Recycling a few haunted posts to say “Boo” to you

So many “postcards” are backlogged on my desk that I am dusting off some old seasonal favorites for Halloween and Day of the Dead offerings.

First, a few ghost stories from Brackenridge Park to set the tone for Halloween. Her murderers never caught, surely you have glimpsed Helen Madarasz roaming the park at night seeking justice: “The Madarasz Murder Mystery.” The post even throws in a few bonus ghosts who joined her later, all four who died in the park within a one-year period. Or perhaps you have heard the midnight screams of the glamorous Martha Mansfield, whose billowing crinolines set her ablaze in the park during the filming of a Civil War romance in 1923: “The Curse of Mararasz Park: Another Ghost Wandering in Brackenridge Park?”

When our daughter Kate said I could us this circa 1997 photo of her being kidnapped by the Pumpkin Monster, I do not think she realized it would continue to float up to the surface years later: “The Best Halloween.”

Dia de los Muertos, Romerillo, Chiapas

And then move on to some Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico for All Souls Day and All Saints Day:

Finally, a few stops by graveyards in Europe:

Happy Halloween!

Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, Genoa, Italy


Reviving Dia de los Muertos

When I first moved to San Antonio, the places to see flowers and foods placed on graves to encourage visits from their inhabitants were the old San Fernando Cemeteries. Most of the wrinkled pilgrims picnicking with their deceased loved ones on All Saints and All Souls Days, November 1 and 2, appeared poised to repose alongside them. The remnants of the Dia de los Muertos traditions enduring from when San Antonio had been part of Mexico were dying with them.

Bedoy’s Bakery, founded in 1961, credits Father Virgil Elizondo with encouraging the bakers to dust off traditional old recipes for dead bread, pan de muerto. I used to buy the breads around Halloween, but felt guilty when we selfishly ate them without offering to share them with the dead.

In the past decade or two, artists in San Antonio began adding contemporary twists to ancient Day of the Dead traditions, and now the city sponsors a full-blown fiesta for Dia de los Muertos in La Villita. Altars, processions and even a concert by Girl in a Coma were part of this year’s event, held a bit early because the city’s Day of the Dead calendar is getting more crowded.

While a far cry from the celebrations we witnessed outside of and in San Cristobal de las Casas last November, San Antonio’s spirited version represents traditions worth reviving and refreshing for new generations.

Although I cannot comprehend why the marketing department at Coca-Cola is not all over sponsorship opportunities for this event. In Mexico, Coca-Cola dominates the graveyard market in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas:

One would think a people who have rejected so many standards held by outsiders would not consider taking even one sip of a Coca-Cola. But expelling evil spirits from the body is key. Spitting helps, but burping is best. And what is better at inducing burping than a few shots of rapidly consumed Coke….

But, what marketing genius convinced the Chamulans a half-century ago to incorporate Coke into not only their Sunday church-going regimen, but everyday life? I mean, Chamulans need to continually maintain their guard against those invasive evil spirits, burping them out on a regular basis.

And whoever the lucky holder of the local bottling franchise is really struck a home run with this. The market is larger than just the living. On Dia de los Muertos, even the dead are served Cokes to quench their parched throats from so much time spent underground and to burp away any evil spirits hanging around the cemetery.

Just think how large Coca-Cola’s market share would soar if this practice spread to the dead everywhere.

Here are some posts from last year in Chiapas, Mexico:


Postcard from Romerillo, Chiapas, Mexico: Day of the Dead Mudfest

As the cab climbed higher into the towering pines lining the uncomfortably curvaceous road, the sides of which plunged into deep valleys below, the climate changed. Suddenly we were in a world shrouded by clouds spitting mist. And they must have done a lot more than spit last night because the unpaved area we reached was oozing mud.

Romerillo only has about 1,300 residents, and they seemingly all have family visiting for their Day of the Dead festivities this weekend because Chamulans were everywhere.

While some indigenous communities of Mexico lay out family feasts on the graves of their departed relatives, the residents of Romerillo lay out a whole fiesta. A Ferris wheel, merry-go-rounds, typical carnival games, food booths. They all crowd right up next to the outermost graves. Perfect bait for enticing ninos lost back for a family reunion.

And, plenty of locals crowding amongst the plots to offer you fruit, pan de muerto, flowers and posh – a potent cane version of moonshine that will have incapacitated many before day’s end – if you arrive ill-prepared to honor the dead. And, of course, Coca-Cola. A colorful band marched through the mud out into the midst of the cemetery as arriving families removed the boards to allow those underneath to escape and join the fiesta.

We arrived guideless and standing a head or two taller than anyone else around. Call us quite conspicuous as we were jostled by the crowds trying to maintain balance on the slip-and-slide grounds. Not another tourist was spotted during our visit. Given the Chamulans’ known antipathy for photographers, we were rather camera-timid. Plus, the clouds touching the ground limited visibility. But there are plenty of other photographs available on the internet of sunnier events.

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Chamulan men and women wear black or white garments made of long, combed sheep wool. Unprepared for the drop in temperature, I found myself envious of that wool until I looked down at their feet. The women had on warm, wooly skirts, but generally were wearing open sandals. Their wet toes with mud packed in between them must have been freezing.

As it was, the mud sucked on my slip-ons with every step, as though trying to consume them. But we were able to lift our lodo-laden shoes into the poor driver’s cab and head back down to a toastier casa. No posh to warm or obliterate our innards, but a nice bottle of red wine in a restaurant awaited.

My shoes are drying in the sun, while my toes are tucked warmly into comfy slippers.