Danny Thomas (a.k.a. Doc Strangeway), a clown-college alumnus who harbors a love for Texas history and all-things paranormal, is the owner and lead tour guide of Houston Ghost Tour, which escorts brave souls on ghost hunts and walking tours around the Houston-area’s haunted spots. The tours cost between $18 and $30 and run year round.
Thomas talked with KPRC 2 about some of the strangest things he witnessed while giving tours and shared some of his favorite spooky spots around town.
Q: What made you interested in launching Houston Ghost Tour?
A: Me and a couple friends lived in New Orleans for a little while after Hurricane Katrina and we did ghost tours down there. We were all professional entertainers and when we got the ability to move back to Houston, we moved back and there weren’t any ghost tours like those in the New Orleans marketplace here in Houston so we decided to do something similar here. So we found a couple of haunted locations and decided we could bring our entertainment to Houston.
Q: What’s your connection to Houston? Why did you start your ghost tours here?
A: I am a Houston native and most of us who were for Houston Ghost Tour have grown up in the area, known all about and lived here most of our lives. I wanted to be back in my hometown full-time and doing what I love so I thought I should bring it back with me. Houston is my home, being born and raised on the northside of Houston. I joined the military, moved around, saw enough of the world that I decided Houston should be my home and that I wanted to share my love and appreciation for it with everyone.
Q: What is your most memorable experience as a tour guide?
A: It is quite often, almost every week on almost every tour, that people catch photos. These things happen quite often. We try not to take ghost photos while we’re out there. We let customers do that so they can have the experience so most of the ghost photos you see on our website and on our social media pages were taken by customers. You can see apparitions and orbs and we have EVPs. You name it, we have 12 years of evidence. To narrow it down to maybe a couple, I’ve seen accidents happen out of nowhere, people pass out, one lady who started speaking a strange language that she didn’t know. Her family said she was acting very strange and she didn’t normally do these like that but when she left the tour everything was fine. I didn’t really know what was going on and I really can’t chock it up to the paranormal but I know something strange was going on there and that’s kind of what you get when you’re dealing with the paranormal. There are three words that get stuck in your head: weird, crazy and coincidence. Everything seems weird, everything could make you crazy and everything, you could chock up to coincidence.
Q: What is your favorite strange, dark, or unusual spot in the Houston area?
A: The Elder Street Artist Lofts. That’s what it’s called now but it used to be the Jefferson Davis Hospital and it’s probably one of the top three haunted locations in Houston. When you research it, there are so many stories coming out of that location that you just can’t keep up with it all. Another one would be Glenwood Cemetery. It’s the cemetery where a lot of famou people are buried. There are governors and actors and Howard Hughes and his family. It’s very beautiful, with monuments and trees.
Q: I imagine you lead a lot of tours during October. Could you share one of the stories or stops people can expect to see and hear on a Houston Ghost Tour?
A: The Houston Zoo has a famous ghost that has been around since the 1940s. The guy’s name was Hans Nagel. He was a zookeeper. He was a German guy who had jumped ship during WWI. He got hired on with the Houston Zoo because he was a safari hunter and he knew where to get exotic animals so he was responsible for bringing in most of the animals when the zoo first opened. He even got so popular that he became everything to the zoo. He was a groundskeeper, security man, zookeeper, you name it. He adopted a zebra for himself, put a saddle on it and used to ride it around the Houston Zoo. One night, he was out in Hermann Park, right in front of the zoo. One night, when he was patrolling, and he used to this and he used to carry a gun at his side, he saw a couple kids doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing so he hid in the bushes to spy on them and that’s when a cop came a long and saw this old guy hiding in the bushes spying on kids. The policeman approached him and apparently Nagel fired at the policeman and the policeman shot Nagel six times, unloaded his revolver into him. The thing is, Hans Nagel’s body has never been found. The policeman was brought up on charges and he confessed to shooting Nagel six time but nothing ever stuck because his body has never been found.
Q: If you had the opportunity to travel through time and live in or visit a different era in Texas history, which would you choose and why?
A: I would visit during the Great Expansion, when settlers started to come to Texas and the railroads were first being built and used. This is where we had the Wild West here in Texas. People were traveling through Galveston Island. Galveston Island was the third largest port of entry into the United States. A lot of people came through Galveston and a lot of people went through Houston and a lot of people used the train that went from Galveston to Houston. That era right before Prohibition, that’s where I want to go. I think those were the Golden Years of Houston, when it was just starting to grow.
Q: Could you share the story behind your tour guide name, Doc Strangeway?
A: My father actually gave me my very first cowboy hat and it was a doctor’s hat. And that’s the one I wear on tours now and so a couple years ago when we decided to try Wild West-themed tour guide personas I thought Doc would be a good one. And I’ve been Doctor Strangeway ever since. Through the years, I’ve kept the persona. I really like it.
Q: Compiling and distilling Houston’s history into one to two hours tours is quite a feat. How do you determine what to include in your tours?
A: It took us about a year and a half of hard research through five people, digging through stuff all around Houston. It took time to find the most popular and most talked about haunted locations. When you come out and see us, we’re bringing you the hotspots. We had so much information that we had to break it down to how fast can we tell this story? How well can we tell this story? What’s the time frame from one spot to another? Trying to put all this together it was like trying to put together a play or a studio production. We even had to break up our tours and offer family friendly tours and R-rated tours where we can get more gruesome and in-depth stories.
Q: What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of Houston?
Q: What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of Texas?