Smallest barrio may well be the most supernatural

If sudden, violent death generates the phenomenon known as a ghost, the Barrio Otoya area in northeast San José must be ankle deep in spectres.

That section of town has more than its share of eerie tales, and the proximity of Parque Bolivar’s zoo frequently produces weird sounds up to the roar of the lions there.

Spooky tales are in the news after Prensa Libre reported this week that frightened security guards claim the old legislative buildings are a playground for ghosts at night.  Costa Rica Report provided a link to that story Tuesday.

The legislative complex is just south of Barrio Otoya, which is the smallest barrio in the city. And the legislative guards are not the only ones to complain of unusual happenings. Security personnel not far from Hospital Calderón Guardia report hearing the steps of what sounds like a woman in high heels on the upper floors of an office building late at night. They joke about this, but none has actually ascended the stairs to investigate.

Barrio Otoya also is the location of the Casa de los Siete Ahorcados, a sprawling early 20th century frame home overlooking the park. The tale goes that when the house was newer, seven members of the same family decided to commit suicide by hanging themselves. Ahorcado means a hanged person in Spanish. Many experts dismiss the tale as fiction, yet the home often is featured on Halloween television shows.

Barrio Otoya is on a hill overlooking Parque Bolívar, and it was the ideal location for native villages before the Spanish arrived.

The Río Virilla, a supply of fresh water, is downhill to the west, and the land was flat and suitable for cultivation to the east. There do not seem to be any records of what might have happened there before the 16th century, and new residential construction started going up before World War II covering the soil. The barrio is within easy walking distance from the downtown.

There is another home there with documented strange happenings. Doors slam. Furniture is heard moving, and even one A.M. Costa Rica staffer reported seeing a tall older man dressed in white, a woman in a high-necked nightgown in the style of the 19th century and a rough-looking man in black. A second staffer was shocked seeing a woman in white walk through what was then this newspaper’s office and then through the wall.

Costa Rica’s most tragic railway accident also happened there. On March 14, 1926, a train heading from Alajuela to Cartago went off the tracks over the Río Virilla bridge, and one overloaded passenger car plunged into the canyon. Some 248 persons died and nearly 100 suffered injuries.

The train was on its way to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in Cartago. The railway is the eastern border of the barrio.

Who knows what other strange events might have happened here. The dwindling number of residents keep to themselves, but Casa Amarilla, the foreign ministry is on the southern border of the barrio. And that venerable structure must harbor interesting tales.otoya0925125

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