Tag Archives: Donkey Plaza

What’s In a Name: Part 1. Frozen in Time.

What in a name when it is out of context; when populations and understanding has passed it by and the meaning is frozen in time? Historians differ. How can we be sure? Bette Schwarz is consulting five different books for answers, while Cheryl D Angelo is searching the internet,  and the mystery is only growing! But Your Ghost Bustin’ History Dustin’ Team (that’s us)  well, we are digging into the names given to the burial sites of old Mazatlan, and who was buried there. The streets had different names too. And what miracle has given the old chapel it’s name? Ahh-who will know? Who will remember? The ghosts of old Mazatlan!!!!!!!

Chapel Miraculous sits high up on Calle Marzo 21 above Rosales street looking down on what was once the first organized graveyard in Mazatlan. But today, that is hard to believe. Indeed a resident coming out of his house at the junction of Calles Canizalez and Carvahal  shakes his head when we ask if the 4 block quadrant where he lives was once called the Barrio de las Calaveras Who told you that This place could never have been a graveyard, says he, and he walks away shaking his head in disapproval, grumbling about foolish Gringos.  Cheryl and I climb the steep hill up to the church, wondering if we have come to investigate a baseless rumor.  But a man sweeping out front has a different reaction. He smiles knowingly and volunteers-ahh to us Mexicans, the shadows have eyes. He goes on to explain that Mazatlan was called the Islands because of the fingers of water that ran between the hills. They made certain routes a better place to canoe than stroll along. People buried their dead on higher ground with intentions that they would forever enjoy the view. “This is higher ground.  But when the torrential rain water poured off the hills, well.he turns his eyes heavenward.

Certainly Mexicans loved and honored their ancestors, sometimes burying them under their houses. Stones were often set above the graves-the more rocks, the higher the esteem. There were several native sites where people were buried back before recorded history.  A graveyard often grew over top of another.

First the pirates, then the Spanish, held tight to Mazatlan,  but in 1822 (after Mexico’s Independence) the port welcomed international traffic. Most cities in Mexico formed around the government buildings and the church square, but Mazatlan bowed to the god of material gain and for a full half century of rapid growth, it developed around enterprise and the Port.  The discovery of silver and gold that could be exported through Mazatlans great harbor San Felix,  brought entrepreneurs from every nation and  these new  settlers from Spain, France and Germany brought their religion and customs with them.  By 1842, with  four to five thousand people calling Mazatlan home,  the Church San Jose was completed.  There was still no resident priest for this first church. A priest traveled from Villa Union to tend the flock.  But in these troubled times, many people died and needed burial.   Did the deceased travel all the way to Villa Union?  Were they buried in the first organized graveyard at the Barrio, or in the Protestant Graveyard called  the Plaza of the Burros?

Even the term burros is questionable. The name “Burros” was  used to describe the poor people the indigenous, the Totorames, the slaves who worked the mines. The “Burros” may not have been buried in coffins….Thus the  digging up of the skulls and perhaps other bones. Then the plot thickens, for in 1855 Benito Juarez, an enthusiastic freemason, secularized government at least on paper, in the “Law of Juarez. “The term Protestant loosely meant that a Mexican graveyard, called a Panteon was now under government control.

In the mid 1800s, cemeteries were set outside of town for reasons of public health. Mazatl Protestant cemetery was located on the eastern side of the peninsula with the old town on the western side.The graveyard on the Plaza of the Burros became officially the Municipal Panteon No.1. in 1851 when a cholera epidemic killed 2500 citizens, many of them  foreigners, most of which held various religious affiliation or no faith at all.  What Panteon No 1 lacked in supervision, it made up for in body count as an aging population, constant war, the yellow fever and plague epidemics filled it to bursting.  With the expansion of the city eastwards, a second panteon opened on Avenida Gabrial Leyva in 1890.

The city asked families to claim their buried dead for transfer to the new site with a harbor view, but many did not come forward, and  their  loved ones stayed buriedsort of. The unearthing was described as  whole mountain rising up from the entrails of the earth.Afterwards, people forgot. Soon the abandoned graveyard was a grazing spot for burros. Hence the name? With few gravestones remaining, the Donkey Plaza became a sports field in the early 1900s.  The land was donated in 1921 and authorities decided to open a park on the site (1924) but neglected  to remind the public of coffins and the under-ground remains. Finally a concrete floor was poured to cover everything over. Neat. Impenetrable. A way to finalize the past. But did it work?

Drivers complain that,  the pavement sinks in spots. And if that is not distressing enough, there is this from the neighbors: “souls wander between the walls of houses and along the street.Countless stories are told of suspense and mystery, tales of entities in pain, or angry over being abandoned, disturbed and dishonored.  Grandparents, students and teachers tell of ghostly encounters. Basketball players speak of voices and laments they have heard in the “unquiet night.” The clock in the once cutting edge tower of the school has stopped still frozen in time.

Buy Now:

Hotel Belmar: the Ghost Has the Key

is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book formats at: https://amzn.to/2pOpoMI

ISBN:978-0-6921 139820 https://amzn.to/2pOpoMI

The Author will have books at the First Friday Artwalk in Mazatlan. Click here to read reviews. Watch for news of a book signing.

Until then, going fast. Call 981-8072.

Other books by S.K.Carnes

ISBN:978-0692-84685-8 amxn.to/2nasO9S
Click description 
ISBN:987-0692-85172-2  http:bit.ly/SoldiersJourney  Available in paperback, as an audiobook and e-book.  Silver Medal from Readers Favorite
ISBN:978-0-9718600 2008 Golden Moonbeam Award.  Available from author Click description

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Digging Up Bones

The sea is the largest cemetery, and its slumbers sleep without a monument.” “All other graveyards show symbols of distinction between great and small, rich and poor: but in the ocean cemetery, the king, the clown, the prince and the peasant are alike, undistinguishable.”

George Bruce, 1884, St Andrews

As I walk along the entrance wall of Panteon No 2,  I am aware that the real graves are located inside.  But all along Ave. Gabriel Leyva, markers of Mazatlan’s heroes form a line  that once faced Mazatlan’s safe harbor. City fathers, philanthropists, and notable women are named, their contributions extolled on tall impressive monuments that stand in “honor’s row” along with those who sailed the blue Pacific. Though the waters are now contained by the seawall  blocks away, it is a fitting tribute that announces “Who is Who in Panteon No 2.”

I want to remember what happened here!

Even though I like to visit this cemetery, see the symbols and statues over each grave, and wonder about that  lifetime, the earliest dates on the stones are from the late 1800s. There must be earlier burial sites since there were some 3000 people at the start of the 1800s.  I want to find them and connect the dots. It seems that writing about ghosts in my new book, I fell under the spell of the old. It is dangerous, this “digging up bones,” it makes you want to know the rest of the story.

I am lucky because I now have a partner to work with who is a master at research. Bette Schwarz welcomes me into the fold of the curious wanna know mores. She works at night translating old documents, trying to understand the meaning in the Spanish words. It is map making in reverse, tracing the way back through history to the way it was then. And Mazatlan is so full of way-markers and clues. Lewis Carol wrote in Alice in Wonderland that it is a poor sort of memory that only works backwards. Wow. How timely is the idea that we can learn from the past and maybe do better! And so I am going to walk the route back in time that Bette has laid out for me and test that idea. How cool! Bette tells me that the information a genealogist finds must be shared with others. I like that the kind of redistribution where nobody loses. Its riches all around. She has been reading Oses Cole “Dictionarios,” (2006) and I have articles that indicate:

The first organized panteon in Mazatlan was located approximately between the streets 21 de Marzo, Teniente Azueta, Doctor Carvajal and Canizales and functioned until the  mid-1840s. But as the century passed, new people with no memory that it was a burial site came to build farms and then homes in the neighborhood. When digging-in foundations across these four blocks, human remains surfaced,and the place came to be called  “Barrio de las Calaveras,” The Place of the Skulls. Finally, there only remained above ground the memorial owned by the Romanillo family.

The first official cemetery (Panteon No.1) was built on the outskirts of Mazatlan, where the livestock  grazed the meadow, hence the name La Plazuela del Burro. It was between what is today Germ Evers and Hidalgo streets. It was here on the Donkey Plaza in  Panteon No. 1 that one of the most controversial characters of the port was buried: the famous “Picaluga” of Genov©s origin who also called himself “Juan Passador” and according to the anecdotes of that time his tomb was cursed. Here also, The should have been famous  Birdman of Mazatlan, Andrew Jackson Grayson was buried in the Protestant section, separated from the Catholic gravesites by a wall. With the opening of the Panteons Nos. 2 and 3, in 1870 and 1909 respectively, the city stopped burials in the first municipal cemetery.  At that time the land was owned by the German Welfare Society of Mazatlan, then represented by Federico Unger, who donated the property in 1921 to build a park there in 1924.Today it is covered over by the Plazuela Angel Flores and the school of the same  name. 

I set off to find all the oldest graveyards, to get a feel of the past, and see how they fare today. And, I’m taking my German Shepard dog Karma with me. You know-in case of ghosts seeking revenge or trying to win out in the battle of life and death!!!!!! Bette quotes a wise person saying we die three times. First at death, second at burial and lastly when forgotten. So who remembers and what’s shakin’ in these less traveled  places?


Memory is alive and well but hidden from non Spanish speakers and  my untrained eyes. I meet several living in the Barrio who dis-believe tales of graves in the neighborhood, and some who are shocked that foreigners are asking to know such secrets. But the nearby  Chapel Miraculous proclaims with it’s processions that “a city without traditions is a city without history. “Let the circle connecting times and hearts be unbroken.”

In my next blog, with the help of Bette Schwarz and Cheryl D€™Angelo ( a kind friend and fellow walker who speaks Spanish and is too polite to say “No”) I hope to crack open this mystery. The strangest thing though€”the deeper I get into these things, the more questions I have! Until next time, then, when “Them bones them bones gonna walk around!”

New recruit Cheryl D’Angelo: alive with enthusiasm!

Buy Now:

Hotel Belmar: the Ghost Has the Key

is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book formats at: https://amzn.to/2pOpoMI

ISBN:978-0-6921 139820 https://amzn.to/2pOpoMI

The Author hopes to have books at the First Friday Artwalk in Mazatlan. Click here to read reviews. Until then, going fast.

Other books by S.K Carnes:

ISBN:978-0692-84685-8 amxn.to/2nasO9S
SBN:987-0692-85172-2 http:bit.ly/SoldiersJourney Available in paperback, as an audiobook and e-book Silver Medal from Readers Favorite
ISBN:978-0-9718600 2008 Golden Moonbeam Award. Available from author

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