Most visitors to Santa Fe, New Mexico, come to immerse themselves in the city’s internationally renowned art and culture. Others are drawn by the cuisine; hole-in-the-wall taco stands, and the city’s red and green chiles are famous for their flavour.
I travelled to Santa Fe to look for a ghost.
Specifically, I was hoping for a glimpse of Julia Staab, a German Jewish bride brought from the old country by her husband, Abraham, in the late 19th century. Julia is believed to haunt La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and Spa, a grand property off the city’s main plaza where she and her family once lived.
I discovered the Staabs in the pages of “American Ghost: A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest,” a 2015 memoir by Hannah Nordhaus. Hannah, who is Julia’s great-great-granddaughter, explored Julia’s journey to the untamed western United States and mysterious death – reputed to be grim, likely violent and possibly self-inflicted.
Julia’s spirit has beckoned ghost hunters to Santa Fe since the late 1970s, when she was first reported to have made paranormal appearances – showing up on the staircase in the hotel’s main building and waking guests in her former bedroom.
La Posada was the ideal starting place. Situated on six acres, the resort consists of the Staab House, the original Victorian mansion Abraham built for Julia in 1882.
Extensive artwork lines the walls and rooms in the Staab House as part of the hotel’s art program. Long before galleries dominated the Santa Fe cultural scene, La Posada showcased the work of American artists. Today it curates professional artwork through exhibitions and sales, earning it a reputation as “the art hotel” of Santa Fe. Guests stay in adobe casitas around the property, most built in the 1930s to house visiting artists, and the entire resort has a secluded, peaceful ambience.
We strolled through the old town of Santa Fe, passing the onetime location of the Staab mercantile on the main plaza. We admired the turquoise and silver jewellry sold by Native Americans – many Hopi, Arapaho and Navajo.
Native American artisans and jewellers sell their wares using stones from Nevada at the Governor’s Plaza in Santa Fe. Photo for The Washington Post by Rachel Walker.
Some of the shops we explored were in centuries-old buildings, and we had to duck as we walked through the doorways to avoid hitting our heads on the low, narrow entrances. At San Miguel Chapel – believed to be the oldest in the United States, it was built sometime between 1610 and 1628 – we paused to marvel at the thick adobe walls and the wooden altar screens at the front of the chapel.
The walls of La Posada de Santa Feare lined with art and historical photos. Pic: La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa
The kids’ favourite experience, by far, was Meow Wolf, an interactive art exhibit in an industrial part of town whose center piece is a haunted house that features a murder mystery with clues for patrons to follow. My kids couldn’t have been less interested in Julia Staab at La Posada, but Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return enraptured them. As I followed them down an all-white hallway (accessed by opening a refrigerator door and walking through the secret doorway) where a robotic male voice repeated, “You are okay,” it occurred to me that my boys would have stayed at Meow Wolf for days if left to their own devices.
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