Rio Grande Valley

It was the late 1920’s and Point Isabel was experiencing a strangely mild winter. The high for this February afternoon lingered around 85-degrees, but there was a slight chill to the summer breeze in spite of the brilliant, cloudless sky and rising giant orb of the morning sun. The Shary Yacht Club, which would soon change its name to the Port Isabel Yacht Club Hotel, was the pinnacle of social accomplishment in the Valley. Commodore and Judge A.W. Cameron of Edinburg, one of the primary founders, promised a premiere club that would cater to the ‘yacht set’, and investors from across Texas and the nation found a home away from home on the shores of the sparkling Laguna Madre when he delivered. Located on a hill and bluff overlooking the Point Isabel Yacht basin, the new and dynamically-designed Yacht Club Hotel was one of the finest facilities south of Galveston. Today marked the day for the second annual regatta, an event that showcased the new powerboat racers and their sleek watercraft. A crowd of ten thousand would gather this afternoon on the bluffs overlooking the bay, watching as the best racers from a tri-state area competed on a five mile triangular course in their bid for regatta honors.

Just one year old, the Yacht Club had already attracted an impressive clientele. Businessmen from New York, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit, would often bring their families or friends and would engage a room at the Hotel for weeks at a time. The Valley was a remote place, far removed from the urban culture of America’s cities and the cloak of its political conservatism, and the fishing, the boating and the sub-tropical climate offered the perfect getaway for the rich and famous -- the freethinkers, as they liked to call themselves, the political liberal and social soldiers of the Roaring 20’s. It also offered a place where the laws of prohibition were ‘relaxed’, somewhat buffered by its private club concept and protected most by its remote location in the borderlands, an area including most of the western Valley and extending up the grande river to El Paso. It was called the Frontier by most, and for good reason. You could easily find a friendly wager, and bootlegged gin from Mexico found its way across the border regularly, often in the belly of the yachts that lined the Point Isabel harbor, and into the social circles of those that enjoyed the fine services of the Shary Yacht Club.

Olga Mae Keyhorn, the daughter of iron mogul Theodore Keyhorn II, was a free spirit that lavishly traveled around the country in pursuit of social satisfaction, clinging tightly to her fellow social renegades, a group of college drop outs, rich kid merrymakers, and young professionals who always managed to find time to enjoy the rewards of having money at a time when much of America was without work. Fellow East coast friend Telly Kingston loved power boats and power boat races, and a small entourage of the thrill-seeking socialites followed him to Port Isabel for the running of the upcoming Power Boat Regatta. Telly also loved a good martini, as did most of Olga Mae’s friends. The order of business for this trip, like most, was to eat, drink and laugh, and not necessarily in that order.

Rising early, Olga had knocked on Mary Slidell’s room door, but there was no answer. Knowing Mary liked to party hard and late, she assumed she was deep in slumber, probably with the pillows pulled over her head to block out the world. Besides, Mary had a crush on Telly, and with any luck, maybe she was in his room playing cards with the boys, an activity they often engaged before breakfast. When she had left her last night, Mary was still on Telly’s Yacht pretending to dance while Telly played his trumpet poorly and loud enough to wake the dead. They were insanely inebriated, but everyone in the party, an even half dozen, was having fun. Olga had developed a headache from the cheap gin however, and had decided to retire earlier than usual, a decision she never regretted. For not long after she had left the party, she soon discovered, there had been a tragic accident on board.

Ellis Partridge, a senior member of the Club, broke the news to her as she stood on the veranda outside the hotel. At first she was filled with disbelief, the terrible truth began to sink in. In their drunken stupor, her socialite friends had decided to take a late night cruise in the bay. An hour into the cruise they managed to make their way out of Brazos Santiago Pass and into Gulf waters. The going was rough as a north wind kicked up the swells and the drunken crew could hardly hold her steady. At the height of their battle with the fury of the storm, Telly, or one of the young men on board, tripped over a flailing line and broke an oil lamp, spreading the volatile fuel across the wooden deck. In moments, the luxury yacht was completely engulfed in flames, the glow in the night could be seen from as far away as Matamoros. By the time rescue boats made it out to assist, nothing remained but the smoldering remains of a skeletal frame that miraculously managed to stay afloat in the turbulent waters. Rescuers managed to count two charred remains before the ship itself finally gave up the ghost and sank to the bottom of the deep. An informal investigation followed and it was determined, or speculated, that the remains belonged to a Boston man named Andrew and a West Coast girl, Andrea Peten. The bodies of Telly and Mary were never found, and a search for them was given up two days later after a strange report that the pair had been spotted on the grounds of the Shary Yacht Club the night before – nearly 24 hours after their disappearance. Authorities searched high and low and contacted family members to confirm the pair had not ‘voluntarily’ disappeared. The entire affair, however, was hushed locally. Great effort was made to cover up the incident. The last thing Yacht Club members wanted was an official investigation, or inspection of their operations. For in those dreary days of prohibition there were darker characters that moved in and out of the liberal social circles of America, mere shadows who often supplied the booze, the girls and the parties. Many of these underworld figures were rumored to be rich, famous and powerful, major ‘importers’ of foreign whiskey, and were known to hang out in remote places like the Shary Yacht Club. It provided the perfect place to watch for border shipments of contraband, and also provided the upper class amenities they was often an important part of their lifestyles.

As for Olga Mae, she was required to hang out in Port Isabel for nearly a week as the matter was finally cleared, or covered as it may be. The power boat races were held in spite of the incident, and as for most of the thousands that thronged to the shores of the Laguna Madre to watch the races, few even heard of the unfortunate accident the night before. There was no mention of it in the new local newspaper, and few reports, if any, have survived the times.

But the story doesn’t end here. For as Olga Mae Keyhorn was relegated to sad and long periods in her room alone in the days immediately following the accident, a very strange thing was said to happen. It was near daybreak again on the second night when Olga, unable to sleep and lightly intoxicated from the wine she had been sipping for most of the day, thought she heard faint laughter through the door, but at a distance. Ignoring it at first then hearing it again, she wrapped herself in a robe and went to investigate. It nearly five in the morning and even the hardest of the party crowd had already retired to their rooms for more drinking or much needed sleep. The celebration of the power boat winners had ended, many had already departed in the return voyages to wherever they had come from, or wherever they were going. As she neared the deserted lounge, she again heard the faint whispers of conversations, but enough to recognize Mary’s frill laughter and Telly’s throaty voice. Oh my gosh! They were alive, she reasoned. Rushing in the direction of the sounds, she found herself on the brick patio behind the Yacht Club Hotel, a poplar area for live music and dancing under the stars. There were still tell-tale signs of the night’s celebration, empty and half filled glasses still littered a few of the tables and the grounds. Seeing her friends beneath a large sea grape tree near the far corner of the patio, shadowed from the dim gas lights that spread their weak light across the patio, she crossed to confront Telly and Mary, who were engaged in mild laughter and a slightly heated conversation. Looking up at Olga, they didn’t wait for her to start talking. According to what Olga Mae told authorities, Mary and Telly both hushed her to secrecy, told her that everything was alright, and they would explain more soon. When she pressed them for answers, they continued to dominate the conversation, telling her it was difficult, nearly impossible, to explain what had happened. But it was important they she understand they were all right and they were happy. Olga thought she heard footsteps coming across the patio from behind, and turned just a moment to see who approached, but there was no one there. When she turned back to her friends, they were gone as well. Completely gone. She called their names, tried to search around the grounds. She even checked both of their rooms, which, of course, had already been vacated.

The next morning, after returning to her room and dealing with the strange horror that seemed to be engulfing her, Olga Mae went to authorities and told them about the encounter. At first, no one seemed to belief her. Perhaps they thought her to be in a state of emotional dishevel, on the edge of a breakdown. But not long after Olga told investigators about the strange encounter, two other reports had come in, very similar to her story, except in the second eyewitness account, Telly and Mary faded out of sight before the night clerk’s eyes. He was adamant about what he had seen and wanted authorities to believe him, lest they think him crazy.

The remainder of the story of Olga Mae Keyhorn is not known. Where she went and what became of her after the incident in Port Isabel is unknown. But a story has been told down through the years that club members, hotel guests and employees, and even one of the subsequent owners of the Yacht Club Hotel have encountered Telly and Mary on multiple occasions, the last just a few years back. While the accounts vary from person to person, generally they follow the same line, a young man and a young girl dressed in the fashions of the roaring 1920’s, engaged in conversation or laughter, often speaking to the living and often not, but just often fading into nothingness before the eyes of the disbelievers.

Home Page