At Halloween, the veil between the worlds thins and spirits walk the earth. In Santa Fe, you’ll find spirits all year round. One of the most famous is La Llorona, aka the Weeping Woman. She is the prototypical ghost. She appears in the folklore of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Mexico.
The basic premise is similar, but each region has its own version of the sad and scary story. Here is s local one with two endings. A beautiful, flirtatious woman is married to a Conquistador; they have two children. He runs off with another woman. Distraught, the deserted wife throws her two children into the Santa Fe River. In ending one, she claps in glee as they drown, falls, hit hers head on a stone and dies. The second has her hanging herself in remorse. The one thread that seems to run through all the stories of La Llorona is that once dead, she suffered remorse and still wanders the banks of the river at night, wailing. In families with roots going back to the early Spanish settlers, she’s used as a cautionary tale warning children away from rivers and ditches. The legend is that she looks for other children to drown even as she mourns her own. According to Santa Fe tour and ghost-tour guide, John Lorenzen, there are 42 versions of the tale in Northern New Mexico alone.
Locals say you can hear her wailing by the banks of the Santa Fe River. They believe that if she appears to a family it portends a bad happening such as death. Those who claim to have seen her report a dark shape. According to Lorenzen, in Hispanic families, she is often used to keep children on the straight and narrow. “Be good or La Llorona will get you,” is a common threat from mothers.
A woman on one of Lorenzen’s tours had a harrowing La Llorona story. When she was young, she and her friends were stealing apples form an orchard on Acequia Madre, one of the oldest streets in town. She said La Llorona appeared and chased them and said that she would get them if it was the last thing she did. She chased them home and when they got to the door, she floated over them and disappeared. They never stole apples again.
People who work in the PERA Building, a stone’s throw from the river, tell of encounters with the Weeping Woman. She is said to turn lights on and off. Cleaning crews have reported hearing her cry at night and she has been seen walking down the hallways dressed in black. Observers say she just fades away.
Skeptics say the mournful sound people report hearing by the river is howling coyotes. Whatever you believe, if you find yourself in Santa Fe, go down to the banks of the river and listen for the wailing La Llorona. Don’t get too close to the water. She’s looking for someone to drown.