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Celebrating ‘the history of folklore’

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The ghosts of notable New Mexicans will share their stories during a Halloween celebration of the state’s history and folklore.

At El Rancho de las Golondrinas’ “Spirits of New Mexico’s Past,” volunteers will perform short vignettes, dressing and acting as ghostly versions of real-life characters. The “spirits” will be stationed throughout the candlelit top section of the ranch-turned-living history museum, according to education and volunteer manager Laura Gonzales.

“They go from the Spanish Colonial period all the way to the territorial period,” she said of the characters.

“Spirits of New Mexico’s Past” at El Rancho de las Golondrinas tomorrow night will feature Marion Sloan Russell, a frequent traveler on the Santa Fe Trail. (Richard Gonzales/Courtesy of Los Ranchos de las Golondrinas)

Those scheduled to make appearances include Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, the first leader of the diocese of New Mexico; buffalo hunter Manual Maes; William Watts Hart Davis, a Mexican-American veteran who became the U.S. attorney for the territory of New Mexico during the mid-1800s; and Marion Sloan Russell. Russell, Gonzales explained, was the wife of an Army lieutenant and a frequent traveler on the Santa Fe Trail throughout her life.

Fitting with the holiday, her “spirit” will speak of the scary aspects of traveling along the trail for women who didn’t know what to expect out West.

According to Gonzales, Russell wrote about fearing the cross-country trek in her early writings and diary entries. This was before she became acclimated to the local culture.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Gonzales said of the Santa Fe Trail journey. “You’re traveling 2,000 miles over the course of three-four months to somewhere that might as well be the moon.”

The “Spirits of New Mexico’s Past” celebration was introduced last year and Gonzales said it was brought back after an unexpected turnout of about 700 guests. She said the museum staff estimated maybe 200 would show up.

The historic site of El Rancho de las Golondrinas is bringing back its Halloween celebration of New Mexico history and folklore. (Richard Gonzales/Courtesy of El Rancho de las Golondrinas)

“It was more successful than we anticipated,” she said, adding that changes have been made for this year’s event based on visitor feedback. It will be longer by an hour, and food and drinks from New Mexico Hard Cider will be added. The staff also now knows how many farolitos will be needed to brighten up walkways.

Aside from ghostly tales, there will be performances by local pueblo and flamenco dance groups, other live music, face painting and crafts.

A “Curandera” – or a traditional healer – will have a space to conduct “spiritual cleansings,” Gonzales said. She also mentioned that there will be a presentation by an actress playing La Llorona, clad in tattered rags and ghostly face paint.

According to legend, La Llorona, Spanish for “Weeping Woman,” is the spirit of a woman loudly mourning her dead children. Most tellings say she killed her children. In local versions, she haunts the Santa Fe River, and kids are told that La Llorona will take them if they stay out after dark.

“She’ll be with us again, kind of haunting the area,” said Gonzales.

Though La Llorona roaming the property may be slightly spooky for young kids, Gonzales said the festivities are appropriate for all ages and are not designed to be like a haunted house. She said there are not many evening Halloween celebrations targeted at kids and families, and that’s what they hope to create with “Spirits of New Mexico’s Past.”

“It’s our way of celebrating the history of folklore,” said Gonzales. “So many of our events focus on the quote unquote ‘factual’ history.”

And while guests will learn from the historical figures on hand, “this is our fun way of making it Halloween-y without making it just Halloween and going away from our mission,” she said.