When it’s 3 a.m. and you’re standing in front of a century-old church, watching the lights on twirling wind-turbines mark the way to Abilene, you might think something went wrong somewhere. After all, the Big Empty is aptly named. But for me, my cousin, and his wife, everything was going according to plan. We are the finest ghost-hunters to walk on two boot heels and I’ll stand on Zak Bagans’ coffee table and say that.
Our ghost-hunting is avocational, but it isn’t amateurish. We’ve investigated homes, hotels, diners, and shops. We’ve spent sleepless nights staring at night-vision screens and talking to empty rooms. That particular night, we had the ghost-hunting itch and my cousin dimly remembered a lonely, windblown church out on the prairie that had been covered by a paranormal show. Other than that little crumb, we went in blind.
Bomarton, a small town just south of the Brazos, has a familiar tale. The Wichita Valley Railroad was built in Abilene, and the town sprouted along the tracks in 1906. It’s named Bomarton, after W.H. Bomar, a settler in the area. The railroad pumped lifeblood into the fledgling metropolis. Tom McClure opened a post office in his store, firing the starting pistol of settlement. Another store opened and a schoolhouse popped up. Farmers creaked in from all over on their wagons to peruse the markets and play baseball. The townspeople, who were mostly Czech and Catholic, had their religious services in the schoolhouse until 1908, when they felt that they had gotten big enough for a real church.
That was St. John’s Catholic Church. Some of the wealthier townspeople put up the cash and built the church using wood. About 30 years later, in 1936, the church was rebuilt in brick. The population of the town numbered about 600 at that time. The boom years of the Second World War flashed by and Bomarton found itself on the other side in decline. The population halved steadily until it numbered 15 people in the year 2000. Today, in the eyes of the U.S. Census Bureau, Bomarton technically doesn’t exist.
And so, Bomarton is dead, with the church for a monument. The windows are busted out and the bell tower is crumbling, but this church housed thousands of births, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and religious services. It was the north-star of an entire community.
We got there deep in the night after blasting through the Big Empty in my cousin’s lifted truck. Inside the church, we found a binder with a sign-in sheet. Pilgrims, history buffs, and people just blowing through all left their signature. A paper inside the binder said that “well-behaved visitors” are welcome. A local, who owns the church and the land, maintains it as a museum.
The pews have been taken out and we could see, on our little night-vision cameras, the altar at the far end of the church. A sign laconically declared the church “not abandoned.”
Walking in bible-black with a night-vision camera is a hellish experience. It’s like looking at everything out of the small end of a telescope. You are twisted with vertigo and the anxiety of actually seeing something on your camera. You have to look at it, but you don’t want to. Just turning around causes anxiety. What happens if you see someone—or something—standing on the staircase or dancing on the altar?
We swept the entire church. There was no negative feeling like you sometimes get at reportedly haunted locations. The feeling was more like stepping into someone else’s house. Something like curiosity was in the air, a spectral “What are you doing here?”
We deployed our equipment to try to answer. We set up in front of the altar, where visitors had written prayers on slips of paper. I had a new device called an Onvoy. It measures environmental factors–temperature changes, electromagnetic changes, even vibrations. It cycles through the alphabet and when the device detects a change, it selects a letter like a fancy, overpriced ouija board.
We asked some easy questions–who are you, where are you from, is there someone here with us? We got false readings of vibrations. I thought I saw something flicker off in the gloom and eyes in the portal windows. Then the Onvoy flashed with electro-magnetic readings. There has never been electricity in the building, but the device was detecting large amounts of electricity right in front of it. The letters were spelling H and B, my cousin’s initials, over and over. We watched the device garble out a misspelled version of his name.
We stood and walked through the church to see if we could hunt down what was talking to us. As my cousin climbed the altar-steps, we all heard loud footsteps thunder from a transept heading toward us, as if we were being followed. The footsteps stopped just before the altar steps.
Shaken, we had his wife read the Bible. We thought that would spark some energy. She read something from Job and the effect was immediate. A vortex of swirling energy, like a strong rising wind. I turned my camera and saw a mist slip off behind her shoulder and a clump of her hair curl up, as if plucked. She finished with some more peaceable readings as the sky rosied with dawn.
We left St. John’s Catholic Church in silence. There was never anything negative, more of a grandmotherly energy, but we had had enough activity to confirm that the church was, as the sign said, “not abandoned.”