“We Don’t Get Out Much” follows writers Collin Stapleton and Michael Wilson as they throw away their “would rather not” attitude and venture to peculiar attractions, bizarre locations, and uncomfortable situations.
C: We’re in the La Fonda and all I know is that we’re looking for a man in a cowboy hat.
M: Right. The La Fonda hotel was built in 1922 on the same spot as the very first hotel in Santa Fe. It’s fancy.
C: Very fancy. It’s dinner time, the restaurant is right inside the lobby, it doesn’t have walls.
M: We sat down on a bench and waited. Awkwardly watching people eat dinner. We’re here for a ghost tour of Santa Fe but we’re getting a different show. Now, when I hear “Santa Fe walking tour,” I think “boring and old” –
C: And that's not untrue, but right off the bat we saw some younger people which I was kind of surprised by.
M: There was a group of people that I would say were about our age-ish standing nearby.
C: I’m pretty sure they voted Republican.
M: And were from Texas.
C: Don't ask how we knew, we just knew.
M: After a little while, a man in a cowboy hat did indeed show up.
Peter Sinclaire has been a tour guide in Santa Fe for twenty-six years. In his trademark outfit - denim shirt, pants, a scarf tied around his neck, cowboy hat – he’s pretty hard to miss.
The city of Santa Fe has plenty of ghosts, for over one thousand years people have lived here. The current city was founded in 1610 by Spanish conquistadors, making Santa Fe the oldest U.S. State Capital by twenty years.
Peter Sinclaire’s Original Santa Fe Ghost Tour is a great place to start exploring the spooky side to the City Different.
M: We went to a slightly less public area and Peter asked us by a show of hands if we believed in ghosts.
C: My hand went straight up
M: Mine too. Why did you raise your hand?
C: It's the same when someone asks if I believe in aliens. That's just my default setting. I've had some small experiences, nothing that's definitive, but. . . we're at a point where reality is a lot scarier than paranormal shit.
M: My grip on the way the world works has definitely slipped in the last two years.
C: Yeah, there better be ghosts for God's sake.
M: I’m pretty sure the young Republicans didn’t raise their hands.
C: The one guy had his hands in his pockets the whole tour.
M: Peter directed us to look at an old door near the restaurant. He told us to remember the doorway. Then, without another word, we went upstairs. The restaurant has a balcony around it. So now we’re above the people eating, which is maybe better than being face-level with them. I got out my camera to take some photos and Peter told us a story.
C: There was a gun salesman in the Billy the Kid days. Sometimes I forget that Santa Fe is the wild flippin’ west. So, this guy was at the La Fonda having a libation when he saw some wild action at the card table. He's made a commision selling pistols and wants to pad it with gambling. He makes a small bet and wins, makes another small bet and wins. So he ups his bet, and, of course, he loses. He bets again, and again, and keeps losing. Pretty soon he realizes he's lost almost all of his boss’ money. He can’t face the company and is piss drunk at this point. In desperation, he runs into the courtyard and throws himself into a well. Pictures have been taken right outside the restaurant showing a beam of light. Is it a malfunction of the film, a glare, or is it the gun salesman wandering the hotel lobby for eternity?
M: And then from some magical pocket, Peter produces a photo of the beam of light. He passes it around. It’s the doorway he had us look at downstairs, with a strange smudge of white light across it.
M: He tells us a few other stories of the hotel which we're not going to relate to you because spoiler alert . . .
C: They died!
M: But seriously, the stories are the tour, so go on it.
Peter’s tour crosses the street into the park next to St. Francis Cathedral. There he tells a story about a former bed and breakfast employee haunted by a ghost, when the employee finally quit and went to move, the ghost kept unpacking his boxes. That building is near the Georgia O’Keeffe museum on the opposite end of the plaza than the cathedral.
Over one thousand years ago the Tanoan were the first to build a plaza where the modern one still stands. The Spanish colonised in 1592, were kicked out during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and then reconquered the Native populace in 1692. It was part of an independent Mexico briefly, and finally the US took control in 1850. Santa Fe’s history is one of faction and control.
The tour continues to the Drury Inn: at one point a hospital, then a retirement home, and now an upscale hotel; the building is said to be haunted by all kinds of nasty things.
C: When I was a kid, I read a story about the Drury in Adobe Angels and how pools of blood appear and disappear in the basement. Another story that sticks in my mind was "The House on Apodaca Hill." It was your classic haunting; dishes smashing, pounding on walls. My dad drove me to the real house when I was 8 or 9, but we had read this story so many times, it freaked me out to see the real house so we left before we got too close.
M: My favorite was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which had a lot of classic urban legend stories, but what terrified me were the illustrations by Alvin Schwartz.
C: Those books were amazing and the art was insanely scary. Hearing Peter talk really got me thinking about storytelling and how that is such an important part of knowing history and passing it down, how ghost stories shape how we see things. They’re the earliest cautionary tales I ever learned. Don’t go out in the woods at night, you know, that kind of thing.
M: Totally. A friend of mine told me a story about a ghost dog that would appear in the rear view mirror of your car while driving – it would be chasing you, trying to get you. When I’m driving alone late at night I still have an impulse to look in the mirror a bunch. Looking for that dog.
The tour ends at La Posada, built by Abraham and Julia Staab in the 1880s. The house was the tallest building in Santa Fe for many years and it was the social center of town until Julia experienced a series of debilitating miscarriages that led to her eventual death.
By the 1920s the house had been converted into a hotel and artist retreat. It was also one of the first galleries in Santa Fe, many credit La Posada with kicking off the art scene that still dominates the city.
Legend says Julia remains a guest in her former home. After all, the restaurant is named for her.
C: This is one the most famous haunted places in the country.
M: It was on Unsolved Mysteries! There's a room upstairs and apparently Kris Kristofferson stayed in the hotel and came down in the middle of the night demanding another room, but wouldn't say why.
C: Peter also mentioned that Julia likes to knock the toilet paper dispenser off the stall in the women's bathroom, and then conveniently one of the women on the tour burst into the room exclaiming, "That just happened to me in the bathroom!"
M: Peter also told the story of how in the same bathroom the toilets overflow for no reason. In fairness, Santa Fe has really bad pipes downtown –
C: – It's almost scarier than ghosts, let’s be honest.
M: Well, we didn’t meet Julia or any other ghosts on the tour.
C: But it was a good time! And Peter was a lot of fun. Michael, have you ever had any ghostly experiences?
M: As a kid I lived in this really great farmhouse. In the living room was a door that opened onto a brick wall. I swear that you could hear knocking sometimes. I still assume it was full of dead bodies. . . you?
C: There was this one time. I was probably 13, it was around 4 a.m. and I was sleeping. At one point I just woke up, it wasn’t that I'd heard something, I just came to facing the wall and I heard this woman's voice say, "memories are a fact in time," which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it was just so clear. I bolted out of my room.
M: That prickly hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck feeling. . .
C: At the end of the tour, Peter said that he wanted us to leave feeling open to multidimensional reality in our everyday lives. It was this really thoughtful and incredibly open-minded sentiment.
M: It paralleled his question at the beginning, "Do you believe?” He was saying to be open to other realities, other viewpoints –
C: – to young Republicans.
Peter Sinclaire has been giving tours in Santa Fe for 26 years. Reservations at theoriginalsantafeghosttour.weebly.com. Tours are year-round on Saturdays at 5:45 p.m and Friday nights March–November at 6 p.m. Or by appointment. The tour is $16 and lasts about 2 hours.
Adobe Angels: The Ghosts of Santa Fe by Antonio R. Garcez American Ghost: A Family's Extraordinary History on the Desert Frontier by Hannah Nordhaus