Creepy history of Chinese Graveyard on Zarzamora Street uncovered

San Antonio's haunted Chinese Graveyard (Jack Dennis)

There’s nothing like the laughter of a baby. Unless it’s 2 a.m., there’s only four teens in the car, and you’re in the middle of the cemetery at 10445 Zarzamora Street.

For decades, the curious who visited the ‘Chinese Graveyard’ in San Antonio have reported strange feelings of spirits around them, sightings of ghosts and mysterious sounds. But one of the most spine-chilling claims comes from July 4, 1973. Four McCollum High School graduates from the south side decided to drive outside the city limits on Zarzamora after a night of fireworks and Independence Day celebration.

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Chinese Graveyard in 1973 (Jack Dennis)

Gary and his girlfriend, Cindy, were in the front seat of his “black magic” 1967 Mercury Cougar RX7. His sister, Debbie and her date, Jack, sat in the back with eyes wide open searching for a small cemetery almost forgotten by time. The Guzman Burial Ground, also known as the Loma China Cemetery, had only one name according to students of McCollum, Harlandale, Kennedy, South San and Southside high schools–The Chinese Graveyard!

“Keep your eyes on the graves. Hope you don’t see a man riding a horse.”

The traditional advice passed over the years was consistent and remained deep within the thoughts of any visitors brave enough to drive through the cemetery: “Take as many people as possible and try not to leave any space for unwanted passengers who just might choose to appear in your backseat. Be very quiet and don’t look for lights floating in the sky. Keep your eyes on the graves. Hope you don’t see a man riding a horse. Never stop if you spot something peculiar and don’t pick up hitchhikers. Lastly, if it begins to lightening, even if there are no clouds, drive away immediately.”

Today, the front gates remained locked and chained. But in 1973, anyone was free to drive through. Gary turned off his headlights as he drove the Cougar into the passage. Almost immediately Cindy and Debbie saw the shadow of something crawling about 30 feet from their side.

“What is that?” Cindy tried not to scream.

“I saw it too,” Debbie answered. Gary told them to be quiet.

The temperature had reach 90 degrees earlier in the day, but the official temperature was now down to 72. Jack rolled his window down. Instantly the inside of the car became cold. They all heard the innocent like sound of an infant laughing.

“Oh my God,” screamed Cindy. “Look!”

The figure turn its head toward them revealing a most menacing grin.

Crawling to the right and almost directly in front of them was the dark likeness of a toddler. The figure turn its head toward them revealing a most menacing grin. Gary turned on the lights. The high beams revealed nothing. He turned the lights back off causing the girls to scream again. Somehow, Gary was able to avoid the silhouetted mystery as he forced the car around, turned the lights on again, and sped out the cemetery.

Over the years, the Chinese Graveyard has experienced numerous reports of paranormal activity and bizarre happenings. Some say when they brought their dogs in for protection, even during the day, they would suddenly turn from being peaceful to near violent barking at things no one could see. No one is quite certain why this burial site is so eerie, but San Antonio is considered one of the most haunted places in North America.

It was settled centuries ago by native peoples such as the Payaya. Early Spanish Settlers called San Antonio home as early as 1717 with the building of a Spanish fort. Missions were built along the river that eventually became the number one tourist attraction in Texas, known as the River Walk. The Chinese Graveyard has earned its place along some other notorious haunted stories and locations such as the Alamo, the Donkey Lady, the Headless Statue, the Butcher of Elmendorf, Woman Hollering Creek, and the Haunted Room 636 of the Gunter Hotel.

Most people take the warnings more seriously as a place to enter at your own risk. 

In the 1960s and 70s the desolate graveyard was a place for somewhat innocent teenage fun. But over the years it has become more sinister. Today want-a-be visitors will find the front gates locked. White signs with red lettering warns there will be “No Witchcraft.” Other tree-posted warning signs that seem to come and go include “Keep Out” and “Never Mind the Dog, Beware of the owner.” Most people take the warnings more seriously as a place to enter at your own risk.

Graveyard mystery (Jack Dennis)

It was first used over 120-years ago as a private family cemetery for the Guzmans. But on the right side of the graveyard are some Chinese named tombstones and markings. Many stories have evolved through the years with the most popular version coming from Joey Guzman, one of the caretakers of the cemetery.

“Supposedly, a Great uncle of mine was seeing a Chinese woman and they were in love,” Joey told a reporter in 2009. When the father of the man found out about the relationship his forbid his on from seeing his lover. So his great uncle would meet secretly at the cemetery. On one ominous night, the great uncle was riding his horse to meet the woman. Lightning struck, killing the man and the horse instantly. The man and horse were buried in the cemetery.

Guzman’s version indicates the distressed woman later went to her loves gravesite and killed herself. For some reason, she was buried next to him.

Debra Romero, the great granddaughter of the man killed by the lightning has specific knowledge about his death. Not only was he and the horse killed, but his dog died too. Romero says her great grandfathers “last name was Vasquez. Although The Vasquez’s and the Guzman’s are kin by marriage. My great grandmother was a Guzman and she married my great grandfather, a Vasquez.”

“My grandmother and my great-grandmother would visit the graveyard several times a year to clean the graves.”

“There was no Asian love,” she said. “They were a very young couple with two young daughters and a third daughter on-the-way when my great-grandfather was struck by lighting and killed. My grandmother and my great-grandmother would visit the graveyard several times a year to clean the graves, being that most of them were closely related to us. I do remember once when I was very, very young my uncle Johnny bringing a whole bunch of oyster shells from the coast–Corpus Christi I believe, which we used to decorate my great-grandfathers grave.”

San Antonio’s haunted Chinese Graveyard (Jack Dennis)

Today’s lore says that if someone drives to the cemetery at night, they must park just near the front. The car should be completely shut off and windows rolled down. The headlights should be flashed off and on five times. Part of the paranormal experience could include laughter, crying, wailing and voices emanating from the darkness. Some claim to see either a small dark figure crawling, a lofty grey apparition, or white mist entities floating around the grounds.

A curious visitor named Valerie recounted that when she went with small group, “once we walked inside, I remember having this great feeling of remorse fall over me–as if I had done something bad. Of course there were weird noises, but that didn’t bother me, it was the feeling I had. When we were leaving I remember hearing footsteps right behind us as if whatever it was, was following us out.”

In the 1960s Judy Grimmett and her friends went to the graveyard many times, but “never saw anything.” Colleen Lloyd said the same thing about her visit in the 1970s. A retired policeman, who is very familiar with the south side and Chinese Graveyard said “it’s important to keep it locked up and as secure as possible. It has turned into a favorite place for people who practice witchcraft and the occult. We had reports of people dressed in black–especially during full moons and around Halloween time—holding black magic ceremonies out there. The next day some pretty wicked leftovers show there was obvious cult rituals going on.”

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