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A Haunted Legacy

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When the New Mexico headquarters for the Public Employees Retirement Association opened in 1967 rumors began to circulate that the building was haunted. Both office workers and the nightly cleaning crew reported seeing a Spanish woman dressed in attire from a different era wearing a mantilla that disappeared through the walls. Those ghost sightings seemed plausible given the fact that the building was located on the land of the old cemetery near the San Miguel mission. But who was the Spanish woman that roamed the PERA building?

Photo caption: At the turn of the twentieth century two women pay their respects at the San Miguel cemetery in Santa Fe. Courtesy Palace of the Governors [NMHM/DCA]. No. 058598.

Most likely it was the ghost of Doña Maria Gertrudis Peña de Sanchez, who arrived in Santa Fe in 1867, one hundred years to the date of the opening of the PERA building. Legend has it that she had travelled from the family’s ranch in northern New Mexico after learning of the death of her young son who was a student at El Colegio de San Miguel. The school for boys was founded in 1859 by four French La Sallian Christian Brothers, which included borders from around the state. The reputation of the institution had grown to the point that it could not keep pace with the increased enrollment and its infrastructure began to deteriorate. The school’s water supply became contaminated with a mysterious diarrheal disease that afflicted many of the students, resulting in the death of two of its boarders. To avoid further contagion the students were buried in haste in the cemetery surrounding the church. When Doña Maria arrived, she was horrified to learn that the graves of the two boys had not been identified and that she would never know the exact location of her son’s grave. Broken-hearted but determined, she never returned to the ranch and devoted the rest of her life to the memory of her son. Day after day she prayed to St. Michael, the patron saint of the dying, over the two gravesites, in the hope that her prayers would intercede on behalf of the soul of her son.

In 2016 PERA moved its headquarters to Santa Fe’s southside but some still believe that the ghost of the distraught Doña Maria continues to roam the building at 1120 Paseo de Peralta.