The legendary ghost of the ‘Wailing Woman’, known as La Llorona, is infamous throughout the Hispanic culture. You might even say she’s the ultimate iconic Spanish ghost.
The tale begins several hundred years ago when a woman named Maria, was born of peasant stock in Mexico. As she grew older, she possessed a rare beauty and was uncharacteristically tall for the time. Marrying young, she bore two children. However, her husband left her for another and she consoled herself by dancing the nights away at the cantinas. Wearing a striking white dress, she attracted the notice of many rich men. Maria lived for this attention. In fact, she was so enamored with her exciting lifestyle that she often neglected her two young boys by leaving them alone night after night.
One evening, word came to her that her sons had drowned in the nearby river. It was whispered that she had drowned the two little boys herself as they were an obstacle to her marrying a rich man but this is not known for sure. Whether she killed the children by her own hand or simply through neglect, ridden by guilt and remorse,
Feeling terrible guilt, Maria began searching the river banks night and day for her two lost sons wearing the same white dress she wore to the cantinas. Up and down the river bank she relentlessly searched crying and wailing all the while. Eating nothing, she soon changed from the beautiful woman everyone knew, to having a skeletal appearance with large dark circles around her eyes. Her fine-looking dress became torn and soiled and her hair became matted and wild looking. The legend has it that she finally committed suicide by drowning herself in the river that took her sons.
Not long after, the haunting legend of La Llorona was born. People began to hear sounds of weeping and wailing and sometimes moaning in the dead of night. The spine-tingling cries would come closer and then fade into the distance over and over. Along with the frightful wailing, sightings of a tall woman in white at dusk on the banks of the river began to surface. Other sightings claimed a white figure of a woman would float across the river and then disappear into the trees. The sightings of the ghostly figure rapidly became a nightmare for the locals. Highly superstitious, the people were too terrified to leave their homes at night for fear of seeing the apparition and what it might do. As time went on, the ghost of La Llorona began to be seen throughout the Southwest of the United States as well.
In the spring of 1954, a young woman named, JoAnn, was traveling from Las Vegas to Pueblo, Colorado, with her husband, brother-in-law, and cousin. They were heading north to find work in the fields and orchards. As migratory workers, her family traveled from place to place where work could be found. Migrant workers would often be housed in small dwellings provided for them. They were often crowded in with several other families. JoAnn shudders when she recalls one very eventful night in such a place.
Just after midnight, her group heard a loud moaning noise coming from the nearby river. The sound was slowly coming closer and closer. Frightened, the families came pouring out of their hovels wondering what the noise could be. Terrified, they huddled together until some of the braver men decided to get into their cars and trucks and investigate. The men used the headlights of the cars and large flashlights to scan along the river and pinpoint where the awful moaning was coming from. Just as it seemed they were finally closing in on the chilling sound, the wailing moved to the opposite side of the river. Back across the river the little caravan went, following the wailing sound and then, as before, the sound switched again to the other side. This went on about four times until they finally decided to give up. Just then, the moaning ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and all was eerily quiet.
When the men got back, everyone was talking at once and the realization came to the Hispanic workers present, that they had been visited by La Llorona. But the nightmare that early morning wasn’t over. At a nearby cemetery, a strange noise began that sounded like millions of bees buzzing. It rose to a deafening pitch until all felt they were surrounded by the terrifying sound. Finally, it too stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
In the early 1930s on a late sultry afternoon in Santa Fe, New Mexico, patriarch Patricio Lujan sat with his family on the shaded veranda of his home. With his family gathered around, everyone was talking and laughing about the events of the day. All became quiet, however, when they noticed a strange looking woman not far from the house. She was very tall and thin and dressed in white. Fascinated, the group watched as she seemed to glide by and then crossed a nearby ravine onto a road. They did not recognize her from the area but there was definitely something strange about this figure. They watched as she got to a place where she had to cross the river and then something unbelievable happened. She seemed to float over the water then up a hill. “She just seemed to glide as if having no legs.” Patricio recalled later. When the woman reached the top of the hill she suddenly disappeared. Then, she reappeared at a distance of about 500 yards and then disappeared for the last time.
Stunned by what they had witnessed, Patricio and his family rushed out to where she had traversed so close to the house but found no footprints. They realized then, they must have seen the frightening specter of La Llorona.
Sworn to by family members to this day, another sighting of La Llorona involved a young impetuous man by the name of Epifanio Garcia. Epifanio was a rebellious son and often at odds with his parents. After one especially heated argument, Epifanio, accompanied by his brothers Carlos and Augustine, decided they would leave their ranch at Ojo de La Vaca and travel towards the Villa Real de Santa Fe. Traveling in a farm cart, the two oldest, Epifanio and Carlos were sitting in front with Augustine in the back. Turning onto the old Santa Fe Trail at Apache Ridge, the brothers in the front jumped when they realized a strange thin woman was sitting between them. It seems she appeared out of nowhere. They later recounted the ghostly woman was wearing a black gossamer veil and silver earrings. The two boys remarked it was if they felt her presence rather than seeing her clearly as a solid figure.
The terrified boys continued on and the woman kept staring straight ahead and not moving. Epifanio wanted to stop the horses but feared something terrible would happen if he did. Finally, the three young men, each in turn, tried to talk with the phantom but all attempts were met with dismal silence. Finally, after what seemed an eternity and nearing the town, the woman looked at Epifanio and said, “I will visit with you again when you argue with your mother”. And with that, she was gone.
This terrifying story of La Llorona was passed down through the family line word for word from Epifanio’s own account of the ghastly visitor. Nothing was exaggerated. It was told and retold exactly as it had happened. One has to wonder, though, if Epifanio ever argued with his mother again!
A descendent of the Garcia family, Edward Garcia Kraul, has spent much of his time delving deeply into the Legend of La Llorona. He now lives in the very house where the Lujan family (see above) lived when they witnessed La Llorona decades earlier. He has not seen La Llorona but hopes someday he will.
The legend of La Llorona is still very much alive and firmly entrenched in the Hispanic populations of Mexico and the United States. It is believed she is a true spirit that continues to haunt rivers and nearby trees of the western United States and Mexico. She is usually seen skirting thick cottonwoods that line river banks, weeping inconsolably. It seems wherever Hispanic people settle, La Llorona follows.
Author’s note: In my research for this legend, I see no mention of anything bad happening after a sighting of La Llorona. The case of the Garcia Brothers story seems more like a morality tale and is the only one like it I could locate.
Although several variations exist, one version of the story tells of a beautiful woman by the name of Maria that kills her children in revenge because her husband left her for a younger women. She then drowns herself in a river. Challenged at the gates of Heaven as to the whereabouts of her children, she is not permitted to enter the afterlife until she has found them. Maria is forced to wander the Earth for all eternity, searching in vain for her drowned offspring, with her constant weeping giving her the name “La Llorona”. She is trapped in between the living world and the spirit world. Parents often use this story to prevent their children from wandering out at night. In some versions of this tale and legend, La Llorona will kidnap wandering children who resemble her missing children, asking her children for forgiveness and drowning these other children to take their place but they never forgive her and she keeps trying. People who claim to have seen her say she appears at night or in the late evenings from rivers or lakes in Mexico. Some believe that those who hear the wails of La Llorona are marked for death, similar to the Gaelic banshee legend. She is said to cry, ¡Ay, mis hijos! (“Oh, my children!”) The Legend from Wikipedia: Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Llorona#In_popular_culture
Earl Murry’s, “Ghosts of the Old West”, 2008
Leslie Garcia, Kindle Edition, “La Llorona (The Wailing Woman)”
Rudolfo Anaya, Kindle Edition, “La Llorona: (The Crying Woman)”