Jen­nifer Goes (to Things & Does Stuff)

Ghost-tour­ing the town

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - djinni, Jen­nifer Levin


When it comes to ghosts, I am an open-minded skep­tic. I don’t be­lieve ev­ery­thing I hear, but I can­not deny my own ex­pe­ri­ence. Years ago, I en­coun­tered the lo­cally in­fa­mous Head­less Nurse Me­d­ina when I worked in Bar­rack T-45 at the Col­lege of Santa Fe, the site of the for­mer World War II-era Bruns Army Hos­pi­tal. Early one morn­ing I saw Me­d­ina, her dark hair stream­ing down her bloody back and noth­ing where her head should be, duck into the bath­room — sup­pos­edly the site of her mur­der. It wasn’t scary. I ac­tu­ally mis­took her for my ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant, pos­si­bly dressed in a red sweater and bent over at an alarm­ing an­gle, un­til I re­al­ized I was alone in a locked build­ing.

Any­way, I was all in to go on some ghost tours for a Hal­loween edi­tion of my col­umn. I set up tours with Peter Sin­claire (www.the­o­rig­i­nal­santafeghost­tour.wee­ and Al­lan Pacheco (www.santafegho­stand­his­to­ry­, who have been giv­ing tours since 1993 and 1986, re­spec­tively. Sin­claire’s tours leave from down­town ho­tels on Fri­day and Satur­day evenings and can in­clude as many as 15 to 30 peo­ple. Pacheco co­or­di­nates cus­tom tours and can ac­com­mo­date class-size groups, a gag­gle of friends, or just a cou­ple of cu­ri­ous lo­cals like me and my hus­band. We met Pacheco on a Fri­day af­ter­noon at the San Miguel Chapel (401 Old Santa Fe Trail), also known as the Old­est Church, which, ac­cord­ing to oral his­tory, was built around 1610.

Pacheco, born and raised in Santa Fe, is a pro­fes­sional ghost in­ves­ti­ga­tor. He has been in­ter­ested in lo­cal his­tory since child­hood and has al­ways felt con­nected to the su­per­nat­u­ral. He speaks quickly, and I found my­self awash in the his­tory he riffed on, some­times un­sure of the line he was draw­ing be­tween the liv­ing and the dead. He told us that East De Var­gas Street, which bor­ders the north wall of the chapel and runs east to Gar­cia Street and west to Don Gas­par Av­enue, is a “ley line” — an un­der­ground en­ergy line, like at Stone­henge — and that the area sees a tremen­dous amount of para­nor­mal ac­tiv­ity. Stand­ing in the dark­en­ing church­yard, Peter Sin­claire re­galed us with tales of rau­cous ghosts at the old Grant Inn and vi­sions of pooled blood on the floors of the old St. Vin­cent Hos­pi­tal, now the site of the Drury Plaza Inn. When I en­tered the back room of what is known as the Old­est House, also lo­cated on East De Var­gas (now a mu­seum and cu­rio shop), I im­me­di­ately felt a push of cold against my tri­ceps. This was not a draft of air from above, but what felt like icy hands pro­pel­ling me away from where I stood. As I lurched for­ward, Pacheco was telling my hus­band about how peo­ple some­times feel ar­eas of cold in the house, so I told him what was hap­pen­ing to me. He be­came very ex­cited and fished in his bag for his cam­era, but by the time he took my pic­ture — hop­ing to see a dis­tur­bance in the im­age that was not ap­par­ent to the naked eye — the feel­ing had dulled. He asked me if it had been an evil pres­ence, as oth­ers who have felt it have in­di­cated, but I said no, it just seemed kind of ag­gres­sive.

Pacheco fo­cused on his­tor­i­cal deaths and which ghosts might be where with­out mak­ing ab­so­lute claims, since he be­lieves en­coun­ter­ing ghosts is one thing, while pre­sum­ing to know pre­cisely who they are and why they are there is quite an­other. He was care­ful not to dis­cuss ghosts at much length while we were in­side the San Miguel and Loretto chapels be­cause he was raised Catholic and does not like to be sac­ri­le­gious. We vis­ited a path that runs be­tween El Castillo LifeCare Com­mu­nity and Gar­rett’s Desert Inn, con­nect­ing East De Var­gas to East Alameda Street via Brother’s Lane Bridge. I had no trou­ble be­liev­ing the path was haunted, though Pacheco said it used to be more haunted be­fore sev­eral trees were cut down for an ex­pan­sion of the re­tire­ment home. We sat along the Santa Fe River and lis­tened to his the­o­ries about La Llorona, a leg­endary fig­ure who he doubts is a ghost, be­cause her weep­ing is heard through­out the South­west, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and Mex­ico. “Ghosts don’t have that kind of range,” he said. “I think she’s a

not a ghost.” A djinni, from the Mus­lim tra­di­tion, is a be­ing cre­ated by God out of pure, smoke­less fire.

The fol­low­ing evening, my friend Molly and I joined Sin­claire and a group of about 18 prospec­tive ghost hun­ters in the lobby of the St. Fran­cis Ho­tel. Sin­claire be­gan the tour by ask­ing who was a be­liever, who was a skep­tic, and who was on the fence — we were fairly evenly split — and then passed around a tablet com­puter to show us an im­age of a ghost taken in a stair­well of the ho­tel in which we stood. He told us the story of the em­ployee who took the pic­ture and then we trooped out­side to look at the win­dow from the same van­tage point. Truth be told, I was not con­vinced that I was see­ing any­thing out of the or­di­nary. Molly shrugged and said she had trou­ble dis­cern­ing spa­tial re­la­tion­ships. We headed to the Plaza for anec­dotes about ob­jects mov­ing around in stores and a story about a woman who works at the Santa Fe Visi­tor In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter. Sin­claire said she was vis­ited by the spirit of a Na­tive Amer­i­can woman while sit­ting on the bench around the obelisk; the Na­tive woman knew about her med­i­cal tra­vails and gave her sooth­ing ad­vice be­fore walk­ing her back to work and then dis­ap­pear­ing. As we walked to the court­yard of the Cathe­dral Basil­ica of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi, sev­eral peo­ple whis­pered to each other about how much fun they were hav­ing and how creepy the sto­ries were. The sun was set­ting pink against the church and it was a highly scenic mo­ment.

Stand­ing in the dark­en­ing church­yard, Sin­claire re­galed us with tales of rau­cous ghosts at the old Grant Inn and vi­sions of pooled blood on the floors of the old St. Vin­cent Hos­pi­tal, now the site of the Drury Plaza Ho­tel at the cor­ner of East Palace Av­enue and Paseo de Per­alta. Our fi­nal stop — which was also our fi­nal stop with Pacheco — was La Posada de Santa Fe, home of Ju­lia Staab, Santa Fe’s most ac­tive ghost, known for flick­er­ing lights, play­ing with plumb­ing, and shov­ing guests out of bed. The concierge, Jack, who claims to have a re­la­tion­ship with Ju­lia, told us dark ru­mors about her death, which might have been a sui­cide but, ac­cord­ing to lore, could have been a mur­der. We then went in­side and stood near the bath­rooms as Sin­claire re­counted sev­eral more sight­ings and ex­pe­ri­ences peo­ple have had with Ju­lia, which in­clude see­ing her foot­prints on an ex­panse of clean snow out­side the restau­rant that bears her name. He passed around a few faded and blurry pho­to­graphs that sup­pos­edly show her in the mir­ror of her bed­room — now rented to guests as a suite — but again, I wasn’t sure that I was see­ing any­thing ex­trasen­sory.

Al­though Sin­claire is a charm­ing and ca­pa­ble guide, I found Pacheco’s fo­cus on deep his­tory, rather than re­count­ing the ghost sight­ings of oth­ers, more to my per­sonal taste. Sin­claire makes no claims to be in touch with the other side, which may make it the safer of the two tours, par­tic­u­larly for those who pre­fer their ghosts wrapped in sto­ries rather than grab­bing them by the back of the arms.

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