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The Ghost Of San Geronimo


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

The castle of San Geronimo, San Juan de Porto Rico, was founded
a century ago. It occupies a rocky point at the east end of San
Juan Island, and year by year had been strengthened until, when the
American ships appeared in the offing, it was thought important enough
to garrison. Six guns were emplaced, two other gun mounts were found by
our troops when they entered, and a hole was discovered extending from
a dungeon fifteen feet toward the breastworks. This had been freshly
dug, and, it is believed, was devised for the storage of explosives,
that the citadel might be blown up when the boys in blue entered to
take possession. That the fort was abandoned without resorting to
this revengeful and unmilitary act may be due to the ghost. He would
naturally be in evidence at such a time, and would do what he could
to thwart the schemes of his enemies. For he gave his body to the
worms fifty years or more ago. In the flesh he was a revolutionist,
and had been dreaming vain things about liberty for his beloved
island. It is not recorded that he ever harmed any one, or that
his little insurrection attained the dignity of anything more than
a rumor and an official chill, but the Spaniards caught him, threw
him into the dark prison of this castle, and after he had undergone
hunger, thirst, and illness, they went through their usual forms
of trial and condemned him to death. This among the civilized would
have meant that he would be sent to the gallows or the garrote; but
this victim was alleged to have accomplices, and quite likely he was
suspected of having a small fund; for the first thing to do when you
overthrow a government, or want to, is to pass the hat. To secure the
names of his fellow-conspirators, but more especially their money,
the revolutionist was therefore consigned to the torture chamber,
where the rack, the thumb-screw, the hot irons, the whip, and other
survivals of the Inquisition were applied. When the officers had
extorted what they wanted, or had made sure there was nothing to
extort, the poor, white wreck of a human being was delivered by the
judges to an executioner, and a merciful death was inflicted.

Shortly after this occurrence the officers of the San Geronimo garrison
began to request transfers, and the social set that had been formed in
and near the castle was broken up. Gradually the troops thinned away,
and although the works were kept in moderate repair and occasionally
enlarged, the regular force was finally withdrawn, and even the
solitary keepers who were left in charge died unaccountably. This
was because the ghost of the tortured one pervaded its damp rooms
and breathed blights and curses on the occupants. Its appearance was
always heralded by a clatter of hoofs on the stone bridge leading
into the court. The on-rush of spectre horses is variously explained,
some believing that the dead man is leading an assault on the fort,
others wondering if it may not be a conscience-smitten governor
hurrying to rescue or reprieve his victim, and arriving too late,--a
theory quite generally rejected on the ground that there never was
that kind of a Spanish governor.

An American officer, who took up his home in San Geronimo after the
occupation, was disturbed for three successive nights by the ghost,
and on learning the tradition of the place he investigated the palace
and brought to light the torture chamber with its rows of hooks and
rings and chains about the walls. The piercing of its roof, so that
the sun came in and the ghosts and malaria went out, the removal of
the grim relics of mediaevalism, the cleaning and whitewashing of the
apartments, have probably induced the spectre to take up his quarters
elsewhere, for his old haunts are hardly recognizable, and he can have
no grudge against the soldiers of a republic who carried out his plans
with a perfection and promptness of which he could not have dreamed.

The climate of the West Indies has ever been favorable to the
preservation of spirits, and this haunted castle of San Juan has
counterparts in the island, and in other islands, and the ghosts are
not always victims of the Spaniards, either. The appearance of spectres
in the New World was almost contemporary with Columbus. Indeed,
one of the most startling of supernatural appearances occurred in
the town he founded,--the town of Isabella, Hayti, the first white
man's city in America. It was created by the great navigator on his
second voyage, but it remained for only a few years on the map. The
dons whom he brought with him refused to work, even when the colony
was starving, and reported him in Spain as a tyrant for asking them
to put up their own shelters, cook their own food, and grind their
own flour. They would not even work in the mines where gold could
be seen in the river sands, because they had expected to pick up
the metal in lumps, or force it from the natives in such quantities
that each adventurer might return with a bushel. Hardship, illness,
short commons, the need of occasional labor, the heart-breaks over the
gold failure, the retaliations of the natives for the cruelties and
injustices of the invaders, led to the rapid decline of the city of
Isabella. Its foundations may still be visible; at least they were a
few years ago; but it is peopled only by ghosts. Some years after it
had been deserted, two Spaniards, who had been hunting in that part
of the island, entered its ruined streets. They had heard from the
Indians of strange, booming voices that echoed among its dead houses,
but had dismissed this tale as invention or fancy. The sun was low
and mists were gathering. As the hunters turned a corner they were
astonished to see a company of cavaliers drawn up in double rank, as
if for parade, sword on hip, plumed hats aslant, big booted, leather
jacketed, grim, and silent. The two men asked whence they had come. The
cavaliers spoke no word, but all together lifting their hats in salute,
lifted their heads off with them, then melted into air. They were
the dead of the fated town. The two spectators fainted with horror,
and did not recover their peace of mind in many days.

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