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7 of the Best Places to Spot a Ghost in New Mexico New Mexico

How fun is ghost hunting? Extremely fun! One of the best ways to face your mortality is by encountering ghosts who haven’t move on. They will remind you that no one lives forever, although, anyone has the potential to haunt forever. With the Halloween season among us, what better way to celebrate than to experience the mysteries of the dead? This Halloween, even if you can’t visit these ghostly places, you can at least have some new ghost stories to tell others and keep you up at night. Here are 7 of the best places to spot a ghost in the “land of enchantment” that is New Mexico.

1. Philmont Scout Ranch – Clayton, New Mexico

The hanging of Thomas "Black Jack" Ketchum in Clayton, New Mexico

The hanging of Thomas “Black Jack” Ketchum in Clayton, New Mexico (Getty Images)

Thomas “Black Jack” Ketchum was the only person ever hanged in Clayton, New Mexico. He was executed for the crime of train robbery. One thing that makes Black Jack Ketchum really unlucky is that he was also the only person ever hanged in the state of New Mexico for train robbery. Shortly after his hanging, the law was found to be unconstitutional.

One camper recounts his experience of running into the ghost of Thomas “Black Jack” Ketchum. While camping near the Philmont Scout Ranch in the nearby mountains with other boy scouts, he had a run-in with the legendary train robber. One area they decided to camp near was an abandoned gold mine that served as Ketchum’s hideout. The hideout was a large rock overhang and the scouts thought it would be fun to camp there for the night. However, their leader insisted that they stay at a nearby-designated site. Disappointed, several of the scouts set their tents up several hundred feet away from the leader’s tent.

Encounter With The Ghost

Suddenly, one of the rogue campers was awakened by a noise in the bushes. He said that he felt paralyzed, unable to move and tried to call out to the others. Then he saw a cowboy, dressed all in black come running out of the bushes toward the hide out. He said the man was mostly solid but some parts of him appeared translucent. He described the man as filthy dirty, with a tattered hat, clothes from the 1800’s, and terribly yellowed teeth. His face was very red, glistening with sweat, with lots of facial hair and the apparition held a revolver.

The cowboy was apparently unaware of the scout, but the boy was very scared.  A strange fog emanated from the tree line across from a small stream and he could hear men yelling, and then muffled gunfire. The cowboy turned and fired his revolver six times into the trees and then ran and stood right over the scout. The cowboy was wounded in the shoulder and discharged six bullets from his revolver right on top of him.

As he watched, the bullets disappeared as they fell onto his sleeping bag. The cowboy then reloaded his revolver, fired additional shots into the trees, and suddenly the cowboy saw the scout. The expression on the cowboy’s face indicated that the scout had just suddenly appeared before his eyes. He seemed to be confused and confounded, while the scout was terrified. Then, the cowboy un-cocked his pistol, looking at the scout very closely, and said, “You’re not supposed to be here,” and then just disappeared into thin air.

2. Fort Union, New Mexico

Fort Union National Monument, New Mexico - Photo by Gary Tucker

Fort Union National Monument, New Mexico – Photo by Gary Tucker

Back in the days of the Wild West frontier (arguably these days are still here), Fort Union was one of the last spots of white civilization. One would have to travel many miles to find any other place where one could partake in a social life. Among the ladies at the post was a young woman who happened to be the sister-in-law of a captain. She loved the variety and spice of adventure to be found there. She also loved the attention that the young officers paid to her. A young lieutenant proved especially susceptible to her charms, and devoted himself to her in the hope that he should ultimately win her hand.

One day messengers came dashing into the fort with news of an Apache outbreak. The lieutenant was put in command of the expedition, but before starting he confided his love to the young woman, who not only acknowledged that she returned his affection, but promised that if the fortune of war deprived him of life she would never marry another. As he bade her farewell, he said he’ll come back to her no matter what happens.

In a few days the detachment came back, but the lieutenant was missing. It was noticed that the woman didn’t seem to grieve much for him, and nobody was surprised when she announced her intention of marrying a young man from the East. On the eve of her wedding, a dance was arranged. As the dance was in full swing a door flew open with a bang. A loud cry was heard throughout the dancehall.  In the doorway stood the body of a dead man dressed in the stained uniform of an officer. His temple was marked by a hatchet-gash, his scalp was gone, and his eyes were wide open.

The Start of the Death-Waltz

He walked to the bride and took her from the arms of her husband. Then he began to waltz with her. The musicians, who afterward declared that they did not know what they were doing, played as though bewitched. The couple spun around and around, the woman growing paler and paler, until at last she died in his arms. The dead man allowed her to sink to the floor, stood over her for a moment, wrung his hands as he sounded his fearful cry again, then vanished through the door. A few days after, a troop of soldiers who had been to the scene of the Apache encounter returned with the body of the lieutenant.

This legendary death-waltz is an eerie tale. It could simply be a great ghost story told by the soldiers to pass the time. Though maybe, just maybe, this eerie event did occur and you might be able to witness it during a visit to the Fort Union National Monument.

3. The Luna-Otero Mansion – Los Lunas, New Mexico

Luna-Otero Mansion in Los Lunas, New Mexico - Photo by Graham Tiller

Luna-Otero Mansion in Los Lunas, New Mexico – Photo by Graham Tiller

In 1692 Domingo de Luna was granted land by the King of Spain in what would later become Los Lunas, New Mexico. A few years later, Don Pedro Otero arrived under similar circumstances. Over the years, the two families added to their fortunes through livestock and additional land acquisitions. Both families became extremely powerful and were involved in politics. The marriages of Solomon Luna to Adelaida Otero, and Manuel A. Otero to Eloisa Luna in the late 1800’s united these two families into what became known as the Luna-Otero Dynasty.

When the Santa Fe Railroad wanted a right-of-way through the Luna property in 1880, the proposed railroad tracks were planned directly through the Luna hacienda. The railroad agreed to build a new home for Antonio Jose Luna and his family according to their specifications. Before long, a southern colonial style mansion, built with adobe materials of the southwest was completed for the family. However, Antonio Jose died in 1881, the same year that the house was completed. As a result, his oldest son, Tranquilino and his family were the first to live in the luxurious home. When Tranquilino died in 1892, his younger brother Solomon took the reins of the empire and moved into the spacious mansion.

The Ghostly Manifestations

Over the years the mansion changed hands several times before it was purchased and renovated as a fine dining establishment in the 1970s. It was then that the ghost of Josefita began to appear. Dressed in 1920s period clothing, she has been described by employees as appearing very real. Most often she is seen in two former bedrooms on the second floor, an attic storeroom, and at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor bar.

At the top of the stairs sits an old rocking chair which she has often been seen sitting in and rocking slowly. On one occasion when an employee approached the ghostly apparition, she simply stood up then slowly vanished. More often she is seen walking up and down the stairs, a habit that has been so commonplace that employees barely notice anymore.

Another famous ghost is said to roam the mansion. A former servant named Cruz, who was thought to have been a groundskeeper. Most often seen on the main level, he is said to be friendly to women and children and likes to play practical jokes on the employees and patrons. On one occasion he was seen sitting on a sofa dressed in vintage attire, the man was relaxing patiently when a waitress asked another staff member why he hadn’t been served. However, the response was “What man?” and when the waitress looked back to the sofa, the ghost of Cruz was no longer there.

Today the staff claim that other spirits also roam this historic mansion.

4. The Laguna Vista Hotel – Eagle Nest, New Mexico

Laguna Vista Lodge in Eagle Nest, New Mexico

Laguna Vista Lodge in Eagle Nest, New Mexico

Laguna Vista Saloon in Eagle Nest, New Mexico

Laguna Vista Saloon in Eagle Nest, New Mexico

Locals call the Laguna Vista Saloon, built in 1898, the “Guney”. The El Monte, as it was originally called, was allegedly built with stolen railroad ties, which are still visible in some of the rooms. A would-be innkeeper transported the petrified railroad ties from Ute Park to Elizabethtown for two summers, but when he returned after the winter, the railroad ties were missing and a new hotel had been built in Therma, which later changed its name to Eagle Nest. Behind the original saloon were a 17-foot deep hand dug well and several icehouses.

The El Monte was one of the busiest saloons in the 1920’s and 30’s when the politicians stopped over on their way to the horse races in Raton, New Mexico to partake of the many roulette, gaming tables and slot machines offered in the saloons, inns, and businesses of Eagle Nest. It was sometime during this period that the El Monte’s name was changed to the Laguna Vista Lodge and was operated by a couple named Gene and Pearl Wilson. At this time, the Wilson’s often had to protect their gambling profits when transporting them from the saloon to their living quarters, by arming themselves with guns.

The First Hauntings

In 1964, the “new” hotel was built next to the original hotel for additional guests. In 1971, Bert Clemens bought the property and continues to operate it to this day.  Clemens claims that his property is haunted. At one point, a psychic visited the property who counted at least 22 spirits lingering around the place. One employee reported to Mr. Clemens, that while she was in the kitchen she heard the vacuum running in the dining room, but when she went to investigate no one was there and the vacuum was sitting still and silent.

A former manager, Jim, also claims that eerie things happen, such as the piano in the dining room sometimes plays when no one is there, and a dining table chair is pulled up next to the piano. The staff will replace the chair next to one of the dining tables only to find it later back in front of the piano again.

The Hauntings Continue

Customers and staff have reported that a woman in dance-hall dress often appears, then vanishes toward the site of the hidden staircase. This spirit is said be that of a woman on her honeymoon with her husband, enjoying a stay at the hotel. Her husband ventured out one day to go hunting and never returned. The distraught young woman was left stuck and destitute. She was said to have become a saloon girl in order to provide for herself. Supposedly, it is her spirit that lingers at the hotel in search of her long lost husband.

A former employee of the Laguna Vista, Kristi Dukes, who was a cook in the restaurant in 1999, stated that she encountered several spooky visits from a spirit that is said to have once been a saloon girl in the old lodge. According to Kristi, both her and her mother Jane, who also worked in the restaurant, would often encounter these visits whenever the music they were listening to in the kitchen was anything other than classic rock or country music.  When Kristi would change the music, strange things would occur.  On one such occasion a marble rolling pin was thrown at Kristi, on other occasions pots and pans would fall off of the walls.  Once, when odd things were happening, Jane asked Kristi to turn off the music but when she switched off the stereo, the music continued to play.  She then unplugged the stereo and the music played on. Frightened, the two left at the end of the evening only to return the following day to a silent stereo.

It is in the Laguna Vista Restaurant Dining Room, which was once the hotel lobby that held the hidden staircase to the upstairs rooms, that the ghost is most often encountered.

Most Recent and Most Frightening Haunting

The spookiest story actually occurred when Kristi brought her 2 year-old daughter to work one day.  She had put bells on her daughter’s shoes so that she could keep track of her while she was working.  Her daughter walked into the kitchen very gently and slowly.  Kristi said she looked very odd and when she asked her what was wrong,  her daughter replied, “the lady told me to stop making noise”.  When Kristi asked her where the lady was, she led her mother into the dining room and pointed at “someone” saying “that lady.”  Kristi saw no one but her daughter insisted that her mother remove the bells from her shoes.

5. La Fonda Hotel – Santa Fe, New Mexico

La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico - Photo by Randy Stewart

The La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico – Photo by Randy Stewart

La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This is a postcard. - Photo provided by Jasperdo

La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This is a postcard. – Photo provided by Jasperdo

At 100 E. San Francisco Street, in the historic district of Santa Fe, sits the historic La Fonda Hotel. This old hotel has been providing a pillow for weary travelers since 1922. however, the location itself has been called home to some kind of inn or “fonda” since Santa Fe’s earliest days. When Santa Fe was founded in 1607, records show that an inn on this location was one of the first business established in the new settlement. According to local lore, court was held in the original adobe hotel, as well as executions, when guilty offenders were hanged in the lobby.

The First Deaths

Over the years the hotel was destroyed and re-built several times over. In 1821, when Captain William Becknell blazed the path of what would become known as the Santa Fe Trail. He stayed at a la fonda where the trail terminated at the town’s central plaza. As more and more pioneers traveled the Santa Fe Trail, the La Fonda became a popular destination for trappers, traders, mountain men, solders, politicians and the like. Soon after New Mexico became a U.S. Territory in 1848, the inn was purchased by Anglo-American owners who changed its name to the U.S. Hotel. The gambling Hall continued to be a major feature, however, providing entertainment for military officers and the occasional professional gambler. Fortunes were made and lost here, and one unfortunate person lost his life in 1857 at the end of a rope strung up in the hotel’s backyard by a lynch mob.

Ten years later, in 1867, the Honorable John P. Slough, Chief Justice of the Territorial Supreme Court, was shot to death in the hotel lobby. Slough was in a dispute with Captain Rynerson, a member of the Territorial Legislature representing Dona Ana County, when he Slough called Rynerson a liar and a thief. The offended Rynerson then shot Slough, who died of his wounds. Though Rynerson was tried, he was later acquitted. Around this same time, the hotel was sold again and became The Exchange Hotel, the name under which it operated for nearly six decades.

The Hauntings Begin

More than 100 years ago, a distraught salesman who lost his company’s money in a card game, leaped to his death down a deep well that was located just outside the gambling hall of the Exchange Hotel.

Today the La Fonda Hotel  is said to host not only travelers visiting Santa Fe, but also several ghosts. Some people believe that the Honorable Judge Slough continues to walk its hallways. However, more often reported, is the ghost of the distraught salesman who jumped into the well after losing all of his company’s money. The hotel’s dining room is situated directly over the old well. Both guests and staff alike have reported the sight of a ghostly figure that walks to the center of the room, then seemingly jumps into the floor and disappears.

Other reported phenomena include an apparition that haunts the Santa Fe Room. As well as a spirit that walks the hallways near the La Terraza, a restaurant located on the east side of the hotel’s third floor floor.

In the 1970s, a guest reportedly called the front desk to complain that someone was walking up and down the hallway in front of his room. When an employee was sent to investigate, he saw a tall man in a long, black coat disappear into a stairwell. However, when he followed him to the stairs, there was no sign of the mysterious visitor.

6. The St. James Hotel – Cimarron, New Mexico

The St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico - Photo by Jason Ryan

The St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico – Photo by Jason Ryan

The St. James Hotel stairwell - Photo by Gary Tucker

The St. James Hotel stairwell – Photo by Gary Tucker

The St James Hotel was built in 1872 by Henri Lambert  and was originally called Lambert’s Inn. Its saloon, restaurant and 43 rooms were witness to at least 26 murders during Cimarron’s wilder days. Clay Allison, Black Jack Ketchum, Jesse James, and Buffalo Bill Cody have all left their mark on the St. James, as attested by the numerous bullet holes in the ceiling of the main dining room.

Before Henry made his way to New Mexico, he was the personal chef to President Lincoln. He continued to hold the position until the president was assassinated in 1865. Before long, Henry made his way west in search of gold. Finally settling in Elizabethtown, New Mexico, he opened a saloon and restaurant.

At this time Elizabethtown, Cimarron, and much of the surrounding was owned byLucien B. Maxwell. The Maxwell Land Grant was the largest land grant ever made in the United States. When Maxwell sold the grant in 1870, the new Land Grant Company men discovered that Henry Lambert was working in Elizabethtown and enticed him to come to Cimarron.

The Murder Saloon

The Lambert Inn, as it was called at the time, started business in 1872. Built during a time when law and order was non-existent, the saloon quickly gained a reputation as a place of violence. It is said that 26 men were shot and killed. The first question usually asked around Cimarron in the morning was, “Who was killed at Lambert’s last night?” Another favorite expression following a killing was, “It appears Lambert had himself another man for breakfast.”

The saloon was wildly popular to cowboys, traders, miners and the many travelers of the Santa Fe Trail. The saloon did so well that Henry added guest rooms in 1880, and the hotel was soon considered to be one of the most elegant hotels west of the Mississippi River

Famous Guests Arrive

Many well-known people stayed there over the years. Wyatt Earp, his brother Morgan, and their wives spent three nights at the St. James on their way to Tombstone, Arizona. Jesse James stayed there several times, always in room 14, signing the registry with his alias, R.H. Howard. Jesse James’ nemesis and would be killer, Bob Ford, also stayed at the St. James. Also the legendary Wild West showman, Buffalo Bill Cody met Annie Oakley at the hotel and began to plan and rehearse their Wild West Show. As Fred Lambert grew older, Buffalo Bill would be one of the first to give him instruction in the use of guns. Fred Lambert would spend his entire life upholding the law as a Cimarron Sheriff, a member of the tribal police and a territorial marshal. When Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley left Cimarron to take their show on the road, they took an entire village of Indians from the Cimarron area with them.

Other notables who have stayed at the historic inn include Bat Masterson, train robber Black Jack Tom Ketchum, General Sheridan, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Clay Allison,Pat Garret, artist Fredrick Remington, Governor Lew Wallace, and writer Zane Grey. The Hotel was later renamed the St. James and continues to cater to travelers today.

The Almost End of the Hotel

When the railroads came through, the Santa Fe Trail died, and soon after, the gold in the area began to play out. Cimarron’s population began to dwindle and the elegant St. James Hotel fell into disrepair.

When Henry Lambert’s sons, Fred and Gene, replaced the roof of the Lambert Inn in 1901, they found more than 400 bullet holes in the ceiling above the bar. A double layer of heavy wood prevented anyone from sleeping upstairs from being killed. Today, the ceiling of the dining room still holds 22 bullet holes.

Henri Lambert died in 1913. His wife, Mary E. Lambert died in 1926. Through the years, the old hotel was, at many times, uninhabited and passed from owner to owner. However, in 1985 the St. James Hotel was restored to its former luxury.

The Hauntings

The St. James Hotel is said to remain host to several restless spirits. Both the owners and the guests of the hotel will tell you that it is haunted with many unexplained events.  Several psychics have visited the hotel and specifically identified three spirits, as well as many others who just pass through to relive their experiences.

7. Santa Fe River – Santa Fe, New Mexico (And Vicinity)

La Llorona?

La Llorona?

Saving my favorite for last! The legend of La Llorona, Spanish for the Weeping Woman, has been a part of Hispanic culture in the Southwest since the days of the conquistadores. The tall, thin spirit is said to be blessed with natural beauty and long flowing black hair. Wearing a white gown, she roams the rivers and creeks, wailing into the night and searching for children to drag, screaming to a watery grave.

No one really knows when the legend of La Llorona began or, from where it originated. Though the tales vary from source to source, the one common thread is that she is the spirit is of a doomed mother who drowned her children and now spends eternity searching for them in rivers and lakes.

The Life of Maria

La Llorona, christened “Maria”, was born to a peasant family in a humble village. Her startling beauty captured the attention of both the rich and the poor men of the area. She was said to have spent her days in her humble peasant surroundings, but in the evenings, she would don her best white gown and thrill the men who admired her in the local fandangos.

La Llorna?

La Llorna?

The young men anxiously waited for her arrival and she reveled in the attention that she received. However, La Llorona had two small sons who made it difficult for her to spend her evenings out, and often, she left them alone while she cavorted with the gentlemen during the evenings. One day the two small boys were found drowned in the river. Some say they drowned through her neglect, but others say that they may have died by her own hand.

Another legend says that La Llorona was a caring woman full of life and love who married a wealthy man who lavished her with gifts and attention. However, after she bore him two sons, he began to change, returning to a life of womanizing and alcohol, often leaving her for months at a time. He seemingly no longer cared for the beautiful Maria. When he did return home, it was only to visit his children and the devastated Maria began to feel resentment toward the boys. One evening, as Maria was strolling with her two children on a shady pathway near the river, her husband came by in a carriage with an elegant lady beside him. He stopped and spoke to his children, but ignored Maria. Then drove the carriage down the road without looking back.

After seeing this Maria went into a terrible rage, and turning against her children, she seized them and threw them into the river. As they disappeared down stream, she realized what she had done and ran down the bank to save them, but it was too late. Maria broke down into inconsolable grief, running down the streets screaming and wailing.

La Llorona and the children

La Llorona and the children

Maria Mourns

The beautiful La Llorona mourned them day and night. During this time, she would not eat and walked along the river in her white gown searching for her boys — hoping they would come back to her. She cried endlessly as she roamed the riverbanks and her gown became soiled and torn. When she continued to refuse to eat, she grew thinner and appeared taller until she looked like a walking skeleton. Still a young woman, she finally died on the banks of the river.

Not long after her death, her restless spirit began to appear, walking the banks of the Santa Fe River when darkness fell. Her weeping and wailing became a curse of the night and people began to be afraid to go out after dark. She was said to have been seen drifting between the trees along the shoreline or floating on the current with her long white gown spread out upon the waters. On many a dark night people would see her walking along the riverbank and crying for her children. And so, they no longer spoke of her as Maria, but rather, La Llorona, the weeping woman. Children are warned not to go out in the dark, for La Llorona might snatch them, throwing them to their deaths in the flowing waters.

More Legends

Though the legends vary, the apparition is said to act without hesitation or mercy. The tales of her cruelty depends on the version of the legend you hear. Some say that she kills indiscriminately, taking men, women, and children — whoever is foolish enough to get close enough to her. Others say that she is very barbaric and kills only children, dragging them screaming to a watery grave.

When Patricio Lugan was a boy, he and his family saw her on a creek between Mora and Guadalupita, New Mexico. As the family was sitting outside talking, they saw a tall, thin woman walking along the creek. She then seemed to float over the water, started up the hill, and vanished. However, just moments later she reappeared much closer to them and then disappeared again. The family looked for footprints and finding none, they had no doubt that the woman they had seen was La Llorona.

Still More Legends

She has been seen along many rivers across the entire Southwest and the legend has become part of Hispanic culture everywhere. Part of the legend is that those who do not treat their families well will see her and she will teach them a lesson.

Another story involved a man by the name of Epifanio Garcia. He was said to be an outspoken boy who often argued with his mother and his father. After a heated argument, Epifanio, along with his brothers, Carlos and Augustine decided to leave their ranch in Ojo de La Vaca. They decided to head toward the Villa Real de Santa Fe. However, when they were along their way, they were visited by a tall woman wearing a black tapelo and a black net over her face. Two of the boys were riding in the front of the wagon when the spirit appeared on the seat between them. She was silent and continued to sit there until Epifanio finally turned the horses around and headed back home. After turning to go home she said “I will visit you again someday when you argue with your mother.”

The Wailing Legends Continue

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the tall wailing spirit has been seen repeatedly in the PERA Building, which is built on land that was once an old Spanish-Indian graveyard, and is near the Santa Fe River. Many people who have been employed there tell of hearing cries resounding through the halls and feeling unseen hands pushing them while on the stairways.

La Llorona has been heard at night wailing next to rivers by many and her wanderings have grown wider, following Hispanic people wherever they go. Her movements have been traced throughout the Southwest and as far north as Montana on the banks of the Yellowstone River.

The Hispanic people believe that the Weeping Woman will always be with them, following the many rivers looking for her children, and for this reason, many of them fear the dark and pass the legend from generation to generation.

John Newell

John Newell is a professional musician as well as student, who is currently working on his PhD in Rhetoric and Composition at The University of Washington. He is also a photographer and freelance writer.

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