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.