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Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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Opinion In Market: The ghosts of Fort Worth

In Market: The ghosts of Fort Worth

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

Fort Worth was – and is – a rough and tumble place. And we’ve got the ghosts to prove it.

I saw a lot of Fort Worth’s future last week, from a groundbreaking for a new 25-story downtown skyscraper to the opening of a new entrance at Texas Wesleyan University. There’s plenty new in Fort Worth.

But there’s plenty old here, too. And while we may tear buildings down and build anew, sometimes pieces of our history don’t leave so easily.

This week we have a story on Fort Worth ghost tours on the cover – just in time for Halloween. It’s a business story and it’s also an economic development story, letting the tour attendees learn a little bit about Fort Worth’s rich and sometimes scary history.

Hell’s Half Acre anyone? As the name indicates, it was not a friendly place.

But who can resist a good ghost story? Just look at the popularity of films like Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity … the list goes on and on.

In Fort Worth, the one I’m most familiar with is the old Barbers Bookstore at 215 W. 8th Street. It’s now mainly used for storage, but it was an antique and book store when my mother worked there in the 1990s. My mother, not one to put much stock in anything otherworldly beyond what was in the Good Book, finally admitted she made peace with the ghosts or hauntings that went on there. She said she would often move a book to one stack only to come back an hour later and find the book back where it had first been. Then there were the lights she would turn off and go down the stairs, only to look up to see the light on again. She eventually just began talking to them. My mother would talk to anyone, anyway, so why not ghosts?

While the ghosts didn’t really fit into my mother’s belief system, she learned to live with them as she often worked alone – sort of – in the store.

I asked one of the tour guides for the Fort Worth Ghost Bus Tours operation what his favorite ghost story to tell is and David Norton quickly pointed to the W.E. Scott Theatre.

“William Edrington Scott, who left the funds, about $3 million, to build the theatre, died of lung cancer before it opened. He is believed to be one of the ghosts haunting the theatre,” said Norton.

Scott had a streak of obsessive-compulsive behavior and when his namesake theater opened in 1966, some of the paintings hanging in the lobby became crooked because of vibrations from the street, Norton said. But when workers returned to the theater in the morning, the paintings were all straightened.

“Having a place where the person who left the money for it to be built haunting it is just very unique,” Norton said.

There’s another ghost at the Scott Theatre, said Norton.

Kenneth Walker Yandle [I found it spelled several ways] was an actor who worked in the theatre as a stagehand from 1967 to 1970. He apparently hung himself in the basement in 1970, depressed over a breakup with a girlfriend. I heard Yandle was upset because he never got a decent role on stage. Yandle’s ghost is sometimes reportedly seen wearing a brown suit and wandering the corridors in the basement.

When I did some work at the theatre several years back, I heard he often messed with props, particularly candles. One actress told me they had some candlesticks in a box that they would bring on stage during a scene. One of the boxes was often empty, even though the stagehand swore the candle had been placed in the box. Well, some stagehand was responsible – whether it was a live one or not is open to question.

Yandle also had a thing for turning power tools on and off, as well as faucets. It got to the point that many people who worked there would run into some mechanical problem, get frustrated and say, “Stop it, Kenny,” so they could go on with their work.

There are plenty more ghost stories to be told in Fort Worth. We were – and maybe still are – a sometimes rough and tumble town. I think my mother’s advice is the best regarding any spiritual apparitions. Just make peace with them.

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