A 'spirited' overnight at La Posada
Travels with Deb
Debbie Stone | Sep 25, 2017, 6 a.m.
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.
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