Every city in Mexico is deeply haunted. The Centro I know best is in my hometown, Queretaro. There are hundreds of urban legends known by every queretano since childhood. I grew up with stories of Don Bartolo and La Llorona, I fear the Mad-eyed Witch of La Plaza de Armas. The queretano legends are so popular that we have tours every night through the most famous houses and alleyways.
My favorite legend is the Zacatecana. During the seventeenth century a young couple moved to Querétaro from Zacatecas.The husband was in charge of one of the silver mines in town and he bought a huge, luxurious house. Because he had to travel a lot, his young wife was left alone in a huge house for long periods of time. Soon the people of the town started talking about her and her strange friendship with the stable boy. The queretanos of the time were sure that she was cheating on her absent husband with the handsome young servant.
The husband eventually returned, but the neighbors noticed that he never left the house again. The people insisted that the Zacatecana and her lover had killed him. A few weeks, after the disappearance of the husband, the lover also went missing. The people were outraged. Convinced she killed them both for some unknown reason. Common sense wasn’t a part of the collective hysteria of the townspeople. They convinced themselves that the Zacatecana was to blame.
A few days later the body of la Zacatecana appeared hanging from the main balcony. No one knew who was the killer, but no one really cared. For them this was justice. She deserved to die, she deserved the lynching for killing her husband and her lover, even though her crime was never proven.
The house remained empty for decades, until the government decided to turn it into offices. When the renovations started the workers found two male skeletons buried in the stable. It seemed that the queretanos from the past were right after all. Even after this discovery, the renovations continued but when the new offices were occupied, office workers insisted that strange things happened inside the building. Things went missing, strange sounds could be heard at night, things would appear destroyed or broken …. And right at midnight, when the moonlight hit the balcony just right, you could see the shadow of a hung woman, rocking back a forth with a nonexistent wind.
I love this legend not because of the story, which is horrible and violet, or because how scary it is. I love it because it is all a lie. During the 1980´s a university professor decided to do a social experiment. Along with her students, she wrote the Zacatecana legend and they spread it throughout Querétaro. A few years later everyone knew the story and we all believed it. The only thing that is true? The two male skeletons, found under the stables. But during that time, illegal burial inside someone’s house was a common thing.
Last semester I took a course on Gothic Literature. Here I learned how ghost stories are able to explain a certain aspect or conflict of society. According to Diana Wallace, in her essay “The Haunting Idea’: Female Gothic Metaphors and Feminist Theory,” the ghost symbolizes the loss of presence before the state and/or society. It is believed that, when married, the woman becomes the property of her husband, that is why her presence disappears. She also explains that the purpose of spirits, according to the gothic theory, is to attempt to correct past mistakes and wrongdoings. Apparitions and specters haunt us until we fix what is wrong. Maybe this is why I the story of the Zacatecana resonates so much to me. Even if it isn’t true, I believe the story it tells came from somewhere and it denounces something specific. If we analyse a legend from an anthropological and historical point of view, we may be able to understand the socio-political environment of the era of the story itself.
For instance, from the Zacatecana (if it were not false) we could conclude that infidelity was considered to be a justification of a public lynching. We could also infer that the life of a woman was considered less valuable than the life of a man. The people killed the Zacatecana without proof or trial. They were influenced by public hysteria and bloodthirst. That is why I love ghosts and legends.
They provide us a window to the past. A way of understanding, in an entertaining way, the history and people. The spirits of a town are only a reflection of the living.