Meeting the ghosts of the past

By Jazmine Ulloa
The Brownsville Herald

Thursday afternoon had all the makings of a ghost story. Wind rustled through the trees of Brownsville’s Old City Cemetery. Cloudy skies intensified the colors of the graveyard — flowers resting on the headstones, the green of the grass and the hint of gray in Yolanda Gonzalez’s eyes.

At 79 years old, Gonzalez is a petite woman with an encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s history and folklore and has long been associated with the supernatural. She became locally known as the “Ghost Lady” during the 47 years she worked as a librarian for the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. And she also has a collection of macabre stories about Fort Brown.

But on Thursday, she was not out hunting for ghosts — at least not the kind in storybooks. As one of the most sought-out genealogists in the Rio Grande Valley, she is interested in the spirits of the past captured in the names, dates and epitaphs etched into the tombstones.

"What do you find in a cemetery?" Gonzalez asked, running her hand on the surface of a marble grave marker. "You find names, dates, sculpture, poetry…You find surprises."

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As published Oct. 30, 2009