By Michael D. Hernandez
El Paso Times
unset Heights resident Rachel Monje is curious about the strange noises that originate beneath the floorboards of her home, but she'll never allow her inquiring mind to get the best of her.
"I don't go down there, especially when it's dark," she said, peering down stairs that lead to a dank and cavernous basement. "I'll hear pots and pans down there like people are cooking, just different things."
Built in 1913, the basement at 516 Corto Way and several other homes in what was then the city's swankiest neighborhood houses a century-old tunnel that smugglers used. Though the passageway is now bricked-up, Monje and others believe different traffic runs through the dark underground corridor -- ghosts.
It's one of many tales of neighborhood hauntings that have developed and trickled down through generations of city residents.
"This neighborhood is so old and there are many things that have happened here," Sunset Heights resident Soledad "Chole" Galvan said. "But I'm not scared of the dead; I'm more afraid of the living," she said with a chuckle as she strolled down her street lined with Victorian-era style homes. "If I ever see a ghost, I'll just say, 'hey, you want to have a drink?'"
Though Downtown hauntings at such sites as the El Paso Public Library's Main Branch, the Cortez Building and at the Camino Real Hotel may have captured the limelight of ghost enthusiasts, there are plenty of lesser-known spirits throughout the region, residents believe.
At least three long-deceased inhabitants of the Magoffin Home, now a state historic site in Central El Paso, are thought to still roam the halls of the residence built in 1875 by pioneer Joseph Magoffin.
The home will have a spirit tour Saturday where visitors can listen to stories about the extended tenure of Magoffin, his wife Octavia and a brother-in-law named Uncle Charlie, who still enjoys his favorite seat in the house, said Mary Kay Shannon, site manager of the Magoffin Home.
"He died sitting in his rocking chair in 1911 and every once in a while it will start rocking in this long easy rhythm," Shannon said. "That's when you'll get those goosebumps and the hair will stand up on the back of your neck."
Shannon said it was nearby residents who informed her staff of the presence of the home's third ghost, Octavia.
"They were the ones who first spotted her walking around outdoors wearing blue," she said. "We know that Octavia loved gardening, so we believe that to be her."
Though believing in a spirit may make for a good yarn, Edward Weissbard thinks at least 90 percent of such stories can be explained. The other 10 percent are worth investigating, which he has done in the past as a parapsychologist.
In 1999, Weissbard and several others set up video cameras, audio cassette recorders and other detection devices inside El Paso High to look into reports about a possible haunting.
He and his crew didn't find any conclusive evidence of a haunting, but Weissbard found there were several student deaths in the 1930s that may have prompted such a belief in spirits at the school.
"There are always various rumors that get twisted around all of the time," he said. "The whole point is to get to the truth and that comes from research."
Juan Anaya and his men don't care much for research. They'd rather believe what they've felt and seen while working on the reconstruction of Seamon Hall at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Unaware of its tradition of ghost stories, Anaya said he and his men began to witness a few unexplained incidents this past October and university officials confirmed his suspicions. Both the university and El Paso High do not allow people onto their property to search for ghosts.
After locking up the building site, Anaya looked up to the third floor and spotted one of his men. When he re-entered the building, he found no one there and learned the man he thought he'd spied left work much earlier.
Another day, a worker felt a hard slap on his back but found he was alone in the room.
"Now, it's like a joke for us," he said. "We tell each other to be careful or the ghost is going to get you today."
But Raul Carrasco has come to believe that not every spirit is harmful or bent on playing tricks on the living.
From a man who has disappeared into walls, to a baby who floats in the air, several employees at the bar and store he owns at 10300 Socorro Road have sighted various spirits at the structure he estimates is 150 years old.
"You always have the sense that you're not alone here," he said. "And it's usually the same gentleman. We think it's Martin Holguin, who owned this in the 1930s and 40s, but we've learned to live with him. I guess he's still taking care of it."