This East Texas town can lay claim to an impressive, unlikely history. In the 19th century, though far inland, it was second only to Galveston as the busiest port in Texas.
Now it's known as the most haunted small town in Texas due to fame on the Travel, Discovery and SciFi channels, says Jodi Breckenridge, guide for the Historic Jefferson Ghost Walk.
Breckenridge, who says she's a skeptic, still gets rattled enough during these 90-minute tours to flee in fright.
On this Saturday night in June about 30 people buy $10 tickets in front of the Jefferson Historical Society Museum.
"How much of the money does the ghost get?" someone quips.
Breckenridge warns against taunting them: "Don't ever make fun of a ghost if I'm standing within 20 feet of you."
The apparitions hurl objects and lock tourists into one of the haunted restrooms around town, she says. Bathrooms that have proved particularly troublesome to escape include those in the supposedly haunted Jefferson Hotel, circa 1851, and the Big Cypress Coffee House, which used to be the Kahn Saloon at the turn of the 20th century. It was also the site of early country-music performances, occasional bloodshed, a brothel and a funeral home, all of which, one way or another, provoked the hauntings.
This night doesn't bring much drama. A trio of black kittens crosses our path. Surely, that's an omen? Nope, nothing happens.
No one feels fondled by a mysterious hand, sees a malevolent gentleman in a top hat or hears invisible children singing century-old songs, all of which reportedly happened on other evenings. Neither does Breckenridge scare herself and run down the street screaming.
We traipse up and down quaint streets, stare at building facades and empty lots and hear about murders, legends and rumors of bodies buried in backyards. We crowd into the dark, hot, airless attic of the coffee shop hoping against hope that the construction equipment will fly across the room of its own accord.
We crave the paranormal. We've paid our $10!
But no one even gets bad vibes. We must be an especially insensitive lot.
Colin and Kim Bryce of Arlington and their children, Conner, 10, and Chloe, 4, are among the ghost hunters. Conner carries a ghost-detection device. Chloe's tennis shoes glow while she walks, providing a handy night light.
"They are thrilled about it," Kim says. "Conner, especially, thinks it's a huge adventure. He likes to investigate."
The Bryces are in Jefferson as part of a hobby sparked by watching Ghost Hunters on the Sci-Fi Channel. They've visited the Myrtles Plantation in St. Francisville, La., and the Crescent in Eureka Springs, Ark., where they've had a few creepily close encounters. At the Myrtles, they spent one night on the front porch, driven from their bedroom by mysterious sounds, as if someone wearing boots were pacing in front of their beds.
Colin says he's seen the ghost of a Civil War soldier.
"My parents and everyone think I'm crazy," Colin says. "But after I had the first experience, it really changed my outlook on life."
With high hopes, they've booked a room with a bad reputation, Room 19, at the Jefferson Hotel. They aren't disappointed.
"My wife and my son got hit by french fries flying across the room," Colin says. "All four of us were sitting watching TV, and our leftovers were sitting across the room. All of a sudden I saw french fries bounce off her chest. It was kind of spooky. It seems like a crazy thing (for a ghost) to throw across the room."
And, no, her father says, Chloe didn't do it.
During the ghost walk, Kim Bryce also captures orbs (spheres of light indicating paranormal activity) with her Canon Digital Rebel in the coffeehouse.
I didn't realize that ghosts are supposed to show up best on camera, so I haven't brought a real one. But my cell phone captures one spectral image in the window of the Jefferson Hotel.
Breckenridge, ever the skeptic, peers at my prized souvenir and decrees that it's just the reflection of a street light.
The ghost and I know the truth.
Jefferson Texas' Most Haunted Town