Visitor found Raton full of charm and friendliness.
I am not a travel writer but just someone passing through Raton on a trip from Colorado to Albuquerque. On Thursday, Dec. 6, I arrived in Raton around 2 p.m., too early for check-in time at the Comfort Inn. Until now I had thought of the town as a way station on I-25, a place to get fuel and a quick snack. However, after spending 2-I/2 hours walking in Raton's old downtown section, I found a wonderful variety of people, artwork, history, and even a hat cemetery. I parked next to and walked through the Santa Fe Traders store and talked with several of the friendly ladies working there. One of them gave me directions to the town museum, and given that this was a gorgeous sunny, warm (by your standards though not by my Floridian ones) day, I decided to walk.
I started down the south side of Park Street and came to an open door with steep stairs and a sign indicating that the Little Bear Gallery was open, and there would be a gallery opening Dec. 8 to show works by Marvin Newton and Cindy Montoya. I knocked at the door and met Marv who though in process of preparations for the show welcomed me and even gave me a 7-UP to drink as I viewed the artwork. I learned that nothing was for sale until the show. His works were very detailed, meticulously rendered watercolors including adobe buildings, sunsets, and winter scenes. I didn't meet Cindy Montoya but would like to have because I really found her pastel work very exciting. I learned that she does plein-air drawing and obviously has studied snow and shadows on it. I would like to have asked her how she keeps from dropping her pastels when her hands freeze. As I left the show and walked down the hall, I stopped in the little room with the frosted glass window marked, Ladies Toilet and distinctly remembered not locking the outside door since I saw a separate stall that I could lock and didn't want to block use of the sink that was outside the stall. As I sat in the stall, I heard the outside door open, heavy footsteps and then saw the stall door push inward. I announced my occupancy, but received no verbal acknowledgment from the other side of the stall door. I also heard no additional footfalls so I assumed that when I opened the stall door I would find someone there. To my amazement, no one was there, and the door to the outside was locked. Although puzzled, I washed my hands and continued on my way.
As I walked down the west side of First Street I came upon a large yellow and green building that was Marchiondos Store and in the window I saw a sign marked An Immigrants Story that told the tale of the Marchiondo family and their dry goods, grocery and liquor store that had been open until 1986. Continuing down this same street I found the Palace Hotel that appeared to be having some renovation on the second story. I learned later at the historical museum that the hotel had housed a fancy restaurant until relatively recently and was saddened to hear that all the original fixtures had been sold to an Atlantic City casino.
At this point I walked across the street to the Old Pass Gallery that occupies the old Wells Fargo Express Company office. Here I found a real variety of high quality paintings, drawings, photographs, and a variety of craft work. Raton must have more good artists per capita than most small towns Ive visited. I met the lady who makes porcupine quill earrings. She told me how the porcupines disrupt her garden so she thinks it is only fair for them to contribute a few quills for her cause. She said that since the animals move very slowly she sneaks up on them with a thick old kitchen rug. When they release their quills she catches them in the rug then harvests them by pulling them through the rug. From there she adds seed beads to make earrings.
I continued down the street to the Raton Museum. The folks there were preparing for their Dec. 8 opening of the Veterans display starting with artifacts from the Civil War. Much of the museum content was local artifacts including a quilt from the 1800s made in the log cabin pattern and embroidered with names on each log. The original quilt had been a fund raiser for the Methodist Church, but I saw that the Reverend McIntyre of the Presbyterian Church had his name there and around the comer was embroidered, The Misses Boggs was right next to Christ. It seemed that everyone in town was involved. The quilt had been auctioned and then disappeared being found later in California where some kind soul purchased it and returned it to Raton. The man showing me through the museum mentioned that there is a new quilt fund raiser going on now and that so far they've raised $15,000. The museum folks were quick to provide literature about Raton, Folsom (home of the famous Folsom Point) and Capulin Volcano. I found their Raton walking tour map a big help.
I decided that my next stop would be the Arthur Johnson Library, and to get there I had to walk up Cook Street and cross Business 1-25. As I arrived at this busy street two children about 7 or 8 years old asked if they could cross when I did since they seemed uncomfortable crossing alone. I assured them that together we made a larger target, and most motorists would stop for us especially if we crossed with the walk sign. The little girl informed me that she had her hair cut the previous day to which the boy said that now they called her fatty, short hair. She assured me that my assumption that this boy was her brother was correct. They ran ahead and retrieved their bikes from the library rack. It is nice to be in a town where kids can leave their bikes parked on the street and are pleasant to visitors. The library was a hotbed of activity, tutors, kids and homework, cheerful, well lit, colorful and friendly. The museum walking tour pamphlet mentioned the extensive Southwestern art collection. No kidding. A large painting by Berninghaus caught my eye immediately. What a treasure that is for Raton, which also should be proud of all the WPA paintings by local artists and others. A small group of teenagers looked up from their work on the second floor to greet me. There were kids with their parents reading to them, kids and adults at computers and in the stacks. Raton has a wonderful and well-used library.
I walked back to Business 1-25 to appreciate more of the walking tours building descriptions. I saw a man leaving the Shuler Theater and carrying a box to a car in front of the place. I stopped him and asked if there are ever tours for interested people. The gentleman was kind enough to stop what he was doing, reopen the place and show me the theater, pointing out the 1939 WPA lobby historical murals by local artist Manville Chapman. The theaters interior is breathtaking with ornate Rococo style and large stage with double proscenium and all hemp, as he put it, works people power for all activity. No counterweights on this stage, no sir. He mentioned that the live shows vary from the Catholic Church Christmas Pageant to the Three Irish Tenors, Beatlemania and visits from the San Francisco Opera. The facts that there are such amazing acoustics, an orchestra pit and such decorations seem just incredible. Also there is a high level of cooperation between the town and private interests that keep the theater running and booked.
I was nearing my check-in time for the hotel when I saw Solanos Western Wear store and wanted to see that place, too. I met Mrs. Solano who told me that they bought the place in 1969 and refurbished much of it including the silver colored metal ceilings. She pointed out the Hat Cemetery above the front door and extending onto two walls and told me about how whenever someone gets a new hat and doesnt want the old one that it may be donated to the cemetery. Each hat gets a name tag and some have attached histories, some sad, some funny about their lives with their prior owners in northern New Mexico or southern Colorado. The younger man at the cash register and assumably her son told me that when he has I 00 histories, he is going to publish them in a book, but that is only if he takes 6 months off to write it. He assured me that he is not ever going to get 6 months off. He did hand me a card with their motto, Just Look for the Dummy in the Window. Raton folks have a good sense of humor, too. He also mentioned the spirit who lives upstairs in the Roth Block. Apparently, the place was a hospital in the 1920s and 30s. While using a Ouija board and some candles, a few years ago he and some others found the wandering spirit of a man who said his name was Amarado Zagon who was likely a coal miner and had died of the scourge. The latter could have been influenza, plague, small pox, hanta virus, various pneumoconiosis that coal miners can get or dozens of other things. There was no one in the town cemetery by that name and so they assumed by his name that he was likely of Eastern European descent and that his body may have been shipped home. Amarado has revealed himself on several other occasions. I wonder if he ever accidentally wanders into ladies restrooms?
I hope that the residents of Raton appreciate the history, scenery, art and friendliness available here. I know that I have already started telling my friends who hopefully will visit and have as much fun as I did in just 2-l/2 hours. Hopefully, Ill get to return someday and spend more time.
Tarpon Springs, Florida
Taken with permission from the Raton Range.