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The dark shadows of Preston Hollow

Hillcrest Forest resident Megan Benanti, a.k.a. Nattacia Zeviar, has been studying tarot since 2000. Photo by Benjamin Hager

There’s nothing spooky about Preston Hollow — unless you’re looking. The Halloween season sparks a certain curiosity about the metaphysical world of undead spirits, unexplained energy and extrasensory perception.

From wandering pioneers to undeniable psychic abilities, several neighborhood residents swear by what they’ve seen.

Megan Benanti, a.k.a. Nattacia Zeviar

Some people make a living by perceiving what most cannot. Just ask a neighborhood psychic.

Megan Benanti grew up on a spooky peninsula on the coast of Maryland surrounded by haunted houses. She admits to being a “hippie earth child.” As a little girl, she would write notes to witches and leave them inside tree trunks.

“I just always believed in magic,” she says. “Or what you would now call spiritualism. Never in a million years did I think I would be doing something with it.”

Benanti is a tarot card reader known as Nattacia Zeviar. She used to have a table at Central 214 but now takes appointments at her Hillcrest Forest home. In fact, she has tried to un-spook herself, she says. Benanti is a wife and mother of two boys at Kramer Elementary. She has a beautifully landscaped yard that hints at her innate connection with the earth.

One time, she walked into her garage and spotted a blue garden sprite about 18 inches tall that looked like a gargoyle. It disappeared before her eyes.

“There are other things that live in this world,” Benanti says. “There’s an entire universe that we don’t see.”

Benanti says she comes in contact with that universe on a regular basis through tarot card reading. The goal isn’t necessarily to tell the future but to open communications from the subconscious mind, giving people a better understanding of themselves and their path.

“Sometimes, I’ll tell you things you already knew. In that case, you get a second opinion.”

However, she still stuns clients with the amount of detailed information she sees in the cards from a troubled love life to concerns about the next step in a career.

“There is that ‘wow’ factor,” she says.

Benanti’s psychic reading trade didn’t come easily. She says her ability was triggered by an unexpected and disturbing event in 2000, when she was pregnant with her first child.

“I was walking down a flight of stairs one day and, all of a sudden, I said, ‘I hope this baby isn’t dead.’ ”

She doesn’t know why the thought entered her mind, but it did. A couple of weeks later, she went to the doctor. Her baby had died of unknown causes.

“That was pretty traumatic,” Benanti says.

She began reading books about tarot, attending workshops and building a client base. In 2008, she started turning heads in the psychic community with her breast cancer journal. She sketched images she saw in her head and tracked them in the journal, which she believes foretold her eventual diagnosis.

“I had a cluster of tumors in my right breast. I had been drawing clusters of stones in my journal for weeks.”

Benanti has dedicated her life to her sixth sense, dabbling in several types of techniques. She says she hasn’t dealt much with ghosts except for one incident involving night terrors. They tormented a client’s son until Benanti suggested a remedy — tell the spirits to leave; then they have to.

“Her son slept peacefully from then on.”

Children are often more perceptive to the supernatural than adults, Brott says, particularly when the child hasn’t been advised against it. Society has conditioned people to reject these incidents as nonsense. But Brott believes otherwise.

“Most people are told from the moment they’re born that ghosts don’t exist. So from an early age, they block out the natural sense they’re given. But if you watch kids, most of them have imaginary friends. You walk in and see a little girl having teatime.

“But are they imaginary? Who’s to say?”

Pioneer spirits

A historic photo of pioneers making their way down what is now known as Preston Road. from the collections of the Texas/Dallas history and Archives Division, Dallas Public Library

The urban hum of bustling Preston Road leaves almost no trace of its earlier purpose as the main transportation route for Native Americans and, later, the pioneer settlers of North Texas.

It seems the pioneers may have hung around for a little while longer.

Claudette Brott leads the Dallas Historical Society’s annual ghost tour of famed locations such as the Adolphus Hotel Downtown. During the 1960s, her late husband lived at Preston and Waggoner just south of Royal in a house said to be haunted by pioneer spirits. At night, he’d peer out the window to see an entire family dressed in 1800s clothing sitting around a campfire. Other times, they would be making their way north on Preston, covered wagon and all.

“They looked at him like he was the intruder. Then, they disappeared. I don’t doubt that that’s what it was. He was like me,” Brott says, meaning her husband was more sensitive toward seeing ghosts.

Brott says she sees them all the time, although she’s quick to point out her uncertainties about some stories passed down through the years, such as the pioneer spirits that have been reported in Far North Dallas between Belt Line and Spring Valley.

“People say they’ve seen the ghost of a man holding a lantern,” she says. “But I haven’t been able to validate that one.”

Olla Podrida

The Olla Podrida arts and crafts mall was reportedly home to several friendly ghosts. from the collections of the Texas/Dallas history and Archives Division, Dallas Public Library

Just up the road on the outskirts of Preston Hollow was a curious arts and crafts haven known as Olla Podrida. Shoppers didn’t come to Olla Podrida for any one thing. They came for the experience.

Think Diagon Alley, the fictional street in the Harry Potter series that’s home to mystical shops like The Leaky Cauldron and the Eeylops Owl Emporium.

OK, maybe that’s a stretch. But there was definitely something spooky about Olla Podrida, which opened in 1971 at 12215 Coit. It closed in 1996 and was demolished in 2006. The site is now home to two Jewish schools, the Akiba Academy and Yavneh Academy.

During Olla Podrida’s heyday, several reports circulated about friendly spirits that hung around the mall. One involved three Victorian-era women dressed in long white gowns, their hair piled on top of their heads into buns. They were seen mostly during the day, shopping just like everyone else.

“You could hear them murmuring, but you couldn’t tell what they were saying,” says Vickie Francis.

For 23 years, Francis and her husband, Roger, owned a little store inside the mall called The Front Porch, making ivory carvings and sand candles. The couple has since relocated to the Fort Worth Stockyards.

“I didn’t believe in ghosts until I moved into Olla Podrida,” she says. “Now, I believe in them very strongly.”

According to most accounts, the spirits lingered in the ladies restroom. Francis says that one day she was standing at the sink washing her hands when the door opened and closed on its own. Then, the faucet next to her turned on spontaneously.

“Those were heavy wooden doors. Everything was made out of timber,” she says. “Small children couldn’t open them easily. That door would fly open all the time.”

Francis would stay late at the mall putting up Christmas decorations until about 3 a.m. The place was locked, no one else was around, yet she often heard footsteps and smelled cigar smoke.

David Kittrell is co-owner of the Kittrell-Riffkind Art Glass studio at Belt Line and Montfort. He and his wife, Barbara, had their shop at Olla Podrida for 15 years. What he remembers most about the mall is the noises. The wooden floors creaked. The upper decks, suspended with construction jacks, often shifted. Kittrell says the place had about 100 city code violations. So some of the ghost stories can be attributed to obvious environmental factors.

Other events remain unexplained, such as what Kittrell describes as a “black slave” seen lurking in the center of the mall.

“He was a curmudgeon,” Kittrell says. “He just wanted to be left alone.”

Most of the reported incidents weren’t frightening at all.

“They weren’t threatening or anything,” Francis says. “I kind of miss those ghosts.”

• A Facebook page allows users to share their favorite memories about Olla Podrida. Go to facebook.com and search “I Miss Olla Podrida Mall.”

The spirit of Vick Clesi’s mother

Pioneers aren’t the only spirits that have been hanging around. Vick Clesi can attest to that.

Clesi’s mother died in 1989 of complications from a stroke, leaving behind her house at Stephanie and Hillcrest — but not for long. The funeral hadn’t even happened yet, and Clesi and his wife Janet were sitting at the dining room table, discussing what to do with his mother’s things. He remembers saying, “My mother wouldn’t be happy with that,” but doesn’t recall the item in question.

“Then I heard a big boom like a gun went off in the other room,” Clesi says. “It looked like a bullet had hit the sliding glass door.”

He assumed someone had tried to vandalize the home. Clesi walked outside to assess the damage.

“The outside was not cracked. It came from inside the house. It obviously was the ghost of my mother. I had never particularly believed in spirits hanging around and neither did my wife. But there’s not much doubt in my mind that that’s what was going on.”

He believes his mother returned to the house again weeks later. A young man who was house-sitting told Clesi that he heard someone yelling at him to wake up and go to work. Then he opened the closet to find all the clothes rearranged. What the house-sitter didn’t know was that Clesi’s mother did those exact things after her stroke, which caused her to develop a nagging, obsessive personality.

“There’s a place between here and wherever,” Clesi says. “There’s no other way of explaining those incidents.”


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By |2011-09-22T15:33:24-05:00September 22nd, 2011|All Cover Stories, All Magazine Articles, Entertainment, History|2 Comments

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Emily Toman
EMILY TOMAN is the senior editor. Email etoman@advocatemag.com or follow twitter.com/emilytoman.