His tours and his legacy carry on, but the Ghost Man of Galveston has retired in peace after nearly 25 years.
A few months back, the flowing hemline of a famous, ankle-length black trench coat rustled against the Strand’s historic brick pavers for the last time. Its wearer left much more quietly than he arrived almost 25 years ago, but the impact his business made on the island is calculable and by all estimations, as eternal as the spirits it celebrated.
Today, visitors who come to Galveston for the spookier side of things are met with a barrage of ghost tours to enhance their experience, but there is only one original. In fact, Galveston’s reputation as one of the most haunted cities in the U.S., as well as every business endeavor that has herewith tried to capitalize on that reputation, owes its existence to one man—Dash Beardsley.
Dash once joked that he “came to Galveston looking for a woman.” The real punchline of course was that the woman was long-deceased Galveston heiress Bettie Brown of Ashton Villa, but his interest in the afterlife and particularly the paranormal activity in Galveston had been calling him from a young age.
“My dad’s death at 7 years old profoundly affected me,” he shares. “It made me want to find out where he was. So, that is when I began getting into ghost stories, as a way to connect with him.”
Dash’s grandfather stepped into the father figure role, and their relationship directed his interest in the paranormal towards Galveston. “I remember my grandfather would tell me stories, little guy I was,” he says. “He would tell me stories about Galveston, ghost stories and the like, and then I remember driving around here when I was a little older. I was very young and very stupid,” he laughs.
“But I was driving around here, and I came down Broadway Avenue, and I felt like something was pulling me here, from the time that I was a teen.”
In the late 90s, slightly dejected after a few failed attempts to contact Miss Bettie, Dash began to roam around downtown Galveston making friends and talking to shop owners and employees. “Do you have a ghost story for me?” he would ask, not because of any agenda, simply because he was curious. But then something strange began to happen.
Dash realized that every single person to whom he spoke in downtown Galveston had a ghost story, whether it was a firsthand experience or one they had heard. Some even admitted to having “resident” spirits who seemed to make regular appearances.
Even more remarkably, he began to uncover historical research that lined up with the stories he was being told. It was almost as if the characters of Galveston past were coming back to life, or perhaps they had never left.
“Before the tours even started, he was attracted to the stories,” says Brian Treybig, Dash’s longtime friend and employee who now manages Dash Beardsley’s Ghost Tours of Galveston.
“His first idea was to write a book about everything he had discovered, but then he thought, ‘I want people to experience this. I don’t want to just write a book about it. I need people to come here. And he did it by himself for a long time.”
In 1998, a man not yet known as “Dash” Beardsley launched the Ghost Tours of Galveston. He conducted all of the tours himself, and in an attempt to present a professional, polished appearance, he tied his hair back and wore a pressed polo shirt.
Something about that image was not working for him, though, and he began to wonder if the ghost stories were enough, or at least, could he take it further and somehow make them—glamorous?
“The look just came to me one day, I was just thinking about it,” Dash recalls. “I didn’t want to be like anyone else, so I just let myself go, and I let myself go with the black trench coat. Black has been my favorite color my whole life.”
However, the rock star persona he crafted complete with designer jeans, rings on every finger, and of course, the ankle-length black trench coat, was not really a persona at all, rather it was a genuine expression of who he is. (He is also a talented guitarist who has fronted a number of local and area bands.) And that is why it worked.
Dash also continued to hone his skills as a speaker, taking cues from his two, seemingly paradoxical inspirations. “Billy Graham kept me grounded, and so did Sam Kinison,” says Dash.
“I kept referring back to them as inspiration, because let’s face it, if Billy Graham wasn’t selling Jesus, he could sell anything. He was such a gifted orator. Sam was a comic genius, for one thing. He knew how to get you right where you stood.”
Although polar opposites, these two influences reflect the unexpected humor and faith with which Dash approached his tour and his role in the Galveston community.
“He is a powerhouse of a guy,” says Brian. “He has really made it a point to be a part of the community, not only with his tour but also by playing music in local venues.”
As his tour grew, so did his image and his influence. At the height of his popularity in the 2010s, it was impossible to take a tour led by him without numerous people along the Strand yelling at him to say hi, shaking his hand, or wanting to talk to him.
Looking back, Dash will tell you that he did not do anything special, but perhaps that is merely because it came so naturally to him. Not only was Dash responsible for spawning an entire industry in Galveston, but also by using the lure of the vast interest in the paranormal, he contributed to the enrichment and growth of the overall Galveston experience in incredibly important ways.
Today’s bustling downtown and the surprising expansion westward belie the fact that for decades, Galveston’s harborside area was wholly undesirable. Even after George Mitchell’s efforts in the 80s and early 90s, the generational understanding of Houstonians to “avoid all places except the Seawall” was passed on and lingered for years.
For thousands of visitors over the course of the last twenty years, Dash’s tour on the Strand has been their very first introduction to downtown Galveston. A location to which all them have undoubtedly returned, time and time again.
Further, his tour was also a firsthand witness to the meteoric rise in Galveston’s popularity post-Ike. For a long while, tour guests were usually always from Houston and the surrounding areas.
Then one summer, visitors started showing up from Oklahoma, Louisiana, and other surrounding states. Another year passed, and suddenly the tour’s manifest listed guests from the Midwest, west coast, and beyond.
Most importantly, Dash’s tours open a portal to Galveston’s rich history that may otherwise be of no interest to a visitor. His discovery of parallels between history and local ghost stories not only make the stories seem more credible but also make the history seem more tangible.
His dynamic image and storytelling prowess also set the standard for Galveston tours. Never has one of his guests been subject to the typical, sweaty old guy in a ripped t-shirt with a towel around his neck simply regurgitating facts and figures. Dash always maintained that his ticket holders deserved to be fully respected, which meant they should be fully entertained, both visually and audibly.
“He loves the island, and the people love him,” says Brian. “He is one-hundred percent self-made. He worked his butt off to build his tour and his business, and I think it is really special that even after he passes, he will be a part of the tour. That he will live on in stories being told all over the world. That legacy needs to live on, and I want to make sure that it does.”
Dash Beardsley’s Ghost Tours of Galveston currently has all three tours running. The Original Ghost Tour, Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30pm; The Secret Society Cemetery Tour, Friday & Saturday at 8pm; and The Restless Spirits Tour, inquire for availability. For more information or to book tickets visit www.GhostToursofGalvestonIsland.com.
A Note from the Editor: One of my first jobs in Galveston was working as a tour guide for Dash, and as much as I wanted to break my own rule and write this piece in first person, I opted instead to include this short, personal tribute.
The very first article I published in Galveston (or anywhere) was about Dash, but most importantly, his tour ignited my interest in Galveston history. On his tour, I first learned about Galveston’s red-light district and the Maceo empire of the early 20th century.
Long before I wrote books about each of those subjects, he was one of the only people on the island who talked about that history openly. Aside from his ghost stories, it was the unexpected way he made the history come alive, with his interest in the past residents of Galveston as individuals—their lives, their triumphs and failures, their contributions, their legacies—that influenced me the most.
This genuine affection he expressed for the people of Galveston is what started me on the path to seeking out every beautiful, worthy aspect of the city, both modern and historic, and sharing those stories as a way to find commonality and encourage solidarity among residents, honor the work people have done and still do for the betterment of our community, and empower us to always keep moving forward.
As I wrote in that very first article back in 2012, the historic characters featured on Dash’s tours were “people who lived for Galveston in its heyday, who died with Galveston amid its tragedies, and who have stuck around, waiting to see if maybe, just maybe, we will be the generation that makes this island grand again.”
Dash certainly did his part.