A chilling scream: Is saloon really haunted?

If you feel something poking you in the ribs at the Legal Tender, it may be a ghost. Christine Mackenzie, from Galisteo, left, Lewis Hawkins, from San Marcos, and Mike McMillan, from Santa Fe, play a round of faro in the poker room. Enlarge photo

Luis Sánchez Saturno/The Santa Fe New Mexican

If you feel something poking you in the ribs at the Legal Tender, it may be a ghost. Christine Mackenzie, from Galisteo, left, Lewis Hawkins, from San Marcos, and Mike McMillan, from Santa Fe, play a round of faro in the poker room.

SANTA FE (AP) – It was shortly after closing time one cool, dark night earlier this month at the Legal Tender. Cindy Lu and Phillip Heard were sitting with their spouses at a table at the Lamy restaurant when they heard the voice of a woman screaming.

The sound was coming from the kitchen, but no one was there. And the back door was locked.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” said Heard, one of the volunteer workers at the restaurant/bar. “There has to be an explanation for what that was. When I deal with something like this, I want to know the facts.”

Employees Dachin Frances and Avery Young were not there to hear the cry of the terrorized woman. But, Young said, “Even when you are alone in a room here, you never feel alone.” And Frances said one recent night, she was left through the back door of the darkened kitchen with some co-workers, about to lock the door, when some pots and pans began rattling inside. They slammed the door, locked it and left.

Others won’t stay in the joint after closing time, and at least one of Lu’s employees is afraid that whatever walks within the darkened halls of the old saloon might follow her home at night.

Staff members and patrons have heard unexplained voices and the sound of something heavy being dragged across the floor of the main dining room. The chandelier hanging above that room has started swinging to and fro without any sign of wind.

To many who work at or frequent the Legal Tender, it makes sense that some of its long-dead denizens are still present.

The community, named after Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy, has a population of about 220, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. It’s a quiet village, particularly after the sun sets.

A business first opened at the site of the Legal Tender in 1881 – about the same time the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway built the spur line from Lamy to Santa Fe. The operation began as a combination mercantile store and saloon. Lemp’s Extra Pale Ale was apparently a favorite of patrons of the time, according to an old photo hanging in the restaurant.

Somewhere along the way, the old saloon became known as the Pink Garter. Glen Campbell played there in his early days. In the late 1960s, it was renamed the Legal Tender under the ownership of R.O. Anderson. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Through the years, a number of historic figures have passed through the Lamy area, including Teddy Roosevelt and Billy the Kid – the latter was reportedly on a train that stopped in Lamy as he was on the way to jail time in Santa Fe.

More obscure figures also found their way through the village, and they may still be around – the frontier bystander reportedly shot by a stray bullet during a poker game gone wrong and the female train passenger who supposedly died of appendicitis while convalescing in one of the saloon’s back rooms, for instance. Their spirits – known as the Man in Black and the Lady in White – have long been rumored to roam the Legal Tender.

The ghost of a girl child is also connected to the site, although no one has ever quite figured out her back story. But Lu recently met a woman in her 90s who lived in Lamy in the 1920s and recalls a female playmate from that period who died of tapeworm at age 7 or 8. The two girls would often visit the store that stood at the site of the Legal Tender. Lu also tells anecdotes of kitchen workers feeling the invisible poke of a finger in their sides and a presence tightening their apron strings.

Lu’s Learning Mind nonprofit organization has joined with the Lamy Railroad and History Museum to revitalize the Legal Tender. She and other volunteer workers reopened the restaurant last spring. It serves food from Thursday through Sunday, plus most holidays. Staff members often sit around for a half-hour or so after closing to swap work – and ghost – stories.

Ghost hunter Joni Alm has conducted about five investigations in the Legal Tender during the last six months, utilizing a high-tech audio recorder and a ghost-meter, which registers changes in the electromagnetic field and thus may reveal paranormal energy.

That ghost-meter blinks red when it encounters inexplicable energy, and it almost went crazy during a recent late-night tour of the kitchen area, about the same time that a New Mexican photographer’s flashlight went dead. The batteries were new. The flashlight worked just fine when he left the restaurant.

Almost four-hour ghost hunt on a recent October evening turned up the usual array of curious activities: cold breezes and unexpected noises, although Lu is quick to explain that the ice machine makes a noise that sounds like a distant gunshot.

Alm’s ghost-meter lit up to a piano rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” “If anything is going to bring a ghost out, it’s that (song),” Heard said.

On her recorder, Alm captured odd noises, including what seem to be strange whispering sounds and, at one point, perhaps the voice of a man saying something akin to “Go away.” She is willing to look for logical, human-caused explanations for these noises.

“I feel strongly that there are several entities in there, at least three,” Alm said of the Legal Tender. “When I listen to recording playbacks, I hear conversations that are faint but consistent enough for me to ask, ‘Could someone have been walking in front of the restaurant at 1 o’clock in the morning?’” She thinks not.

She has felt the child spirit in her presence at least twice, she said. She feels a male energy, too. “There is no fear at all. I actually feel a sense of impatience from the Man in Black spirit, like he wants his space back,” she said with a laugh.

Lu isn’t so sure that the Lady in White or the Man in Black are still around. She said various “cleansings” have occurred within the building over the last 20 years in an effort to send the spirits away, and maybe these two old-timers have moved on.

But Lu is fairly certain that a feisty female energy remains on site. She has reason to believe it is a more contemporary spirit, that of a young woman who went missing in the area not so long ago.

Lu doesn’t like to call what happens out at the Legal Tender a haunting. “It’s just a presence, an energy, of someone or something that is here,” she said. “It’s an energy from a different time; from a different dimension, even.”

And she said she is never afraid – not even when she hears unexplained whispering or her name being called by others when she is alone in the building.

Some patrons believe the Legal Tender’s bar stools are occupied by spirits from the great beyond. Enlarge photo

Luis Sánchez Saturno/The Santa Fe New Mexican

Some patrons believe the Legal Tender’s bar stools are occupied by spirits from the great beyond.

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