Ghosts of Old Mesilla
A Ghost Hunt
by Jay W. Sharp
I’ve always liked ghosts more than they seem to like me, so it wasn't all that surprising that when I went over to Old Mesilla to hunt for some ghosts, I didn't find any. At least, not right away.
Ghosts have hung around Old Mesilla a century-and-a-half year old adobe village in the Rio Grande valley just west of Las Cruces, New Mexico since the 1800s. They must like the old plaza and gazebo and San Albino church’s stained glass windows. Maybe, like me, they even like that house of dietary sin, the J. Eric Chocolatier store.
I'd bet that the ghosts enjoy the Sunday mariachi performances and the Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis de Septiembre festivals, and especially the Dias de los Muertos celebration on the plaza in Old Mesilla.
Cinco de Mayo, May 5th, marks the defeat of Napoleon III's invading army. In 1862 Mexican Generals Ignacio Zaragoza and Porfirio Diaz defeated and humiliated the invading French at the fortified city of Puebla, 60 miles southeast of Mexico City.
Diez y Seis de Septiembre is the 16th of September. This holiday celebrates the Grito del Dolores in 1810, the Cry from Dolores in the heart of Mexico, when Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla issued his call for the overthrow of Spanish tyranny.
Dias de los Muertos, Days of the Dead, is a holiday with uniquely Mexican roots. It reunites families in spirit with late relatives and heroes. They become the guests of honor at celebrations in late October and early November, many of which take place in graveyards and cemeteries.
These festive days all swirl into color, music, dance, song and feast, an expression of the lyrical spirit of Mesilla’s Mexican roots. It’s well known that all ghosts like that sort of thing.
Ghosts also prefer their haunts to be well seasoned with history, and Mesilla clearly meets that standard. It lies beside the historic Camino Real, or Royal Road, which connected Mexico’s capitols with Santa Fe for almost three centuries, from 1598 to 1881. Spanish and, later, Mexican and Anglo colonists and freight caravans camped in the vicinity. They watered livestock in the nearby river, grazed animals in the surrounding grassy bottomlands, and cooked, sang and slept, and sometimes fought around evening fires. In later days, they watched warily for Mescalero Apaches.
In the mid 1800’s, the United States appropriated western Texas and the Southwest a region roughly the size of Western Europe. During the Mexican/American War and its aftermath. Mesilla became one of the most important settlements in the new territory, serving as a territorial capital. The population serviced Camino Real freight caravans, fought Mescaleros, supplied the U. S. Army’s nearby Fort Fillmore, entertained Butterfield and San Antonio-to-San Diego stage coach passengers, and endured Union and Confederate occupations.
After the Civil War, Mesilla emerged as the commercial, transportation and social center for the region. It attracted legends like Kit Carson and Pancho Villa, promoters like Albert Fountain, and gunfighters Sheriff Pat Garrett and outlaw Billy the Kid. Hustlers arrived as well, like future Langtry, Texas, judge Roy Bean. Fandangoes (dances), bullfights, cockfights, theater and some pretty entertaining gunfights all galvanized life here.
Mesilla lost its place in the sun in 1881, when the railroad bypassed the village in favor of nearby Las Cruces. Mesilla became the perfect place for a community of ghosts.
As you would expect, several places in Old Mesilla have discovered ghosts within their walls and grounds.
Fountain Theater I began my ghost hunt at the Fountain Theater, which is haunted, appropriately, by the spirit of a long-dead, frustrated actress. The theater is just off the southeast corner of the plaza, on the site where the Confederates set up their regional military command during the Civil War. I thought this would be a good place to start because my wife’s great grandfather, 18-year-old Private Thomas Edward Jackson, passed by the headquarters with General Henry Hopkins Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico in early 1862. The Albert Fountain family built the theater on the site as a vaudeville house in 1905. It now serves as a motion picture theater, showing independent, art, classic and foreign films. Unlike a typical theater, it has rickety wooden seats, café tables and chairs, and historical wall murals. It offers, not only popcorn, soft drinks and candy, but coffee, pastries, and beer and wine as well. It was renovated in January of 2014 to add refrigerated air, long requested by patrons.
Earlier, when Martha, my wife, and I had gone to movies at the Fountain, I searched the theater (except for the Ladies Room) for the actress’ ghost. I figured that since she failed to make it on the stage, she may be thinking about a try in motion pictures. I never saw her, though. I tried to get Martha to go look in the Ladies Room for the ghost and maybe ask the theater management about her. Martha said "No."
She doesn’t seem to like ghosts as much as I do.
The theater had not opened for the evening performance when I got there this time, and I didn’t see the ghost outside, so I went next door, to La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant.
La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant I knew that La Posta had been haunted for a long time. Employees talk about ghosts smashing glasses, moving chairs, opening and closing doors, throwing clocks, chilling the air, exuding sulfur smells, and shoving customers. Sometimes, they even scared the dickens out of the caged parrots at the restaurant’s entrance.
La Posta, one of the earliest structures in Mesilla and an entry on the national register of historic buildings, is a good place for ghosts. It served as a way station for Butterfield’s stagecoach line, which failed; a business building for Sam and little brother Roy Bean’s short-haul freighting and passenger service, which failed; and a lodge known as the Corn Exchange Hotel, where Kit Carson, Pancho Villa and other famous people stayed and where the owner died of the plague.
I walked through the entrance doorway, which is embraced by large datil and soaptree yuccas and crested by United States, Spanish, Mexican, Texan and New Mexican flags. I went into La Posta’s cantina, once the hotel lobby, and I said to the barkeep, "Seen any ghosts lately?"
He looked at me and said, "I think you’ve had enough for today, fellow." I walked north up the east side of the plaza to the GalleriAzul.
GalleriAzul This was the home of one of the earliest Jewish families in the area. The ghost of a child who died a long time ago haunts one of the back rooms. I didn’t ask this time if anyone had seen the ghost. I strolled around in the store trying to look as if I might buy a fine Navajo Kachina doll or some exquisite Hopi or Zuni jewelry or maybe an original painting, but furtively, I was searching for the ghost.
"Can I help you?" a gracious sales lady asked me.
"I’m looking for " I remembered the barkeep at La Posta. " a shower curtain," I said.
"A shower curtain?" the lady asked, now looking at me suspiciously. "We don’t carry shower curtains," she said with some finality.
I walked next door to the Double Eagle Restaurant.
Double Eagle Restaurant The most famous ghosts in Old Mesilla hang out in the Double Eagle, another entry on the national register of historic buildings. It is named for the 1850’s era 20-dollar gold coin, the "Double Eagle," which had the image of the national bird stamped on each side. Originally the territorial-style home of the wealthy Maese family, who owned an import/export business, the Double Eagle served as the governor’s headquarters and the military hospital during the Civil War occupations of Mesilla. It exuded a Victorian-era elegance, which the restaurant embodies to this day. Built around a courtyard (now covered), the Double Eagle, its darkly paneled walls and pressed tin/gold leaf ceilings burnished with age, shimmers with elegant nineteenth century French chandeliers, ornate mirrors and antiques.
La Senora Carlota Maese, haughty, snobbish, consumed with ambition, flaunted her family’s wealth, power and prestige in the community. She planned for her eldest son, Armando, to marry into the aristocracy of Mexico City. "La Senora Maese tiene las estrellas en los ojos," said the women of the village. "Mrs. Maese has stars in her eyes."
Young Armando, however, had cast his eye on a different star, a beautiful teenage servant girl, Inez, whose long black shock of hair hung to her waist. All Mesilla whispered of young couple’s love, their "secret" rendezvous.
La Senora learned of the tryst. Infuriated, she discharged Inez, and ordered her to stay away from the home and Armando. You must remember, she said to Armando, your station in life, the reputation of your family, the aristocracy of Mexico.
Soon afterward, La Senora left town but returned earlier than anticipated from her trip. She discovered the young couple embraced in Armando’s bedroom, at the southwest corner of the courtyard. Insane with rage, she stumbled from the room, out into the courtyard. Her hand fell on a pair of stiletto-like scissors. On a rampage, she flew back into the room, slashing with the scissors. "No, Mama, no!!!" screamed Armando. She stabbed young Inez in the breast. Wildly, she struck again, this time stabbing her son, who had tried to shield his love. Inez died cradled in Armando’s arms, his kisses on her lips, his hands stroking her long black hair. Armando himself died three days later. From that moment until her death, La Senora Carlota Maese never spoke another word. The spirits of Armando and Inez never left the room, now a gracious and cozy dining room called the Carlota Salon. They still whisper each other’s name. Inez’ perfume mysteriously fills the air. The two light candles, leaving them burning on the dining table. Mischievously, they sometimes move furniture or shatter wine glasses. They rest in a pair of overstuffed chairs at the corners, leaving the arms and seat cushions slightly worn.
Armando and Inez have their room at the Double Eagle, but a poltergeist has the run of the rest of the place, especially the long, heavy, carved wood bar, which is illuminated with sparkling chandeliers. He I presume that the poltergeist is a "he," this sounds just like one of us "he’s" flings carving knives across the kitchen floor, rakes wine glasses from shelves, slides dishes across diners’ tables, slams doors in empty rooms, shoves furniture from appointed places, mimics voices of employees, and whispers the names of patrons. Cali Tellez, a retired county sheriff’s deputy and a good friend, said he responded several times when burglar alarms went off in the Double Eagle. One night, he said, he and other deputies found knives and cooking utensils scattered all across the kitchen floor.
I searched the restaurant (except for the Ladies Room) for the ghosts of Armando and Inez and for some sign of the poltergeist, without any success at all. Not a single misplaced knife, burning candle, broken wine glass, perfumed room, whispered name, sliding dish, or disarranged chair. Nothing. Not unusual for me. Ghosts simply don’t like me very much. They avoid me. Had Martha been with me, I would have asked her to go take a look in the Ladies Room for ghosts. I’ll bet that she would have done that for me.
Billy the Kid Gift Shop Feeling a little depressed because of my failure to find any ghosts, I walked down to the southeast corner of the plaza, to the Billy the Kid Gift Shop, once the Mesilla courthouse and jail. It was here in 1881 that a jury convicted Billy the Kid of ambushing and killing Sheriff William Brady up in Lincoln, New Mexico, and here that Judge Warren Bristol sentenced Billy to "be hanged by the neck until his body is dead." I didn’t stop at the gift shop because I figured that Billy’s ghost would haunt Lincoln. At least, that’s what I would have done if I had been in Billy’s place.
El Patio Cantina I walked over to the southwest corner of the plaza, to the El Patio Cantina, another place operated by Sam Bean and his brother Roy back in the 1850s and 1860s. It had a good location, immediately next to the Butterfield stagecoach line’s regional offices, now the El Patio Restaurant. Sam, the county sheriff, ran several businesses in Mesilla. Roy, wanted for stabbing a man in California, had turned up in Mesilla broke and bedraggled, and had gone to work for Sam. Sheriff Bean left town for a few days on business, leaving Roy in charge of the El Patio Cantina. Roy knew that Mesilla’s citizens kept valuables in the cantina’s safe, one of the few in the community. When Sheriff Bean returned to Mesilla, he found that little brother Roy had cleaned out the town’s safe and fled for Texas. He would eventually land in Langtry, Texas, proclaiming himself judge and the Law West of the Pecos. New Mexico thief. Texas judge. I decided not to go into El Patio Bar, either, though. It was too early for the blues band which would play that evening, and I figured that Roy’s ghost would haunt Langtry in any event. That’s what I would have done if I had been in Roy’s place.
Old Mesilla Cemetery -- I drove south of the plaza, down to the village cemetery, my last chance to find one of the ghosts of Old Mesilla that day. La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, one of the most famed ghosts of Mexico and the Hispanic Southwest, haunts the cemetery, sometimes scaring the bejesus out of school kids who run among the graves at night on a dare. La Llorona, a transcendently beautiful peasant woman, discovered that her handsome aristocratic lover, the father of her two small children, had betrayed her. She spiraled into hysterical grief. She flung each child into the Rio Grande to drown, then, realizing the monstrosity of her crime, immediately took her own life. Now her spirit, adorned in a diaphanous white robe, wanders along river banks and through cemeteries across Mexico and the Hispanic United States in an endless and hopeless search for her children.
I arrived at the Old Mesilla cemetery just as the sun touched the western horizon. I strolled aimlessly among graves and headstones, the evening shadows lengthening. I encountered clusters of small graves with small and humble headstones, the resting places of children, some not more than a few days old when they died, according to the inscriptions in stone. I found cement-capped graves with elaborately carved marble headstones, some awash in wreathes of flowers and remembrances. I came upon headstones fallen, the names obliterated, the dead forgotten.
After awhile, beneath a juniper tree and near a path, I discovered a grave with an old, leaning wooden cross, the name long since vanished. The cross supported an age-encrusted ceramic icon of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, Mexico’s venerated Our Lady of Guadalupe, her hands folded in prayer. I knelt to look more closely. I saw that the figure’s eyes seemed to follow my movements They seemed alive, mesmerizing, searching my face. I felt a slight chill.
I marked the location carefully, thinking I would return for another look. With the sun sinking below the horizon, I searched other graves, reading names, dates, relatives’ recuerdos, or remembrances. Drawn by my mental image of the hypnotic eyes of the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe icon, I returned to the juniper tree near the path to see the figure again before I turned for home.
I peered into the deepening shadows, where the leaning wooden cross had stood. I could see nothing but bare rocky soil. I searched the area. Nothing. I looked for another juniper tree near a path. None. In the gathering darkness, I retraced my steps, trying to reconstruct my first discovery. The grave, the cross, the icon had vanished. I could not find them.
Across the cemetery, headstones now seemed almost luminescent in the afterglow of the sunset. I decided that I had better go home. Martha would have dinner soon.
Related DesertUSA Pages
Tools How to make you smartphone smarter Ghost Detector
There are similar apps available for iPhone: Metal Detector app and Ghost Detector app for iPhone. If you’re a ghost hunter, you might try experimenting with it to detect spirits.
Ghost Detector Tool - Free EVP [Electronic Voice Phenomena], EMF [Electromagnetic Field], and Tracking Tool. Purple Penguin, this app’s creator, says, “This application has the ability to scan multiple frequencies for paranormal activity! We’ve incorporated EVP, EMF, and video scanning into one single app for hunting ghosts!” If you’re worried about your home, your workplace, or the abandoned mining shack you’re holed up in, just scan to see if you pick up unusual frequencies. Purple Penguin suggests asking questions or giving messages to the “other side” if you’re not picking anything up.
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