ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The historic buildings of Albuquerque’s downtown and Old Town are the origin of a number of stories passed down over the years. Some of them, undoubtedly, include stories of the paranormal.
Local author Cody Polston has been investigating stories of ghosts in New Mexico since the mid-1980s and says he believes the probability that one will encounter a ghost depends on one’s belief system. “A person that believes in ghosts is more likely to see something that they’re going to perceive as a ghost,” said Polston. “One who’s skeptical isn’t going to see that; they’re going to see something different.”
Polston explains that in the field of parapsychology – which is the study of mental phenomena which can’t be explained by regular psychology – when someone sees a ghost, it’s happening in the eye of the witness and not in the actual environment. In the 1940s, parapsychologist G.N.M. Tyrrell referred to ghosts as an “external agency,” according to Polston.
“As a ghost hunter, you would always ask ‘what did it look like,’ and you’re trying to see if other people seeing the same thing, are they describing the exact same thing,” said Polston. “And when they do, then you’re going ‘well, they’ve obviously seen the same thing; what was it?'”
So, whether you wholeheartedly believe in the existence of ghosts, or look at instances of the paranormal with a healthy amount of skepticism, here are a few Albuquerque locations with a haunted history.
The Hotel Andaluz has what Polston calls a “zombie ghost story” – not your Night of the Living Dead zombies but rather a story that has been told piecemeal over time, then combined into one. The original story is about a New Mexico country artist in the 1970s named Sandy Saunders, who would often play at the Hotel Andaluz (then known as the Hotel Plaza).
The Hatch native was driving back home from Los Angeles after recording an album, fell asleep at the wheel, drove off into the river, and died. The story goes that her ghost would appear at locations she performed, mainly the Hotel Andaluz in the ballroom. Originally she would be seen wearing a pink county and western outfit, but the updated story has her in a pink nightgown.
Tales of the La Placita restaurant in Old Town being haunted by the ghost of a teenage girl began in 1977. Victoriana Armijo was 18 years old when she died, supposedly from childbirth, in 1867. What Polston finds unique about Victoriana is that he can’t find her grave anywhere. “I can find all [of] the other members of her family; she was married, I checked her husband’s side…can’t find her,” said Polston.
According to Polston’s website, Victoriana favors the main hallway of the restaurant that features the antique staircase. People who have spotted her say she is usually accompanied by Elizabeth, a servant girl to the Armijo family who died from tuberculosis around 1783 and is also said to haunt the restaurant.
Another Old Town spot that is said to be haunted is the La Hacienda restaurant. Polston says it’s unique because it’s the oldest ghost story he could find in Albuquerque history. It was first documented in 1938 and is the story of a server opening up the restaurant one morning and finding a cup of coffee by the coffee pot. The coffee is hot, but the cup is cold. When the cook comes in for the day, the server goes to show him the cup of coffee, but the cup is gone.
“I’ve been in that building at night, and you go upstairs and it was me and the manager, and it sounds like there’s a party going on downstairs; you can hear people talking, hear stuff moving around, and you go down the stairs real quick and it’s quiet,” said Polston.
It’s believed the ghost is that of Sophie Bueller, the daughter of the builder of the original mansion hidden behind the restaurant.
“Sarge” on San Felipe Street and Old Town Prostitute
Two other ghosts of note in Old Town can be found walking the streets. One simply known as “Sarge,” is a Confederate ghost seen on San Felipe Street. He’s seen wearing a white shirt, brown pants, and a hat with a bronze star with the number 5 on it. “[The five] stands for the Texas Fifth, which is the group of Confederates that were in Old Town during the Civil War,” said Polston. It’s rumored that he’s guarding the cannons buried by the Confederacy after the Skirmish of Albuquerque 500 feet northeast of the San Felipe Church.
Polston also says there’s a ghost of a prostitute that haunts an alley in Old Town, believed to be connected to one of the brothels along South Plaza Street in the 1880s. What makes this ghost unique is that she is actually found during the daytime instead of the night, smoking a cigarette and wearing a dark blue or purple dress.
The story of the death of a boy named Bobby Darnell and his haunting of the KiMo Theatre has been passed around for decades. Polston was able to break down where it all came from. The story of a ghost haunting the theater came six months after the theater had a production of A Christmas Carol in the 1970s. Initially, the idea of a boy ghost being involved wasn’t talked about but rather a series of technical issues that plagued the production. “The [Albuquerque] Journal calls it a ‘hacker ghost,'” said Polston.
When this article was published, a reporter did some digging and found out that a boy did die at the KiMo Theatre from a steam pipe explosion, so Darnell was connected to the “haunted” production.
Another element to the KiMo ghost story is the theater’s tradition of hanging a donut on a pipe after every production. When the donuts would be taken down at the end of the year with bite marks on them. “But if you leave food laying out, you’re going to invite mice, and that’s what was causing the little bite marks,” says Polston. The bite marks were tied to the Darnell story, and he was dubbed the Hungry Little Ghost.
The whole story really caught fire after the City of Albuquerque bought the theater instead of it being torn down. The city invited the local Boys and Girls Club to come and clean it up. Before this, the theater showed adult movies, so when someone walking along Central saw a little boy waving from one of the theater’s windows, they called the police. By the time the police arrived, the group of kids had already left. “So that initial story – there was a little boy and when the police came in they were all gone, it was empty – that was the catalyst that starts the entire legend,” said Polston.