I don’t believe in ghosts, but that could be because I’ve never encountered one. I’ve traveled to all kinds of historic places and spent time in spooky old buildings, and not a single spirit has materialized before me. In New Mexico, though, I keep my eyes open, just in case. With its deeply layered, often violent and lawless history, the land is steeped in the supernatural. Ghost sightings have been reported across the state for centuries on lonely, dark roads, in old adobe homes, and along waterways, where La Llorona is said to eternally search for her drowned children.
Curiously, ghosts also seem drawn to lively places, like the restaurants and saloons occupying revived old buildings. Are they hungry for company? Thirsty for what they can no longer taste? The answers are as unknowable as the specters themselves, but All Hallows’ Eve, when the veil between worlds grows thin, presents a powerful time to ponder them. Consider, then, the following spine-tingling encounters shared by a few brave souls who work in some of New Mexico’s legendary haunts.
Cimarron’s Cowboy Miner
At the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, guests and staff alike have long been spooked by supernatural presences. It’s not surprising, given that more than twenty-five people were murdered in the saloon, where gunshots were once as common as whiskey shots. Frenchman Henry Lambert opened the elegant hotel on the Old Santa Fe Trail in 1872, and early guests included Billy the Kid, Annie Oakley, and many other icons of the Wild West.
The most notorious guest may be the one who never checked out. “Thomas James Wright, or TJ, was a cowboy miner who was shot in the back just after winning the deed to the hotel in a poker game,” Thea Maestas, the hotel’s front desk manager, tells me. “He made it to his room, room 18, and barricaded himself in there for a few days before he died.” Wright’s angry ghost is said to haunt room 18 with such vehemence that it remains padlocked and off limits to guests.
Maestas may have encountered Wright’s spirit one day while she was sitting at the front desk. “We have an open window with no glass between the hotel lobby and the restaurant saloon,” she recalls. “I was running my report, getting ready for the day, and I heard whistling and spurred footsteps, like boots with a clink. I walked up to the window to get a clear view of the saloon and by the time I got there, the whistling had stopped. There was nobody in there. I knew there was nobody in the building.”
Other restless spirits reportedly haunt this historic hotel, including Lambert’s wife, Mary, and Pancho Griego. “He was one of the people shot and killed in our saloon and a possible permanent guest,” Maestas says. The saloon is now called TJ’s Bar, and guests are invited to “come and have a toast with the ghost.” Perhaps you will if you order the Mary Lambert, a spirited cocktail of Southern Comfort, Crème de Noyaux, pineapple juice, and grenadine, or if you sample the Pancho Griego Enchiladas in the hotel restaurant, Lambert’s.
Albuquerque’s Lady in White
The rooftop Apothecary Lounge, an Albuquerque hot spot for cocktails and stunning sunset views, sits atop the stylish Hotel Parq Central, a historic landmark on old Route 66 near downtown Albuquerque. Constructed in 1926 as the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Hospital, the building became a psychiatric facility during the 1980s, which may explain the otherworldly guests rumored to roam the hotel, which opened in 2010.
“We’ve had some interesting things happen in the bar, such as things falling off shelves and bar tools moving on the bar top,” says Jake Larragoite, the hotel’s director of food and beverage. “There’s a stovetop that seems to keep turning itself on. We used to have this satellite music and it would just change stations in the middle of a shift, and always to 1920s–1930s stations.” Though quick to share that they’ve never experienced anything scary or negative, Larragoite notes, “The building itself is almost a hundred years old so there is definitely a lot of history and energy there.”
One spirit is said to be a ghostly woman who haunts the rooftop patio. “We’ve heard stories of a lady in white named Rachel,” Larragoite says. “One time an older gentleman came into the bar and told his server how he lives across the street and sees a woman in white walking on the patio late at night. We were like ‘Oh my god, she must be the one that keeps changing our music.’ We meet people all the time who worked in the building when it was a hospital. A group of nurses also told us about a woman in white that they named Rachel.”
Rachel’s wandering spirit must be pleased to have a namesake cocktail, inspired by one that dates to the 1930s. “We created a coconut Ramos gin fizz and decided to name it Lady in White as a nod to Rachel,” Larragoite says. “It’s a delicious and beautiful silky-white cocktail with a cloudlike foam on top.”
The Spirits of Lamy
The little town of Lamy rumbled with activity as a railroad hub starting in the late 1800s, with saloons, hotels, and other bustling businesses, including the building now occupied by the Legal Tender Saloon & Eating House. Gamblers, cowboys, and train travelers walked through the doors and bellied up to the handsome wood bar. Some, perhaps, never left.
Spooky stories abound, and restaurateur Murphy O’Brien has his own to share. It dates to 2019, when he and owner Allan Affeldt, who has restored two Harvey House hotels—La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, and the Castañeda Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico—were preparing to reopen The Legal Tender after it had been shuttered for a few years.
“I was there late at night working on the lights in the main dining room,” O’Brien recalls. “My dog was with me, and it was still very much a construction zone. The building was all locked up and I was turning off lights to leave. I came out from having turned off the lights in the bathroom and my dog was underneath a seat in the bar, looking up at the back-left corner and growling. At the same time, I heard noises and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I thought, ‘OK, we’re out of here.’ I turned off lights in the front, went to the bar entrance, set the alarm, locked the door, and as I turned to go to my car, I heard a noise behind me and I literally lurched toward my car. I was totally freaked out. I got my dog in the car and got the hell out of there. I tried not to stay so late after that.”
After COVID shut the restaurant down, O’Brien returned to the Legal Tender in August. “In recent months, I’ve been there late and I haven’t had any creepy, weird feelings,” he says. “I don’t know if the spirits are happier when the place is up and running with food and activity. But I definitely felt something that night, and that was after the restaurant had been shut and quiet for a good amount of time.”
Perhaps the fragrant food keeps the spirits sated, especially the restaurant’s green chile stew, a New Mexican staple that any local ghost would crave. “Green chile stew with posole, potatoes, and pinto beans, it’s a soothing dish for people, very much a comfort food, and possibly for the spirits too,” O’Brien says.
Lynn Cline is the award-winning author of The Maverick Cookbook: Iconic Recipes and Tales From New Mexico. She’s written for Bon Appétit, the New York Times, New Mexico Magazine, and many other publications. She also hosts Cline’s Corner, a weekly talk show on public radio’s KSFR 101.1 FM.