If you missed Part I in this series click here:

“Every night, promptly at midnight,” the article goes on, “or so Major Day tells his guests, a team of white horses attached to a coach dashes up the driveway and into the court. From the coach alights a transparent figure attired in the uniform of a Spanish officer of 150 years ago. He enters the fort noiselessly and the coach drives clattering down the lane. The sight is such a familiar one to the old artillery chief, that he no longer, so he claims, cares a rap whether the antiquated Spanish captain visits him or not, but whenever a new guest arrives the host insists that he remain until the ghost appears. At first, two years ago, one of the sentries fired point blank at the driver, who had refused to halt on command. The ball passed through his breast, according to the soldier’s tale, but the coach did not even tremble. The guard did, however, and afterward served a term in the guard house for deserting his post.”

The article adds the intriguing note about a tunnel connecting San Gerónimo to the great fortress of San Cristobal on the walls of Old San Juan – a distance of two miles. “These underground passages are a part of the general defense system of San Juan built by Spain years ago. They have not been explored. As the evacuating army destroyed the records October 17, 1898, and their exact location has been lost. But in the minds of army officers these passages do exist, the entrance to nearly all are known and are pointed out to visitors al Fort Cristobal and Morro—stone built holes in the fortifications through which one may pass for a certain distance until further progress is prevented by heaps of fallen masonry and rubbish. In one of the entrances in plain view, back of the Executive Mansion, near the water’s edge, the visitor may go forward about fifteen feet, when a massive iron door, rusted on its huge hand wrought hinges, is encountered.”

Frequent visitors to the military structures of the ancient city may find this hard to believe, although a tunnel – shown to visitors every day – exists within the structure known as the Casa Blanca, the masonry home of Juan Ponce de León, built as a shelter for the population of San Juan against raids by pirates and Carib Indians. The tunnel links this structure with La Fortaleza, the white colonial structure that has served as the residence of the governors of Puerto Rico from 1822 to the present.

The final paragraph of the article is no less tantalizing. “Only a few weeks ago one of a gang of workmen repairing the foundation of a building on the Plaza, was surprised to find himself suddenly precipitated twenty feet below the level of the ground. He had sunk through a thin crust roofing of an underground room. Examination disclosed well-built concrete arches, subterranean galleries and hallways. Members of the older families still relate stories to their children about these passages, and it is claimed by some that the recently disclosed room was used as a dungeon in the seventeen century. The proprietor of the building was so besieged by curiosity seekers that he closed up the place without thoroughly examining it. Governor Allen and dozens of others visited the spot, but were only rewarded with a glance of a dark opening and whiffs of most foul air. Some people claim to believe that dozens of skeletons of old time martyrs or kegs of treasure may yet repose in this walled up underground room.” 

Do the ghosts of these “old-time martyrs” haunt the city? Quite likely. The existence of these tunnels, moreover, is corroborated by the discovery of similar networks of tunnels on the other side of the island, under the Porta Coeli church in San Germán, which was attacked by French corsairs so often that the town was relocated several times until it reached its present location.

Among the mysterious locations of the ancient walled city of San Juan we find the Devil’s Sentry Box – La garita del diablo, in Spanish –whose legend was made popular by the 19th century author and educator Cayetano Coll y Toste. In the writer’s romantic late colonial story, Dina, a young woman given to taking her evening strolls along the fortifications attracted the attentions of an Andalusian soldier surnamed Sánchez, who took to playing love songs on his guitar under the girl’s balcony. 

“There is within San Cristobal Castle a sentry box, far from the fortress itself, that faces the north and appears to plunge into the sea,” Coll y Toste tells us. “It is a strategic place for watching the coast toward Escambrón and the ever-suspect marine horizon. One evening, when it was Sánchez’s turn at guard duty, Dina felt an irresistible urge to speak to him, as he had become the mainstay of her fancy…waiting for her aunt to fall asleep, the girl opened the door to the street and slid away, behind the city wall, to the sentry box, its black basalt standing against the foggy outline of the sea coast.” The lovers met, and the author coyly ends by saying “let us leave the sweet mystery of life to the sweet mystery of the night!”

Daybreak and the changing of the guard, however, showed that the sentry was gone, leaving behind only his rifle and bandoliers. Superstition held that the Devil had taken him for breaking his sacred oath to watch the city walls, yet others – perhaps more wisely – noticed that Dina had also inexplicably vanished, so the legend must have a more terrestrial explanation. But popular tradition prevailed, and the Devil’s Sentry Box still stands for all to see.

Interviewed by the EFE news agency on 31 October 2008, paranormalist Virginia Gómez stated that three centuries of military actions against San Juan from French, Dutch and English armies had created “ideal conditions for spirits or specters to remain among its structures and subterranean tunnels.” These bombardments caused the deaths of thousands of people who are now wandering the through the ancient city.”

Gómez agrees that San Cristobal Castle – mentioned earlier – is perhaps the greatest source of paranormal activity, with a number of ghostly stories being told about it. The El Convento Hotel in the heart of the city had been a monastery that took in the widows of soldiers and their children following the attacks. Guests and employees, she says, claim having felt, seen or heard nuns walking through the corridors, rooms and surroundings. Other notable buildings in the city, such as the Tapia Theater, dating back to 1832, also offer hauntings of their own.


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