Santa Fe’s Ghost Walking Tour

By Anna Nelson

Santa Fe, NM ”” According to professional guide Allan Wheeler, who leads Santa Fe’s GHOSTWALKER tour, no one really knows what a ghost is made of, but around these parts, he has narrowed it down to three types of haunting “personalities.” “The first kind of ghost is the Stephen King-type: Malicious, does nasty things, and in some cases””can be deadly. The second type loves to cause chaos””these are poltergeists, and the third kind””which we have the most of, due to the clash of cultures in these parts””is the ”˜mischievous’ type of ghost.”


For the last nine years, through the doors of the La Fonda, where the paranormal tours begins, Wheeler has approximately 3,000 people (a dozen of which were professional ghost hunters) through the two-city blocks that hold most of the ghostly activity. They include: The LaFonda, Cathedral Park, the old St. Vincent’s Hospital, the old Santa Fe Federal building, and the infamous, La Posada Hotel, which used to be the Staab house and judging by the “mischievous doings” of Julia Staab ”” the mansion’s ghostly mistress ”” she believes it still is. At the starting place, the LaFonda, Wheeler says there are 11 ghosts that occupy the establishment, but only three that are active. They are known to show themselves between three and four in the middle of the night, also known as the “witching hour.” “Folklore of old held that the ‘witching hour’ was midnight,” says Wheeler. “But currently ghost experts mostly agree that it is more frequently the hour between 3 and 4 AM that ghosts and other paranormal events occur. The theory is that ultraviolet rays from the sun tend to diminish or interfere with the energy that a ghost/spirit is able to obtain from the atmosphere. During the hours of 3:00 to 4:00 AM those rays are usually measured at their lowest. The most famous LaFonda haunting involves a young honeymooning couple from St. Louis, who checked into the hotel during the 1930’s. The story goes that the night of their stay, the husband started drinking down in the bar, got into a fight with the bartender and was shot dead on the bottom of the steps going back up to his room. What people have claimed to see is of the bride coming down the steps in her nightgown and standing over her newly departed husband. She has her hands held close to chest, then disappears. The help of the hotel are the ones who have seen her the most. According to legend, the bride had killed herself after lingering around the lobby of the hotel, seemingly forgotten about, till she pulled out a small Derringer (common for women to carry in the day) and shot herself in the head, joining her husband. The other active ghost of the hotel shows up two to four times a year. He was a traveling sales man from St. Louis who is written in the ledger as having checked in around 1934. According to history, the salesman lost all his money by drinking and gambling and became very emotional at the front desk. He can be seen, at times, in his black broad cloth with chalky white skin””which ghosts are known for, running towards the hotel’s well and jumping into it””where he initially drowned. The hotel’s restaurant is now built around the old, bricked up well; however, this doesn’t stop the salesman’s ghostly form from occasionally taking a flying leap into the well. In the courtyard of the St. Francis Cathedral, Wheeler tells of the 1951 cleanup by Santa Fe that hired local high school kids to help with landscaping. During this time they started finding bones just under the topsoil. Archeologists were brought in and it was discovered to be an old graveyard. Many of the bones were later moved to the Rosario Cemetery where they were put to rest. While the mass Catholic internment was going on, people could hear a ruckus of commotion in the air, but nobody could pinpoint where it was coming from. It didn’t stop till the ceremony was over. To this day, people sometimes will see murky shadows and strange sounds coming from the back of the darkened courtyard. The courtyard is directly below the old St. Vincent’s Hospital, built in 1853, which also at one time was a nursing home, and a psychiatric sanitarium was on its upper third floor. The soft cries of a small boy who died in room 311 from a car accident along with his father have been heard many times by the nurses ”” so frequently that the hospital tried to keep the room unoccupied. Across from the old St. V’s is La Posada, at one time, the Staab family’s Victorian mansion built by Abraham Staab, a wealthy Jewish merchant in 1882. He built the three-story brick mansion for Julia, his wife.   It was lovely decorated and they had many formal parties.  However, their fairy tale life ended with Julia’s seventh child, a boy, dying soon after he was born.   This sent her into a deep depression, some now think post-partum and her hair was said to have turned white almost overnight.  Julia took to her room, where she spent most of her time until she died, at age of 52 in 1896.   Julia is said to have gone completely crazy in these last years.  As there was a social stigma attached to mental illness, the family is thought to have hidden her away. That doesn’t keep her from letting herself be known now, as her reputation is such that her bedroom is booked solid for 6 months in advance. If you’re a non-believer, she may tilt the bed up to throw you out of it while sleeping. Or she’ll let you sleep with one eye open all night to think that nothing went amiss until the next morning when you find your pieces of valuables gone. Later, they are usually found in another room of the house. “Julia has a way of reading minds,” Wheeler states, “and playing with your mind.” He relates one story in which a couple checked in, but the man didn’t tell his lady friend that the hotel was haunted. A little while later the woman comes running down the stairs, goes to the front desk and demands if the hotel is known to be haunted. “Of course, they tell her, everyone knows that.” The woman is very upset her boyfriend didn’t tell her and she goes off to find him. It seems when she was up-stairs, outside Julia’s bedroom, she seen an arm sticking out of the wall””going up and down, up and down. It kind of freaked her out. Unlike the “weaker” ghosts, who need to charge their batteries to be able to even show themselves at the known witching hour, Julia is another case, according to Wheeler and those that have had the chance to see her in action: “Contrary to this is the particular ghost, such as Julia Staab, who appears at any time of day or night. It is thought that this signifies that she has been able to obtain energy from some other means. That source could be the frenetic energy which groups of people at places like hotels give off. Many times I have just stood still in the La Fonda or the La Posada and felt that energy for myself.” What are ghosts trying to tell us? For Wheeler, they all have one thing in common: “they want to move on.”

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