"If I were, upon dying, to come back as a ghost, I can think of no more beautiful a city to haunt than Mérida" - Carlos Fuentes.
What is it about the story of a haunting that appeals to our nature? What is it about Mérida, with its history dating back to the 16th century when it was an isolated city in New Spain's Yucatán peninsula, that is so haunting and haunted? Why does it offer a rich history from which to draw out the ghosts that live here, some of which date back to when the Maya ruled in all their glory?
There is, of course, a natural human fascination with ghost stories. In this collection the author has assembled some of the most captivating accounts of the ghosts, spirits and souls that inhabit Mexico's most haunted city. This full-color book offers the contemporary reader a fascinating insight into the lives-and afterlives-of some of the more intriguing characters to inhabit Mérida. With riveting accounts of these tales of terror, Mérida now has an authoritative book that tells the stories of the haunted places and the hauntings that characterize this most enchanting city in Mexico.
Organized by neighborhood, the stories are told in a manner conducive to self-guided walking tours, with full addresses at the end of each story to facilitate the wandering of a curious pedestrian. Whether the hauntings are by dead Maya sacrificial virgins, lesbian suicides, disappeared Narcos, or vengeful mistresses, this book, in full color, is filled with exciting insights into the breathtaking diversity and exuberance of Mérida's paranormal history.
To purchase your copy on Amazon.com, click on the image to the upper right. Also available at Casa Catherwood, Amate Annex and other shops in town.
The Ghosts of the Slain Infants
The Souls of the Slain Infants
On most days, if the sky is bright, vultures sun themselves atop the espadaña of theChurch of Santiago the Apostle.
Mérida has many churches. This is the one favored by vultures. They perch and spread their wings as if to embrace that which cannot be seen. Many pedestrians have wondered what makes this church so appealing to these creatures that live by scavenging the dead.
Decades of speculation offer clues to the reason carrion find themselves attracted to this place, generation after generation. It may have to do with an unspeakable crime believed to have been committed in this place during the turmoil of the War of the Castes in the 1850s and 1860s.
If the tale is true, it tells of a crime that defies belief, a sin that transcends grace. Indeed, it is a legend that challenges faith in humanity and prompts fear of demonic possession.
The story begins with the great turmoil that gripped the people of Yaxcabá during the War of the Castes. During decades of unrest and uprisings, the ebbs and flows of violence and rebellion, Spanish families were forced to flee smaller communities, seeking the safety of Mérida. In one instance, one of the Spanish families living in the municipality of Yaxcabá decided to secure the safety of their children before they themselves abandoned the lives they had built for themselves. Their intention was to send their daughters to Mérida and, after putting their affairs in order, to join them there. The family had plans to continue to Sisal and then sail to Veracruz where they had relations.
This was the background against which the father escorted his daughters—twins—to the parish adjoining the Church of Santiago the Apostle. The teenage girls were entrusted to the care of a priest the family had known for years.
The sisters had only recently been feted at their quinceñera, a coming-of-age celebration commemorated when a girl turns fifteen that is analogous to the sweet sixteen parties or bat mitzvah ceremonies popular in the United States. The father stated that he intended to return with the rest of the family in a month’s time, or no later than six weeks.
He kissed his daughters on their foreheads, thanked the parish priest, and left.
The father would never see his daughters again.
In a surge of violence that swept through Yaxcabá, the parents, along with other relatives, were slain. News of these killings did not reach Mérida for several weeks.
Meanwhile, in Mérida, the beauty and charms of the twin sisters were undeniable. The parish priest, a mere mortal, was unable to resist temptation. The Bible teaches in Matthew 26:41: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
The priest’s flesh proved weak.
He had sexual relations with both sisters. Of greater consequence, both young ladies, who had not been told they were now orphans, became pregnant. They were sent to the Convent of the Conception (Convento de la Concepción) on Calle 63 to be looked after by the nuns. Trusting that their parents were to return, the nuns had no guidance or authority to intervene in the natural order of life. In other words, the sisters’ pregnancies were not terminated.
The sisters, remarkably, both gave birth to twins. The spectacular coincidences—twin sisters each giving birth to twins a few days apart—was seen as divine intervention and was the source of much fanfare at the convent. Many believed it was evidence that God blessed the presence of the Spaniards in Yucatán.
Here it was: Spanish blood multiplying, as the Bible commanded.
News of these events agitated the parish priest, who grew fearful of scandal. He concocted a story, telling the sisters that their parents were overcome with joy and that their father had summoned them home to Yaxcabá. He told the nuns that they were to take care of the infants until their mothers returned with the rest of their family. The sisters were to depart at once, in the company of two Maya attendants.
If anyone questioned why the sisters, now young mothers, would have to return to Yaxcabá only to come back to Mérida with their families, there is no record. God’s ways are, if not mysterious, then certainly illogical.
It was no mystery what would be the outcome of such a journey: certain death for the sisters and their attendants.
At the same time, there were questions. The archdiocese grew suspicious of the various reports reaching their office. Amid the confusion and disorder caused by social unrest, where scores of churches had come under attack throughout the peninsula, the news of twins giving birth to two sets of twins was exceptional. That there was no father of record for either set of twins was noted as an ominous omission. That these sisters were in the care of a parish priest and not their parents was a minor detail that required further clarification.
It is at this point that there is speculation that the parish priest, having been possessed by the demon Asmodeus, who rules over lust, went mad. Some claim the priest was evil incarnate, evidence that the Maya were right to burn down churches. Others believed that Satan came and took possession of this fallen man.
Who can say with certainty? God works in mysterious ways.
The priest commanded the nuns to bring him the four infants from the Convent of the Conception. He arranged to have them looked after in his private quarters in the rectory. He delayed responding to queries from the Archdiocese.
Mérida, during this time, was overwhelmed by a wave of refugees fleeing rural communities. Authorities, civil and ecclesiastical, were distraught at the uprisings spreading throughout the land. In this confusion, it is said that the parish priest planned his murderous deeds.
In what is believed to be nothing less than proof of demonic possession, he is said to have strangled each of his children, three girls and one boy. He was reportedly seen on the roof of the rectory. Witness accounts described him as climbing a ladder with a sack containing his murdered children. One account tells of him tossing their dead bodies onto the roof of the Church of Santiago the Apostle.
The parish priest then vanishes from history.
Some claim he freely went into hostile terrirtory, toward Yaxcabá, where he, too, was slain in the uprising. One report has him fleeing along Calle 59-A, the principal road to the Port of Sisal at that time. Others claim he was seized by the demon Asmodeus and taken directly to Hell.
In the days that followed, vultures descended on the Church of Santiago the Apostle. The carrion devoured the human remains of the murdered infants.
There have been reliable reports that the Virgin of Guadalupe appears at this site.
It is said that these innocents’ anguished souls remain over the Church of Santiago the Apostle. and that the vultures are a reminder of their feast on the flesh of innocents.
It is said that as long as vultures rest on the espadaña of this church and other vultures circle in the sky, the souls of these four infants remain in Limbo.
Paranormal Activity: Souls
Address: Church of Santiago the Apostle, Calle 59 and 70th Street, Centro
The Two Ghosts of Villa Maria
The Two Ghosts of Villa María
Villa María, across from the Double Tree hotel, is one of the most elegant homes on Avenida Colón. It doesn’t take much to envision its splendor during its heyday. The residents of this house clearly enjoyed a life of privilege and refined comforts.
That was decades ago, though, and today, after decline and abandonment, this grand home sits forlorn. And it prompts us to ask the question: Why are there ghosts in residence?
There is nothing in the history of the house to suggest paranormal activity, and it is only the passage of time and the diminishment of wealth that explain the conditions of neglect that now characterize the structure.
Nevertheless, there are persistent stories that the house is haunted. Witnesses report seeing a female ghost, an elderly woman. She is said to be dressed in a white dress with ruffles around the collar and long sleeves. It could be an elegant nightgown or a fancy dress from a bygone era. The ghost is always silent. No one has reported hearing voices.
She is said to appear in the eastern doors (to the left as one faces the house from Avenida Colón). Witnesses report that her face is smooth as silk and her expression is, if not haughty, then at least cool and distant as air. Others report seeing curtains gently billowing and the flickering of candle flames. Impossible, since the house is closed up. The windows are secured shut and no one could possibly be lighting candles inside the residence.
It is almost as if she is waiting for someone to come home—as if she is looking for someone and she believes that a casual passerby might be the person for whom she waits. This ghost of an elderly woman dressed in white and standing vigilant by the window is the one most often seen and commented upon by pedestrians walking past the house.
That isn’t to say that she is the only ghost to inhabit the house.
Witnesses report the presence of another, less benign spiritual presence. Also a female, she is dressed in a dark red and purple coat. She is said to appear on the second-floor balcony, her hands on the banister as she stares down at the sidewalk. She too is silent, although periodically she will open her mouth and stick out her tongue, which is green.
No one knows quite to make of this apparition. Is she mute? Has her tongue been disembodied and become gangrenous? Is her intent to plead for help? Or to curse?
Witnesses report seeing her when the moon is bright, and an hour or so after midnight. She is said to walk in a circular motion, her hands on her head, as if in pain. Then, abruptly, she will walk to the edge of the balcony, place her hands on the banister, lean forward and stare out onto Avenida Colón, and stick out her tongue.
What is peculiar about both these apparitions is that one ghost appears from inside the house, looking out, and the other is always outside on the second-floor terrace. Some have speculated that the ghost on the balcony is lost, not realizing that the soul on the first floor is looking for her. At the same time, the ghost in white is unaware that the spirit for whom she waits might be upstairs, locked outside on the second-floor balcony. There is also the opinion that the two spirits inhabit different dimensions, each unaware of the presence of the other, which would make the house doubly possessed.
This is a reasonable conclusion, given that several generations have lived in this mansion and that the nearby area is known for paranormal activity. What is also known is that the current owners have a difficult time keeping caretakers. Many night watchmen report hearing strange noises and unexplained presences. Many refuse to spend the night on the property.
Here is another tantalizing fact: When renovations began across the street to convert the house where the Double Tree hotel now stands, several workmen quit, reporting seeing a ghost dressed in red and purple and hearing wailing. Some witnesses claimed to fear becoming possessed by her. The night workers feared that they would go insane and lose their minds.
A Maya shaman was brought in to purify the place and give the ghost permission to depart. Perhaps she did, but it is precisely around this time that the second ghost on the balcony began to appear across the street. Did the ghost simply cross the street? Many believe so.
Is it possible that the first ghost, dressed in white, looking from the first floor of Villa María, is staring across the street, horrified by the abomination that has been constructed? Is the ghost on the balcony the one that was chased away from across the street by the Maya shaman? Is that why she stares from the balcony and sticks out her tongue at the hotel that has been constructed where her former residence once stood?
There is this thrilling speculation: She hates what they have done to her former home and today stands on the balcony of Villa María to taunt her persecutors.
What is clear, however, is that Villa María is one of the few haunted places in Mérida that is possessed by two distinct ghosts, neither of which seems to be aware of the other’s presence.
Paranormal Activity: Ghosts
Address: Avenida Colón #508-J
Classification: One ghost is benign; the other ghost is malevolent.
The Apparition of the Gentleman Killer
The Apparition of the Gentleman Killer
Along the intersection of Avenida Reforma and Calle 35 one finds Quinta Alicia. This grand house was built in 1863 by Don Manuel Rodríguez Acosta, a renowned figure in the second half of nineteenth-century Yucatán.
There are other gracious homes along Calle 35 as one walks east toward Calle 60. Like Quinta Alicia, they reflect the taste and sensibilibities of a time when, despite the turmoil of civil disturbances here and abroad, decorum endured and was valued.
People in Mérida at that time were taken by La Mascotte (The Mascot), an opéra comique by Edmond Audran, and Chilpéric, an opéra bouffe by Hervé. The 1888 waltz, “Sobre las Olas,” or “Over the Waves,” a song by Mexican composer Juventino Rosas still enjoyed at amusement parks the world over, was a sensation that circled the globe. Most famously, it is the song that now plays at the National Carousel in front of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, today.
Not far from Quinta Alicia, in a residence since demolished, stood a private club where gentlemen gathered to drink, smoke, play parlor games, and talk business, science, and politics. One of these gentlemen, legend has it, had arrived in Mérida from Catalonia. The city he came from is in dispute, but it was not Barcelona. This man would slip into one of the private booths that were surrounded by lattice cages imported from London. He would indulge in Peking duck and roasted Yucatecan venison. One was topped with Russian caviar, the other was marinated in French champagne. The cigars came from Havana, and the scotch came from Scotland.
The pastimes were backgammon, cards, and chess. Gentlemen of the era in Mérida collected pocket watches, walking canes, glass flasks, and botanical specimens. Taxidermy featured prominently in their homes; and privately, daggers from across the ages were coveted and jealously guarded.
The Catalán immigrant, whose name is recorded as Roderic Moncada, enjoyed the debates that centered on the scientific inquiries of the day. The archaeological work at Uxmal by the audacious husband-and-wife team Augustus and Alice Le Plongeon enthralled the people of Mérida. For the first time there was serious scientific inquiry to establish the connections between ancient Mexico and ancient Egypt.
The Le Plongeons, with their state-of-the-art daguerreotype images, were documenting the vast Maya ceremonial center. When the Empress Carlotta arrived in Yucatán, they provided a private tour of Uxmal for her majesty. Roderic Moncada participated in the royal tour of the site and environs.
It is said that, as they left the Temple of the Phalli, Roderic Moncada stumbled and fell down a ravine. It is believed that Camazotz, the Maya bat god, appeared before him ,and that as the mortal gasped in fright, Camazotz flew into his mouth and possessed him.
Others in the party ran to his rescue, hearing his screams. They found him lying prostate near the opening of a cavern. They hurried him off to Hacienda Uxmal for his own well-being and also to remove him before the empress was made aware of the incident. The Le Plongeons wanted to spare her royal sensibilities from knowledge of this unfortunate event.
It is said that upon the arriving at Hacienda Uxmal, the Maya who gazed upon him were terrified. They claimed his eyes glowed with demonic possession; they made the sign of the cross and refused to remain in his presence. The Spaniards present didn’t notice anything and dismissed the reactions as the hysterics of an irrational people.
Roderic Moncada recovered soon enough and was able to rejoin the royal entourage the following morning. He completed the tour without further incident.
When he returned to Mérida, however, things were different.
The Maya shunned him, making the sign of the cross when they saw him and excusing themselves from his presence. When they encountered him in public, the Maya would cross to the opposite side of the street. Spaniards and other Europeans were struck by his demeanor. He appeared later and later in the evening at the club and at social events and appeared withdrawn and distracted. Some witnesses report that he “appeared suddenly” out of nowhere.
Others were convinced he had the ability of bilocation—being in two distinct places at once. In the New World only Saint Martin de Porres is attributed with that miraculous gift.
What is certain, however, is that one day, after he left the club and walked home, he vanished.
Within months, reports of an apparition in this area began to surface. Out of nowhere a man would appear from the shadows. He was said to be dressed as Roderic Moncada favored and to carry a walking stick. He was said to approach pedestrians, most of whom grew fearful at the sight of this apparition.
There are reports that the apparition would approach a couple and ask for the time. When one of them answered, he would plunge a dagger murderously into the chest of the innocent. Reports indicate the other person would run, terrified, or collapse to the ground to assist the wounded companion.
By all accounts, the apparition then vanished into thin air.
There is consistency in the witness reports. The apparition, who speaks Spanish with a Catalán accent, always asks for the time. When he is answered, his reply is the same: “I congratulate you for knowing the hour of your death!”
He plunges a Scottish dirk, or dagger, into the victim’s rib cage. He then vanishes.
Could it be that Camazotz possesses this man?
The Maya believe that Camazotz is exacting vengeance on the Europeans who have settled here, intent on slaying them one at a time before dragging their souls to Hell.
The apparition continues to be described as being capable of bilocation, not unlike Saint Martin de Porres who, in 1962, was canonized by Pope John XXIII. Saint Martin de Porres is the patron saint of mixed-race people and of all those who seek interracial harmony.
That, however, is not what the Maya believe of those who are under the influence of Camazotz.
You have been warned.
Should you find yourself strolling in the vicinity of Reforma and Calle 35 late at night or be walking along Calle 35 toward Calle 60 and a well-dressed gentleman appears, carry on. Do not stop. If he reaches out to you and asks for the time, do not answer.
He knows the time, and so do you.
Should you be foolish enough to answer this apparition’s query, you will be rewarded for your troubles with the taking of your life.
The time, he asks?
It is time for your life to end.
Provided you answer, that is.
Paranormal Activity: Spirit
Address: Calle 35, between Avenida Reforma and 60th Street, Centro
Got a Ghost Story?
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Alberto Huchim at Casa Catherwood is compiling a list of the haunted houses in Merida. Now in its third year, this project has been investigating paranormal activity throughout the city.