Two years after purchase, ghost hunts helping LaFaves fund restoration of Olde Park Hotel

BALLINGER — Restoration of the 10,000 square foot Olde Park Hotel, with a history that dates to 1886, began 24 months ago, and current owners Dan and Connie LaFave will celebrate the second anniversary of their purchase of the building with a party — and ghost hunt — Friday night.

“Last year we had cake and goodies and had people do a ghost hunt with us and we’re going to be doing the same thing,” said Connie LaFave who, with her husband Dan, purchased the hotel on July 13, 2016. “Some people are just very dear friends and some people have reserved slots. Even if nobody showed up we’d still be eating cake and us two would be roaming around.”

The goal of the LaFaves is to re-establish the hotel to its previous stature, with long-term plans of eventually opening a haunted bed and breakfast. Currently, eight rooms have been restored with a ninth nearing completion.

“We run it as an event venue,” Connie LaFave said of the hotel in its current status. “People can rent it out for birthday parties or whatever you like. Eventually we’d like to clean up the courtyard and make it beautiful out there. People could get married and stay here at a haunted location.”

History aficionados as well, the LaFaves have also started a museum on site.

“The history dates back to 1886 when over 6,000 people gathered on the courthouse lawn to purchase more than half the lots in the city practically for free,” Connie LaFave said. “They issued a proclamation with the three railroads merging — Gulf, Santa Fe and Colorado — so they moved the Runnels County seat to Ballinger. We have this incredible history that no one knows anything about, so our goal is to restore this building, to bring it back to its historical beauty and share this beauty with Ballinger. Pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together now, and the place is starting to become alive again. We’re just glad to share it with Ballinger.”

“What we’re doing really is about restoring the building,” Dan LaFave said. “So many buildings are falling apart in Texas. The first thing we did is we started researching Ballinger, there’s a lot of history. We realized there’s a lot unique buildings built here in Ballinger, even after this building, and they’re gone. You can’t appreciate a building once it’s gone.”

The ghost hunting ventures on the property are playing the most significant role in the couple’s restoration efforts.

“The ghost hunts and the overnight stays keep the place running,” Connie LaFave said. “We also have the gift shop, so they can buy souvenirs to take with them with the Olde Park Hotel on it. People can stay here overnight, but we only do group rates. They can pay for an overnight investigation and if they want to sleep in the rooms they can. We have eight or nine rooms that are almost completely restored. You can get in on a ghost hunt pretty much any time you want, you just have to contact us. If they wanted people could just call us and book and get a group together. We go in between four and six hours on a ghost hunt. We give a full historical tour, we tell them all about us and how we acquired the place, how to use the equipment and then we go on a ghost hunt and play it back real time.”

One of the couple’s first paranormal encounters at the hotel came around month after taking over ownership.

“We ran our first or second ghost tour and we were real tired because everyone had a real exciting night,” Dan LaFave said. “We decided to sleep here, not drive back, but it was our first time sleeping here so our anxiety was up a little bit.

“I rolled over and started to fade out, but I was in that subconscious state where I was almost asleep but not quite. Around that time, I start feeling this sensation on my head and then it dawned on me that it was a woman’s hand. The sensation got stronger and after a while it was massaging my head real softly the same way my wife does. I’m in this lull of going to sleep feeling this, thinking it’s my wife. All the sudden I snap to and open my eyes and first thing I notice is it’s not her. I’m still feeling the hand and start to roll over on to my back, the hand shifts across my head, and that’s when I saw what it was. The hand was here on my head, I’m on back, and we’re staring at each other. It’s a woman in an 1800s dress, black dress, frills and everything, her hair was curly. She didn’t look scary, she looked like a real person. She didn’t look like she was trying to freak me out, she was just looking at me. But in the shock of the moment I jumped liked a cat, woke up my wife, and in that split second she was gone.”

A doll on the dresser in the LaFave Master Suite, what the couple named their bedroom in the hotel, is similar to the description of the apparition Dan witnessed.

Recently, a 24/7 static camera has been installed within the hotel to view through the website thehaunted.space, which is run by Nick Groff, formerly of the television series Ghost Adventures.

“The biggest addition lately that has happened is the live static camera upstairs where people can go on to an internet site and look at the Olde Park Hotel 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Connie LaFave said. “It’s getting a lot of attention right now and really starting to pick up steam.”

“We’ve been bringing in groups from Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, all around the state,” Dan LaFave said. “Now we’re even stretching out farther, we have them coming from Florida, California, Ohio and an event out of Kentucky with a big star that’s been on television, Chad Lindberg, on Nov. 3.”

The LaFaves’ connection with the paranormal is how the couple initially crossed paths, and the duo began Graveyard Shift Paranormal Investigation in Harlingen in 2009.

“I always had weird experiences and couldn’t chalk it up so I wanted to see if it was really happening,”Dan LaFave said. “Twenty years ago I went and stayed in an actual haunted hotel here in Texas. A lot of weird stuff happened, some very unexplainable stuff. We both look at things very closely, versus natural, versus paranormal, all these things were happening and I couldn’t put any scientific reasoning to it. That kind of put me on a journey and I met Connie through doing that. We went all around Texas to historical locations. We moved around and ended up here.”

An article Dan LaFave read three years ago on San Angelo Live led the couple to Ballinger.

“The article grabbed me about three years ago and I told her I need to see this place, there was something about it, “Dan LaFave said. “Something before we even moved up to the area, something was always grabbing me about Ballinger. I thought what a unique, historic town this is and I would love to see this place sometime. So when we moved into the area, we basically decided we wanted to retire to this area.”

The couple soon contacted the hotel’s then-owner Jeanette Findlay to inquire about the building.

“When I first contacted Jeanette to come up here she was kind of closed off because I guess when the article came out a lot of people wanted to see this place, and a lot of people already knew about the place, and past history,” Dan LaFave said. “A month later she contacted us and we came up here, it was a rainy day, we were walking around and from the moment we walked in here, we could just feeling something, we could tell something was different. What grabbed us initially was the historical mystique of the whole place. There’s not many places this old that you can walk around in that is in this good of shape. When we came down the stairs and the first words from Jeannette were ‘What do you think of the place?’ We said this place was really awesome, then she asked ‘Do you want to buy it?’”

Connie LaFave said, “I said ‘no, we can’t handle it, there’s no way.’ He just looked at me, and kept looking at me that same way for six months. Then we had a tragedy, his mom passed away, and she left him a little inheritance and with some of that money we decided to invest into a legacy and something we’re not just going to blow. Right about that same time is when Jeannette said, ‘You know, I sold most of the stuff I had in the hotel so I’m going to offer it to you for half of what I did at first.’ So then we took advantage, and that was July 13 two years ago. That’s why we’re doing the ghost hunt, because that’s the anniversary.”

Along with their second anniversary celebration and frequent ghost hunts, the LaFaves will also hold their annual Hallow Screams event the weekend of Oct. 26-27.

“Hallow Screams is a haunted house within a haunted house and all that money goes back in,”Dan LaFave said. “We have about 40 actors, and some of these actors are pretty good with their make up.”

“It’s crazy, people come from hours away to go the haunted house,” Connie LaFave said. “It’s 10 bucks and people can go through as many times as they want as long as they save the receipt. We’re doing it just one weekend this year, Oct. 26-27. We have 10,000 square feet of exploration.”

For more information about the Olde Park Hotel, its history, restoration and ghost hunts, visit oldeparkhotel.com, the Olde Park Hotel Facebook page, email theoldeparkhotel@yahoo.com or call (325) 718-2662.