The paranormal scene is alive and thriving in Austin

Alexandra Hart

With Halloween on the horizon, ghost stories and haunted houses increase in popularity for those looking for a fright. But for Jackie Milligan, tales of the supernatural aren’t just a seasonal thrill; they’re what she’s all about.

Milligan, local ghost hunter and founder of the upcoming Central Texas Paranormal Conference, said there’s much in store for this year’s event, which spans the weekend from Friday to Sunday at the Ben Hur Shrine Auditorium in North Austin.

“This is the event’s second year and we began planning almost immediately after last year’s event ended,” Milligan said. “We’ve got speakers, including cast members from Ghost Hunters, vendors, raffles and investigations planned. It should be a pretty good turnout.”

Some of the highlights of this year’s conference are interactive, on-location investigations at various locales around Austin and surrounding areas, where those conference attendees will go out and search for evidence of paranormal activity themselves.

“Saturday and Sunday, we’re doing investigations at allegedly haunted locations,” Milligan said. “One at the hall where the conference is taking place, one out in Burnet and one at the Blanco County Courthouse.”

Annette Porterfield, coordinator of paranormal investigation group Texas Ghostly Gatherings, attended last year’s Central Texas Paranormal Conference and is looking forward to this year’s event.

“The conference is great for new people who are interested in paranormal investigations but don’t really know where to start,” Porterfield said. “That and smaller groups, like Texas Ghostly Gatherings, are good for those new to the scene. It can be hard to break into, and a lot of groups aren’t very welcoming to totally new people.”

For those unable to attend the conference, otherworldy opportunities abound in and around Austin.

“There’s no shortage of sites in Central Texas,” Porterfield said. “It’s just a matter of finding out where to go, how to get in and how to pay for it.”

Some of the investigation locations Milligan has visited include Buffalo Billiards, Elysium and the Driskill hotel. She’s also explored West Campus’ very own Neill-Cochran House Museum. Nestled between 23rd and 24th streets, the historic Greek Revival style house is shrouded in ghastly legend.

“The story goes, Col. Andrew Neill’s ghost can be seen galloping around on his horse around the house,” said Cecille Marcato, the museum’s director. “Another story claims that Neill can be seen on the second-story balcony with Gen. Robert E. Lee, rocking back and forth in rocking chairs.”

Despite working at the museum for eight years, Marcato can’t attest to any supernatural experiences.

“I’ve been up here working in the middle of the night, sometimes all the way until five in the morning,” she said. “I haven’t seen or heard anything out of the ordinary, and I’m a pretty observant person.”

Though she has her own theories about the origins of the museum’s ghost stories, she encourages those interested to come check out the rumors for themselves.

“We’ve had a number of ghost tours and interested kids come by and ask about the stories,” Marcato said. “We even host events for children where we hand out magnifying glasses and notepads so the kids can look for evidence of ghosts themselves. It’s something I want people to experience on an individual basis.”

For Milligan, considered “the brave one” in her group, Ghost Girls of Austin, the hunt for paranormal activity remains a thrilling part of her life.

“I like to do really ridiculous things that could potentially get me in trouble,” she said.  “I haven’t run into anything that scared me so much I had to leave, but the ghosts don’t like growling at me because they know I’ll growl back. I’ve had friends feel or hear things that really freaked them out, and I’m waiting for something like that to happen to me.”