Casa de Ruiz is said to have been built not long after the founding of Old Town in 1706. The building was a U-shaped hacienda style residence made of terrones adobe bricks, over two feet thick in some places. At that time, the area was a marshy swamp due to the frequent flooding of the Rio Grande River.
The first written record of the Ruiz family dates to 1834 but it is believed that several generations had already lived in the home by that time. The building remained the Ruiz family home until the last resident, Rufina G. Ruiz passed away in 1991 at the age of 91. The road now named Church Street was originally called School Street.
After being vacant for a short time, the residence was sold to Marie Coleman, who has renovated the Ruiz’s home into the very relaxing and homey café.
Since her arrival into the Casa de Ruiz, Marie Coleman and all others that seem to grace its steps know that there is something special about this place. Others have had much more direct experience, than just a “feeling” to confirm their suspicions. It is the belief of current café’s owner that the individual that dwells within the walls of the Old Mexican structure is a previous Dona of the Casa de Ruiz, named Sarah.
Sarah Ruiz was born more than a century before the idea of the Church Street Café was even conceived. Her life held many passions and talents that made her a unique woman in her time. As a curandera, a Mexican healer, who is said to have dabbled in healing herbs and other realms of mysticism, she never did marry, even though there were many passionate love affairs in her life, and one leaving her with a lovely daughter Rufina.
The nature of a strong Mexican family is to not let what belongs to them go easily, and so they remain within their walls to ensure that no one forgets that the Church Street Café will always remain apart of the Ruiz family.
Ms. Coleman’s first introduction to Sarah began during the remodeling process of the hacienda. At the time of Marie’s purchase of the property, the walls had begun to collapse, weakened mainly by the flood that had occurred in 1920. The entire west wing of the hacienda was completely destroyed but Marie’s concern was for the existing east section. If a roof was not put over the interior adobe walls soon, further collapses would be likely.
Marie’s first experience occurred when she was walking through the building with a contractor. As they entered the old hacienda, a distinct female voice shouted at her from behind. The voice was absolutely insistent that Marie remove the contractor from the property. She continued to feel anger rising about her as she rushed the man from room to room. The atmosphere of the building became much more pleasant as soon as the man was out the door.
Several years later Marie learned that the contractor that she had rushed out of her café was the grandson of one of Sarah Ruiz love affairs that did not end quite so well.
Early in her life, Sarah became pregnant. When she confronted her lover about the pregnancy, a bitter fight erupted between them. Local lore claims that the fight may have involved a knife. Afterwards, the father of her child vanished and was never heard from again. Sarah’s daughter, Rufina, was born out of wedlock. Supporting her thoughts that the “presence” in her café was Sarah, she continued to have more interesting incidences.
Eventually, Marie brought in a friend of hers, Charlie, to finish the job restoring the damaged household. Although there was no voice telling her to rid the man of the building, it still did not go smoothly. After a few hours of work, Charlie came out from the back and walked straight to Marie and told her that she must do something about “that” woman. “I can’t get any work down. Tell her to stop kicking the buckets around.”
As Marie recalled the event, she remembered being very flustered.
“I had never told anyone about hearing a woman’s voice. I thought people would think that I was crazy.” Unsure of exactly what to say at that moment, Marie headed to the back where the buckets of stucco were consistently being kicked over by no visible force. “I looked into thin air and simply asked her to stop. I told her that we were trying to fix up her house and that he wasn’t going to be able to get anything done with her bothering him.”
Charlie was able to work without any other incidences.
The relationship between Marie Coleman and Sarah Ruiz begin somewhere in that moment. As the day begins, Marie always greets Sarah and bids her goodnight as she closes up the café. On occasion when Sarah requires Marie’s attention, she throws small pebbles at her until she has it. The pebbles that she uses are very unique and not from the surrounding area. The pebbles that are thrown at Marie are kept in a little jar on a shelf underneath the register.
If, by chance, Marie forgets to tell Sarah “goodnight” as she is leaving the café, the lights that she had just turned off come back on by themselves, forcing Marie to go back and turn them off again.
Others in the restaurant have witnessed Sarah’s activities to gain attention. A waiter who works at the Church Street Café has reported seeing the spirit of an older woman, dressed in a long black dress with her black hair pulled back into a bun. When she is seen, she appears to be doing household chores such as sweeping or dusting.
Another incident occurred during a Spanish guitar player’s session on a Sunday afternoon. It happened in front of all of the patrons and employees. A coffee cup that was placed at a waitress station levitated off a table and slammed into the nearby wall, crashing to the floor in little pieces. To this day, that same guitar player will not play that particular Spanish tune. He believes that the breaking of the cup was Sarah’s way to show her dislike of the song.
Several years later the same musician had another strange encounter at the café. He had been talking to his girlfriend about the hauntings at the café and the variety of odd experiences that have occurred to the staff and customers over the years. His girlfriend was skeptical but agreed to go with him to the café to have dinner and check out things for herself.
The evening was uneventful until they had finished their meal and were about the leave the café. Suddenly, the light in the lobby went out. All of the other electrical devices were on, as well as the lights in the merchandise cases. The second she walked out of the door, the light turned back on by itself.
The musician’s girlfriend isn’t the only skeptic that the ghost has chosen to mess with. Marie Coleman’s brother came around the café to help out when it was first opened. Disbelieving in ghosts and all other paranormal activity, Sarah chose to play pranks upon him to possibly change his viewpoint.
On the first night that he locked the café up alone, he checked that everything had been turned off and began heading for the door to leave. Unfortunately, he was unable to find his keys, obviously a problem because he was locked inside. He double-checked all the places he thought he might have left them and then began to search all over the café. Hearing a female’s laughter as he was down on his knees searching the bathroom floor, he called out, “All right, Sarah, leave me alone!” Standing up, he heard the jingling of keys in his pocket. He reached down, and there they were. Trying to dismiss the event, he walked to the entrance to find the door wide open when before it had been locked. Marie says that from that day on, he never spouts off his skepticism about spirits.
One of the favorite activities of Sarah is to move objects in a large display case in the lobby of the café. The case is full of figurines and pottery, which appear in different positions on each morning that the store opens. Some items were beginning to be pushed so close to the edge of the shelves that they were in danger of falling off and possibly being broken. At first Marie tried to reason with Sarah, but her attempts failed. Sarah began to throwing one of the figurines against the glass with such force that Marie was worried that both the figurine and glass would break. To avoid the situation again, Marie placed a large piece of pottery on the edge to prevent the figurines from falling over the edge.
The movement of the figurines is one of the more interesting occurrences. At times it appears that Sarah is recreating scenes with the figures, as if trying to tell a story of events that happened long ago.
Although Sarah Ruiz often appears to hang around only to tease and torment the patrons that pass through her casa, her presence is accepted and cherished by Marie and those that care to listen to her stories. The Church Street Café and their resident ghost continue to welcome all into their home.