This post was updated in October 2015. See the bottom of the page under American Ghost for the updated material.
Santa Fe is full of ghosts. Some you hear about and some you don’t. One of the most famous is Julia Staab, who lives in, or more correctly, haunts the upscale hotel, La Posada de Santa Fe Resort and Spa.
The beautiful Julia was the wife of wealthy Santa Fe merchant, Abraham Staab. Because of a shortage of eligible Jewish brides, he imported her from Germany. Their opulent Palace Avenue residence, Staab House, was completed in 1882. Amazingly, the original building was incorporated into the hotel. Walk into the lobby and take a right just before the restaurant. You’ll be looking at the entrance to the Staab’s 19th century home. Walk up the steps and through the door; you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time. Many of the original architectural details are intact or reproduced.
The Staabs were prosperous and abundant. They had seven children. By all accounts, life was good. Things went downhill when the eighth child, a daughter, died soon after her birth. Reportedly, Julia went into a severe depression and may have even lost her sanity. Her hair is said to have turned white overnight. After several subsequent unsuccessful pregnancies, she took to her room and died in 1896 at the age of 52. There are unanswered questions about her death. Some say it was murder, some say suicide. There were rumors that Abraham was having an affair. We will never know. Julia is said to have loved her magnificent home and if you believe the stories, she is still there walking the halls.
Julia’s presence was not noted until the 1970s. Where Julia was prior to that is anybody’s guess. Her first manifestation is said to have been when the hotel’s furnace quit working. The door to furnace room was mysteriously locked and no one could get in. A call came from Julia’s former room. “This is my house,” said the unidentified woman. “Why isn’t the furnace working? I’ll get it fixed!” Ten minutes later, the furnace was mysteriously working again.
Julia reportedly loved baths. Guests who have stayed in her room have reported hearing the bathtub running in the middle of the night. There are also reports of water going on and off in the hotel with no logical explanation. A hotel employee was reportedly giving a tour of the property and knocked on the door of Julia’s supposedly vacant former room. A woman’s voice responded, “Don’t come in, I’m dressing.” On another occasion, a couple who stayed in the infamous Julia Staab Room reported heavy breathing at 4:00 AM. They checked out shortly thereafter.
On occasion, Julia has supposedly been seen coming down the stairs, most often dressed in black. A bartender setting up for the day reportedly saw her sitting quietly in a chair in the bar area. During another bar sighting glasses went flying off the shelves. One day, a woman who was in the downstairs restroom put down her purse. Her make-up flew out of the upright bag and around the bathroom. Another time, an attendant cleaning the men’s room reported seeing a woman’s face in the mirror. He was alone in the room.
She’s said to be a gentle spirit and no one wants to get rid of her. Don’t worry about her getting lonely. There are rumors of another spirit guest, an old Indian man who died around 1096, to keep her company and there may be more. After all, it is Santa Fe.
Julia Update- October 2015: American Ghost
It’s a week before Halloween and my thoughts turn to ghosts. Late last winter, Hannah Nordhaus’ book American Ghost, A Family’s Haunted Past in the Desert Southwest, was released by HarperCollins. Nordhaus is Julia Staab’s great-great granddaughter. A writer and historian, delving into the spirit world was a challenge for her, a huge willing suspension of disbelief. She does it well. She tells her family’s (and Julia’s) story with intelligence, compassion and humor.
Last summer Marcia Sky, Marketing Manager at La Posada, loaned me her review copy of the book. It took me until last week to pick it up and read it. It’s a riveting book taking readers back to 19th century Santa Fe and New Mexico with side-trips to Germany and California. Nordhaus spent three years researching the book that was inspired by a family history compiled by Elizabeth Nordhaus Minces (“Aunt Lizzie”) one of Julia’s granddaughters. Hannah Nordhaus discovered her great-aunt’s book during a visit to a family home in the Sangre de Christo Mountains northeast of Santa Fe. The author spent three years following her ancestors’ trails. She searched the Internet and archives, read books and interviewed family members and others. She travel to Germany and other places. She also communed with spiritualist and mediums, which I suspect, was the most difficult feat of all for this rationalist. But, how else do you contact a ghost?
While the book answers a lot of questions, despite the author’s three years of intensive and extensive research, there is are blanks in the family history that the author wasn’t able to fill in. In the end, Nordhaus was unable to discover conclusively what happened to her grandmother and why she still wanders the halls at La Posada.
If you want to know more about Julia Staab, Jews in Santa Fe and New Mexico, German Jews, life in the New Mexico Territory, and the Staab family in general, read American Ghost. I found it riveting and was sorry that it came to an end. The extensive bibliography in her “Acknowledgements” section opened up a lot of avenues for researching Santa Fe in the late 1800s, a period that interests us. In our household, American Ghost gets four thumbs up. Let us know what you think,
Author’s note: We want to thank local tour guide and ghost expert, John Lorenzen for his assistance with this post. He was also interviewed for American Ghost.