, but, then, somebody must have been rocking that chair.

Fortunately, the girl wasn’t the only ghost associated with McGloin. In an earlier story, Tolbert told of John McMullen, McGloin’s father-in-law and the cofounder of the town.In January, 1853, McMullen was stabbed to death in San Antonio, by an intruder, and McGloin claimed to have seen his ghost that night. McGloin wrote in his journal, “The bloody-faced ghost of the Old emperor appeared before my eyes as I was sitting there on me front gallery the night of Jan. 21, 1853, and that was the very day The McMullen was murder in San Antonio!” By “the Old Emperor,: McGloin meant his father, so apparently his house was something of a weigh station for departing spirits.

In fact, that can be said of San Patricio in entirety. The town was also supposedly haunted by the spirit of Chipita Rodriguez, the first woman hanged in Texas. There were, as Tolbert puts it, “one or more ghostly horsemen,” one missing his head, which doesn’t so much recall the legend of Sleepy Hollow as it does the Irish dullaha, a horrifying spirit that rides headlessly through the streets, whipping those he passes with a lash made from a human spine. The McGloin residents also was supposed to have a girl ghost in a night gown, although nobody seems to know who that might have been.

So there are the ghosts, and here are the facts. The whole name of the town was Villa de San Patricio de Hibernia when it was founded in 1829, and, as you can guess, all that was in reference to St. Patrick, and, as mentioned, the original settlers were Irish Catholics. Most lasted little more than a decade, chased away by the Texas Revolution. They weren’t the only Irish colony in Texas — the town of Refugio was settled by Irish in 1831, most of whom fled five years later when the town was the site of the battle of Refugio. Copano, Texas, was likewise founded for Irish settlers, and managed to make a good run of it, avoiding decline until the Civil War and even then holding out until it was all-but destroyed by a series of hurricanes in 1888. There’s a Dublin, Texas, too — it wasn’t built for the Irish, precisely, but has more than its share of Irish-Americans, including legendary golfer Ben Hogan; as of 2005, Dublin is the Irish Capitol of Texas.

But back to San Patricio and James McGloin. He stayed on in the town he started until 1956, when he died, and is buried in the Old Cemetery on the Hill near his friend Garcia, and his house eventually became the property of the Corpus Christi Area Heritage Society. e is honored every year during St. Patrick’s Day, which also includes rattlesnake races, which helps support the restoration of the town, as well as will eventually contribute to the town’s surplus of ghosts.

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.