A journalist’s account of how she went in search of the true story behind her great-great-grandmother’s life and ghostly reappearances almost a century after her mysterious death.
Julia Staab was a member of the Nordhaus family tree and also “Santa Fe’s most famous ghost.” Born to a well-to-do Jewish family in Germany in the mid-1840s, Julia eventually married a fellow German Jew who went on to become one of Santa Fe’s most prominent and scandal-ridden businessmen. As a child, Nordhaus (The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America, 2011) knew of Julia as one ancestor among others. It was only when she learned that her great-great-grandmother had begun haunting the La Posada Hotel—which had once been the Staab family mansion—that “Julia stopped being quite so dead.” Many years later, Nordhaus came across a family history that told a fascinating story of “forbidden love, inheritance and disinheritance, anger and madness.” Suddenly, understanding Julia’s life took on new importance, especially since the specter of personal loss had begun to cast a shadow over Nordhaus. A trained historian, the author tracked down information about Julia, the Staab family and the worlds they inhabited in archives and libraries and through testing her own DNA. The objective evidence she gathered pointed to an unhappy marriage to a solicitous but dictatorial man, a possible liaison with a powerful archbishop and an attempted suicide. Determined to also understand Julia at an emotional and spiritual level, Nordhaus also turned to psychics, mediums and ghost hunters for information. She ultimately discovered that the truth about Julia and her life did not reside in the facts but rather in the spaces between facts: In the end, she writes, those spaces contain the details “that tell us who we are.”
A thoughtful and intriguing chronicle of familial investigation.