Ghost Guide: La Llorona and Tucson's Haunts

La Llorona and the Ghosts Who Haunt Hotel Congress and Fox Theatre

| By Amanda Oien
| Photography by Kristen Brockel

A chill running down your spine, goosebumps dancing on your skin, a tight gasp for air. Is it a chilly October night, or is that an eerie haunt floating in the dark?

Don't Look Back

“Wrinkled skin dripping with fetid water, twisting fingernails covered with black muck, wailing and gnashing of teeth— and unspeakable sin. These images haunt the imaginations of millions of people…” Christopher Rodarte, La Llorona: Ghost Stories of the Southwest.

The cover of Rodarte's book, "La Llorona: Ghost Stories of the Southwest," is surrounded by black darkness, a pale woman's face is shown with dark eyes, dripping with black and plump, black lips.

Christopher Rodarte, born in Albuquerque, New Mexico and currently a teacher at Sam Hughes Elementary, said growing up, he heard a lot of stories about La Llorona. “It was really entrenched in my childhood, especially in the northwest region of Albuquerque,” Rodarte recalled. “There’s a lot of very dark sections of town without lights and it was definitely something we were well aware of as children growing up.”

La Llorona is one of the most famous ghosts in Latino folklore. According to Rodarte, the legend of the Wailing Woman may be the oldest ghost story in southwestern United States, South America, and Mexico.

Spanish for the weeping woman, La Llorona, sometimes referred to as “the ditch witch,” is a tale of a woman who, filled with anger, drowns her two children in a river. When she realizes what she’s done, she searches after them and drowns herself.

The ghost of La Llorona roams riverbanks, lakes, and abandoned wells searching for children to drown, just like her own.                           

Rodarte’s aunts and uncles claimed to have encountered La Llorona and told him about her story as he grew up. “It was really part of the lore, sort of the DNA, growing up, that she was definitely out there in those ditches and los arroyos—and there were plenty of them out there in Albuquerque just like there are in Tucson.”

When Rodarte drives through the Albuquerque pecan orchards at night, he still twists the rearview mirror so he can’t look back. “When I’m out there past dark, oh you can forget it.”

While working on a screenplay, Rodarte encountered so many La Llorona stories that he felt compelled to put them into a book. The more he talked about it, the more people contributed and told him about their first-hand experiences with the ditch witch. And thus, La Llorona: Ghost Stories of the Southwest was created.

“It’s absolutely something that continues to exist throughout the culture and has really spread throughout the world,” Rodarte said.

Rest in Peace. Or, Not So Much.

From Prohibition to the 1934 fire, from the Dillinger Gang to thrilling nightlife, Hotel Congress has seen a lot in its 100 years. But the three ghosts that tend to wander the halls during Congress’ summer lull are one constant visitors can rely on.

David Slutes, the entertainment director at Hotel Congress, said their most common ghost, who predates the current ownership, is the Little Old Man.  He is often seen in the window of room 214 or walking the halls in the seersucker suit.

Another ghost,Vince, a resident who came off the train, started living and working in the Hotel in 1966 and never moved out. David laughed and said, “He’s a real curmudgeon.”

Skeletons crawl along the side of Hotel Congress in Downtown Tucson.

In his pre-ghost days, Vince would often get into spats with housekeeping. He would visit the Cup Café and leave his bagel plate and butter knife in the desk in his room. David said housekeeping would scold Vince, telling him to bus his own plates: “You work and live here. You’re not a guest!” they’d say.

In 2001, Vince passed away. A year later, Vince began leaving his bagel plate and butter knives in his desk in room 220—a room that hadn’t been occupied. Oftentimes the room would be locked from the inside.

Before becoming entertainment director, Slutes ran the front desk for several years. One evening, a guest came downstairs and asked, “Did you have anyone that would have come in my room last night?” The guest recalled hearing someone in the room, but once they entered and turned on the lights, no one was there. The guest told David that all the towels had been stuffed into the toilet.

Two weeks later, another guest had the same occurrence. This playful ghost found their fun in room 216. 

Hotel Congress’ most well-known ghost haunts room 241. A woman came to an untimely end in that room, prompting housekeepers to actively avoid it. David said at one point, housekeeping even switched out the paintings in the room to religious iconography, trying to control the spirit.
For awhile, guests had a good time staying in that room. Visitors even requested the “ghost room.” But now, Hotel Congress rents room 241 last.

David recalled one experience with room 241 when he covered the overnight at the front desk:
“I see this guy running, he has his bags, saying ‘I gotta get out, I gotta get out right now,’” David said.

“If there is such a thing as paranormal activity, that’s the room that has it, for sure,” David said.

Happy Hauntings

Just down Congress Street is the crown jewel of Tucson: Fox Theatre. During its opening night in April 1930, Tucson partied like it’d never partied before—even Congress Street was waxed for dancing. After closing in the 1970s and sitting empty for 25 years, the Fox Theatre has been restored and is once again a go-to for movies and performances.

A vertical marquee sign reading "FOX" in Downtown Tucson at the Fox Theatre.

Tamara Mack, the house manager for the Fox, said the Theatre’s most famous ghost is a little girl. During the closure in the 1970's, the roof caved in and the theatre became a homeless camp. “We don’t know all that happened during those times,” Mack said. “There’s still some curiosities about that.”

The Tucson Ghost Society has captured an apparition on video and has recorded six different Electronic Voice Phenomenons, including footage from the lobby of an orb that drifts out of the wall, rises up into the middle of the room, and moves to the back as it becomes a figure.

“I love to try to dispel things, you know, it’s an old building, but that one we can’t figure it out,” Mack said. People have seen The Little Girl at the stairwell and have heard giggling and hiccuping.

Some visitors see The Panhandler, but when they go to help him, he vanishes, Mack said.

Reconstruction brought a new stage to the Fox, but if you look closely, you’ll notice an inverted block over the center of the stage. “The theory is that there was a workman who died while working on the stage, and that they did that to honor him,” Mack said.

The auditorium inside Fox Theatre is original with a painted ceiling, chandeliers and wall sconces.

Fox Theatre brings history to people by embracing happy ghosts, as Mack refers to them, and invites paranormal peepers to the Theatre for free ghost tours during their Halloween movie nights, and an annual lights-out ghost hunt.

“Nothing has ever scared me so that I wouldn’t want to be here,” Tamara said. “I don’t get those kind of vibes. It’s just things I can't quite explain.”

Encore

If you find your stomach aching for food after running from La Llorona along the banks of the Santa Cruz River, or your throat shriveled after wandering Downtown Tucson’s haunts, finish out the night with a slice of pizza and a brew at Reilly Craft Pizza and Drink. It’s to die for...No, really. Before its artisan pizza and beer garden days, it was Reilly's Funeral Home, built in 1906.

The Smell of Fall: Green Chile Roasting

| By Amanda Oien
| Video by Amanda Oien & Brielle Farmer

Crunchy leaves, crisp air and flannels are what most people think of when it comes to Fall. Not in Southern Arizona, though.

Growing up, I knew Fall was here when I smelled the warm breeze of roasting green chiles. Now that is Fall. 

Kris Young of Red's Roasters poses with a bag of freshly roasted green chiles, while wearing a straw hat in front of his company trailer.

Heirloom Farmers Market will have freshly roasted green chiles every Saturday this September at the Rincon Valley Farmers Market. You bet we’re grabbing chiles for mom’s chile rellenos and snacking on chile specialties as we wander the market.

We got to know Kris Young of Red’s Roasters at the Green Valley Farmers Market where he could hardly keep the chiles on the shelves— they were flying so fast, he was roastin’ to order.

Turn up the heat and get your taste buds wanting more at these farmers market’s:

Udall Park Farmers Market – Open Fridays from 8am – 12pm (May-Sept.)

Oro Valley Farmers Market–  Saturdays from 8am – 12pm (May-Sept.)

Rincon Valley Farmers & Artisans Market– Saturdays from 8am – 12pm (May-Sept.)

 Rillito Park Farmers Market– Sundays from 8am – 12pm (May-Sept.)

Be sure to check each location's COVID-19 policies and as always, if you're feeling unwell, stay home.


Local Business Spotlight: Carly Quinn Designs

| By Sarah Burton

| Video by Amanda Oien & Brielle Farmer

While going to school for a degree in fine arts, Carly Quinn was in need of a job and ended up working part time for a local artist making tile. What began as a way to pay the bills soon had her undivided attention.

“I fell in love with the technique, and after graduation from college I bought my own kiln,” Carly recalls. She continued tile making on the side while beginning her first full-time job as a graphic designer, but it didn’t quite satisfy: “I was designing temporary tattoos for those vending machines you see, as well as a couple other design jobs, but I was so unhappy I decided to quit.”

Carly saved enough for a small studio, which she shared with another artist, and got to work. “It was the craziest thing for me to do, and I knew I had to get the word out, so I built my own website, created an online Etsy store, and called a bunch of magazines.”

“I was so unhappy in my career, but every single day after work I would go home and make tile.”

When timing was right, she opened her shop—Carly Quinn Designs—and it has become quite an attraction for visitors looking for that perfect bit of Tucson to take home. Carly puts it simply: “I have achieved my dream.”

Her technique is self-taught for the most part, based on a Moorish technique from the 1300 and 1400s called cuerda seca (dry cord). “I knew there had to be a name for how I was making my tiles, and eventually I found it.”

She begins on a blank canvas of terra-cotta-colored base tiles from Italy, which she then draws on with a proprietary wax resist pen. Once dried, she colors in between the wax lines with liquid ceramic glazes. She allows the glazes to dry before placing the tiles into one of the four on-site kilns.

“Firing at 2,000 degrees causes a chemical reaction, so the ceramic turns into glass and fuses to the base tile,” Carly explains. “The end product is weather-proof and will last forever, staying bright and glossy.”

This piece was originally published in our 2018 Artistic Triumph feature.

Timeless Turquoise

Mac’s Indian Jewelry has stood the test of time

Mac and Karen McPherson of Mac'sIndian Jewelry began selling authentic Native American jewelry from a table at the Tanque Verde Swap Meet in the mid 1970’s. Now, nearly 50 years later, their son Shane and his wife Danielle are continuing the family legacy, searching out unique, Native American pieces from Zuni, Navajo, Hopi, Tohono O’odham and Santa Domingo artists from Arizona and New Mexico—often buying from the descendants of artists Shane’s parents traveled the Southwest to find.

From traditional Navajo Squash Blossom necklaces, to modern, contemporary designs, Mac’s has a wide variety of jewelry and accessories in an even wider variety of designs, colors, and prices, with something to fit every budget and style. 

Today, customers can browse their well-organized showroom where timeless, hand-crafted pieces are organized by stone color and style, making browsing a breeze so you can easily find the perfect ring, bracelet or necklace to go with your favorite pair of earrings.

From $12 stud earrings and $20 silver heart necklaces, to a 14k gold inlaid turquoise, lapis and coral Navajo bracelet with a half carat diamond, for $9,000—and everything in between—there truly is something for every style and budget at Mac’s.

You’ll find unique items like traditional silver baby bracelets, rattles, and spoons, along with envelope openers, fine silver Concho belts, silver and turquoise barrettes, bear paw hair combs, and silver, copper, and beaded earrings. There are link and cuff bracelets, fine silver and turquoise rings, Zuni inlay pieces, silver bead and turquoise fetish necklaces of all sizes, bolo ties, watch bands, belt buckles, money clips, and lighter cases, and pendants, necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings with stones in hues of blue, purple, and rose. Online, you can browse by price, Tribe, and stone, for vintage, classic pieces.

In addition to jewelry, Mac’s carries authentic Native American crafts, from pottery and walking sticks to wall hangings, tiles, Navajo Kachina dolls, carvings, dream catchers, Tohono O’Odham woven baskets, beaded and leather, silver and turquoise key rings, and Western style purses, with gifts for children for under $10.

Several years ago, Mac’s expanded and opened Silver and Gold Trading, where they buy or take in trade everything from scrap gold and silver flatware to diamond rings, and fine turquoise and Native American jewelry from estates and individuals.

For nearly a half century, Mac’s Indian Jewelry has stood the test of time, providing beautiful, quality Native American pieces at affordable prices. Their knowledge and customer service are unmatched—whether you are just bringing in a piece for a repair or shopping for a signature gift for yourself or family member or friend—the staff at Mac’s will give you all the time you need, and share their expertise with you to help you find the perfect piece to fit your style and budget. Longtime customers might recognize Mac’s wife Karen, who is still very much a part of Mac’s day-to-day operations.  

Whether you are just visiting or have lived in the Old Pueblo your entire life, a trip to Mac’s is a must. Sign up for their weekly email for first dibs on their 50-percent-off piece-of-the week. Every week, a new piece of jewelry or set is highlighted and offered to the first-comer at a deep discount. Be the first to get your eye on a new piece and score the perfect bracelet or necklace to add to—or start—your collection, at a budget most anyone can afford.

Mac’s Indian Jewelry

520-327-3306

macsindianjewelry.com

Silver and Gold Trading

520-955-3764

silverandgoldtrading.com

2400 E. Grant Road, Tucson

Desert Son: Tucson’s Treasure Trove

Steve Osborne’s shop is the place to go for quality, one-of-a-kind, Southwest jewelry, pottery, rugs, moccasins, and more

In a time when everything from jewelry to groceries can be purchased with the click of a button, it can be hard to feel motivated to leave the house to shop. But if you’re looking for some retail therapy, or some real quality, look no further than Desert Son. The shop and gallery on Sunrise and Swan is as fun to browse as it is to buy. 

What started as an effort to supply traditional southwest moccasins to Reservation Trading Posts and Pueblos has transformed over the years into something much more. While Desert Son still makes and sells seven different styles of custom moccasins, their shop and gallery offer arts, crafts, and goods of exceptional quality and variety. 

Steve Osborne started his work more than 45 years ago. His decades spent cultivating relationships with traders and artists have resulted in a one-of-a-kind inventory, and his dedication to quality ensures that anything purchased from Desert Son will have lasting value. 

In addition to housing the largest collection of silver buckles in the Southwest, Desert Son has a vast collection of beautiful jewelry, turquoise and otherwise. But the collection doesn’t stop at silver and stones. Hopi Kachina Dolls, Zuni Fetishes, and Navajo rugs, baskets, and pottery are all on display. 

Desert Son has an abundance of wonderful treasures in its shop and gallery, and connoisseurs in search of a particular artist or product can draw upon Steve’s wealth of knowledge and connections to find what they’re looking for. If it isn’t in the shop already, there’s a good chance that he knows just who to call to find it. That’s a personal touch you just can’t find online, or at very many brick-and-mortars, for that matter.

Check out more Tucson shops

Planes, Helicopters, History and More

Tucson’s Pima Air & Space Museum offers big fun for young and old alike 

Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the largest aviation museums in the world, with more than 360 historic aircraft spread out over 80 acres. Six indoor exhibit hangars (three dedicated to WWII) also feature panoramas with artifacts, photos, and video and audio recordings telling the story of aerospace history, from early warplanes to space exploration.

Home to the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame and the 390th Memorial Museum, the Museum is open 363 days a year. Experience the museum your way with self-guided tours, highlights from docents, and daily tram tours. Pima Air & Space Museum provides exclusive bus tours of the adjacent 2,600-acre “Boneyard,” the military and government aircraft storage facility. Advanced reservations required, visit the website for details.

Pima Air & Space Museum
6000 E. Valencia Rd., 520-574-0462, pimaair.org, On Facebook: PimaAirAndSpace

Go underground and back in time at the Titan Missile Museum. See the launch control center and come face to face with the largest land-based missile America ever deployed. Located in Green Valley, less than 30 minutes south of Tucson, it is the only remaining Titan II missile site open to the public.

Titan Missile Museum
1580 Duval Mine Rd., Green Valley, 520-625-7736, titanmissilemuseum.org, On Facebook: The-Titan-Missile-Museum

The Iconic Movie Locations of Southern Arizona You’ve Never Heard Of

Take a ride through the dramatic Sonoran desert landscape that inspired Hollywood stars and directors. Old Tucson—known as Old Tucson Studios back when—has played host to more than 300 movies and television shows, and it can’t be matched for its sets. However, few know that movies filmed there often featured the panoramic backdrop of Marana's rocky slopes and Saguaro-studded plains. Filming in this area began as early as 1910.  Iconic western films and television shows were set under the vast blue skies, rugged mountain ranges and sweeping expanses of arid desert around the city.

For a true, immersive, Old West experience book a stay at the White Stallion Ranch, a family-run dude ranch on 3,000 acres of pristine Sonoran desert bordering Saguaro National Park West. Saddle up and ride where movie stars made silver screen history. Explore a landscape that hasn’t changed much since cowboys chased outlaws and cattle across the windswept ridges. The ranch even offers film history tours to its overnight guests. 

Marana and its ranches continue to be the setting for movies, television shows, and commercials today. Our spectacular terrain is featured in a nature documentary, Jeep promotional video, Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot, several independent films, and an episode of TLC’s “Four Weddings.”

Discover Marana’s rich cinematic history, a contemporary oasis surrounded by the panoramic vistas of the Old West.

Tip: Get to Old Tucson from Phoenix via Saguaro National Park West through Marana. Take exit 236 off I-10 (Marana Road) and you’ll see two of the wonders of Southern Arizona in one majestic drive.

Continuing to Inspire

Tucson’s Museum of Art’s new exhibit explores the Western sublime

| By Andrew Schaeffer

Art may have changed over the past century, but the inspiration artists get from the serene desert landscape has not. And that’s just what the newest exhibit at Tucson Museum of Art showcases. Featuring 50 paintings, photographs, and textiles from museums around the country, The Western Sublime: Majestic Landscapes of the American West juxtaposes works of art of the West from the 19th century with pieces produced more than a century later.

In the mid-to-late 19th century, daring artists traveled the wagon trails and painted and photographed the sublime beauty they saw, capturing the emotional and spiritual nature of the landscape to instill awe. These artists documented the natural phenomena of the area, from the immense sprawling deserts to the vibrantly colorful Grand Canyon. These were the first images of the West seen by the public, and gave rise to the majestic beauty that drew idyllic dreams westward-bound.

More than a century later, living artists are following in the footsteps of those who brought the West to the world and showcasing the natural scenery through their own methods through all types of media. In addition to the romantic Western ideal, many artists examine the environmental, cultural, and social issues related to the land and educate viewers through their art.

Don’t miss your chance to see the evolution of Western art from the first works to today at The Western Sublime in the museum’s main gallery from Oct. 19, 2019 through Feb. 9, 2020.

Bisbee’s 18 Galleries

Experience the New Old West

| By Andrew Schaeffer

Embark on a delightful journey to the mining-turned artist community of Bisbee. With 18 galleries, 35 restaurants and restaurants, and more than 50 places to stay, this quirky town is perfect for an inspiring day trip or overnight stay from Tucson.

Upon arriving in the historic district, stroll up picturesque Main Street and be dazzled by the town’s gorgeous 120-year-old architecture. The scenery is indeed quaint and charming, but this is a town that takes its art seriously. With a vibrant arts community that is continually growing, you’ll find the works of art varies greatly from gallery to gallery. Some galleries are run by the artist themselves who exhibit and sell their own pieces while others cater to showcasing internationally recognized and established artists. This variety ensures you’ll have plenty of excuses to scoop up fabulous art from one (or more) of the fine art galleries that dot Bisbee’s delightful downtown.

To help grow the artist community, three artist residencies are available to visual artists, writers, photographers—really artists who work in any media. These programs help launch young artists’ careers by providing opportunities for them to exhibit their works without having to worry about securing their own gallery or living space. And by embracing them within such a strong artist community, connections that last a lifetime will be made between the fledgling artists and the professionals, as well as to the town itself.

Featured Galleries

Artemizia Foundation
Museum and Annex Gallery

The Artemizia Foundation encompasses a contemporary, graffiti & street art museum with a commercial gallery component located in the heart of Old Bisbee.

Founded by entrepreneur, artist and philanthropist Sloane Bouchever, Artemizia Foundation’s museum exhibits a collection of modern masters including Willem de Kooning and Pablo Picasso, juxtaposed with contemporary masters such as Andy Warhol, Ai Weiwei, Kara Walker, and Yayoi Kusama, alongside street art masters Banksy, Swoon, and Vhils, to provide 20th to 21st century perspective. The Foundation’s collection includes paintings, prints, and sculptures, as well as digital NFTs.

Perhaps most exciting is the diversity of the artists featured. The Foundation’s collection
of over 600 artworks by 90 artists from over 30 countries features an equal ratio of female to male artists, with artists of color making up nearly half.

SamPoe Gallery

Exclusively featuring the work of husband and wife Poe Dismuke and Sam Woolcott, SamPoe Gallery is a paradise of contemporary art. Sharing the space, you’ll bounce around from admiring Sam’s paintings and prints to pondering over Poe’s kinetic sculptures. Sam’s works—inspired by Bisbee’s architectural idiosyncrasies taken into a near-abstract form—shine new light, color, and perspective onto the old mining town’s famous style. Poe’s tabletop contraptions and mechanical marvels give new shape and form to ordinary objects and animals, and his pieces are crafted out of common materials used in ways most of us couldn’t conceive.

Broadway Stairs Gallery

Giving new life to a once-dark stairway alley off Bisbee’s Brewery Gulch, residents created a pop-up gallery and filled the surrounding walls with art. The Broadway Stairs Gallery is made up of funky thrift store finds and dumpster dives, so not only is the alley getting a second chance but the art is as well. The mix is definitely eclectic, and that just adds to the appeal. In a town known for being artsy and being quirky, this resident-made spontaneous gallery is the perfect representation of Bisbee.

Galleries at a Glance

Main Street

Art Home  79 Main St.

Artemizia Foundation Museum  27 Main St.

Artemizia Annex Gallery 24 Main St.

Belleza Fine Art Gallery  27 Main St.

PanTerra Gallery  22 Main St.

55 Main Gallery  55 Main St.

J.F. Thamm Gallery  40 Main St.

Tang Gallery  32 Main St.

Main/Page Gallery 2 Main St.

Subway Street

SamPoe Gallery  33 Subway St.

Brewery Gulch

Broadway Stairs Alley

Subway Gallery  47 Brewery Ave.

Howell Avenue

Central School  43 Howell Ave.

Plan your art tour of Bisbee

Building a Community

Employees and residents come together to make the small town of La Posada

| By Andrew Schaeffer

To those looking in from the outside, La Posada might just seem like a senior living facility. However, on this sprawling one-acre campus in Green Valley, a friendly small town community is thriving.

One of the largest employers in Green Valley/Sahuarita area, La Posada employs a diverse workforce with diverse careers. Though it is first and foremost a community for senior living, the focus on helping every aspect of the residents’ lives means many industries come together in one place. “Think of it as a small town,” Paul Loomans, director of marketing at La Posada, said. “We have everything from electricians and plumbers to chefs and caretakers. We even have our own marketing and finance departments.” And the employees like working here—in a recent survey, nearly 95% said they were satisfied or very satisfied at work.

The employees genuinely care about the residents and help ensure they have easy access to activities they enjoy. From bus rides up to Tucson to hear the symphony play to leading yoga and fitness classes, employees keep the active seniors active. Nurses are on staff to guide residents in their medical care, and forums with professional speakers are frequently organized to stimulate the residents’ minds. With all these facets of wellness addressed, not only is the standard of living higher but studies show that the life expectancy is, too.

In fact, 99% of residents reported they were satisfied or very satisfied with living at La Posada, and that’s in large part due to the caring nature of the staff.

The small town feel doesn’t stop there. With La Posada’s core goal as providing superior care to their senior residents, a big part of achieving that is by building active relationships between residents and employees. Many of the 700 residents and 600 employees are on a first name basis, and it isn’t uncommon for them to get to know one another while employees are on the clock. La Posada gives a very human relationship for its employees—which can be hard to come by in the service industry—and ensures that everyone is enjoying their day. “We’re like a big family,” Paul described. He recounted that many employees view the residents as mentors or adoptive grandparents, picking up some wisdom while they build their relationships. And this isn’t one-sided—each year residents donate to help their student worker friends pay to continue their education at Pima Community College or the University of Arizona. In 2018, more than $100,000 in scholarships was given to employees of La Posada thanks to the kindness of its residents.

Donating to scholarships isn’t the only way La Posada gives back. As a non-profit, the organization is a well-known charitable driving force the Green Valley/Sahuarita area, as well as Southern Arizona as a whole. “Well over $1 million is donated for community engagement each year,” Paul said, highlighting specifically the donations to the Sahuarita Food Bank.

Many of the facilities on campus aren’t just for La Posada residents. The Shoppes at La Posada act as a social hub for the Green Valley/Sahuarita area. In addition to volunteer-run coffee shop and a genealogy library, you’ll find many concerts and events in this area, further strengthening La Posada’s ties to its surroundings.