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Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Taos is one of Northern New Mexico’s tourist destinations. With its share of galleries, museums and culture, it’s not hard to figure out what attracts out-of-towners to the area.
Los Alamos might be the secret city, but Taos has some secrets of its own. Beneath Taos’ arts community and picturesque landscape, lies a dark, sometimes sinister history. It might be hard for some tourists to imagine that the Taos Plaza was once the site of various hangings and killings and that beneath the ground they are walking on, exist secret, underground tunnels.
Many of the tourist attractions around the Plaza are allegedly haunted. From the Alley Cantina and Hotel La Fonda, to Moby Dickens Bookstore and the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, it’s not hard to find a specter hangout. Ask the shopkeepers and locals and they’ll likely tell you the stories behind the hauntings — and if you’re lucky — they might share some of their ghostly encounters.
There is certainly a creepy feel to some of those buildings, but that might be attributed to their age. There’s a self-guided walking tour, which will point ghost hunters and the curious to various “haunted” points of interest on and around the Plaza. Businesses like Maison Faurie, Hotel La Fonda, Red Cat Melissiana, shops at the old county courthouse and El Gamal are all rumored to have tunnel access in their basements. It seems that no one is really sure what the tunnels were used for, but one story is that they are related to alien activity. Another story suggests that they were built by the Spanish conquerors, so they could escape the Comanches.
Visitors might have a ghostly encounter at any of the following eateries: Doc Martin’s, the Alley Cantina, Caffé Renato, the Plaza Café, El Meze and El Gamal.
A visit to the old jail will likely send a chill down your spine. These days, an arts cooperative has occupied the space and the cells have been converted into exhibit spaces, showcasing various works of art. The bars remain on the cells, however, so it’s a bit of an unconventional set-up.
But the creepiest attraction by far has to be the Governor Bent Museum. Bent was the first U.S. territorial governor and met his demise at the hands of the Taos Pueblo Indians in what became known as the Taos Rebellion. Bent was killed outside his home, which is now the museum. It’s little more than a couple of rooms, but it’s dark, dank and bizarre. There are various items on display from the Bents’ household, but there are also some strange items to see as well. For example, a Siamese-twin lamb and baby shark (which doesn’t look like a shark at all, but more like some sort of demon) are all out in the open. In addition, there is also a hole in the wall that Bent’s family dug with a fireplace poker to escape the governor’s killers, as they murdered him outside the family home.
According to taos.org, the Taos Art Museum and Fechin House is one of the haunted places. It used to be home to Russian artist Nicolai Fechin. Erion Simpson, executive director of the Taos Art Museum and Fechin House is quoted as saying, “Visitors have approached me and claimed they heard the piano playing as if someone were practicing. When they go to investigate and see who is playing, there is no one there …”
The Adobe and Pines Bed and Breakfast is another spot ghost hunters might find interesting. It sits on land that was part of Taos’ Pueblo’s “sacred hot springs area,” according to the website. “The central adobe hacienda was constructed in 1832 and in the late 1930s, Mrs. Paul Griffin, from Wichita Falls, Texas, owned and lived in the hacienda and transformed it into one of Taos’ cultural salons for the gathering of artists such as Georgia O’Keefe and other area notables. Owners of the inn report a lovely black-clad señora resplendent with a black lace mantilla roaming the main hacienda late at night, making sure all is well, turning off lights and locking doors as she continues to be the caretaker of her beloved hacienda.”
According to a map dated 1845-1875, and titled, “Map of Fernandez de Taos,” there once existed an old well in the center of the Plaza. Just across the street, near Hotel La Fonda, revolutionists and citizens were killed. In fact, there are a series of Xs on the map that represent spots where both revolutionists and citizens were killed — some legally hung — but most were murdered.
Taos Pueblo is also the site of some strange happenings. An excerpt from taos.org claims, “ ‘They say that there is a little man that lives around the Pueblo’ states a young member of the tribe. ‘I don’t know if he is a ghost … be he is short, maybe three feet tall at the most, and has long hair that hangs down and covers his face so you can never see it. He sits in a crouching way and doesn’t climb down the ladders of the village in the normal way but climbs down face first.’ ”
No visit to Taos — ghost hunting or not — would be complete without going to the Gorge Bridge. Located past the turn-off to the pueblo, on the way to the Taos Ski Valley, visitors flock to the bridge to photograph the picturesque landscape surrounding the bridge. But like most places in Taos, the bridge has a sinister side. Despite its breathtaking views, the gorge has been the site of many tragedies, to include murder and suicide. It’s not clear if that location is haunted and the bridge is not listed as one of the attractions on the self-guided tour.
For more information about the hauntings, hangings, murder and mayhem around Taos, visit taos.org, click on printable resources, then on “hauntings, hangings, murder and mayhem” listed under self-guided itineraries.