From headless caballeros roaming Alto Street to the wailing wraith of La Llorona haunting the dried up beds of the Santa Fe River, the Land of Enchantment has its share of ghost stories. New Mexico has its share of UFO sightings, as well””being the site of the supposed Roswell UFO crash of 1947, where the International UFO Museum is now located.
Nestled in the land overlooking Santa Fe, the Institute of American Indian Arts brings together Natives from all over the country, who in turn carry with them tales from their tribes, along with their own versions of tribal monsters. So what happens when these people gather together in one place?
The Chronicle asks some current students and staff their opinions and experiences with the ghosts roaming the halls of IAIA.
“DEATH” FROM ABOVE
If there was any truth to the spooky rumors flying around about this campus, then Jim Rivera would be a good choice to start looking into such stories. Rivera is the career and scholarship advisor, and has been with the school for almost 15 years.
“I’ve seen about four foot tall owls here””no joke, man,” Rivera says. He then relates a story from IAIA’s earlier days, when it first came to be at its current location. He was working late one night, walking out near the school’s guard shack, when a large shape suddenly flew down from the sky.
“Something went right by my head, swoosh, over the top of my head,” he says. “I tried to hit the light on it, but it flew away. It was huge and I didn’t know what it was.”
As he started to walk back to the main buildings, his unknown attacker made another rush at him””only, this time, he heard it coming and was more prepared. “Here comes this thing and it’s an owl coming at me, its arms about as long as mine.”
So, Rivera decided to take action and threw his flashlight into one hand, while using the other to take a swing at the creature.
“I was scared to death,” he confesses. “I didn’t know what to do. I hit it and it felt like straw on a person””like I’m pushing on straw.”
The owl hit the ground and jumped back into the sky, but by that time, Rivera was “already running, screaming like a little girl.”
In another owl related incident, Rivera tells of a time when the director of the grant program brought her small dog to work one night. She let the dog out into the grounds and was calling it back when disaster almost occurred.
“Bam! This big owl shoots to the ground in the gravel and flips over,” Rivera says, throwing his arms around for emphasis. “[The owl] then jumps back up””jumps up like a person””and flies up to the very top [of the building].”
They got into a car afterwards in order to drop the woman off at her house, which was just past the Santa Fe Community College, and Rivera swears that in the clear moonlight, he could see that same owl following them all the way to the college, before it turned around and went back in the direction of IAIA.
To those unfamiliar with Native American lore, a handful of owl sightings might seem innocuous enough, but taken in the cultural context, owl sightings are serious business to many Native people. Pretty much across the board, owls are considered bad luck to Native peoples, as they are considered harbingers of death. Some even believe that witches are capable of flying around in the guise of this bird. This could be why these sightings on campus make some people nervous.
“They still see them,” Rivera says. “There are two of them””they look like people dressed up [as owls].”
IT FOLLOWED US
Rivera remembers well the old days when IAIA was located on the current Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus. He also remembers all of the creepy experiences people had during IAIA’s residence there.
Radios would turn on by themselves in students’ rooms. Rivera spoke of a particular student who became irate, thinking someone was in his room. He went up to his room, found no one, and unplugged the radio [which wasn’t even on].
“He went downstairs””on again””he’d go back up, and it’s not even plugged in! You could put your hands up to the speaker and you could feel something coming out,” Rivera says.
People would see “little blue clouds” in the rooms and, being art students, would debate the exact shade of blue it was””whether it was better described as “blue” or “cerulean.” Students would even hear someone or something go screaming past the dorms at night.
“You’d think, ”˜Okay, somebody’s playing,’ but every night?” Rivera remembers. “You’d think somebody’s running past the dorm, right outside the bushes””you would hear the voice go by.”
In another incident, Rivera was talking with other students one night when a security guard of five years came into the room, shaken.
“This guy comes in with his keys”””˜bam!’””jacket”””˜bam!’””his shirt”””˜bam!’ and says ”˜I effin’ quit!’”
The guard related the story of how he had been walking in the back near a monk statue to make sure everything was locked down, when he saw a manhole cover lift and a little man jumped out of the hole. The little man looked around, and went back inside the hole as soon as it saw the security guard standing there.
When the security guard turned to walk away, he told Rivera that the monk statue turned to him and said, “’It’s okay, it’s going to be okay.’” Rivera never saw that security guard again.
In Rivera’s own room, there were some pretty strange occurrences, including a brand new fire hydrant that showed up in the middle of his room one day. Rivera thought someone was playing a trick on him and even called in the school’s Resident Assistants and tried to get to the bottom of things, but they never could figure out how the hydrant had gotten into the locked room, especially since it was so heavy it was almost impossible to lift.
Books would be stacked up on the floor of the room when Rivera would come back and a fan would be blowing full blast when it wasn’t even turned on.
A medicine man once ventured into Rivera’s room, during which the door, at first, refused to shut. When he came out, he told Rivera that there were three different entities that had been bothering him for some time, which by then came as only a mild surprise to Rivera.
One of the previous tenants of this room had had a list of people he was going to kill at the school, as well as the gun he was going to use. Another tenant thought he was starting to hear voices who were telling him to hurt other people and, as a result, he ended up moving to Albuquerque.
“If you want this room,” the man told Rivera, “either you’ve got to clean it out or be strong enough, because these guys, I tell you, they’ll start hurting you.”
In perhaps the strangest event Rivera related about the old campus, he was walking through Alexis Hall with a friend one night after pulling a long painting session. When they opened a door onto one of the hallways, they heard a whistling sound and saw the shape of a man coming down the hall towards them. He appeared to be dressed in a hospital gown and had what looked to be an IV in his arm. Needless to say, they were spooked.
“It sees us, because it looks up and looks at us,” Rivera says, shaking his head. “We start walking towards the door and backing up and that thing’s walking towards us, real slow, like it’s hurt. You could see the gown””you could see right through the gown!”
Rivera and his friend fled the hall and spent the night elsewhere because, as he stated, “we didn’t want nothing to do with that.”
They later found out that Alexis Hall had been used as a hospital””there were still gurneys in the basement. Other parts of the campus had reportedly been used as an army barracks, a monastery and there was a morgue located on campus from when the school had a medical department.
In addition to IAIA student accounts of the strange goings on, there persists to this day rumors of a headless nurse that walks around that campus, apparently killed by a crazed patient.
It probably seemed like a good idea, then, when IAIA decided to move its campus to the current location. However, the strange occurrences didn’t end, and within the first year people were seeing things.
At first, people only saw figures in the dark””other people who would appear to be conversing and seemed to be attired in old-fashioned clothing. That eventually went away and soon the owl sightings began, starting with a pile of owl pellets that would show up stacked neatly in front of the office doors.
In Rivera’s opinion, these events occur because people talk “about stuff,” bring “things in,” and want “to do weird things.” Whatever this is that is occurring at IAIA in the dead of night, it has followed us from the old campus and into the new century.
If there is a student on campus with personal knowledge of paranormal experiences here, it’s Jimi La Pointe. Like Rivera, he has seen a lot on this campus, including both ghosts and UFOs and has even managed to photograph and videotape some of the phenomenon he’s seen.
“In September of [last] year, Dylan [Iron Shirt] and I were out walking on the trail before an ASG meeting,” says Jimi La Pointe, former ASG Treasurer.
La Pointe and Iron Shirt were taking pictures of the sunset when they saw two brilliant disk-like spots of light””so La Pointe decided to start recording. Their footage of this event was later uploaded onto Youtube. In the video, a mysterious black speck zips across the screen and disappears.
Another experience La Pointe recorded was a wraith-like apparition he accidentally photographed while taking a friend’s picture. La Pointe and another student were wandering around campus and decided to take a picture in front of the teepee that had been erected for IAIA’s annual powwow. Nothing seemed out of place at the time but when they checked a particular photo later, they were in for a surprise.
“I zoomed in on it and there was a face peeking out of the teepee and it had greenish grayish skin and it had long black hair and a little tiny head,” La Pointe states. “The eyes were glowing, kind of like when a cat or a deer is in the headlights. That was a semester when all kinds of crazy things were happening on campus.”
These happenings weren’t confined to the campus grounds, however, and La Pointe experienced unexplained events in the dorms, as well””even in the safety of his own dorm room.
“When I roomed in the blue hall, my roommate at the time was James [McCloud]; he was gone for the weekend. My bed was on the other side; his bed was near the door. He had an alarm clock facing the bed and it had a blue light.”
La Pointe estimates that it was eight or nine o clock at night when he woke up from a nap.
“I rolled over and looked at his bed, and I could see a girl sitting there in the blue light, she was sitting up in the bed. I couldn’t leave or anything, so I just went back to bed.”
Later in that same semester, La Pointe was in a friend’s room and witnessed a mini basketball roll in a circle on the floor all by itself. According to La Pointe, this friend’s room always “felt weird” to him and he didn’t like visiting there as a result.
When asked why these events occur, La Pointe surmises: “I think it happens because everyone here is from different tribes and different belief systems. When there’s this many people here, these spirits come. At least one person has died in these dorms. It could just be ghosts that wander through.”
WHERE NIGHTMARES BECOME MANIFEST
Shannah Serawop, a senior, has also experienced these wandering ghosts. At the time of one of the occurrences, in the fall of ’06, she was living in Dorm U [where Family Housing is now located].
One night, she was lying down with the window blinds open. She remembers it being a very quiet night, with no music or anything else to distract from what was about to happen.
“All of a sudden,” she says. “I noticed this weird black mass in the corner above the door. When it left, you could see the wall behind it, it blocked out the color of the wall.”
Her roommate at the time, Alison Chaddleson, had her mother over for the weekend. At the exact same moment the black mass disappeared into the ceiling, Serawop said she heard screaming.
“I ran and knocked on the door and Alison said her mom was having a nightmare.”
In another instance, Serawop felt something brush the back of her neck while working all alone in the photography studio over a weekend.
“I had turned on the lights of the enlarger, trying to focus on the image, when something brushed the back of my neck. It wasn’t my hair or the string from the apron.”
To this day, she keeps thinking she sees people standing in the dark corners of the studio.
“When it happened, my heart was pounding; I was shaky and short of breath. I don’t want to stay in the area that it happened at.”
Serawop had also heard of other things going on around campus””the sound of people running around on the roofs at the old dorms, crouching shadowy figures near the circle, old women coughing in unoccupied rooms next door and rumors of Satan worshipping going on in the dorms.
“Spirits get attached to people, especially when they’re under the influence of something,” says Serawop, “Things always happen to Natives a lot. I’m not sure if we brought something or if it’s witchcraft opening a door to something.”
Allie Moran has heard the rumors about the photography studio, saying that it is “eerie,” when you have to work in there by yourself.
Her own story occurred in her first semester at this school. Her roommate, McKeon Dempsey, was away for the weekend and she had come back into the room to grab her books, when she saw the shape of a person walk from the bathroom to Dempsey’s bed.
When she turned to look, she didn’t see anyone, so she continued with what she was doing. Then, as she was grabbing her books and putting them into her bag, she saw someone standing in the room with her.
“I thought someone was in there with me and then I remembered that I was the only one in the room. I looked up and got scared, but nothing was there.”
One another occasion, she awoke to what she thought was someone calling her name, but as soon as she opened her eyes, she found that she couldn’t move, though she sensed that someone was standing there, over her bed. When she finally managed to wriggle out of her paralysis, the figure was gone.
Moran agrees with La Pointe, stating that the reason things occur at this particular campus is because of all the Native peoples here, who come from different cultures and have different belief systems.
“There are also people here that believe in the Devil, but I think that just all meshes together. All the supernatural stuff just happens.”
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF FEAR
“There’s some weird shit out here,” agrees Professor Steve Fadden.
Fadden teaches in the Indigenous Liberal Studies courses, serves as the distant outreach and learning coordinator, and has been teaching at IAIA since around 1995. He is Mohawk and earned his AFA degree from this school. Fadden is well known for his story telling skills and is often called upon by both IAIA and the Santa Fe Community College (where he also teaches) to regale people with what might be labeled as “traditional horror stories.” He knows what attracts people to ghost stories and the like.
“I think to some degree it’s the adrenaline that that kind of scary stuff tends to fill us with, and at the same time the knowledge that it’s ”˜only a story,’” Fadden explains.
He says that people categorize emotions too much””perceiving them as either good or bad, instead of what they are, just emotions.
“I don’t see fear as necessarily a bad thing and sometimes people need to experience it,” says Fadden.
What he finds interesting about telling these traditional horror stories is that everyone seems to have a different picture in their minds of how the monster should look.
“What’s interesting though is that it sometimes leaves little ghosts of memory in our minds that you can’t shake, when something has struck you so strongly, so we may end up experiencing that same terror in a different circumstance.”
Fadden knows all about the “things that go bump in the night,” and has some stories to tell of his own, though he refused to go on record about them. That’s another thing about Native people that outsiders do not realize””the belief that you can call forth beings just by talking about them.
When asked directly if he believed in “otherworldly things,” even Fadden, Cornell grad and respected professor, had this to say: “Oh yes.”
A WALK THROUGH THE PAST
Walking through the old IAIA campus, now the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, one hears the news that some of the old IAIA dorms are scheduled to be torn down, including the infamous Alexis Hall, which remains unoccupied to this day.
Back at the current campus, the ghosts seem to have calmed for the moment, recent sightings have been limited to strange noises inside the academic building and the giant owls, which still swoop occasionally about the campus.
However, in the cold of a lonely autumn night, walking back from the studios, one has to wonder: is that noise you heard really just the wind whistling through the roof of the building? Are those really the cries of coyotes you hear, in the distance, getting closer with every second? And is that person, walking slowly up the path towards you, really there at all?