The ghosts — there are said to be three or perhaps even four — help tell the story of this once sleepy little village that has grown into the thriving suburban home of many commuters eager for life in a small-town atmosphere that is still close to the jobs of Albuquerque.
The most famous is Pepe, the nickname for the quite historic Josefita Manderfield Otero, once the lady of this elegant mansion. As the tale is told, she sits in the rocking chair that she once — or perhaps still does — own placed just past the stairwell on the second floor of the mansion, now turned into a fine restaurant. She watches the patrons, sometimes makes an appearance and, every now and then, causes the seemingly empty chair to rock.
Josefita, who lived from 1874 to 1951, lived in and loved the mansion for many years. The house was built in 1881 by Don Antonio José Luna and his wife, Isabela, using money paid by the Santa Fe Railway for a right-of-way through the lands of his hacienda. Don Antonio passed away before it was completed. His son, Tranquilino Luna, his wife Amalia, and their son, Maximiliano, were the first to reside in the mansion.
Among those who inhabited the mansions was Don Solomon Luna, one of the fathers of the New Mexico Constitution. The mansion passed down to Don Eduardo Otero, who brought Josefita there as his wife.
Josefita loved the mansion and gave it its distinctive Southern look, complete with a portico and high white columns. She painted murals on its walls and added a solarium to bring in the bright New Mexico sunshine.
Current owners Pete and Hortencia Torres have lovingly remodeled the building, hung Josefita’s paintings on the wall and created a welcoming atmosphere that is probably quite similar to that the former lady of the house maintained.
Several long-time employees have quite a history of encounters with Pepe, who seems to enjoy interacting playfully with them. Cook Thomas Shook began coming to the mansion as a child when his parents worked at an earlier version of the restaurant. He has seen Pepe in her white 1920s-style clothing and her somewhat unruly red hair.
“Since I’ve been back with Tensie (Hortencia) and Pete, there seem to have been a few different things that kind of jolt you,” Shook said, sitting in the old parlor with a good view a self-portait of Pepe painted with her dogs and a herd of sheep. “I was standing at the computer … and I could see a white dress. I saw her walking up to the double door. She had red frizzy hair. I stayed out of this side of the house for a while. She made her presence known. … I think she knows me; I don’t know to what extent.”
As interested customers as well as local school children exploring the historic building always ask: What did she look like?
“Whatever I saw walking by those two doors was solid. You couldn’t see straight through her, but you could tell she wasn’t flesh,” Shook said.
Early one morning, waiting for a former owner to meet him at the mansion, Shook arrived “the stereo upstairs was on full blast.” When the owner arrived, he told him about the stereo. “When we came back in, it was playing nice and quiet and soft … We decided to let her listen to her music that day,” the cook said.
Cindy McCloskey, another longtime employee, says the music levels are played with quite frequently.
“It’s not that easy to change. You have to climb on a ladder. It’s not like someone walks by and turns it on. It’s very inconvenient.”
A couple of weeks earlier, she said, the music was playing and, when she went back upstairs, the speakers on both floors were off.
Another time, after business hours, Thomas and his wife were chatting with a bartender in the second floor’s aptly named Spirit Lounge.
“There’s a door that faces the south. There’s a push handle. The lever started going up and down. … Then it just stopped. We checked the door. On the other side, there’s only a push button and it doesn’t bring the lever down,” he said.
Shook even recalls a story that his mother told him about what happened when Pepe’s rocking chair was, ever so briefly, moved. A waitress, his mother reported, that one Saturday evening was especially busy. The former owner told her to move Pepe’s chair into a nearby storeroom so that a “two-top” table for a pair of diners could be added to help deal with the crowd.
“My mom said, ‘I’m not moving that chair.’ He told her to and she said again she wouldn’t move it. He went up and moved the chair into the storeroom. … He came back downstairs and they were talking.
“That big, 6-foot-tall mirror came off the wall, landed face up, made the curve in the stairs and slapped him right in the back of his ankles — and it didn’t break,” Shook said with a chuckle.
Cindy jokes that she believes Pepe “doesn’t like me very much. … When people ask about her, I point to her picture and say it’s the lady with the bad perm.”
While she may have been snubbed by Pepe, Cindy says she has seen the other ghost in the mansion — Compadre Cruz, believed to have been a groundskeeper.
“It was a Sunday and it was very quiet. I didn’t have anybody upstairs (in the lounge), and I was visiting with everyone downstairs. I thought I’d better go back up and check. There was a gentleman sitting in one of the big rockers,” McCloskey said. “I turned around … to pick up a napkin and he was gone. He was in dark clothing. It was quick, and I only saw the back of his head and his shoulders. What startled me the most is that there was a man at the bar and I hadn’t known it — my only customer and he just disappeared.”
She noted that sometimes customers have reported seeing Cruz sitting at dining tables. In life, when Cruz became ill, his employers set up a bed for him in one of the downstairs room and nursed the quarantined man until his death. While Pepe seems to almost acknowledge the presence of the newcomers to her home, Cruz seems not to notice.
“I get the impression … that he’s not aware,” Cindy said. “He’s in his own world. Cruz is just carrying on his duties.”
He may still be working. One passerby asked who the man in the long coat was working on the grounds one night. No one — except, possibly, Cruz — was on duty at the time. And when the family was remodeling the restaurant in preparation for its reopening, Hortencia says, her grandson was upstairs one day while the work was being done.
“He came down and said, ‘Who’s that man who’s up there?’ He said he saw this man stand up and walk,” she said; no one could be found.
Another former servant, Lola, is said to also be continuing her sojourn in the mansion.
“I’ve never seen Lola either,” Cindy said, “but I know people who feel they’re sensitive and they’ve said they feel or see her. She’s mainly in the basement.”
Of late, another apparition has apparently found its way to the mansion. Cindy relates the story: “It was a Friday evening … and a friend of mine comes out of the men’s room and said, ‘You’ve got a shoeshine boy in there.’ I said, ‘Whatever.’ He said the boy ‘had a shoeshine kit and asked me if I wanted a shoe shine.’ I thought maybe I would have to oust a neighborhood kid trying to make a little money. … Finally, my friend convinces me he’s not a neighborhood kid, (that) there’s a picture at the back of the men’s room and my friend ID’d the middle child as the shoe shine boy. Two days later, I hadn’t talked to (another employee) … and she told me another man had gone into the men’s room and asked when he came out whether we had a shoeshine boy. And he’d identified the same kid in the picture.”
Meanwhile, other unexplained events keep happening.
“The only time I was ever a little creeped out was last spring,” Cindy said. “I was upstairs at 4 in the afternoon … and I heard a lot of noise, like 20 people were coming up the stairs. It was so loud that it was bouncing off the back wall. No one was there. And then the dishwasher starts. … The hair on my arms stood up.”
Thomas says that the dishwasher in the kitchen has also come on by itself a couple of times.