Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yippee-aye-yay, Yippee-aye-yo...Ghost writers in the sky

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Almost ready to move on to Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other year-end holidays?
Not so fast.
The costumes aren’t over for another weekend, if you’re planning to dress up in really-really retro-wear for Doña Ana Arts Council’s Renaissance ArtsFaire Nov. 7 and 8.
And it looks like we aren’t ready to bid adios to the ghosts for awhile yet, either. Maybe never, the way several of our local haunts are attracting attention, fans, and paranormal investigators.
Generally, we can count on the ghosts taking a rest after Halloween and Dia de los Muertos events, continuing today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mesilla’s Plaza and ending with the final Day of the Dead candlelight procession from Mesilla Plaza to San Albino Cemetery at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
But is that really it for the year?
Lately, I feel like I’ve become ghost writer ... not the kind that writes under someone else’s name, but someone who devotes a growing amount of time chronicling ghosts and ghostly issues.
In recent months, in addition to the burgeoning number of Halloween and Day of the Dead events, exhibits, posole parties, balls, bobbings, et al, it seems like a regular ghost beat has developed, starting with a summer field trip to artist Josh Bond’s “confirmed haunted” historic old adobe complex in Cuchillo. Neither grandson Alex the Great (a confirmed ghost aficionado) nor I experienced any ghostly phenomena, though we did share a spookily-close bat flyby in the old Cuchillo Bar.
I’ve written about two local ghost hunting groups, Southwest Paranormal Investigations and Las Cruces Paranormal Investigators (formerly Las Cruces Ghost Hunters) and attended two “reveals” of audio and visual allegedly paranormal activity at the old Tortilla Factory and the Double Eagle in Mesilla.
I’ve done stories on the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum’s annual Ghosts of the Past Tours, which focused more on real-life historical figures than the ghostly part, with a few exceptions, like portrayals of La Llorona.
I interviewed Joan and James Burnett, who just opened the new Metaphysical Life Enrichment Center at 2600 El Paseo Road. They said they have done some work with ghostly and paranormal activity.
Some of the paranormal investigators, here and on popular TV shows, seem to have little interest in “busting” or dispatching ghosts, but would rather focus on gathering material proof of ghostly activities.
Josh Bond, on the other hand, has a laissez-faire approach to the whole haunting biz and, except for the occasional drained battery or electrical disturbance, seem to enjoy casually hanging out with his resident spirits. Artists are used to muses and it’s probably not that much of a stretch.
And I’ve talked to some brave individuals who have worked alone, investigating some pesky hauntings, including the Rev. Martha Turner. Like Jennifer Love Hewitt on “The Ghost Whisper,” Rev. Turner feels we should concentrate on helping lost ghostly souls to go into the light and on with their spiritual journeys.
I agree.
I wrote my first book, “Tenny Hale: American Prophet,” about one of the most documented psychics of our time. Hale was also a parapsychology pioneer. She thought much of what we consider to be poltergeist activity was actually manifestation of displaced adolescent energy and sometimes older (living) souls who had not learned to handle their psychic powers.
Maybe that’s a good thing for the paranormal aficionados. With all the proliferating ghost hunters and apparently more efficient and skillful ghost whispers these days, we could run out of ghosts pretty quickly, as they move into the light or get irked at all the spook stalkers and refuse to come out to play.
On the other hand, we’ll probably never run out of teen angst, so we can count on an inexhaustible supply of poltergeist activity.
To each his own.
But frankly, I’d rather move into some new seasonal activities and spend my time communing with a trinity of spirits who’ve proven themselves over the eons to be boon companions and infallible fountains of faith, love, sound advice and hope — the Father, the Son and my all-time favorite ghost: the holy one.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Monday, October 26, 2009

Whio ya gonna call?

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Are ghosts or paranormal phenomena haunting you? Who ya gonna call?
Actually, you have quite a few choices these days. It kind of depends on what your ghostly encounter preferences are. Do you want to bust or hunt? Would you like to photograph or record visual and audio proof of your haunting? Help the spirit into the light or just get the pesky poltergeist off the premises and keep it from interfering with your TV reception or knocking things off your shelves?
Las Cruces has two — count ‘em, TWO — groups specializing in paranormal investigations, plus a new metaphysical center that traces your personal ghostly history with both past and also “between-lives” readings, plus several free agents who focus on ghostly issues and an artist who’s put part of his “ghost town” holdings up for sale on e-bay, in case you want a haunt of your very own.
Read about Southwest Paranormal Investigators in today’s SunLife Section or check out their Web site:
I interviewed members of the other local group, Las Cruces Ghost Hunters, in 2008 and I understand they are now known as Las Cruces Paranormal Investigators (LCPI).
“Most people never tell their stories because they are afraid that their friends and family might ridicule them. It’s important for those people to know they’re not alone. We want to let Las Cruces know that we are out there and we want to help in any way that we can," said Mary Russell, a member of the group, who told me surveys indicate that “80 percent of people believe in ghosts.”
She said her group includes members “from different backgrounds, religions, and races. We have a psychic, an exorcist and people who are more interested in the scientific side of it. We aren't professionals, but we are a well-trained group that does take our investigations seriously. The toughest part of our job is to going into each investigation acting and thinking like a skeptic. We have to be open-minded and examine all the facts of logical explanation. We try to be fair, rational and always search for logical explanations and want to uncover the absolute truth,” Russell said.
To find out about LCPI meetings and activities, call her at (575) 405-6357, e-mail or visit online at
I’d say the Rev. Martha Turner of Heart of the Dove, who has worked with Mary’s group, is more of a ghost whisperer than a hunter or buster. She’s identified and communed with assorted spirits in Mesilla and has also done grief counseling and worked with people who are dealing with issues related to departed loved ones.
“One of the reasons I was drawn to do the paranormal work again is that with the veils so thin, there have been so many individuals having experiences. I wanted to be able to assist them in understanding what is really happening. We have been the advisors for the LCPI for almost a year. We have been teaching them the laws in the universe, how to release spirit and the difference between ‘hunting’ and ‘serving’ the important aspects of our ‘soul brothers and sisters’ who require moving on,” said Turner, who reports she has been involved with ghost work “since 1974. It was the biggest part of my work for years: House readings, releasing and communicating with them. I am now moving back into that work. I really think bringing loved ones thoughts and wishes and (getting issues) resolved for family members is super important so I AM on the job again.”
Contact her at (575)-644-2321 or e-mail
Want to get in touch with your inner ghost? Visit Joan and James Burnett, who just opened Metaphysical Life Enrichment Center at 2600 El Paseo Road, former home of Patio Art Gallery and Rio Grande Antiques. They told me that they have done some work with ghostly and paranormal activity. But if you believe cleaning up ghostly issues truly begins at home, you might want to try Joan Burnett’s intensive past life regressions or “between life regression therapy” which aims to delve into some really deep-seated issues that may be haunting you, lifetime after lifetime. Visit or call the center at (575) 647-0300.
Or maybe you’d like your very own haunt. When I interviewed him in July, Josh Bond was offering overnight lodging at his “haunted” abode in Cochillo, near Truth or Consequences. And he’s recently posted a “confirmed haunted” adobe home on an eBay auction that ends Oct. 31. The home is among his restoration projects in Cochillo that include a whole haunted complex of buildings that once housed a hotel, post office, stables, general store, bar and more.
Josh said he was skeptical of the ghost rumors at first. But he has now hosted enough paranormal investigators and unexplained phenomena to feel “blessed to have a building that has benevolent spirits. I often find them offering help in little ways with my preservation” projects, he reports.
Other than occasionally lousing up his TV reception, draining his batteries and other minor pranks, they have offered few real problems and attracted a lot of attention from assorted investigators ... including the West Coast Ghost and Paranormal Society ( and TV and documentary producers. If you’d like to learn more about Josh’s haunted digs, contact him at
I have a feeling I’ve just scratched the surface of our burgeoning ghostly resources. If you have some helpful sources, let me know, and I’ll post them on my blog.
And happy Halloween and Dia de los Muertos.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Speaking the language of the dead

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Día de los Muertos has been called “a day when heaven and earth meet” and “a celebration of lives well lived.”
In Las Cruces, it has become a beloved tradition, a time when Borderland cultures blend, showcasing and sometimes creatively combining Spanish, Mexican, American Indian and Anglo customs and beliefs.
Día De Los Muertos “is not a morbid holiday but a festive remembrance of Los Angelitos (children) and all souls (Los Difuntos),” according to a statement from The Calavera Coalition of Mesilla. “This celebration originated with the indigenous people of the American continent, the Aztec, Mayan, Toltec and the Inca. Now, many of the festivities have been transformed from their original pre-Hispanic origins. It is still celebrated throughout North America among Native American tribes. The Spanish arrived and they altered the celebration to coincide with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).”
Continuing an annual Las Cruces Style tradition, here is a guide to some important terms and concepts relating to Day of the Dead celebrations, collected during 16 years of commemorations.
alfeñique: Molded sugar figures used in altars for the dead.
ancianos: Grandparents or elderly friends or relatives who have died; ancestors honored during the first (north) part of processions for Day of the Dead.
angelitos: Literally “little angels,” refers to departed children and babies, traditionally honored during the first day of celebrations, Nov. 1, and the third (south) part of processions honoring the dead.
anima sola: A lonely soul or spirit who died far from home or who is without amigos or relatives to take responsibility for its care.
calascas: Handmade skeleton figurines which display an active and joyful afterlife, such as musicians or skeleton brides and grooms in wedding finery.
calaveras: Skeletons, used in many ways for celebrations: bread and candies in the shape of skeletons are traditional, along with everything from small and large figures and decorations, skeleton head rattles, candles, masks, jewelry and T-shirts. It’s also the term for skull masks, often painted with bright colors and flowers and used in displays and worn in Day of the Dead processions.
literary calaveras: Poetic tributes written for departed loved ones or things mourned and/or as mock epitaphs.
Catrin and Catrina: Formally dressed couple, or bride and groom skeletons popularized by renowned graphic artist and political cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada.
copal: A fragrant resin from a Mexican tree used as incense, burned alone or mixed with sage in processions in honor of the dead.
Días de los Muertos: Days of the dead, usually celebrated on Oct. 31 through Nov. 2 (the official s date for Day of the Dead) in conjunction with All Souls Days or Todos Santos, the Catholic Feast of All Saints. Various Borderland communities, including Las Cruces, have their own celebration schedules in October and November.
Difunto: Deceased soul, corpse, cadaver.
La Flaca: Nickname for the female death figure, also known as La Muerte.
Frida Kahlo: Mexican artist who collected objects related to the Day of the Dead. Her photo often appears in Día de los Muertos shrines or retablos.
Los Guerreros: Literally, “the warriors,” are dead fathers, husbands, brothers and sons honored in the final (east) stop in Dia De Los Muertos processions.
marigolds: In Mexico, marigolds or “cempasuchil” are officially known as the “flower of the dead.” The flowers are added to processional wreaths at each stop, with one blossom representing each departed soul being honored. Sometimes marigold pedals are strewn from the cemetery to a house. Their pungent fragrance is said to help the spirits find their way back home. Sometimes mums and paper flowers are also used.
mariposas: Butterflies, and sometimes hummingbirds, appear with skeletons to symbolize the flight of the soul from the body to heaven.
masks: Carried or worn during processions and other activities, masks can range from white face paint to simple molded plaster or papier-maché creations or elaborate painted or carved versions that become family heirlooms.
Las Mujeres: The women who have died are honored during the second (west) stop of Day of the Dead processions. After names of dead mothers, daughters, sisters and friends are called and honored, it is traditional for the crowd to sing a song for the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Náhuatl poetry: Traditional odes dedicated to the subject of death, dating back to the pre-Columbian era.
ofrenda: Traditional altar where offerings such as flowers, clothing, food, photographs and objects loved by the departed are placed. The ofrenda may be constructed in the home — usually in the dining room — at a cemetery, or may be carried in a procession. The ofrenda base is usually an arch made of bent reeds. It is ornamented with special decorations, sometimes with heirlooms collected by families much like Christmas ornaments. Decorations may include skeleton figures, toys and musical instruments in addition to offerings for a specific loved one.
pan de muertos: Literally, “bread of the dead.” It is traditionally baked in the shape of a skull — calavera — and dusted with pink sugar. Here, local bakeries sometimes include red and green chile decorations.
papel picado: Decorations made of colored paper cut in intricate patterns.
Posada: José Guadalupe Posada, (1852-1913), the self-taught “printmaker to the people” and caricaturist was known for his whimsical calaveras, or skeletons, depicted wearing dapper clothes, playing instruments and otherwise nonchalantly conducting their everyday activities, sometimes riding on horse skeletons.
veladores: Professional mourners who help in the grief process in several ways, including candlelight vigils, prayers and with dramatic weeping and wailing.
Xolotlitzcuintle: Monster dog, sometimes depicted as a canine skeleton, sometimes as a Mexican hairless breed. Since pre-Columbian times, this Día de los Muertos doggy has, according to legend, been the departed’s friend, helping with the tests of the perilous crossing of the River Chiconauapan to Mictlan, the land of the dead.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Fiesta camouflage season

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Fiesta camouflage.
It’s the time of year when you can slip on a pair of feathery angel’s wings and still go relatively unnoticed in the right crowd.
Donning an outfit festooned with bones and a macabre skeletal mask will generate smiles — maybe even joy and a pat on the back. After all, you’re demonstrating a kind of Dias de los Muertos patriotism, Borderland civic pride.
During FTFS (Full-tile Fiesta Season), costumes are practically a necessity for all ages and every member of the family, including infants and good-sport dogs and cats.
With a nod to tough times, we’re noting in today’s story that you can pick out a few relatively inexpensive accessories and build a costume, based on, say, clown shoes or goofy glasses.
Grandson Alexander the Great proved you might even get by with what’s already in the closet.
During his recent visit, he disappeared for a few minutes and came back in full regalia. Over his jeans and T shirt, he’d layered a long, midnight blue robe, with a leather vest embossed with a horse head, and topped everything off with a star-spangled, pointed hat from the costume closet and an old light saber from the saber and wand jar.
“I’m a cowboy wizard,” he announced, skulking mysteriously around my adobe patio walls and posing for a picture which he made me promise not to use. (Shortly thereafter, he turned 13, and I sense that the time has come when I shouldn’t share even his most creative antics in print without his permission.)
And I realize not all households have wings hanging on the wall, a saber and wand jar, and a costume closet. In fact, the costumes have now taken over most of the hall closet and the gift closet.
Maybe, I’ve been thinking lately, I don’t really need that giant Dilbert head mask, elasticized slip-on bird beaks and all those masks (at last inventory, the stock included a dolphin, a crow, King Tut, a few kachinas and two ETs).
And the hats. A fruit and flower covered Carmen Miranda chapeau. A little silver cap bristling with pipecleaner lightening bolts. Cowboy hats in every style from vintage Stetson to white lace and a brand new acquisition covered with a brightly-colored Mexican striped serape in a style I call fiesta camouflage.
Hmm. Actually the cowboy hats are year-around everyday wearable here, I reassure myself. And I did have the best King Tut mask at the Branigan Cultural Center’s King Tut exhibit opening a few years ago. And everybody still enjoys posing for pictures in the Carmen Miranda hat.
But maybe I could let one of the pointed wizard hats go, though they all got a good workout when the cousins gathered this summer.
The point is, even if you don’t have a fiesta camouflage collection of your own, resourceful souls can work with what they have.
My favorite childhood costume was a Viking ensemble my art teacher mom conjured from rummaging around the house: a garbage can lid transformed into a dramatic shield with painted crosses and fleurs-de-lis, an old baseball shirt that became a tunic, and killer accessories that included a cardboard sword with a tinfoil blade and an impressive helmet made out of a stainless steel bowl from the kitchen with horns shaped from repurposed toilet paper rolls. The homegrown costume won prizes and was such a hit that my sister and brother and I all wore some version of it over the years.
And it’s hard to beat the classic, old-sheet ghost costume. All it takes are holes for eyes and respiration and a thoughtful accessory or two. Sunglasses, gold chains and an upscale baseball cap for a rapper ghost. Sewn-on dangle earrings and maybe an old designer sheet for a glam ghost. A battered cowboy hat, boots and a star badge for a old-time cowboy sheriff ghost.
You get the idea. It’s not the big bucks you invest, but the thought that counts, when it comes to creative fiesta camouflage.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

Vein of recent art news runs through Las Cruces

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — From premieres of movies and plays to breaking, national news with surprising local ties, September has been a newsy month.
In fact, there doesn’t seem to be time and space to fit in some of the most interesting tidbits.
Could Las Cruces end up with two Academy Award nominated writer-directors in residence, for instance?
It’s been a busy summer for our original hometown triple-threat movie ace, writer-director-producer Mark Medoff, a Tony Award winner who has twice taken plays from Las Cruces to Broadway. His “Children of a Lesser God” earned a screenwriting Academy Award nomination for Mark, and Marlee Matlin won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Medoff’s tormented deaf heroine.
Medoff directed and shares writing credits with Phil Treon for “Refuge,” starring Linda Hamilton, filmed here this summer, and this week debuts a new version of his “The Same Life Over,” at the Black Box Theatre.
I thought of Mark when I heard Patrick Swayze had died after a brave bout with pancreatic cancer.
The two worked together when Swayze starred in “The City of Joy.” Mark wrote the screenplay for the 1992 film, based on the novel of the same name by Dominique Lapierre.
“We enjoyed working together,” Medoff said. “I haven’t been in touch with Patrick since ‘City of Joy,’ but at that time we had several conversations — which included his wife, Lisa, who was his coach — about the character and the script. My sense of him was of a generous man who cared deeply about the work.”
Guillermo Arriaga, another Academy Award-nominated writer (for “Babel”), was in Las Cruces again this month for a preview of “The Burning Plain,” which was filmed in Las Cruces and Oregon in late 2007 and early 2008, and went into limited national release on Sept. 18 and will be screened Nov. 6 through 12 here at the Fountain Theatre in Mesilla.
Since the Sept. 11 “Burning Plain” benefit screening, its images have haunted my mind and I thought about Guillermo’s comment that “being a parking lot film is the worst thing that can happen to a film — by the time you get to the parking lot, you’ve already forgotten it.”
No danger of that for the “Plain.”
It fact, “The Burning Plain” was a hot topic on The View, Sept. 17, generating comments from all the hosts, including Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg and guest host La Toya Jackson.
“I have to tell you, in the opening of the movie, she’s totally nude,” Jackson said, as she welcomed the film’s star Charlize Theron.
“It’s an incredibly beautiful film and for me that was one of the most beautiful openings I’ve ever read in a script. To me, it was like, ‘Who’s this woman?’ And as a reader (of the script), I wanted to take that journey with her,” Theron said.
Theron and Arriaga appeared together on the Charlie Rose Show the same day. I missed it, but I heard reports that both had praise for Las Cruces and their filming experiences here.
“Charlize has a crush on New Mexico. She loves it,” Arriaga said.
Theron’s film credits in our territory also include “North County,” filmed in 2005 in Silver City.
Both times I’ve interviewed Arriaga, the Mexico City native has said he wants to make more films here and stressed that he’s serious about buying a home in Las Cruces.
Rumors have been afloat (if rumors can do that, in high desert county, here in Hollywood on the Rio Grande) that two major motion pictures are contemplating filming here soon. One rumor was confirmed last week, when a casting director put out a call for 100 drivers and their cars to appear in “Due Date,” a new comedy starring two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis and Michelle Monaghan.
Maybe we’ll see you — along with many of the rest of us, and the always photogenic Organ Mountains — in the movies.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.