I do not suffer ghosts lightly. So when I walked into the Double Eagle in Mesilla, New Mexico, a 150-year-old great house in the middle of a preserved adobe village that was once defiantly part of Mexico, I paid serious attention. It is now the top steak and gourmet restaurant in a little corner of New Mexico near Las Cruces. And the dining experience, if not the setting itself, is worth every dime.
I had been prepared for this moment with the story that preceded it. It was a lurid story with all the blood and drama a good ghost story should carry. And it went something like this:
There was a sweet teenager named Inez who was a servant girl in this great house. It was the largest in the village and owned by the aristocratic Maes family, including the mother named Carlotta, and a teenage son named Armando. In what is now called the Carlotta room, Armando’s mother found her son in bed one day with the young beautiful servant, Inez. Carlotta immediately grabbed a pair of sharp scissors from a nearby sewing basket and violently started stabbing at the young servant. When she cleared from her frenzy Carlotta discovered she not only had stabbed and killed the girl, but she had mortally wounded her son as well. It is said following the burial of her son she moved to Chihuahua and lived out the rest of her days behind the walls of an asylum for the insane.
A Restaurant with Old World Ambiance
A walk into this restaurant shows a story of a private domicile that remained that way until the late 1970s when a wealthy oil baron bought it and stuffed it with enough European gothic décor to rival any horror ride at Disneyworld. There are images of Spanish royalty on the wall along with naturalist scenes and even funereal art (the Old World tradition of painting or photographing dead children as alive in order to remember them). I am greeted just after the foyer by a magnificent oak bar that once stood in a Prohibition-era speakeasy inside Chicago’s Drake Hotel.
On this night I wander the rooms: the patio lounge where authentic handwritten letters by Billy the Kidd hang under glass; the Maximillion Room where life-size paintings of French nobles preside over a grand scene of gilded mirrors and Louis XVI furnishings – and where the strange image of Inez has appeared in photographs; there are back rooms and hallways all ornate and strangely beckoning as if the walls would burst with tell tale paranormal life.
One Ghost or Two?
But all was quiet on this night – until I wandered into Carlotta’s Room. I was told by the restaurant’s manager that the chairs in each corner belong to Inez and Armando and I would be able to see their imprint in the strange wear patterns on these seats that no one ever uses. And I was warned — under no circumstances should I actually sit in either one.
Indeed, a round table setting for eight illuminated by a chandelier above is all that most guests use should they choose to dine in that room at all. Two paintings on the wall – of the Senora and Senor Maes — are complemented by a pair of marble hearths and a table with an antique brass and crystal lamp.
I walked into the room slowly, taking note of every step, every sound, every sensation. Three steps in and I knew I was in deeper than I wanted to be. A sharp cooling as I inched along the wall, then a cool breeze. Ok, I thought. Could be ghosts, could be me, could be too little to consider for the moment. The hair on my arm stood up at the sudden, yet otherwise barely perceptible drop in temperature.
I crossed the first chair and tried to determine whether it belonged to Armando or Inez. The wear patterns were visible but indistinct as to whether they matched the pressure of pants or skirts. I crossed the table to the second chair, taking note of all that was in my immediate space. And then I sat down in the chair. Alone. In a room haunted by two ghosts where I was told clearly not to sit in either chair.
The effect was immediate, so immediate it I did not have a chance to register it for several seconds. In a motionless and silent room, the lamp next to me began knocking in a clear way meant for me to hear. The sounds came from deep within the lamp as if it were the rapping of a person trapped inside and trying to get out. Or the gentle persistent tapping one might make on a crystal glass, although in this case prolonged, in a motion to be heard.
I looked at the lamp. It got my attention. I slowly lifted myself from the chair and the knocking stopped. Walking out of the room I stopped at the painting of the father. Suddenly I felt a violent rapping under my feet. I stood there incredulously and then I felt it again – swift, clear, powerful. I left the room and went to the empty bathroom next door. New knocking started, clear, swift and coming from no place I could discern.
After dinner I learned that others in my party had ventured into that room as well at some point after I had. What I did not expect was their confirming reports of similar experiences with the now angry spirits once they had sat in that same seat: the lamp did not just knock, it shook wildly “like an earthquake” a fellow travel writer reported. She noted similar knocks under foot in varying areas of the room and then noted another astounding experience. A second woman in the room had taken a row of flash photos. As she reviewed the photos she had taken with her fellow writer both women saw the photos just disappear from the camera never to return.
A similar report by a another no-nonsense writer who had gone into that room later than evening, only further confirmed what I already knew. She, too, had sat on the chair and saw the lamp start to shake. She also saw movement from the chandelier. She could have said that she saw an apparition or watched the curtains flutter even though they did not cover a window. But she saw what others saw: the deliberate, if not passionate, communication from some unknown, unseen force through the lamp next to the chair that was supposed to be left alone.
As a journalist I have long used observation coupled with outside confirmation by several sources to arrive at whatever can be considered the truth. “Do you believe in ghosts?” asked one of the women I was traveling with that day. I am merely an observer traveling through life, I said. It is not a matter of belief.