Tag Archives: Ghost Stories

The “Gentle Ghost” of Santa Fe

Halloween is again upon us and so closes my series of ghost stories for October. I hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the ghosts of Hawaii and New Mexico. I have saved my favorite ghost for last.

Julia Schuster Staab was the wife of Abraham Staab, a Jewish German immigrant, who came to New Mexico in 1846 to establish himself as a merchant on the Santa Fe Trail. After Abraham became a wealthy businessman, he went home to Germany to find a bride. He found Julia Schuster, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from his home village of Ludge. Having come from the same small village, it is thought that perhaps Abraham knew Julia’s family before he left to find his riches in America. With great expectations he brought Julia back to his new home in the high desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1865.

Young Julia Staab and Julia & Abraham
jwi.org

Completely out of place in the village of Santa Fe with its mud houses and arid landscape, Julia had been accustomed to more a more elegant lifestyle and grand home. Eager to make his wife happy, Abraham built Julia a beautiful white mansion. The Staab House, a Victorian masterpiece with a large ballroom on the third floor, suited Julia’s excellent taste.

Original Staab House Jewishbookcouncil.org
Original Staab House
Jewishbookcouncil.org

The couple had seven children, but at the death of their eighth, Julia changed both physically and mentally. She became sad, depressed, chronically ill and inconsolable. It is said her hair turned grey overnight. Her grief took a toll on the couple and they slowly grew apart. This did not help Julia’s situation and some say she went insane. She spent most of her latter days locked in her bedroom until she died in 1896, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Rumors of Abraham’s extramarital affairs and Julia’s possible murder or suicide were never proven.

In the 1920’s a fire burned through the Staab house, destroying the third floor. When the house was rebuilt as a stuccoed, Pueblo-style hotel, the builders simply built around the remains of the mansion and then added charming casitas across the 7-acre plot as additional guest rooms.

Although she died in 1896, Julia’s ghostly presence had not been reported until the 1970’s. A janitor at the hotel stated that he saw a translucent dark eyed woman in a white Victorian gown, with white, upswept hair standing near the fireplace. From that moment on, more sightings of the same woman were reported. Staff and guests alike saw her wandering the hallways, lounging in a chair in the downstairs sitting room or standing near the fireplace.

The excerpt below is from the book American Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus, great-great granddaughter to Julia Staab. The book is an enthralling read and I highly recommend it.

“Strange things began to happen in the hotel. Gas fireplaces turned off and on repeatedly, though nobody was flipping the switch. Chandeliers swayed and revolved. Vases of flowers moved to new locations. Glasses tumbled from shelves in the bar. A waitress, not known for her clumsiness, began droppings trays and explained that she felt as if someone were pushing them from underneath. Guests heard dancing footsteps on the third story, where the ballroom had once been—though the third floor had burned years earlier. A woman’s voice, distant and foreign sounding, called the switchboard over and over. ‘Hallo?’ ‘Hallo?’ ‘Hallo?’”

One guest decided to test Julia when he and his wife requested to stay in Julia’s room. Hearing that Julia’s ghost was very particular about things in her room, he purposely left the top dresser drawer opened. Later that night, he and his wife were awakened by the sound of the drawer being slowly closed.

Entrance to Staab House from La Posada lobby www.10best.com
Entrance to Staab House from La Posada lobby
www.10best.com

I became fascinated with the story of the La Posada Hotel after our daughter decided she wanted to be married there last year. She, her fiancé and I took the hour long drive to Santa Fe to stay the night in the hotel and speak to the event planner who worked there. As luck would have it, the engaged couple was put up in one of the casitas, and I was assigned to a room on the second floor of the mansion—the room right next door to Julia’s. I had heard some stories that the hotel was haunted, but at the time, I didn’t know Julia’s story. Which is probably a good thing. Fortunately, the only thing that kept me up that night was the rowdy party in the bar at the foot of the stairs to my room.

La Posada Hotel today View from the garden
La Posada Hotel today
View from the garden

Months later, after our daughter and her new husband’s stunning wedding, I wandered into the lobby and saw Nordhaus’ book sitting on the concierge’s desk. When I asked the woman sitting at the desk about the book, she proceeded to give me the highlights and told me some of the fascinating stories other staff and guests had told about Julia’s ghost. I asked if she had any similar experiences and she said she hadn’t, although she wanted to. After her last chemo treatment, she and her daughter decided to celebrate with a weekend stay at the hotel. They requested Julia’s room in hopes they would get a visit from the familiar “gentle ghost” and sat up all night waiting for her. In the wee hours of the morning they fell asleep and slept undisturbed. The concierge believed that Julia was too shy to make an appearance when someone was expecting her. She said she’d rent the room again sometime.

That concierge is braver than I am. Now that I know the story, I’m not sure I’d request to stay in the main house again. In fact, I would definitely request one of the casitas.

If you ever get to New Mexico, a stay at the La Posada Hotel is a must. Even if you don’t get Julia’s room.

Ghosts in the Land of Enchantment

Having been born and raised in New Mexico, I grew up hearing stories of New Mexico’s history, its multi-cultural legends and its haunting ghost stories. Infused with lore from the Mexican, Spanish, Native American and Anglo cultures, I can tell you, New Mexico’s past is alive and well, even in the modern age.

Perhaps the most famous ghost of New Mexico is La Llarona (The Weeping Woman). We share her with many states in the southwest and even in parts of Europe and Latin America. Texas, Arizona and New Mexico all claim La Llarona as their own, and we will probably never know where she actually originated, but her story is no less haunting, no matter where she came from.

llorona1
livepuntamita.com

Some tales say she was an Aztec woman named La Malinche who became the lover of Hernan Cortes, the Conquistador who came to the Americas in the 16th century to help Spain gather new territories and build a new empire. La Malinche had two sons by Cortes and the couple was reputed to be very happy. However, as one story goes, the King and Queen of Spain feared that Cortes would attempt to build his own empire and they demanded he return to Spain. When he refused, they sent a very rich and beautiful Spanish lady to the Americas to seduce him and bring him back. The ruse worked, but Cortes would not leave without his sons. On the night of his departure back to Spain, La Malinche, crazed with jealousy and grief, took back her sons, stabbed them in the heart and threw them in the nearby lake. This particular story says she lived another ten years, but throughout that decade was seen on the beach of the lake moaning, “Oh, hijos mios!” (Oh my children)

The first documented appearance of La Llorona after La Malinche’s death occurs in Mexico City in 1550 where she is said to wander the streets in a white dress on nights with a full moon, wailing and looking for her children. Sightings of La Llorona spread throughout the Americas, with each town or city claiming she is local to their area.

Other tales claim that La Llarona was a woman named Maria who fell in love with a noble man of Spanish descent and had two children by him. When it came time for the man to marry, his family would not accept Maria, so he refused to marry her. He would often visit with his new wife to see his children, but he would pay no attention to Maria. Angry and jealous, Maria drowned her children in the river and then drowned herself, full of grief and regret for her act. Since then, she wanders the banks of the river crying for her children.

Acquecia near the Rio Grande
Acquecia near the Rio Grande

I grew up with the latter tale. Our house was built next to the main irrigation ditch that flanks the Rio Grande. When I heard wailing cries in the night, I’d run to my parent’s bedroom. My father would explain that the sound came from the packs of coyotes that ran the ditch banks, but to this day, I’m pretty sure it was La Llarona crying for her lost children.

Many of New Mexico’s old hotels are said to be haunted. One of the most famous is the St. James Hotel in Cimarron. The St. James, once the Lambert Inn, was built in 1872 by a Frenchman named Henri Lambert. Lambert, personal chef to President Abraham Lincoln, decided upon Lincoln’s assassination to move west in search of gold. He first settled in Elizabethtown, New Mexico, but ended up in Cimarron where he built the Lambert Inn, a saloon for cowboys, traders and miners. The saloon became so popular that Henri decided to add guest rooms and made it one of the most elegant hotels west of the Mississippi River.

Many famous guests came to stay at the hotel including Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Pat Garret, Lew Wallace, and famous author Zane Grey. Other distinguished guests included Buffalo Bill Cody and, one of my favorites, Annie Oakley. The first three books of my Annie Oakley mystery series do not feature Annie Oakley in New Mexico, but I suppose there is always room for a fourth. Perhaps she could team up with Wyatt Earp to track down the notorious criminals and murders that were have said to stay at the Lambert Inn. Back in the late 1800’s law and order were in short supply in New Mexico. It is reported that over 26 men were shot and killed within the Inn’s adobe walls. When Lambert’s sons replaced the roof in 1901, they found more than 400 bullet holes in the saloon’s ceiling. A double layer of heavy wood prevented the guests upstairs from harm.

St. James Hotel, Cimarron, New Mexico TripAdvisor.com
St. James Hotel, Cimarron, New Mexico
TripAdvisor.com

Many of those gunslingers are said to still haunt the place. In fact, the spiritual activity of the hotel is so well known, it has been featured on the television shows Unsolved Mysteries and A Current Affair. Psychics who have visited the hotel have identified the strong presence of at least three restless spirits inhabiting the hotel today. One of them is the ghost of Thomas James Wright who bled to death from a gunshot wound in Room 18 of the hotel. Reportedly, Wright had just won the rights to the hotel in a poker game and as he made his way up to his room, someone shot him in the back. He continued to the room and died there, but apparently he hasn’t left. One former owner said she often saw an orange light floating in the upper corner of the room and was once pushed down while cleaning the room. Room 18 now remains locked. Rumors have flown about a number of mysterious deaths occurring in that same room before it was permanently inaccessible to guests.

Henri’s second wife, Mary Elizabeth has been said to haunt Room 17 since her death there in 1926. Staff and guests have reported the aroma of Mary’s rose scented perfume and an incessant tapping on the window occurs if the window is open. Once it is closed, the tapping stops.

Objects from many of the rooms and the common areas have turned up missing only to be found in an area where they don’t belong. This is supposedly the work of a little “dwarf-like” man who has also been seen at the hotel. The staff have nicknamed him the “Little Imp.” Once while two of the former owners stood in conversation in one of the rooms of the hotel, he was said to have tossed a knife, it’s blade point landing in the wooden floor between them.

Cold spots, lights turning on and off, electrical equipment behaving strangely and items falling from walls and shelves have also been reported at the hotel. I have not yet been to the St. James, but now that I have potential plans for a fourth book in the Annie Oakley mystery series, I may have to investigate. I wonder if there is a Holiday Inn next door?