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The Spirits of the City Live On at El Pueblo

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Friday, October 30, 2009, at 03:19PM
IMGP7032 Ed Fuentes

"Day of the Dead" altar honoring Pio Pico in the Pico House Gallery at El Pueblo. Opening reception for the exhibit "Sacred Memories" will be held tonight, Friday, October 30, from 6:00 -9:00 p.m.

Just as Latino culture would feel incomplete without ceremonial skeletons dancing around pan luce this time of year, a city with creaky historical structures would disappoint if there were no whispers that ghosts can be heard.

The birthplace of Los Angeles was active this week preparing for Day of the Dead celebrations. El Pueblo will feature community altars around the main puesto and tonight an opening reception will be held for "Sacred Memories," a new exhibit at the Pico House.

“The City of Los Angeles is the most diverse city in the world, it seemed appropriate that for Day of the Dead, we would create an exhibit that would examine how different cultures honor their dead," said exhibit curator Mariann Gatto. "That’s universal to all people.”

Works from contemporary Latino artists take on new interpretations of Day of the Dead, also regionalizing the tradition. An altar for the last California Governor under Mexican rule, Pio Pico, is featured alongside paintings and small installations that tell personal stories of family.

With some luck, Pio Pico himself will be attending tonight's reception. It's been claimed that he's been seen on the roof of the former luxury hotel. "Allegedly, this is where the sightings of Pio Pico has been seen leering, or peering, down Sanchez Street." said John Kopczynski, El Pueblo's Public Relations director as he looked up to the Pico House. "Security guards have claimed to see a cloaked figure in a top hat from the roof of the Pico House . . . allegedly. "

Inside the courtyard of the former hotel, Kopczynski pointed to the upper floors and told the story of security guards, hired by a film shoot, that had come to him one morning to report they heard footsteps running on the second and third floor interior balconies. “Of course, there was nothing up there," he added.

Footsteps have also been heard, allegedly, at the Avila Adobe where Olvera Street founder Christine Sterling resided before passing away in her sleep in 1963. Then there is Señora Eloisa Martinez de Sepúlveda, the former resident who has been known to wander through the halls of the Sepúlveda house.

"Sometimes, I would hear footsteps upstairs. Then one day when I was doing paperwork . . . all of a sudden I saw something in white move up the stairs," recalled Gloria Giangiuli, who works at the front desk of the Sepúlveda House. She said that the spirits have attracted a new kind of occasional tourist: psychics. "I had one lady who came down, and she said to me 'Do you know Mrs. Sepúlveda is standing at the top of the stairs right now? Don't worry, she knows you are taking care of her building.'"

While it is considered coincidental that the traditions of Day of the Dead are timed so close to Halloween and the joyful celebration of those who pass on has little to do with raising the small hairs on the back of family necks, others have traditions of honoring those who passed away.

The seventh month in Chinese culture is the month of ghosts said Suellen Cheng, Curator/Historian for El Pueblo and Executive Director Emeritus for the Chinese American Museum, located on Sanchez Street in El Pueblo.

"The Chinese are more private, they respect [the dead] in a more solemn way, and with a little bit of fear. They also put of an altar to please their ancestors so they would not come back hungry," said Cheng with a warning smile. "The worst thing is to have a hungry ghost. They will haunt you."

Fortunately for all of us, the altar for Pio Pico was just supplied with fresh pan de muertos (Mexican Bread of the Dead) for tonight's opening of "Sacred Memories." Pico will be pleased with the offering . . . allegedly.

Olvera Street Merchants and El Pueblo Historical Monument present the annual Dia De Los Muertos Celebration, which includes children's art activities, theater and dancing. October 31 and November 1 from Noon to 6pm. The 7pm Novenario Processions continue until November 2 and the Community Altars will be in display in the Plaza. Highlighting the Day of the Dead Celebrations is the Friday night opening of "Sacred Memories" at the Pico House, where Contemporary interpretations of the indigenous festival that honor the deceased are on display.

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