When it came time to select spooky Texas stories for a new book, Matt Abigail was ready.
“I knew right off the bat that I wanted the legend of La Llorona to be included. I heard this traditional story, in various forms, many times as a child, and it still gives me the creeps,” said Abigail, assistant editor of the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) via an email interview.
La Llorona, “the crying woman” caught between the living and the dead because she drowned her children in revenge for her husband’s infidelity, is a 500-year-old ghost story rooted in Latin American culture. The spectral figure is also one in a baker’s dozen of spine-tingling tales released in TSHA’s latest digital book, Lone Star Lore: Myth, Mystery, and Haunted History.
Released in September, Lone Star Lore is the sixteenth publication in the organization’s free eBook series.
“The initiative to build a growing library of free, easily downloadable eBooks began in 2015 as a way to increase and improve the association’s engagement with a wider general audience,” said Abigail. “We realized that, after 120 years of scholarly publication, there was so much content available online through the Handbook of Texas, Texas Almanac, Southwestern Historical Quarterly, and TSHA Press that the prospect of wading through all of it might be a disincentive for some of our more casual readers—especially those who appreciate a more traditional, book-like reading format, or those seeking easily-accessible, condensed knowledge on a particularly popular subject like the Civil War or Texas cattle trails.”
Texas newcomers in particular seem willing, Abigail noted, “to dip their toes into the deep waters of documented Texas history and are especially interested in these easily accessible Texas history primers.”
Each TSHA eBook pairs new with curated existing content, and all of the publications can be read on mobile devices. “[They] offer a more traditional, enjoyable, and visually appealing reading experience—something our readers can take with them wherever they go, regardless of internet availability. In the case of Lone Star Lore, we chose to go with a concise offering of thirteen Handbook of Texas entries. We probably could’ve included more, but the idea of emphasizing “unlucky” number thirteen was just too fun to pass up. ”
In addition to La Llorona, other stories in Lone Star Lore include biographies of haunting historical figures, famous criminals and crimes, and sites with reported paranormal activity. Many of the tales are familiar to native Texans, especially those of us who grew up with an old print copy of Handbook of Texas in their parents’ or grandparents’ library.
“A few of the entries in Lone Star Lore, such as ‘Enchanted Rock Legends,’ appeared in the original 2-volume Handbook of Texas in 1952,” said Abigail. “They were later expanded with the publication of the 6-volume New Handbook of Texas in 1996, and have been continually updated or expanded on an as-needed basis since the Handbook of Texas went online in 1999. Other entries, like “Devil’s Backbone Tavern” first appeared in newer Handbook projects like the Handbook of Texas Music.”
When selecting the stories for the spooky stories collection, Abigail said he and the rest of the TSHA team wanted to reflect the state’s cultural diversity. “Along the way, we definitely kept in mind Texas’s unique position as a crossroad of Southern, Western, Anglo, African, Native, and Hispanic cultural influences, and we hoped to reflect this in the final product.”
Abigail confessed that researching the Halloween-themed project gave him a chance to learn a thing or two.
“When I first read about the Diamond Bessie Murder Trial (quite late at night) it sent a chill down my spine, and I knew it had to be included,” he said. “The beauty of these eBooks, too, is that we can expand, amend, and re-release them. Personally–while its not yet in the Handbook–I would like to work on adding an entry on Austin’s infamous “Servant Girl Annihilator.” I have to credit Texas Almanac managing editor Rosie Hatch for bringing this story to my attention. Who is going to see the words ‘Servant Girl Annihilator’ in a table of contents and not immediately click on it?”
Although creepy and scandalous stories might not be for everyone, Abigail is quick to point out that there’s more than just the scare factor at play. The stories are culturally important.
“While the subject of lore, legend, myth, or mystery might disinterest the more empirically-minded among us,” he said, “it’s worth pointing out that some stories are so pervasive—and so culturally informative—that their very telling becomes a part of history and a necessary piece of the larger historical narrative . . . This eBook will be a fun reading experience for all ages and a great way to brush up on your Texas lore in time for a classic scary storytelling session around the campfire.”
Story by Pamela Price