Category Archives: Blog Post

Early Tourism in Mazatlan

Sail Ho!

In December of 1872, the English born actor, traveler, entomologist, writer, and founder of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco,  Henry Edwards and his wife visited Mazatlan.  His descriptions were peppered with praise, and salted with wry humor as he wrote of his visit to this city and people. Encarnacion Osuna Garate of the Mazatlan Archives sent us “Three Weeks in Mazatlan,” a journal of Edward’s experience.   This blog-post and the next post are distilled from Edward’s description of what Mazatlan  was like to visit for pleasure instead of for conquest.

First Impressions of Mazatlan: It looks good from a distance!

“It was a picture full of strange and dreamy beauty that is found only in tropical climates, and that gives the spirit a sense of almost oppressive sadness; that fills the heart with drowned longings for a better understanding of his secret love; and suggests to the soul a vision of that better and brighter land ‘beyond the heavens’ which is the support of our earthly pilgrimage. The first plane of the painting is formed by groups of low houses with flat roofs curiously painted white, blue, pink and yellow crowned by giant palm stems moving their arms in the soft breeze, with a facade illuminated by the transparency of the tropical sea; while beyond there stretches a series of broken hills crowned with a dense and curious vegetation – a purple mist crowns its summits and in the distance mixes with the dark. Around and above the glorious golden of the tropical dawn. spreads the most delicate purple tints shade the richest crimson; and, surrounded by a greenish sieve of an almost ethereal brilliance, the inclined rays of the luminary that approaches the dull green foliage, illuminate it with transcendental splendor.”

 A Closer Look. Vultures Overhead

Far away Mountains, giant cacti and… “Also the flight of vultures that looms over us like tireless ghosts of those who have already left;  groups of gray pelicans and graceful white cranes in the water lend a vivid interest to the stage. The vultures, prized as carrion animals in all tropical countries, here also perform their valuable trades and, being protected by the government (killing them is punishable by a very high fine) exist in large numbers. Its gloomy and dejected, sad and melancholy forms, like Poe’s crow, are seen everywhere in the city and its surroundings.

The witcher dark raven from

“Best Described as Unique!”

 Musings by Edwards as he travels 2 miles to shore by small craft from the mother ship.

“While during the past ten years, more than two million dollars of various nationalities have been collected for lighthouse rights and almost the same amount for the concept of piloting, there is not a single lighthouse on the entire Mexican coast. Presently, the tasks of the pilot consists of skiffing along three or four hundred yards ahead of the boat he is guiding in, while waving a white flag to show the way. Further south, there seems to me to be a suitable place for such a light house,  the island called El Crestón Grande. It dominates the area. In its South Western corner, there is a singular cave whose walls are strongly impregnated with sulfur opening into unknown and unexplored passages to the heart of the mountain. A little north on the mainland, rises a high and rocky hill on which are the remains of what was a powerful fortress which by its position offers an important point of defense; with that peculiar carelessness of the Mexican race, the fortress has gone collapsing into decay. At the top of this eminence is the flagpole.”

Who Lives Where?

“The city is built on an isthmus that at its narrowest point is no more than one hundred and eighty meters long. The old section is that of the north and the new section, mainly inhabited by the upper class, is the southern part.”

“The longest street in the city is Calle del Recreo, which stretches for about a mile and passes next to the main plaza. At the western end it reaches a large esplanade facing the ocean, called Los Altos, which is the favorite walk of beauty and fashion in Mazatlan. Here are built some of the best houses in the city, the homes of wealthy merchants and others of wealthy class, furnished with exquisite taste in which a generous and profuse hospitality is extended in the most polite and refined way. The city has three squares, the main one is oblong, as of ninety meters long by forty-five wide. The north side is dedicated to a hotel and the halls of the Mazatlan Club, an institution greatly supported by foreign residents and which, if not for the game of the monté that is so favored, will provide many hours of pleasure to the visitor who has the fortune to gain access to their exclusive recreations. A corner of the square is occupied by the offices of the telegraph company. A line that has recently been carried across the continent, connecting Mexico City with the Pacific Ocean. However, due to the frequent revolutions it is sometimes impossible to send a message as each group, upon reaching power, thinks it is their duty to destroy poles and cables. Here is an example: in peacetime a message takes six weeks to reach Durango, a city one hundred and thirty leagues from Mazatlan, so with such management Mexico’s telegraph service seems of little public benefit.

On the Porters of Mazatlan

The porters that receive tonnage that comes off the boat and gets deposited on the “dilapidated pier, are counted among the institutions of Mazatlan and the loads they carry seem beyond what is possible. I saw a man carrying seven boxes of claret from a barge to the Customs, a distance of more than one hundred and fifty meters, and on another occasion I found one of them with a piano on his shoulders; but I was already so used to them that I was not surprised by his prowess. These wonderful loads are supported on a cloth that rests on the shoulders, and whose strap surrounds the forehead and is made to support part of the load.  A visiting business man shipped wagons and carts to Mazatlan to assist with transport, but the spirit of progress did not prevail. Instead, worried that the carts would spoil the shipping business (early evidence of a Porter’s Union) the local government sent them ‘post haste’ back  to New York.”

Closest picture I found of famous piano movers

 Donkey Power

“The only carts that are used now are rough and heavy wooden wagons  that  have very high tires and very low yards. They carry a chair tied to the rod in the roughest way by a rope, while the head of the donkey pulling it is free of all ties without abridle or a berbiquí. The driver walks next to his mule and directs it with words.  It is not uncommon to find a number of these animals coming to the city loaded with a pile of corn on each side of the pack saddle, all cut almost at ground level, which are joined when reaching up to five meters in height. The loads perfectly envelope the animals and only allows their heads and ears to be seen.

Work-donkeys, without which the Mexican could not exist, are enduring and patient, and  have certainly solved the problem of how to do the greatest task for a small amount of food. On rough roads, almost untenable for the human foot, these powerful and intelligent creatures carry their heavy loads carefully and always safely going to the most dangerous places, rewarded only by what they harvest on the road or occasionally by a handful of corncobs at the end of the day. Still, the handler guides his donkey with words and not with the whip, and there always seems to be a good understanding between the animal and its owner.

One day I witnessed an incident very illustrative of this fact. A small mule carried a cart loaded with boxes of wine and when turning a corner he got too close to a post placed to protect the sidewalk, which caused the vehicle to stop suddenly. The driver instead of whipping the animal and cursing him, as is common in other places, in the most carefree way  took out a cigar, lit it, leaned against the nearest portal and started smoking. Between puffs, he rubbed the animal, and laughed with good humor about the attempts the beast made to free himself from the pole. I would translate what he said something like:

‘Isn’t this nice, this  mess you’ve gotten us into! But do not ask me to help you. Figure it out.  I’m not in a hurry. Etc etc.’

He laughed all the time while the animal pulled and pulled so hard to knock down the post. The poor animal seemed to understand everything he said, expressively raising his ears and then lowering them; he seemed to understand the difficulty he was in, and pushing the cart back suddenly, turned and feeling free of the post, he marched triumphantly with his load. His master followed along slowly as he lit another cigarette and applauded the execution. I applauded too and, walking towards him, I extended my hand saying:

‘ Bravo, friend! That is better than whipping him.’

However, I forgot that he did not speak English. So I tried to speak in Spanish. However he understood me even less. With that I concluded not to try anymore. He offered me a cigar, gave me the usual salute of Adios sir and went lazily and happily down the street behind his mule.”

The First EcoCab

Next Blog: More about Mazatlan in the 1870s as Henry Edwards tells about the National Hotel  where he and his wife stayed, how he furthered his studies in entomology without leaving his room, the first night in Mazatlan, and what the entertainment scene was like in the good old days.


Buy Now:

Hotel Belmar: the Ghost Has the Key

is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book formats at:

ISBN:978-0-6921 139820

The Author will have books at the First Friday Art-walk in Mazatlan. May be sold at Saturday Market.  Click here to read reviews.

Until then, going fast. Call 981-8072.

Other books by S.K.Carnes

ISBN:978-0692-84685-8          Click on               description 
 Purchase here
Available in paperback, as an audiobook and e-book.  Silver Medal from Readers Favorite
Purchase here
ISBN:978-0-9718600 2008 Golden Moonbeam Award.  Available from author.
Description Here

Keeping Body and Soul Together

Finding the Staff of Life. 

By 1600,  less than 10 percent of the Totorames and Cahue Indian population had survived the brutality and diseases spread by the Spanish across Sinaloa. So, who rushed to fill the vacuum? Like it was the pot at the end of the rainbow, scalywags, sons of biscuit eaters, adventurers, money changers, miners, gypsies, tramps and thieves, people of every nation and the indigenous—all came to Mazatlan. Why? Because here was a fabulous harbor very near the gold and silver mines of the Sierras. Then, in 1768, there happened a miracle— or so it seemed to those longing for “the staff of life,”  those who knew that “man does not live by bread (or gold) alone.”

A Miracle? 

Voilà! A white cross appeared on the crest of a steep fist of rocks  fashioned by nature between  Olas Altas, Cerro de la Vigia  and the southern harbor. This promontory exists today and at it’s top sits a white cross— still.  But, to the grimly determined settlers steeped in sacrifice and hardened by pain,  to those stuck on a floodplain swarming with mosquitoes, termites, bad water, and banditos, to the many losing-out in their quest  for riches and fame, this symbol of the sacred was stunning. Plus, it came out of the blue! It spelled hope that Mazatlan’s harbor flush with hellish mud and blood, was the place to launch  dreams  and sail away into the golden light of salvation. That’s the promise of religion and it had arrived. So what if someone while improving his lot in life—might have set  vigas de madera (heavy beams of ironwood) up-top. Hmmmmm. Well, how would any person have managed that?? Not even the donkeys that delivered the wood could scale such a peak. It clearly was a miracle.

Still today, the site is visited on pilgrimage to the Holy Cross on the first days of May.

Or Not?

Our team of ghost bustin’ history dusters are pulling our collective hair out over this happening! We are buried in books, but words used in the 1700s to describe previous centuries don’t always take our modern translation. Examples: The word “prison” is used without the usual inmates. Could the word prison refer to  El Presidio: defined in those days as a fortified base established by the Spanish in areas under their control or influence??? We also find “la alcabala:” perhaps a tax imposed by the Spanish Crown upon its colonies.

So in the interest of nay-sayers ready to poo-poo miracles, we point to a certain Don Jose de Gálvez, who arrived in the port in 1768 seemingly to review the militiamen in the “prison,” impose “la alcabala” and maybe to set up a symbol of power and ownership for Spain??? Hmmm.

The Miracle of Life—Water!

Now that we have both sides hmmming, in the interest of harmony, we will try to stick to “the staff of life” everyone knew Mazatlan needed more of—water. Sweet, clean water! According to Enrique Vega Ayala “Encuentros con la Historia” Mazatlan Tomo I, p. 62-64, “Nothing is more important to the development of a city than a reliable source of potable water and, for residents in the mid to latter 1800s, potable water supply was often a problem.”

” The freshwater spring, formed by the runoff from the Cerro de la Neveria was the only source of vital fluid for the first ones who dared to live in Mazatlan.”

We have already examined the role of the donkeys hauling the living and the dead around town. Once again, the donkey’s saved the day. The aquadores “guys with the donkeys,”  got water from the springs, and as the need arose,  hoofed jugs of agua in from smelly lagoons out of town. Reflecting the rapid growth of the Mazatlan population, in 1820 there were three donkeys and their respective handlers. By 1849 there were 24 . When the number of aguadores reached 40, the citizens recognized a critical problem.      Inspired by the cross high over the city, (God’s Law and Civil Justice had not been separated out in those days) the city now had a jail for those who drank four bottles of wine everyday to compensate  for bad water. Clearly, in the interest of  keeping body and soul together, a better source and distribution of potable water must be found!

Guess what!

Our team is growing! Indeed, we  have recruited some learned folks:  a resident geologist,  to help us clear up troubled waters, and a researcher who is committed to sharing What Happened Here! Guess who they are! Such fun! Meet them in a month. But while our growing team figures out how Mazatlecos kept body and soul together— or didn’t, join us in two weeks on a Tuesday  to learn  about life in old Mazatlan from the book A Mingled Yarn by Henry Edwards.  Thank you Encarnacion Garate Osuna for sending the excerpt called “Three Weeks in Mazatlan.”

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Buy Now:

Hotel Belmar: the Ghost Has the Key

is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book formats at:

ISBN:978-0-6921 139820

The Author will have books at the First Friday Art-walk in Mazatlan. May be sold at Saturday Market.  Click here to read reviews.

Until then, going fast. Call 981-8072.

Other books by S.K.Carnes

ISBN:978-0692-84685-8  description 
Purchase here


Available in paperback, as an audiobook and e-book.  Silver Medal from Readers Favorite
Purchase here


ISBN:978-0-9718600 2008 Golden Moonbeam Award.  Available from author.Description Here

What’s In a Name: Part 2 Burros and Miracles

Early on

The Mazatlecos, they said, buried their dead on the shore of the sea and not on sacred ground; they did not baptize their children, they did not consecrate their marital unions religiously; they did not celebrate the Catholic holidays; and, only a few went to the Masses celebrated upon a portable altar brought to town. With all its wealth this was, at first, a town without a name, without law and without god.

It is interesting to note that in early Mazatlan, the names of the first streets  reflected their usage. For example, the streets that  bordered the old Barrio of Skulls (Calles Leandro Valle, Carvahal and 21 de Marzo) had Spanish names meaning “Ditch” and “Jail.” (Notice the brevity of language, the “bare bones” descriptions).  As the city expanded, tombs, graves and bones  were dug up and moved further away from the city center to Municipal Panteon No 1. The new place was designed for Protestants, Catholics, and non -believers (with some sort of  division) and it had a nickname: “The Plazza of the Burros.”

In the good old days, people died of many things : disputes, love gone wrong, ambushes, firing squads and war, cholera, childbirth, political ambition, poisoned food and water, yellow fever,  the plague and accidents due to rapid expansion and bravado while under the influence. This picture by Peter Brougel (Dutch painter in the 1500s) sets the tone for the move to the “Donkey Plaza” from the “Barrio of Skulls.”

What’s In a Nickname?

Pushing the limits of Google Translate and Babel Fish, our team researched Mexican historians, such as Lic. Oses Cole Isuna, Lic. Enrique Ayala, and Antonio Lerma Garay. Bette Schwarz consulted other sources,  and we reveled in discoveries that left us more confused than ever. Nevertheless,  here are several plausible reasons the plaza got it’s nickname. You decide.

In the newspaper El Correo de la Tarde,Julio 7 de 1899, there appeared this explanation and tribute to the lowly burro: In the early days, the dead  were first brought to a coroner by mule or donkey where  they were examined as to the reason for their death. If no one showed up to claim them, they were sent to the graveyard on a cart pulled by a burro. The “donkeys” or burros were the economical hearses carrying the bodies of those who had no one, were unknown, etc..”buried on common ground,” “often stacked  in one large coffin wearing nothing or only the rags in which they died.” The placid donkey accompanied them on this, their final trip (final— until they got moved again to Panteon No. 2). Indeed, a burro was the last companion of the dead, and sole witness to an end of days.

As you can imagine, a true historical detective like Bette Schwarz was bothered and unable to  sleep until she could  crack the mystery of “why the nickname?”

*And then the break through!!!Bette read that at the beginning of the 19th Century, “donkey’s on vacation” or enjoying R and R could rest and frolic in a place adjacent to the plaza later named for burros. “Yes. That’s it!”

*Next, we discovered that In 1925, a year after Governor Angel Flores died a terrible death due to poisoning (rumored as  the unfortunate result of his political ambition to be President of Mexico) Mazatlan City christened the plaza and school after him.  Earlier, when commanding General Flores,  President Obregon (a fellow citizen of Sonora) had honored him with the title of “best soldier of the revolution.”  It was rumored  that naming the plaza after Angel Flores was an opportunity to upscale the plaza that had fallen into ruin.

*Soon there was a rumor that the name “Plaza of the Burros” had turned “derogatory” and was “maliciously aimed” at this “named best soldier”  who had fought with and under the revered “Pride of Mazatlan, Sinaloa,” the local, more humble, and better loved Juan Carrasco. This “vile and hateful”  rumor was aimed at another rumor that Angel Flores had conspired with General Obregon to kill Juan Carrasco (note the use of flowery language that developed with the importance of politics and politicians). Of course non of these things could be true. 

Poetic Truth

            The Donkey
         By G.K Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things. 

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet.
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

And Justice

“The one who comes to a good tree, a good shadow shelters him,” says an old refrain. And strange as it seems  a donkey proved this adage true.  Gavilán was his name. He was a rich reddish color and sported a white nose. The multimillionaire Lloyd Rawlins bought him in 1895  to labor in his mine San Luis, of Dimas, Durango. Soon Gavilán became the millionaire’s preferred means of transportation in his wanderings in the Duranguense Sierra. But one day Mr. Lloyd decided to return to his home in Los Gatos, California, leaving behind his donkey Gavilan. After awhile however, the  millionaire missed the braying of his former partner.  “Surely the burro deserved a better deal than he could receive in the mines. Hadn’t he always served  willingly?” And so, Mr. Lloyd sent for his donkey to travel first class by ship to San Francisco.

The ship carried  2130 boxes of tomatoes from the Mazatlan region, 70 giant loggerheads that had been trapped in Magdalena Bay, and that donkey from the Sierra de Durango. The millionaire pensioned his loyal donkey. Never again did the cruel weight of cargo rest on Gavilán’s reddish back. Indeed, the happy burro lived out his full life of 50 years in luxury as an esteemed member of Lloyd Rawlins family—  and as his friend.

A miracle you say? Stranger than fiction perhaps? In two weeks on a Tuesday,  we will see how donkeys figured in the Mazatlan waterworks, learn what happened when the town got religion, and  just in time for Holy Week, begin the story of the Miraculous Chapel and Her procession.

Buy Now:

Hotel Belmar: the Ghost Has the Key

is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book formats at:

ISBN:978-0-6921 139820

The Author will have books at the First Friday Art-walk in Mazatlan. May be sold at Saturday Market.  Click here to read reviews.

Until then, going fast. Call 981-8072.

Other books by S.K.Carnes

Click description 


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 on the word description 

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

What’s 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 Mazatlan’s 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. Mazatlán’s 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 buried—sort of. The unearthing was described as “a 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:

ISBN:978-0-6921 139820

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

Click description 
ISBN:987-0692-85172-2     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 


Mazatlan’s Unsettling Beginnings: The First Street

New Recruit Cheryl the Walker D Angelo and myself are off to investigate the Barrio of Skulls , the Chapel Miraculous, ghosts, rumors and tales. We have our marching papers,  Chief investigator Bette Schwarz has sluiced the Con Agua Report from  the internet in her relentless search for the truth. She also holds dear several books by Oses Cole that are probably priceless by now.

As we trudge along, I explain to Cheryl that me and “Babel Fish” aim to unravel  research written in Spanish in hopes that  our visitors will be dazzled by  “tidbits of history” we extract.  How great to expand the mind!  I’ll say, “Guess  what happened here?” And everyone will love it. Right Cheryl?

When I use that line with Bette, she scolds me about my ghost book, saying  “if you torture the data long enough, you can get it to confess to anything! Ghosts even.” I remind her that I am from Friday Harbor. I grew up listening to Joe Friday. “Just the facts Maam.But I say it with a wink. Bette has her eye on me—you know, she likes to tell it like it is. And was!

The Grid? What Grid?

“ Cheryl points out “that the streets we are walking along curve, and some of them disappear all together because they are not laid out on a grid but follow the mud line of high tide in the estuaries and the beach.  Never fear, our gal Cheryl has her feet on the ground. She has been reading a fascinating thesis written by Dr. Leticia Alvarado Fuentes and is fast becoming an expert on  how the original streets were named.

The Midas Touch Wins Out

Yep-Mazatlán  was great for hiding pirates, treasures and a specialized type of antelope called “hooded deer”almost extinct now. At the beginning 17th Century attempts to settle in however were twice abandoned,  the hills and estuaries dubbed “unlivable. “Historians say the soil was salty, the water was “not acceptable as water goes, lest to ingest it “and it smelled bad too. Dangerous bugs, monsters and rats lived in the estuaries. Floods and YEEK! HURRICANES! But in the late 1500’s, silver and gold had been discovered in the foothills to the East. Overland transport to the Port of Acapulco was dangerous and expensive.  Mazatlan’s harbor was world class and deep enough for any boat in the 1600s. The place lacked water but had the “Midas Touch” so of course there was another attempt at settling in, and this third time was the charm.

The Principle Way

We are crossing Calle Belisario Dominguez,  aptly called “Principle”. This first trail  began with a nascent farmhouse called Puerto Viejo on San Felix Bay (today North Beach)and crossed Mazatlan to the sheltered inner harbor,  where tree trunk boats, each carrying up to 5 tons of fruits, seeds and livestock, plowed the estuary trade routes. Villa Union (where the first would-be settlers had built farms) and many other places where there was good water and rich soil for growing things, supplied  food and water to Mazatlan. It was a time when the estuaries were primary routes  for communication and supplies between tribes and towns. Everyone pitched in, the slaves and Indians that worked the fabled mines married in, and the First Town took the name: Mazatlán de los Mulatos. In distant Spain, visitors brought alarming news of  disorder, chaos, and terrible living conditions, but like a bad weed, the city sprang up. Urban sprawl spilled fast and faster across flood zones between the watchtower hills manned by the “brown Militia.” It was an out of control race, a material boom-time to “hurry-up” before Mexico thought about regulations and taxes!

Mazatlan! Mexico’s Fabulous Port on the Pacific

People called “mules” were bent double under the weight of precious metals headed out to the world. Every language was spoken except religion.  Not a lot of that. Nor was there reliable water enough to sustain a big brawling city. The early folks were not so interested in planning a great city as they were in “getting rich” and maybe “getting out” if need be, especially those from other nations. San Felix was crowded with ships coming mostly from Europe, Asia, and North America; proudly waving flags of England, France, Italy Holland, Spain, the Americas and Ecuador. Commercial houses spawned fabulous fortunes  from trade in silver and gold, opium and contraband. And the characters that came to Old Mazatlan ?  Salty, uncivilized, fearless, heroic and legendary! I remind myself that they walked these very streets and shiver to imagine such ghosts as they would be. By 1855 the very diverse population of Mazatlán was 6773 . Regional markets had grown to include the States of Sinaloa, Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Zacatecas, Jalisco, Nayuarit, Baja California and Alta california. Until the railroads gave ease of transport to inland cities, Mazatlán was Mexico’s most important Pacific port.

What’s Next?

Bette Schwarz is researching the water systems that served Mazatlán . And the streets? Cheryl says she is “On it!” Stay tuned to hear some tales about them as we head for the center of the old city and the Barrio of Skulls. As for me, I aim to solve the mystery of how that neighborhood got that name. Tune in next week for answers. Just the facts. Well, maybe a little fancy to add some flourish.

NEWS FLASH: The City is going to restore Panteon No. 2 to it’s original glory. Congratulations go to Joaquin Lopez Hernandez for his “Graveyard Tours” (called by fellow historians “stupendous citizen efforts”) that inspired Gringos, tourists and the Powers That Be!!!!! Hooray.  A city justly proud of Her History!!!!! Mazatlán!

I have written a song to celebrate!

You Do Not Walk Alone

Along avenues of heros
'N Streets that sing of praise
Watch tall waves on the seaside
Drench the sunset colors blaze

El Faro beams and flashes,
And the moon and streetlights glow
Walk the sacred streets at twilight
Walk deep purple streets at midnight
And you do not walk alone

Rolling echoes of the canons
Searing fire from the shells
Rise up nation bent on freedom
To the tolling of the bells

El Faro beams and flashes,
And the moon and streetlights glow
Walk the sacred streets at twilight
Walk deep purple streets at midnight
And you do not walk alone

The green spark of salvation
Whirling skirts and stamping pride
Fiestas loud and merry
Jest that no one ever dies.

El Faro beams and flashes,
And the moon and streetlights glow
Walk the sacred streets at twilight
Walk deep purple streets at midnight
And you do not walk alone

Buy Now:

Hotel Belmar: the Ghost Has the Key

is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book formats at:

ISBN:978-0-6921 139820

The Author will have books at the First Friday Artwalk in Mazatlan. Click here to read reviews. Until then, going fast. Call 981-8072.

Other books by S.K.Carnes

Click description 
ISBN:987-0692-85172-2 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 


ISBN:978-0-9718600 2008 Golden Moonbeam Award. Available from author

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. It’s riches all around. She has been reading Oses Cole’s “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 Germán 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 Genovés 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:

ISBN:978-0-6921 139820

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:

SBN:987-0692-85172-2 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

By The Way


Hotel Belmar: the Ghost Has the Key is finished and available from Amazon as an e-book or paperback. Click here to order it. Go to my website: and click on the “Books” menu to read a synopsis and review of this historical novel.

Joaquin Lopez and I will be giving a Presentation at 3:00 on the 16th of December at El Recreo at 209 Constitución in El Centro. Please come! The book truly is overflowing with information yet only scratches the surface. As I wrote it, I was constantly energized over new information. But my wise editor warned me not to include one more discovery. “Enough already!” With so much more to say,  I packed the “Notes” section of Hotel Belmar, often called “Research” with stories that are books in themselves.

By The Way,

still so many untold tales call to me, promising intrigue and enlightenment.  Wouldn’t you like to know the rest of the story of places and people? Ah —but let me feather-up the nest before asking you to sign up for further adventuring.

I grew up listening to Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story.” Try this link to hear him again with the rest of the story of a writer (especially apt in this case.) I am hoping you enjoy this sort of thing. Learning these little secrets  is a little like finding a treasure at the base of the rainbow.

And that is what I want to offer. A treasure chest of legends. And the ghost has the key! Subscribe to this blog and I will bring you along across the rainbow bridge to explore the less visited byways of Mazatlan and Friday Harbor too (both places are home to me). And there will be more ghosts in some of the back alleys, hovering about once famous  buildings, waiting for you with little known tales of  “once upon a time. ”



Hotel Belmar: The Ghost Has the Key



Have you ever wished along with me, to know stories about the old hotel with a commanding view of historical Olas Altas Beach, the Hotel Belmar? But who could tell these stories? All around the Hotel, the streets of the Historical Center are named to honor Mexican heroes. Who were they? Two years ago, I decided to find out. But where to start? Who would remember? Who would help me? Did the famous ghosts of the Belmar give interviews?

The words of many Mexican songs tell such tales. Oh to know the significance of which a Nation sings!  Legends and superstitions layer Mexican culture. Unsolved mysteries. Secrets buried with the dead in mysterious graveyards and sunk along with the gold and silver treasures of lost ships in the sands of Mazatlan’s famous harbor.

Hooray. OUR book, Hotel Belmar: The ghost Has the Key, is finished. It contains facts flavored with a plot about real people, spiced with reported ghostly encounters all stirred together into a history soup to savor: delicious, fun, horrifying, touching, profound and nourishing. And the ghosts pictured are not ephemeral mist-shrouded or demonic. See these tellers of untold tales in crystal clear black and white.

Yes, OUR book, like the hotel, is the collaboration of the talent of many nations: a brilliant graphic designer in Bosnia put finishing touches on the illustrations, generous Mexican historians contributed pictures, conjecture and facts, Canadians edited and formatted, and the heroine is as American as apple pie. This is an unconventional effort at communicating history with no political ax to grind. Like the sailors of many nations watching battles at sea along Mexico’s western coast, I was awestruck over the unfolding spectacle. Find it as a paperback here with a free Kindle edition,  or as an ebook here.   

Writing Historical Fiction is like Treasure Hunting

“Sure, ‘historical’ is a great idea, but why fiction?” you ask. For me, it has to be because of the ghosts. You see, I want to tell history from then, but it’s now. How to do that? And while you ponder the riddle of time and space, consider the focus of my next book of historical fiction, the haunted Hotel Belmar in Mazatlan Mexico.
This will be my fourth book. And,  I am excited about writing it. Why? Because  I am learning like crazy about this place.

Angel Flores in 1923

When I look back in time, especially after I have finished something, I see why events have happened.  So,  as I piece together the history of the Belmar in Mazatlan, I can see it alive and young through the eyes of those who experienced it that way, and realize that it is not too late because I have met the people to help me tell the story. A coincidence? And we bought a house on Angel Flores in the historical zone of Old Mazatlan.  The above picture is of our street, several years after the Belmar was up and running as the first Mexican luxury Hotel on the water.  It was taken in 1923 by American Edward Weston who, along with Tina Modotti, his model and a famous photographer herself,  made the  Belmar their home in Mazatlan.

The Great White Cloud in Mazatlán

Weston  wrote: “We found life both gay and sad, but always life — vital, intense, black and white but never gray.” Weston made a historic photo in Mazatlán, a classic called ” The great white cloud in Mazatlán”, labeling it one of his finest and most significant photographs, as it meant an artistic departure from figurative into abstract art, or negatives with intention as opposed to matter-of-fact records. I think about the ghosts in my writing just that way.
I am scribbling every day, reading dozens of books, and searching/translating the Internet for bits and pieces of facts and fancy, What fun. And along the way, I have learned some Spanish. Oh, I do love treasure hunting. Don’t you? Well stay tuned and I will share some gems with you to reflect on.

It will take me a year to complete this book.  In the meantime, order the historical novel by S.K. Carnes,  The Way Back, A Soldiers Journey.  Enjoy a sample reading below!

The Way Back. To find it on Amazon Kindle at
Also as an Audiobook at       Published as a paperback next week!
 And now out as a paperback, Epiphany. Starting Over in Oregon. Go to
Also a Kindle book:


On Laureates, the Sungod and Trees!

The above picture is a composite of and Franceso Albani from 1615.
Hooray! Epiphany. Starting Over in Oregon is finally formatted in paper and available on Whew. It is great to have completed this, my third book and second novel—a daunting task. And now that I have made an audiobook of The Way Back. A Soldier’s Journey, I know I can make Epiphany an audiobook too. I crown myself “Laureate of the Highest Order I Have Reached Yet!”
More crowns ahead.  I want to transform-branch out-radiate! I am not ready “to rest on my luarels.” Like I do when I write, I looked up the meaning of said saying, and found that I want to be like Daphne who originated “the look.” A good look for me! But let me explain. I hope you love stories like I do.
It seems that Apollo, the pre-Christian Greek god, loved the nymph Daphne who turned into a Bay Tree when he reached out to her. Voila! He embraced the plant, cut off a branch to make into a wreath to wear around his head, and declared the tree sacred. Of course such wreaths were given as accolades for lauded deeds like winning an Olympic game. Hence “laureates are recognized for completing some kind of wondrous task—like writing a novel. Resting on your laurels means laying back on what you have accomplished. Laying back does not thrill me.
I am hooked on rising up, Daphne style. Like a tree, I like to branch out.  Yep. It’s a fact that when a tree stops growing it begins to die. So, having tasted some success looking back on my own life, making sense of it and honing the skills to communicate my story, it is time to shift gears and begin again. Why? Because I want to be like Daphne the nymph. As long as the sun god shines on me, I am going to bloom. I like my companions in my writing group-their challenge, their support, and I know I belong because I can still give them something from my experiences to help them grow too. And then there is the excitement of researching my subject and putting together the ideas and stories around me into something new. And what I am not good at—the technology, the social networking, the marketing etc. etc.? Well that just means there is room for growth. And oh the view, the contacts, the heady warmth of Apollo coming close, the rays of the sungod shining through me—embracing me. Oh. What fun to learn.
No, the book is not the destination, but instead it is the funny thing that happens along the way to finishing it. Like the going is the getting there. Got it? Get  growing!
And just for the “lovely of it” here is the whole poem by Joyce Kilmer about a tree. The writer was a Daphne lover!
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Order the Historical Novel by S.K. Carnes,  The Way Back,
recently released in all e-book stores.

cover of The Way Back
New novel: The Way Back. To find it on Amazon Kindle at
Also as an Audio book at      Soon to be Published in paper.