Photos courtesy of Ginger Mason
There’s a woman who lives in Tijeras who calls herself a ghost hunter. She believes that ghosts exist alongside humans, that there is much more to the world than most people can see, and that there are methods available to people of sensing those ghosts and of experiencing that world.
This woman’s name is Ginger Mason, and when she first moved to Tijeras, via California and Arizona, she says the feeling she got from the entire area was often unnerving to her.
“I felt a little uncomfortable,” she says. “It was a little bit unsettling.”
Her entire life, Mason says, she’s been sensitive to things most people have seemed oblivious to. She would see and hear ghosts as a child, she says. She “had experiences,” and would try to share them with others, would take people to the places she had experienced things, even though it soon became apparent to her that she viewed the world in a way that not everyone else did and saw things that not everyone else could see.
It was lonely sometimes—perhaps a bit like being a ghost herself—living in a world so different from the world lived in by even the people in her immediate circle, but over time some people—at first just a few, then more—began wondering if maybe she actually was seeing the things she claimed she was seeing, and if she really was more aware of certain inexplicable realities. She began researching relevant topics, finding out about other people like her, and learning about the methods they used and the experiences they said they had had. She read relevant books, and studied with other self-proclaimed ghost hunters, and in northern Arizona started a small but influential paranormal-investigation group, the Verde Valley Spirit Seekers, which still has an active presence on Facebook and elsewhere.
Living in the busy mountain village of Tijeras, Mason has conducted a number of investigations into allegedly haunted locations in the Sandia and Manzano Mountains and the surrounding area. Twice, she’s camped out with other ghost hunters in a historic rock and adobe church in Cedro Canyon, a church with a family graveyard, near the onetime farming community of Cedro—a church built back in 1870 that’s currently being used as a gallery. Strange feelings and peripherally glimpsed blurs had been reported in this building, and when Mason and her fellow ghost hunters spent the night there, recording audio throughout the night, she claims she recorded creepy voices counting aimlessly as well as a desperate female voice whispering, “Help! Want out.”
Mason offers no easy explanation for that eerie bit of reported dialog, but speaking of the former church in general she says, “Nobody had really paid attention to the dead there. And the dead might have just been interested in what we were doing. The dead want to be remembered.”
Now, it goes perhaps without saying that Ginger Mason might be wrong about all of the above. The feelings and phenomena I believe she genuinely believes she’s experienced could all be nothing more than artifacts of an interesting and imaginative brain, and the things she’s recorded could just be technological side effects of her recording equipment. There are many possible explanations here, and not all of them support Mason’s conclusions. As compelling as many ghost stories are, I find myself skeptical of most of them, even—as seemingly sincere and intelligent as she is—of Mason’s.
But I have my take on things, and you have yours, and Ginger Mason has hers, and really, we don’t all need to agree for something here to be very, very true: ghosts are everywhere. You can’t escape them. I can’t escape them. No one can escape them. Every day we are surrounded by them—maybe not literally, but in a very real and powerful way.
Throughout the early 1900s, tuberculosis patients made their way to sanatoria in and around the mountains, living in tents or in little cabins with screens for windows, in Cedar Crest, Casa Loma, Sandia Park, Cañoncito, Bear Canyon, the foothills, and elsewhere. They hoped to heal and live on, and some did, and some didn’t.
Throughout the 1800s and before, Spanish and then Mexican settlers built communities, had families, worked farms, played music, attended church, celebrated, mourned, lived, and died.
And for countless generations, going back centuries, various Native American tribes lived in extensive mud-walled communities in the Sandia and Manzano Mountains and in the plains beyond—hunting, gathering, growing corn. Some decades ago, a rainstorm eroded the dirt parking lot of the San Antonio de Padua church, near San Antonio Pueblo, and some of their skeletons, buried for hundreds of years, resurfaced.
There’s even everything that came before all that, before humans. Imagine mammoths in this area, because they were in this area—their teeth have been found here. Imagine a sky thick with volcanic smoke and ash. Imagine an ocean covering everything around you right now, an ocean churning with trilobites and ammonites. Imagine the sky poison and the ground molten. Imagine, for a moment, that time is an illusion, because maybe it is, and you can see everything that has gone on right where you’re at, all simultaneously, and you will be imagining a world of ghosts, a world of all that came before us, a world that led to us, that created us, that shaped us, that’s with us still. We are surrounded by ghosts, and we are the ghosts of the future. We are inextricably linked to the past, and we are inextricably linked to the future, and if people like Ginger Mason can remind us of that, then I hope she keeps at it.
Because maybe the dead do want to be remembered. Or maybe they want nothing—who knows, really—and we should remember them anyway.
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