A pool carelessly dug. A coffin, cautiously uncovered. The 1982 film Poltergeist brought this horrifying scenario to the public’s eye for the first time. The film plays off events from 1958 that occurred in a home in Long Island, NY. A man named James Hermann and his family heard popping sounds and found uncapped bottles of various substances, including Holy Water, strewn about their house. The poltergeist activity kept occurring for months in the new suburban home. Yet the odd thing was the Hermanns were the first occupants; the house was built in 1953. While the film took liberties with the plot line, adding the element of the pool and native burial grounds, it did not reach too far from reality. Concurrently something similar was happening in the small town of Crosby, Texas, unbeknownst to the film crew. In the newly developed suburb of Newport, a family was experiencing the same storyline as the Freeling family from the Academy Award Nominated film. The Haney family was tormented by the spirits of those below them in the old and forgotten Black Hope Cemetery.
The McKinney Family and The Black Hope Community
Mercer McKinney, a Georgia-born farmer, settled in Harris County, Texas, in 1857. He was an ardent opposer to the state’s separation from the Union during the Civil war. Although by March of 1861, when separation came, he fully supported such matters. McKinney died soon after in 1862, protecting a federal prison from Union troops. After the war ended, his wife and the surviving family donated a small portion of their land to their former slaves. A community was formed known as Black Hope. The first five inhabitants were the former workers of the McKinney family farm, but the population quickly grew as word spread. This little settlement is what was known as a “freedom colony” and was only one of 550, inhabited by over 200,000 African Americans after the end of the Civil War in Texas. Due to the Southern Homestead Act of 1866, southerners buying back their land from the north, being kept a secret from black communities, many inhabitants worked as sharecroppers. They were working the land and paying back the landowner a portion. A small step away from slavery. Bettie and Charlie Thomas worked such laborious jobs to afford the means to survive in a new economic backdrop.
Bettie helped raise the children of Mercer McKinney and those of his son, Mercer L. McKinney. She died, presumably in the community, in 1929. She and her husband, a literate man and wood chopper, were buried in the Black Hope Cemetery. The town of Black Hope burned down in 1939. Little to no records were kept of the community or the cemetery. It was forgotten to time. By the 1970s, the population of nearby Houston entered a boom. Their population grew at about 1,000 a week due to the Arab Oil Embargo and the rich oil fields of Texas. New housing was desperately needed. In 1982 Sam and Judith Haney unknowingly stepped into and on top of Black Hope. Their new sophisticated, suburban dream home lay immediately atop the old Black Hope Cemetery.
Hauntings of The Newport Suburb
They were warned, or more so was the contractor. In 1983 they decided to add an addition to their home; by adding a swimming pool. A man named L.D Ressler, a long-term resident who would later pass in Crosby in 1996, told the contractor about the sacred plot of land. The superintendent of the job was informed of the same situation before Ressler. Knowledge was known of the dead that lay beneath the potential neighborhood, and construction continued regardless. Two graves were dug up during the building of the Haney’s swimming pool. The graves of Charlie and Bettie Thomas. At the request and expense of the contractors, their bodies were interned at a nearby perpetual care cemetery. But it was too late for the Haney and the rest of the community of Newport.
Odd occurrences began immediately after their removal. Judith noticed the clock in her bedroom emitting a strange blue glow and sparking. A locked sliding glass door opened one evening. The following day her favorite red dress shoes had disappeared, only to reappear out by the old gravesite. Sam Haney remembers it vividly. Recalling that “Charlie was giving Bettie a birthday present.” Other neighbors experienced similar disturbing occurrences in their shiny new homes. Madeline Williams says she saw the apparition of someone four feet of height outside her backdoor one day. When she went to look, no one was there. Her children’s toys would mysteriously come back to life after running out of batteries. The effects of the haunting later led to divorce for Williams, now known as Wilkerson. She appeared on Oprah in 1991 to tell her story. Her neighbors, Ben and Jean Williams, no relation, would go on to compose a book called “The Black Hope Horror.” Ben Williams claims he saw two shadow figures walk from his kitchen into his bedroom one evening. They stood at the foot of his bed and watched his wife in her sleep. Bone-chilling cold spots were common in the house. Sinkholes would appear in their backyard, where nothing ever grew.
Other neighbors were contacted about the book by author John Bruce Shoemaker. Televisions turning on and off, lights flickering, and orb sightings are common throughout its pages. Jan Clark, the mother of Newport resident Joe Clark, reported a close encounter with her granddaughter. Taylor, age 3, told her grandmother, “I saw the brown man again, and he tried to pick me up.” Upon entering the bathroom the little girl ran out in terror. Clark reports hearing a man’s voice and breathing directly behind her. To this day, she avoids that bathroom and will not stay at her son’s house overnight. Another Newport resident, Venay Luna, told reporters that she came home one day to find her husband and their dog staring vacantly at the television set. No acknowledgment was made to Luna upon her entry. Something she found strikingly odd. Two weeks later her husband gathered the strength to tell her what had happened. He had returned home to find the dog, cowering in fear in the corner of the room. While walking over to comfort the dog, his house slippers flew across the room. He was simply too afraid to speak of it.
Luna’s Grandmother also lived in the house at the time. She suffered from Alzheimer’s and was in the care of her daughter. The elder Luna told Venay that children would keep her up at night and a dark lady would visit her often. There have been attempts to move many of the graves by Respect Houston, an organization specializing in such things. Still, the task cannot be completed if the bodies remain unidentified. To this day, the former residents of Black Hope and their cemetery haunt the homes of the Newport community. The movie Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive was released in 1992 based on the hauntings. Be careful the next time you decide to build a pool!
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