Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Floating Ghosts of Taos, New Mexico

Thirty years ago, in my early years in New Mexico, I invited a good friend, Diana, to join me in Taos. We stayed an an historic inn, where the rooms boasted functioning Kiva fireplaces that burned fragrant piñon wood. It was the month of October, which we should have known was the month of spirits and haunts. But...we were young and sophisticated and smart. Right.

We started off as good tourists, with lunch at Michael's Kitchen, already a must in Taos. Then we walked the town square and drove up to the ski basin. The air was brisk, and the mountains full of autumn mists and the colors of dying leaves. At a small jewelry shop on the plaza, Diana contemplated a pair of turquoise earrings, but ended up buying an old musty book about Kit Carson. As we left the shop, Diana remarked that the hair on her hands stood up. I laughed at her.

"Next, you'll be telling me you feel a sudden chill."

She looked at me with wide eyes, but said nothing.

We bought Courvoisier, our favorite brandy at the time, and settled on a restaurant for dinner that was only a few blocks from our landmark hotel. The green chili enchiladas and sopaipillas (a fried, puffy pastry) were exceptional, and we returned to our room sleepy and happy. The Kit Carson book was on the night stand. We started a fire, and poured Courvoisier into the hotel glasses. Silence, broken by the cracking of piñon wood,  surrounded us. I think I dozed off, because I remember being startled by a rush of wind and the sound of whispering. My rational mind suggested wind and dead leaves, but I felt scared. The room was dim except for the firelight and strange glowing clouds above the bed.The clouds moved about t the room and the whispering grew louder and became a chant. Diana reached over and touched my arm. I jumped. She shoot her head and me and then looked in the direction of the bed. The clouds of glowing gas were in a circle now, and the chants grew louder.  A breeze stirred again, seeming to blow near the nightstand and the Kit Carson book blew open to a page near the end. I was paralyzed, as this was the spookiest encounter with ghosts I ever experienced. Diana, on the other hand, was energized by fear.

She jumped up and shouted, "Go, go, go." The clouds of gas and chanting ceased. I found myself seated in with my back to the bed, certain I had dreamed the whole affair.

"Did you see all that?" I asked Diana.

"I saw something," she replied.

She walked over to the nightstand and looked down at the open book. The page described the burning of Navajo villages and the killing of the Navajo men and the animals families needed to survive.

"Why did the book open to that page?" I asked Diana. "Were you reading it."

She backed away from the book and the night stand. In spite of my skepticism and my sense of fear, I know I heard a dim chanting sound start in the back of my head.

"Of course I turned it to that page," Diana said. "I was looking for the gory parts."

"Want to grab a late night snack?" I asked, anxious to get out of the room and away from that chanting sound in my head.

She grabbed her jacket. We went down to the lobby and ordered Dos Equis. Nothing further happened. We passed out in our room, the fire went out, and the next morning, a bright sunny affair with leaves dancing along the street, we breakfasted at Michael's and headed home.

To this day, Diana swears that she saw nothing that night and was simply thumbing threw our souvenir book -- a book which she can no longer locate, for some reason.

I'm sure it was all a dream, but you never know for sure in Mysterious New Mexico...

Monday, October 3, 2016

In Albuquerque, Haunted?

Hotel Andaluz, downtown Albuquerque
Today my new novel, In Albuquerque, Abandoned is in early release. This put me in mind of the most haunted hotel in the city, the Hotel Andaluz.

I am literally afraid to go there myself, because a teacher I met when I worked in Albuquerque attended a conference there and saw two apparitions. The conference was on spirituality, she says, so it put her into a mood where she was open to the unseen world that surrounds us every day but remains invisible.

"I felt more alive as we discussed the world of spirit people -- those who are at rest and want to communicate good and those whose life ended suddenly. I think this opened up the vision to me in the Andaluz lobby."

"It was early in the morning, about 4am, and I couldn't sleep. I wondered down to the lobby to get out of my room, and sat on a couch there. I was about to fall asleep again when I heard the sound of heels clicking on the tile floor. I looked up and brown haired woman dressed in a shirtwaist dress in a deep green, with large black buttons and wearing black high heels and a matching square purse approached me. She did not speak, but raised her purse and threw it at the door."

"I was speechless, I can tell you, but I also heard her thoughts. I knew she had been jilted by her husband. She sat next to me when I extended sympathy in my thoughts and she cried. I didn't know what to do, because I think I realized she was an apparition. So I sat quietly there on the couch until I fell asleep. When I awoke, the lobby was empty except for me and a desk clerk who had just arrived."

"I remember this woman often and wish I knew more about what happened to her."

Wow. This story is one of many that led me to write my new release In Albuquerque, Abandoned. It's full of quirky characters and abandoned lovers and more. Ready it here.

Because we are, without question, mysterious in New Mexico.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Spanish Ghost at the La Fonda Hotel

The La Fonda Hotel is located right on the Santa Fe Plaza, at the corner of San Francisco Street and old Santa Fe Trail. A small adobe inn was located here in the 1800s that doubled as the town courtroom. In those days, Spanish was the native language of many inhabitants as the territory had once been part of both Mexico and Spain. Local rumor has it that many men were hanged in the old building in Santa Fe's wild west days.

In the 1980's, when I first moved here, I invited my Cuban friend, Santa, to join me for lunch in the cafe.  As you can see above the dining room is a Santa Fe style delight, with plenty of decor and natural light. Locals still hung out at the bar in those days. We ordered green chili enchiladas and Santa headed out briefly to use the facilities. For me, I experience no ghosts or funny presence,  just good food and beautiful surroundings. But my friend returned to the table with a frown and speaking in garbled Spanish.

"What's up?" I asked.

"There's no on in the corridor leading to the restroom is very lonely," she said.

"It's a Tuesday," I suggested as a reason.

"But I met a man in a serape and a large hat."

"Is he cute?" I asked.

"No. He was an old man, with a mustache. He spoke to me in Spanish."

"It's not so unusual," I responded. "Many local people are bi-lingual. What did he say?"

"Voy a morir," she said.

"What does it mean?"

"I am going to die."

"Okay, that's odd."

"Me van a ahorcar."


"It means, 'I will hang.'"

We paid and left the restaurant to search for the man in the serape, but no one was in the corridor or the lobby of the restaurant. So we asked the desk clerk if she had seen such a man.

"No, but a couple of our guests have seen him. He's a ghost from the old days. A man who was hung here on this spot before this hotel was built."

"Do you know his name?"

"No. In those days, justice was swift. Many men were tried and convicted on this spot, or so my boss tells me."

Santa and I walked out onto the plaza, and were glad of the bright sun. My friend has since become quite ill and unable to communicate, and I miss her. But I have many memories, including that strange meal at La Fonda on the plaza in Santa Fe.


Friday, July 8, 2016

A Panhandling, Headless Ghost...

Madrid, New Mexico -- a thriving tourist town now, full of galleries and shops and the Mine Shaft Tavern, where locals and tourists gather for refreshment. Every Christmas, the town resurrects an historic light show, rumored to go back to the 1920s and 30s.

Coal mining started in Madrid in the 1800s and picked up steam in the early part of the 20th century. By the 1920s, the town produced its own coal driven electricity and became famous for a Christmas light show that is still visible today.  The mines closed in the 1950s, but hippies and other non-conformists began to live in the old wooden cabins that occupied the site in the 1970s. Over the time I've lived here, Madrid has gone from an eccentric ghost town occupied by oddballs, to a popular tourist spot on the old Turquoise Trail, a "back way" between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

When I arrived in New Mexico in 1982, the town was nothing like it is today. The old houses still tittered on rotting foundations, the roads were empty and ghostly, and, yes, ghost stories abounded about the town.

One story stuck in my mind. It was told to me in Santa Fe, at the old Green Onion Bar and Grill on St. Michael's Drive.  A seedy place even back then, my friend Al and I stopped in to soak up local color and  for local gossip.  After a couple of beers, one of our bar companions heard us talking about a recent driving adventure on the Turquoise Trail.

"You hear about the ghosts in the Mine Shaft Tavern?" The man was about 30, with straight dark hair and a mustache.

"Tell us," Al said.

The man moved down a barstool and revealed the story of a miner named Arnie who owed money to the mine company and couldn't pay.

"Arnie had this sick kid. And he spends money on the kid for medicine and taking him to the doctor in Albuquerque, so he can't pay his debt. So the story goes, a company man finds him and the middle of the night and cuts off his head, right in the guys bed, while his wife is laying there.  Late at night, here in the bar -- right before last call -- he appears in the near the bathrooms. Arnie, standing there in the dim light, holding his head in one hand and a donation cup in the other."

"Have you seen him?" I asked.

"Seen him?  I gave him money. Lot's of people do."

"Why? What happens to the money?"

"Folks find it later. Usually a family with a sick kid. They wake up one morning and the money is on the sidewalk in front of their house. In my case, I gave the ghost a twenty -- I was that scared -- and a woman from Madrid told me she  walking down the street and she looked down and there was a twenty."

I gave him a questioning look.

"God's truth, I swear. Stay until closing -- give an odd amount. You'll hear about it, I swear you will. No lie."

I heard the story again, but I never went into The Mine Shaft Tavern and stayed until closing. Maybe you can do that the next time you visit Mysterious New Mexico.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Haunted Rivers of New Mexico

I  moved to Santa Fe 34 years ago, and that’s when I first head the haunting story of the woman who drowned her children in the Santa Fe River.  I was visiting a friend, Sandra, who lived with her grandmother on Upper Canyon Road, overlooking the river.
“When I was a little girl,” Sandra said, “My grandmother warned me never to go near the river alone because I would be caught up and taken away by the crying woman.”

“Why Grandma?” I asked. “Why will the woman take me away?”

“Because she took her own children down to the river one day and drowned them. Now she misses them, hita. So she will take you.”

I remember looking down at the river with her and feeling scared myself.

“Did you go alone anyway?” I asked Sandra.

“Are you kidding? Never.”

“Did you hear her cry?”

“Of course. Only at night. I would lie awake and listen to the sound of the river – it ran with water all the time back then, and then I’d hear a high-pitched whining sound. I still hear it even today.  My grandmother called the woman La llorona, in Spanish. It means the crying lady.

Later, I realized that this story wasn’t only about the Santa Fe River on Upper Canyon Road. La llorona haunts all the rivers and lakes in New Mexico.  Sometimes she is a woman whose children downed by accident, and sometimes, as in Sandra’s story, she drowned them herself. The story is told to small children all across the state – to keep them away from the swift running waters.  I suspect in the spring and summer the ghost of La llorona gets the most coverage, because spring runoff is heavy and even dry river beds (called arroyos) fill up during the strong rainstorms of summer.
For me, La llorona still lives up there on Canyon Road, where I first heard her the sad story of her dead children and the high sound of her weeping.