DIA DE LOS MUERTOS OBSERVANCE
Terlingua Ghost Town Cemetery
Saturday, November 2, 2013
The annual Day Of The Dead observance in the Terlingua Ghost Town Cemetery is a beautiful and moving experience. It is held on November 2, and usually coincides with the two chili cook-offs that happen in town on the first weekend of November each year.
In the afternoon before the event, volunteers clean and decorate the altar, and assemble the many candles needed for the graves. Other helpers set up folding tables to hold the food which will be brought for the pot luck dinner.
About an hour before sunset, people begin gathering, and pretty soon Mr. and Mrs. Skeleton show up. There may, or may not be, other people in costume. With all the chili cook-off participants in town, there is usually a good turn out. One thing for sure, there will be photographers. This event is a photographer’s delight.
The town of Terlingua, Texas was a company town for the Chisos Mining Company from around 1910 until a little after World War II. By the end of the war the market and demand for mercury had declined to near zero, and the cinnabar ore from which it is derived was becoming harder and harder to extract in the local area. The Chisos Mining Company went bankrupt, and, when almost everyone moved away, Terlingua became a ghost town.
In the late 1960’s the chili cook-offs held here revived interest in Terlingua. The town gradually began attracting artists, bohemians, and drop-outs from society. Today it is a small, but thriving community of free spirits. The historic ghost town is owned by a man named Bill Ivey. He has preserved the town intact as a memorial to the past residents. Visitors may wander among the ruins and discarded artifacts of an earlier time, but are requested to not disturb anything. There is also development on a limited scale. Many of the most important structures of the old town are in use today, and are thriving businesses. The Terlingua Trading Company, the old company store of the Chisos Mining Co., has been open continuously since the early days of mining. Today it is a wonderful gift and book store. It’s front porch is the epicenter of social life in Terlingua today. Right next door, the former movie house has been resurrected as The Starlight Theatre, a top notch restaurant, bar, and live music venue. The old Holiday Hotel has been remodeled and re-opened, and does a brisk business, especially around chili cook-off time. There are several other new restaurants, bars, hotels, and art galleries in the town. Another thriving local enterprise are the several river and back country guide and outfitter services. People come from all over the world to float the Rio Grande through three major gorges, and to explore the hundreds of square miles of rugged wilderness around Terlingua, in Big Bend Ranch State Park, and Big Bend National Park.
The cemetery is part of the historic Terlingua Ghost Town, and, as such, its use is regulated by Mr. Bill Ivey. He occasionally allows new graves to be added to it, for local residents and special friends of Terlingua. The heart of the old cemetery, though, is its historic graves. Most of them are occupied by former employees of the Chisos Mining Company, or their family members. Most of them are Mexican. The names of many of them are unknown, as the writing has faded from the simple wooden crosses. In many cases, the wooden crosses have withered and crumbled. On Dia de los Muertos, each grave is honored by placing a burning candle on it. An effort has been made through the years to track down the family members of the cemetery residents. Many have come back to pay their respects, especially on Dia de los Muertos.
The historic Terlingua Ghost Town and its beautiful old cemetery are a great destination for anyone looking for something different. Located very far away from any major population centers, it can be a challenge to get here. This is a major part of its appeal.
All photos by Allen Hare
Posted on Sunday, January 26, 2014