A ‘SPIRITED’ OVERNIGHT AT LA POSADA
by Debbie Stone
Big Blend travel writer Debbie Stone shares her experience at the historic La Posada de Santa Fe Resort & Spa, a luxury destination nestled on six beautifully landscaped acres in the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Big Blend Radio.
An overactive imagination can really play a number on you, especially when it concerns ghosts. I confess I’m not one who believes in the paranormal world, as I’m a skeptic at heart. I rely on science to explain the unexplained, choosing to go the rational route when in doubt. Hearing accounts from others who have seen spectral images or felt otherworldly presences around them typically elicits a raised eyebrow or hearty guffaw from me.
I had no problem then accepting an assignment to spend a night in Julia’s Suite at La Posada de Santa Fe. This acclaimed resort, one of New Mexico’s finest luxury properties, has a colorful history and is purported to be haunted by the spirit of Julia Staab. Julia and her husband Abraham built their dream home, which is now part of La Posada, back in 1882. The site, however, dates back centuries before the voyage of Columbus. Native Americans cultivated the area, as it was near the Santa Fe River and had a fresh water spring. After the Spaniards came in 1610, the land remained a prime agricultural spot for the new inhabitants.
By the early 19th century, the La Posada property was owned by the Baca family, one of the four original settlers of Santa Fe. Eventually, portions of it were sold off and in 1876, Abraham Staab purchased a parcel. Staab, together with three of his older brothers, emigrated to Santa Fe from Germany in the mid-1800s and proceeded to establish a mercantile business. The firm, which was a major supply contractor for U.S. Army posts in the Southwest, prospered during the Civil War and Staab amassed a fortune. He returned to Germany and married Julia Schuster, who then traveled back with him to Santa Fe.
The home that Abraham promised his bride was an elegant mansion and the first brick structure in town. It was designed in a style identified with the French Second Empire, noted for its mansard roof and classical floor plan. The materials of brick, mahogany and marble, as well as the furnishings and artwork, were all imported and came from the east via steamer and then wagon train. The residence was filled with antique French furniture and tapestries, Italian paintings and statuary, and English traditional pieces.
The Staab Mansion became well-known in town, as it played a prominent role in Santa Fe high society. Julia was the consummate hostess, receiving afternoon callers in her drawing room and holding gala parties in the third story ballroom. She and Abraham were what we would call today a “power couple,” as they were wealthy, cultured, and held a position of civic importance. They often entertained dignitaries, governors, justices, visiting notables and military officers at their home.
Over the years, Julia bore eight children, though the eighth died in infancy of an illness, a tragedy that is said to have turned her hair prematurely white almost overnight. She also had numerous unsuccessful pregnancies and complications, and was often sad and sickly, remaining in her room for long periods of time. Doctors today would most likely diagnose her with severe post-partum depression. Physical and emotional issues probably contributed to Julia’s early demise in 1896 at the age of 52, but the exact reason for her death remains a mystery. One rumor had it that she went crazy and committed suicide with an overdose of laudanum. And then there were those who painted Abraham as a brute, even going as far as to speculate that he murdered her.
Shortly after the turn of the century, a fire destroyed the third story of the Staab Mansion. It was never rebuilt; thus, any drawings or photographs of the house beyond this point show it sans the distinguishing mansard roof. In 1936, the property was acquired by R.H. and Eualia Nason, who proceeded to construct a series of adobe casitas around the place. They were built in the traditional manner with local clay and straw, without plans or formal design. Eventually, a Pueblo-style inn was created on the site and the Nasons called it “La Posada,” meaning lodging or resting place in Spanish.
In the thirties and forties, when Santa Fe’s reputation as a flourishing art colony grew, La Posada catered mostly to long term visitors, typically artists or art students. The place eventually underwent an ownership change and with it a new goal was set to elevate the property’s role as a prominent and distinctive hotel in Santa Fe. Today, La Posada is a Tribute Portfolio Resort & Spa, known for its impeccable service, fine dining, unique accommodations, rich history and art collection…and of course its resident spirit!
Guests and staff at the hotel began taking notice of Julia in the 1970s. They spotted her ghostly image at the top of the grand staircase in the central building of the property or in her second floor suite, always depicted as having translucent skin and wearing a dark flowing gown and hood. She has also been seen in the Nason Room, a small alcove off the main dining hall that was built on the site of Julia’s garden. People note that she seems to have an aura of sadness about her. Some postulate that her spirit restlessly roams La Posada because the circumstances of her death were unsettling. Other theories point to her possible distress over the changes made to the property over the years. Or perhaps she is simply keeping watch over her house to ensure that its inhabitants are comfortable. It seems apropos that her home is now a hotel, considering her reputation for being such a gracious hostess in her day.
The tales abound regarding Julia’s spirit manifesting itself in the halls of La Posada. In addition to the spectral images described, people also say they can feel her presence in a draft of cool, stale air. A saleswoman at the property, who was unaware of Julia’s story, had a breakfast meeting in the Rose Room. She went to check out the space prior to her guests’ arrival and found the room freezing cold. When she called the hotel’s maintenance department to report the problem, she was told it was Julia who was responsible for the extreme temperature since it was in the Rose Room. The maintenance man didn’t even hesitate in his response, and then instructed the saleswoman to return to the room and say aloud, “Julia, it’s cold in here and I have a meeting soon.” Story has it that in minutes after making this announcement, the room warmed up.
There have been other accounts of employees hearing a woman’s voice coming from Julia’s Suite when it is purportedly locked and no guests are registered in the room. Those who have stayed in her quarters have told of hearing the bathtub running in the middle of the night (Julia reportedly loved baths). One couple commented that they heard heavy breathing at about 4:00 a.m. There are also times when the water and/or furnace goes on and off in the hotel with no logical explanation.
My overnight at La Posada began with a luxurious treatment at the property’s Spa Sage. The spa prides itself on the art of relaxation and offers high-quality treatments guaranteed to melt away stress. With its charming historic adobe-style architecture and stylish décor, this restorative sanctuary reflects the tranquility of the Land of Enchantment and honors Santa Fe’s rich healing heritage. It’s a full-service spa, complete with salon, fitness center, heated saline outdoor pool and whirlpool, and even weekend yoga and Pilates classes.
Many of the treatments integrate locally-inspired practices and indigenous products. I had the Spirit of Santa Fe, an eighty minute session of bliss that began with a gentle blue corn exfoliation, leaving my skin smooth and radiant. Then came a full body massage infused with desert sage essential oil that did wonders for my knots of tension, followed by a moist heat towel wrap. Donna, the massage therapist, also incorporated some great stretches for my neck, shoulders and arms. It was the total package and the utmost in body, mind and spirit renewal.
Other popular treatments include the Santa Fe Chocolate Chile Wrap, Adobe Mud Wrap and Julia Staab’s Historic Rose Garden. The latter was developed in honor of Julia’s historic fondness for roses and “taking the waters.” It involves a rose oil scrub and a rose hydrotherapy soak, followed by a rose oil massage. There’s also the Altitude Adjustment Massage, created especially for those visitors coming from sea level who might feel a tad out of sorts upon arrival to the “City Different.” It starts with a chlorophyll elixir and a fifteen minute oxygen therapy to help oxygenate the blood on a cellular level. A dry brush exfoliation increases lymphatic circulation, while a massage using special essential oils helps ease headaches, shortness of breath and other symptoms associated with changes in altitude.
In addition to its renowned spa, La Posada also has a reputation for its enticing food and libations. Head to Julia, A Spirited Restaurant & Bar or to the Staab House Bar to enjoy innovative dishes and creative cocktails. Or, dine al fresco as I did on the lovely patio surrounded by fountains and art installations. Executive Chef Jon Jerman’s regionally-inspired menu is refined, yet adventurous, with a myriad of southwestern flavors and locally sourced ingredients.
Start with some fire roasted olives or charred cream corn soup, while sampling the cornbread with green chile and agave butter. Try the Christmas tamales (filled with pork and New Mexico’s finest red and green chile) for a twist on a traditional dish. Entrees include such specialties as wild sockeye salmon with buttered lentils, coffee rubbed Native American New York strip, pan-seared day boat scallops and fried Alamosa striped bass. Daily vegan and vegetarian selections are also available. And for those interested in lighter fare, there’s an assortment of tasty tapas.
At the cozy Staab House Bar, make sure to order one of the signature cocktails, perhaps the Juliarita, the margarita named after Julia. It’s a “taste made of history,” using apricots that still grow on a tree planted in the 1880’s by Julia and her friend, Archbishop Lamy, founder of the Santa Fe Cathedral. The drink is one of several dozen unique tequila concoctions featured on the Santa Fe Margarita Trail, where you can mosey around some of the town’s most eclectic watering holes sampling the special house made margaritas.
La Posada has the distinction of being the only resort in downtown Santa Fe. Located just steps from the historic Plaza and Canyon Road, the property is nestled on six acres of beautifully landscaped grounds. Accommodations are in authentic casita style guest rooms and suites, featuring fireplaces and patios. There are also a few rooms in the main building, the most historic section of the hotel, which is where I stayed. The place is a veritable art gallery; in fact, it has gained a reputation over the years as the “Art Hotel of New Mexico.” The concept of having artwork for sale in the hotel originated with the Nasens back in the 1940s and it has continued through present time. There’s even an art curator on site, who selects the pieces, rotates and changes the displays and gives tours. The work is everywhere throughout the property, enlivening the walls and surfaces with an explosion of colors and textures, while providing a sensory treat for guests and visitors.
La Posada takes pride in its many amenities, among which include its designated daily resort activities. There’s everything from wine, craft beer and artisanal cheese tasting to memoir writing, art gallery tours and evening s’mores fireside on the patio. And of course, once you step outside, all of Santa Fe is ready and waiting for you to explore. The options are endless in a town that boasts more than a dozen state and private museums, numerous historic sites and over 250 art galleries. It’s also a shopper’s paradise, where you’ll find unique southwest handmade items and treasures from around the world. And if you’re an adrenaline junkie, know that plenty of outdoor adventures abound in the nearby mountains.
As for Julia, I personally didn’t have any encounter with her alleged spirit during my stay, though there were some things that went “bump in the night” as I attempted to sleep. Knowing Julia’s history and the fact that her purported spirit has been featured on national television and in many ghost tours, I was perfectly primed to have my imagination play tricks on me. The scene was set as I lay in the four poster bed surrounded by old photographs and period furniture, reading the book “American Ghost,” written by Julia’s great-great-granddaughter, Hannah Nordhaus. Shadows came and went, as did drafts of cold air, creating an eerie atmosphere in the room. I also woke up with a start in the middle of the night, causing me to feel somewhat disoriented. Of course, I reminded myself there were rational explanations for all of these occurrences, as I don’t believe in ghosts. But, I do believe that the essence of Julia’s spirit embodies the fabric of La Posada, and she will forever be an integral part of its history.
For more information visit www.laposadadesantafe.com.
Deborah Stone is a travel and lifestyle writer, who explores the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers. She’s an avid adventurer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for travel and cross-cultural connections. Her travels have taken her to all seven continents, over 65 countries and 45 U.S. states.