Ear­li­er this week, Leigh Stein revealed one of her ear­ly aspi­ra­tions: to Be Anne Frank.” She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing

My fas­ci­na­tion with New Mex­i­co began in 2007, when I moved to Albu­querque sight unseen to write my first nov­el, The Fall­back Plan. The state is nick­named The Land of Enchant­ment,” and that’s one of the rea­sons I moved there, from the less exot­ic Land of Lin­coln.” In gen­er­al, I found the peo­ple there to be very open to talk­ing about unsolved mys­ter­ies — ghosts and dis­ap­pear­ances, aliens and con­spir­a­cies. A neigh­bor told me that the San­dia Moun­tains were part­ly fake,” built by the gov­ern­ment to hide mis­siles near the air force base. Anoth­er said he’d seen la llorona in the shal­low waters of the Rio Grande.

So I don’t gen­er­al­ly asso­ciate the Amer­i­can South­west with the Jew­ish Dias­po­ra, but I do asso­ciate it with ghosts. And last spring, I went back to the South­west on a kind of work­ing vaca­tion, to soak in some sun­shine and work on a new book project, which is part­ly set there. I took a tour in San­ta Fe and learned about one of the city’s most famous ghosts, a Ger­man Jew named Julia Staab, who died in 1896 and now haunts La Posa­da Hotel.

This paint­ing hangs in her room at the hotel. It is assumed to be Julia, but 
could be one of her descen­dants, as it wasn’t paint­ed until 1939.

Julia was the wife of Abra­ham Staab, who emi­grat­ed at age 15 to escape mil­i­tary con­scrip­tion and life in the ghet­tos, lat­er becom­ing a wealthy mer­chant who made his for­tune as a con­trac­tor for the U.S. army. Because of the lack of eli­gi­ble (Jew­ish) wives in the area, he returned to Ger­many and con­vinced Julia Schus­ter, age 16, to mar­ry him. As the sto­ry goes, Julia was reluc­tant to agree to a life in the Wild West, but even­tu­al­ly consented.

At first, the cou­ple lived on Bur­ro Alley in San­ta Fe. I took this pic­ture there in 2008.

By most accounts, Julia was sick­ly, and suf­fered from depres­sion. She was also famous­ly beau­ti­ful. Abra­ham built her a man­sion north of the Plaza, in the French Sec­ond Empire-style, which stood in stark con­trast to the adobe homes sur­round­ing it. The third floor was devot­ed to a ball­room, where they host­ed the best par­ties in San­ta Fe. 

Staab man­sion in the 1880s

Julia had sev­en chil­dren, some mis­car­riages and at least one still­born, who is buried in the fam­i­ly plot. They say that after the death of her youngest, she was so grief-strick­en she couldn’t eat, she couldn’t sleep, and after two days of this she looked in the mir­ror and her hair had turned from black to white.

There were no more par­ties. Julia would not leave the house. In town, Abra­ham made excus­es for his wife’s notable absence. Rumors cir­cu­lat­ed that she had gone mad.

No offi­cial men­tion is made of Julia until years lat­er, when a brief notice of her death at age fifty-two appears in the local paper. No cause is stat­ed.

The man­sion is now a resort hotel: La Posa­da. Guests who have stayed in Julia’s suite have report­ed that the bath­tub will fill with water on its own. (One rumor of her death is that she drowned there.) In the restrooms on the first floor, her face has appeared in the mir­ror. A hotel bar­tender has report­ed glass­es fly­ing off the shelves.

I am drawn to Julia’s sto­ry for a num­ber of rea­sons. First, her his­to­ry is in some ways a com­pos­ite of my own ances­tors’, half of whom are Ger­man Jews

who became mer­chants in the U.S. in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, and half of whom are Scotch-Irish pio­neers who became home­stead­ers on the Kansas plains. I sym­pa­thize with her dis­place­ment, imag­in­ing what it must have been like to arrive in arid New Mex­i­co for the first time, an expe­ri­ence I also had as a young adult. If any­thing, Jew­ish his­to­ry is one of exile, and the Staabs’ sto­ry is a fas­ci­nat­ing tale of Jews carv­ing a new life in the Amer­i­can South­west. Final­ly, Julia’s sto­ry is so poignant to me because even now she is in exile, unable to return home.”

But only if you believe in ghosts.

For more infor­ma­tion on the Staab fam­i­ly, there is an inter­est­ing (and brief) mem­oir in the archives of the Cen­ter for Jew­ish his­to­ry, acces­si­ble here.

Leigh Steins debut nov­el, The Fall­back Plan, is now avail­able. Leigh is a for­merNew York­erstaffer and fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to its Book Bench” blog. She lives in Brook­lyn, where she works in children’s pub­lish­ing and teach­es musi­cal the­ater to ele­men­tary school students.

Leigh Stein is the author of the nov­el The Fall­back Plan and a col­lec­tion of poet­ry, Dis­patch from the Future. Her work has appeared in Allure, Buz­zFeed, Gawk­er, The Hair­pin, Poets & Writ­ers, Slate, The Toast, and xoJane. For­mer­ly an edi­to­r­i­al staff mem­ber at The New York­er, she cur­rent­ly lives out­side New York City and co-directs the non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion Out of the Binders.