Donkey Lady Bridge.
The Old Applewhite Bridge, known as the Donkey Lady Bridge. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonians up for a good Halloween scare no longer have to drive to an old, dilapidated bridge at night, in a dark corner of the Southside, to hear the legendary Donkey Lady. From midnight Oct. 31 through Nov. 6, they only have to call a local phone number.

Each night, a new 45-second message awaits callers to the Donkey Lady Hotline. Her story will unfold in a series of segments as she reflects on present-day San Antonio, according to Marisela Barrera, a performance artist who claims to have had personal contact with the legendary lady.

The local myth dates back to the 1950s, or the 1800s, and invariably describes a woman who suffered a terrible fate, either by drowning, or being horribly disfigured in a fire, and usually involves her donkey, which is said to have bitten the son of an important figure of the town and perished at the hands of his father.

Whatever the story, intrepid visitors to the Old Applewhite Bridge – just inside Loop 1604 near the intersection of Applewhite and Jett roads – tell tales of hearing the horrifying braying of a donkey from the dark woods late at night, sometimes said to be the woman’s ghost, sometimes an actual living creature. Either way, drivers are warned not to be surprised to find damage to their cars, in the form of claw marks on the hood, a cracked windshield, or even blood.

Enter the Donkey Lady hotline: 210-960-3826.

“She wants to be part of the dialogue in San Antonio, her hometown,” Barrera said. “She loves this city and she just wants to share her presence, her vision, and her observations of the good versus evil in our community.”

Whether the Donkey Lady has taken on a political bent in time for this election season is unknown, but she is no doubt a feminist, Barrera said, considering the negative experiences she’s had with the city’s male elite.

“She’s been through some chingazos,” or punches, Barrera said, and through her political story, “she’s always fighting for what’s right.”

Despite her fate, she retains a sense of humor, Barrera said. “She’s funny, you know, a merger of your tia and your abuelita and your co-worker. She’s all of us, really.”

The hotline itself retains the air of legend, Barrera said. Back in the 1970s and 1980s she’d heard the stories, each with its own neighborhood-specific variations. Friends tell her they used to call the hotline and hear creepy sounds, or sometimes even talk to her if she surprised them by picking up.

That situation might feature in the new version of the hotline, Barrera said, with the random chance that the Donkey Lady herself might answer. “Maybe she might pick up every now and then,” Barrera speculated.

Other times, callers will hear a prerecorded message, updated daily through Election Day, then every Saturday through Dec. 31. There is no charge for the call.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...