Monday, May 23, 2011

New Mexico Legend: Fort Union's "The Death Waltz"

Fort Union Monument
Fort Union was a bustling frontier fort in the northeast corner of New Mexico for four decades. For many years it housed the only hospital west of the Mississippi River, it was a major supply depot for the west, and its soldiers defended the Santa Fe Trail against Indians and the rebel forces during the Civil War. 

It only lost prominence when the Santa Fe Railroad came in 1879, after this it’s usefulness faded slowly away.

When you visit the ruins of the fort today what greets you first is the wind. The fort sits on a grassy mesa top where the wind blows most days. Fort Union is the location for a ghost legend that is often retold.

Ruins of Officer's Row
When the captain’s sister-in-law Celia came to live at the fort she quickly became sought after for she was very beautiful. She loved to flirt. One lieutenant by the name of Johnny in particular became infatuated with her. 

He would fall into the depths of despair every time she flirted with another man. His friends tried to console him stating she was a fake and a flirt but he would not allow them to continue—refusing to hear them.

At an officer’s party Celia, to Johnny’s elation, agreed to dance with him. He could not believe his fortune as he whirled Celia around the dance floor in his arms. 

But before the music stopped the dance was interrupted by bad news—an Apache raid was in progress. Johnny was informed he would lead a troop of soldiers in defense. Celia clung to him begging him not to go. Overwhelmed by her response he proposed to her on the spot. She accepted and told him she would wait for him for she could not marry another. 

The dance continued after Johnny and his men left and Celia danced happily for the rest of the evening.

Within the week a small group of soldiers returned to the fort to report that the Apache’s had ambushed them and most had been lost. Johnny was not with these men. 

Celia upon hearing the news went into hysterics for the benefit of all present but within the week she was out and about flirting with every soldier who caught her eye.

A month later a young wealthy lieutenant arrived at the fort from the east. Celia immediately attached herself to him and before long she was planning a big fancy wedding. 

Mechanic's Corral
As the newly married couple danced together in celebration of their wedding a door banged open and a strong wind blew out all the candles in the room. A gruesome bloated corpse wearing an officers’ uniform entered the room, the soldier still bore the wounds caused by a hatchet blow to his head.

To Celia’s horror what remained of Johnny walked up to her and snatched her right out of her husbands arms. The music continued to play as Johnny whirled her endlessly around the dance floor. 

Frozen in horror a room full of people stood by helplessly. Celia shocked to her very core dropped lifelessly to the floor. Her new husband buried her at the fort and returned east never to return.

Some say the endless wind at the fort and the wail it brings with it is a sign that Johnny and Celia are still dancing.

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