When Joel Rosenzweig started teaching at Lake Highlands High School , a group of students came to him and asked him if he knew about Elizabeth .

 

Elizabeth ? he asked. Is she a student?

 

And then the new drama teacher heard about the ghost that haunts the high school’s theater and auditorium.

 

“I can’t tell you that I have ever seen her,” says Rosenzweig, who is starting his fifth year at the school. “But some of the kids have claimed to have seen her. And there have been some things happening that the kids says she does — lights go on and off for no apparent reason, props moving without anyone actually having moved them, cold spots on the stage during rehearsal.”

 

          Elizabeth is so well known among students, in fact, that Brad Bell made a movie, titled “Ghost Light,” about her last year. Bell says he became intrigued by the story after talking to one of the school’s technical directors as a sophomore.

 

          “He was a very skeptical person who said, ‘After working here for however many years, I’m completely convinced there’s something here,’” says Bell, now a college student in Los Angeles who plans to study filmmaking. “And he wasn’t even the type of person to believe in such a thing.”

 

          And, while Bell says he has never seen any “dramatic” proof of Elizabeth ’s existence, he adds: “I have had very close sources that I trust tell me weird things — doors with hydraulic stops will slam shut and rushes of cold wind blow from nowhere.”

 

          Elizabeth isn’t the only ghost demanding attention around here. There’s White Rock Lake ’s Lady of the Lake , a nationally known spirit who has fascinated ghost hunters, psychics and paranormal researchers from around the country. But she is far from the only one haunting this part of town, as Elizabeth would attest (if she was in the spirit to do so, of course). How about the Comanches of Flagpole Hill, survivors of a settler massacre who are said to roam the hill, still throwing rocks at their attackers? Or the two sets of ghosts who supposedly haunted the former Olla Podrida shopping center?

 

          One can argue that these are nothing more than legends, the by-products of overactive imaginations, teenaged pranksters, or witnesses who have overindulged. Perhaps. But go through newspaper clippings, interview older residents, and there are plenty of stories dating to the early decades of the last century, both here and elsewhere in Dallas . Two spirits, witnesses claim, still haunt Old City Park south of downtown. A pioneer family has been seen wandering up and down

Preston Road

between

Northwest Highway

and Arapaho, eternally trying to get back to their farm.  Then there are the two ghosts seen regularly at Snuffer’s on

Greenville Avenue

, unsetting table settings and rearranging chairs.

 

          “When I started researching my book, I really didn’t expect to find too much in the way of ghost stories,” says Mitchel Whitington, the author of “Ghosts of North Texas.” “After all, Dallas is a city of chrome and steel. How could it be haunted? But there is a rich history of ghosts here, ghosts that are worth exploring.”

 

 

A ghostly business

 

          Which a surprising number of people do. Ghosts may not be a high-margin business, but they are a steady one. There are almost a half dozen paranormal research groups in and around Dallas that visit cemeteries, stake out haunted houses, and investigate supernatural claims, and that doesn’t include the dozens of books, Web sites, and newspaper and magazine articles detailing who is haunting what and where.

 

Says Roger Ramsdell, who runs DFW Paranormal Research of North Texas and has investigated the Lady of the Lake and Flagpole Hill phenomena: “We keep busy. Some of this stuff is obviously an urban legend. But some of the others? There may be something there.”

 

          This outlook may seem a bit silly in the first years of the 21st century. After all, there are rational scientific explanations for occurrences that people as recently as a couple of hundred years ago would have attributed to ghosts. But, says University of Texas-Arlington sociologist Raymond Eve, who studies this sort of thing, ghosts have been part of the culture for so long that it’s difficult to dismiss them entirely — no matter how modern people consider themselves to be.

 

          “It’s really only been in the last 200 years of the 4,000 years of human history that we can describe physical forces without having to give them human characteristics,” he says, adding that there are also neurological and psychological explanations for the continued existence of ghosts (assuming one doesn’t believe, of course). This includes lucid dreaming, when a sleeper is convinced he or she is awake and having genuine experiences, but when their brain is actually confusing them with parts of their imagination.

 

The other thing to remember? “Ghosts are just plain fun,” says Eve. “It’s more pleasant to believe in the fantastic rather than the realistic. I can give my students a lecture or I can tell them a ghost story. What’s going to tickle the neurons of their brain more?”

 

Elizabeth’s story has certainly piqued the imagination of Lake Highlands High School students through the years. She is said to have attended Lake Highlands High School in the early 1970s, a pale brunette with long hair, dressed in white, perhaps in some sort of pleasant blouse or skirt. She was a senior the year she supposedly killed herself, climbing up to the roof in the theater, past the lighting grid, through the escape hatch, into the crawl space and out on the roof. Bell shows this suicide quite vividly in “Ghost Light.”

 

“The legend is she killed herself at school in 1974,” he says, adding that most kids don’t actually believe in Elizabeth ’s existence, but perpetuate the legend anyway.

 

“If you’re up there rehearsing late one night, and you hear a weird noise, it’s kind of fun to think it’s a ghost,” he says. “Even if you know it’s not true, I still think it’s fun just to have a legend or something that makes the school unique.”

 

 

 

Historical facts

 

So was there an Elizabeth ? The answer to that is unclear. Students have searched school yearbooks from that era, and there doesn’t seem to be a student named Elizabeth, let alone one who jumped from the roof and killed herself.

 

Bell says his research tells him that even if some anguished spirit named Elizabeth doesn’t exist, something — or someone — else does.

 

“It is kind of hard to deny that something’s not going on,” he says, launching into a rapid-fire report of the things he’s been told.

 

“If you talk to any of the janitors or any security guard, they’ll tell you something’s going on. There’s one woman who won’t go into the area underneath the stage to clean, because she’s scared. We asked a security guard what he thought, and he said he won’t go into the cafeteria — says he sees shadows in there when there’s nothing there.

 

“I’ve heard that people have seen police dogs come out of the building with their tail between their legs. One janitor has claimed to see a woman in what appears to be Victorian dress walking around without a head.”

 

Abruptly, he stops.

 

“I know it sounds absolutely ridiculous,” he says. “But these people have fear in their eyes when they’re telling you things. And I don’t blame them. They’ve been at the school at 3 o’clock in the morning and had something like that happen.”

 

And he’s right. Because it is difficult to argue with eyewitnesses. One official at Old City Park even gets a little huffy when someone questions the existence of her spirits, or wonders why the facts in so many of the stories seem to keep changing.

 

“I could hear a scream that was actually the most blood-curdling scream,” a woman named Phyllis Thompson, who was sitting on a dock by the lake, told the Dallas Times Herald in 1985, describing her run-in with the Lady of the Lake. “It was definitely a woman. It was there and then it was gone.”

 

Isn’t that just like a ghost?