Ghostly tales don’t have to be reserved for Halloween

By Don McAlavy: Local Columnist

The other day one of my great-grandkids asked me, “Grandpa, tell me a ghost story!” Well, maybe when Halloween rolls around the last day of this month, I might do that.

The story I must tell you now would make little kids scream and faint.

The Wailing Woman is one of the fascinating, some say frustrating, folk tales of northern New Mexico and maybe now of eastern New Mexico. She sometimes screams as though in agony, at other times weeps forlornly or cries out in anger.

Her cry is enough to send little feet flying. Wailing Woman is always outside.
Some say that her husband was killed, and the wife, left with three small children and no family to help her, killed them and herself and now she wanders up and down the acequia carrying her murdered children and wailing.

Some say that the husband died before her child was born, and when it arrived she murdered it. God, they said, punished her by making her wander the face of the Earth searching for the child’s light, other times as a woman clad in black.

Those who know this story know she was La Llorona. She is cruel to her children and usually murders them. It follows, then, that she is often used in the Hispanic household to frighten children into good behavior, much like the boogieman among Anglos.

If they should happen to be sneaking home late and hear her voice, they reform promptly. Though there are no indications that she ever harmed anyone, she can scare them half out of their skins.

Should you be stranded out of gas in a lonesome place or even on a city street, and hear the unearthly screams or the violent sobs of a woman, it might be La Llorona.

She travels fast and she leaves footprints in the snow, or sand, even if you can’t see a figure making them. Her foot is a small, dainty one, but don’t be fooled. La Llorona is not good luck.

Lock your car door and sit quietly or, if you’re on foot, find shelter in a house. She just might get the mistaken idea that you are one of her missing children.

She doesn’t mess with Halloween tricks or treats or the Celtic “Hallowtide,” as the Celts believed that every year on the last day of October, the souls of the dead visited the Earth. Halloween today is not what it used to be; today it’s all fun and frivolity — and candy. You want fright? Go to the next paragraph.

I have heard through the grapevine that the Starkey haunted house, actually the Haunted Slaughtering House in Clovis, will scare the wits out of even grownups, with or without La Llorona. Every weekend now through the first weekend in November, John Duval and his troop will have the haunted house open. It’s a fund-raiser for a girls basketball team.

You don’t have to wait for Halloween.

(My thanks to Alice Bullock, if living, for her 1978 La Llorona tale.)