At first glance, La Posada de Santa Fe, a luxurious resort and spa in the center of New Mexico’s capital, looks like a pueblo-style inn. But just visible above its adobe outer walls is a 19th century mansion built in French Second Empire style.
Walk in and you will see the initials A.S. entwined over the entrance to the Staab house. The Staabs were among Santa Fe’s social and commercial elite in the days when European Jews were treated as second-class citizens but their counterparts in the American West could become judges, mayors, and governors.
When German-born Abraham Staab rode into Santa Fe in 1856 he was only 17 years old. He worked for a year for the Spiegelberg Brothers, among the first pioneers in the town, and then went into business with his brother Zadok. Theirs became the largest wholesale trading and merchandising establishment in the entire Southwest, and they were major supply contractors for the U.S. Army during the Civil War. They also acted as bankers before there were banks in the area and they invested in real estate.
In 1865, Staab returned to Germany to marry Julia Schuster and promised he would build her a grand European home in Santa Fe. He was true to his word, and in 1882 he built a three-story brick home, one of the first brick structures in town, on East Palace Avenue, the most fashionable part of Santa Fe. The materials and the furnishings were all imported and included French antiques and Italian paintings. The house originally had a third-story ballroom with a mansard roof, but it was destroyed by fire at the beginning of the 20th century.
Staab became involved in political life. He was the first president of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce and he was part of the Santa Fe Ring, a group of powerful attorneys and land speculators. He is credited with helping to keep Santa Fe as the state capital.
His wife was a gracious hostess, and among the couples’ friends was Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy. Staab even contributed toward the construction of Lamy’s Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, a short walk from the Staab home.
There is nothing on the Staab family tomb in Santa Fe’s historic Fairview Cemetery, which the Staabs helped maintain, to indicate that they were Jewish (and such is the case with the graves of many of the German-Jewish pioneers in New Mexico). But the Staabs did not hide their religion. A mezuzah is clearly visible on the doorpost of one of the main rooms in the house.
Julia Staab is said to have suffered from bouts of depression, and she is also said to have never recovered from the death of one of her children in infancy and subsequent failed pregnancies. She died and was laid to rest in 1896, when she was only 52.
But there are those who say her spirit is uneasy, and several La Posada employees have testified that they have seen her ghost or felt her presence. Some say she is troubled by the changes to her home. Others say she is merely keeping watch over the house, making sure that the guests are comfortable. Surely many of them would be surprised to learn that a Jewish spirit is attending to their needs.
Text and photo copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photo may be used without written permission of the author.