The ghost town of Helena, Texas — located in Karnes County near the intersection of State Highway 80 and Farm Road 81, about 70 miles southeast of San Antonio — is more than a place to find fast food and a clean latrine while driving up to the Alamo City. For Barry Harrin, a Brooklyn-raised businessman, electrical engineer, and author of Helena, Texas: The Toughest Town On Earth, the easily overlooked ghost town haunts in more ways than one. “My ex-wife is originally from Helena,” says Harrin, who became fascinated by the town in 1988, discovering that it had a “critical, but forgotten role in Texas history.”
Beneath the blacktop road by the old two-story courthouse, now a tourist-trap museum, lies a superhighway used centuries ago. “Much of Texas’ early history has passed by what is now this old courthouse museum. Spanish conquistadores, priests, heroes of the Alamo, Santa Anna’s messenger ordering the death of Fannin’s 300-plus men in Goliad, Polish and German settlers, Confederate and Union cavalry, and of course the ever present outlaws and desperados followed by quick-shooting lawmen.”
The many violent episodes that punctuated the migrations would certainly explain the ghosts.
“This hidden history … may be directly linked to the abundance of paranormal activities that to this day scares the hell out of the residents of this now ghost town.”
Harrin has spent 22 years reading hundreds of books and documents relating to South Texas and Helena, as well as involving himself in original research with a metal detector, and interviewing as many older residents as he could get to share their family histories. While skeptical by nature, the ghost hunter ascribes to a “never say never” philosophy, “especially when dealing with the paranormal and certainly the ghosts of Helena.”
Thanks to assistance by the San Antonio Paranormal Network and the use of electronic voice phenomena (EVP) recording equipment, we can hear from the “ghosts” themselves. Noises — including one audio clip of a child’s voice saying, “We live in Helena.” — can be heard at helenatexas.com.
The phenomenon has changed Harrin. “Being an electrical engineer and growing up in a slum area has made me less likely to buy the Brooklyn Bridge than most people, however it is difficult to deny what you can see, hear, and feel. Once when I said some personal and antagonistic things to the former residents of a very old house in Helena … the temperature rose from 64 to 85 degrees in five minutes. … I suspect I didn’t make any friends that day!”
So what exactly does Mr. Harrin think of the phenomena he describes in Helena?
“There appear to be a multitude of entities in Helena. Some of them are fairly harmless and mundane such as ‘residual hauntings.’ These are entities not showing an awareness of the living world, they just seem to play back daily life routines, over and over.
Next up are the “shadow people,” “which can be seen in an old Helena house walking past a nightlight darkening the light until the entity passes.” But the most concerning activity, for Harrin, is an “intelligent haunting.”
“This is an entity or spirit that interacts with you in your physical world … like pulling an electric plug out of the wall socket and flinging it to the floor at midnight. Or pushing someone down the court house stairs or even worse … one that follows you back to San Antonio, flinging packages of meat in front of you in the aisle at a local H-E-B and then, after a few days, disappearing.”
If you invest in this ghost story, watch out for falling cube steak. •
Helena, Texas: The Toughest Town on Earth
$17.95, 222 pages