The murder of Judge Slough is recorded in several newspaper stories. However, this event occurred in 1867 in the Exchange Hotel. The approximate area where the killing took place in the current building is where the lobby newsstand is now. Many of the ghost stories have incorrectly identified the location of his murder and by proxy, have placed the “ghost” in the wrong area as well.
We were not able to find anything in the historical record about the traveling salesman that jumped into the well. The local newspaper archives were searched from 1881 to 1950, and nothing resembling this story could be found. If such an event had happened, it would have been relevant news that would have been of interest to the town and as such it would of been reported on. It is also important to note that stories about this myth change through time as each author records one of the different variants of the story that were being told at the time. One account even has the salesman jumping from a balcony into the well. The main problem here is that historical research shows that there never was a well in the patio area, even when it was the Exchange Hotel. However, a beautifully decorated fountain did exist in that spot. It was removed in 1976 when architect William Lumpkins enclosed the courtyard.
Another important observation is that the ghost stories of the La Fonda Hotel have never appeared in any of the newspapers, in or out of state. This is in stark contrast to the other “haunted” hotels in the country which have multiple stories written about their resident ghosts. The first written account of the story is in the book “Ghost stories of the American Southwest” by Richard Young which was published in 1991.
The ghost of the newlywed bride has the same critical issue, no written historical accounts to validate the stories. Again, if such an event did occur, it would have been news and reported on. However, there is merely no account of it anywhere which suggests it is an urban legend.
Myth building at the hotel is very active. What makes it unique is that the stories are not propagated by the hotel officially. Instead, they are passed along by the hotel’s employees where they get recorded in books and other written materials. The ghost stories about the hotel are also spread via the many ghost tours that are conducted in the Santa Fe Plaza. This is the primary reason there are so many confounding variables of the stories themselves. A small example of some of the confusing variants are;
“The hotel’s bar is haunted by two different ghosts. The first ghost is that of a “cowboy.” He is often seen sitting at the bar around 2:00 to 3:00am. When approached the figure disappears. The second ghost is African-American gentleman that may be one of the former bartenders.
This same ghost was seen by a person who was working on the tile in the bell tower. He claims that there is no way the man could have entered the area without being seen as there was only one door and he was blocking it.”
Elements of the “cowboy” ghost are often confused and/or replaced with elements of the “traveling salesman” myth. The bartender and the “man” who is pursued in the hallway also have similarities that seem to have details that are confused.
* The traveling salesman is seen upstairs and was shot by the bartender.
* The bartender was seen upstairs and the traveling salesman is seen downstairs in the lobby near the Plazuela Restaurant.
* The bartender is seen downstairs in the bar and lobby and the traveling salesman is seen moving down a hallway upstairs wearing a long black coat. However, the long black coat is what the ghost of Judge Slough is reported to be wearing isn’t it?
On and on it goes. What variant of the story you hear depends on who is telling the story. This is what makes the investigation of ghost stories so tricky. It requires the investigator to examine the historical accounts to ascertain the correct facts and separate them from the fictional accounts that have been introduced by the storytellers.
Another example involves the traveling salesman and the suicide bride. There are versions of these same stories that have both of them originating from St. Louis and the “incidents” occurred in the 1930’s. These similarities between the stories are typical of the confusion that arises when myth building is very active.
The most significant factor that became an issue in ghost hunting the hotel was trying to locate any actual witnesses to any of the reported phenomena. The only person we were able to identify and interview was Lalo Ortega, who has worked at the hotel for several decades. Despite all of the time that he has worked there, he has only one instance of something unusual that he believes might be paranormal. It occurred “sometime in the fifties” and may possibly be the first instance and the precursor to the ghost stories that would follow.