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When C.W. “Buddy” Ritter bought the Double Eagle in 1983, the restaurant manager asked him, “Did the ghost come with the sale?”
“What ghost?” Ritter asked.
The rest, as they say, is history.
There is no experience like a visit to the Double Eagle, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023.
You can hunt for ghosts in the Carlota Salon; enjoy a meal beneath the 24-karat gold leaf ceiling in the Maximillian Room that honors the emperor of the Second Mexican Empire; celebrate weddings, anniversaries and other special events in the Isabella Ballroom, where a direct descendant of Christopher Columbus was honored in 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to America; climb onto a stool in the Imperial Bar to sample the house margarita that has been served there for more than 40 years; visit the Gadsden Room to see the Library of Congress archive proofs of the Gadsden Purchase document that brought the Territory of New Mexico into the United States; stop by the Billy the Kid Patio to see the newel post where the world’s most famous outlaw carved his name.
It’s all part of the rich and colorful history of the Double Eagle, just as the restaurant and the historic property it occupies at 2355 Calle de Guadalupe are so much a part of the history and lore of Mesilla.
The building itself dates to 1850, when it became the first structure on the plaza, shortly after the founding of Mesilla, Ritter said.
Oilman and entrepreneur Robert O. Anderson opened the Double Eagle in 1973. Ritter, who bought the restaurant 10 years later from Anderson’s son-in-law, Tom Denton, is celebrating its golden anniversary with a commemorative menu featuring signature dishes from the past five decades and a celebration dinner and dance Sept. 9.
The invitation-only event will include long-time customers of the Double Eagle, Ritter said, including some who were married at the restaurant.
“It should be a very wonderful evening,” he said.
It was Ritter’s wife, Margaret, who suggested he buy the Double Eagle.
After Denton told Ritter the restaurant was for sale, Ritter asked, “How much?”
“How much will you give me?” Denton replied.
Ritter took 24 hours to research the property’s value, then made an offer that Denton accepted.
“I’ve never regretted it,” said Ritter, a fifth-generation Mesilla native who has owned four hotels and 14 restaurants in Cloudcroft, Las Cruces, Mesilla and Tucson. He was also in the racehorse business for 24 years.
The Double Eagle’s original building was made of adobe bricks, as Ritter details in his 2014 book “Mesilla Comes Alive.” Shallow trenches were dug, lined with rock and the adobe placed on top. The building has no foundation.
The restaurant patio was originally a corral. Anderson added onto the building and Ritter continued renovations, turning Anderson’s rose garden into the restaurant’s ballroom.
Local adobe expert Larry Limon was hired to restore deteriorating adobe in the building that in some cases is 173 years old, Ritter said. You can see Limon’s work in Ritter’s office, which is just to the right as you walk in the Double Eagle’s front door. The office was the surgical suite of Ritter’s great-great grandfather, Dr. Edwin Burt, who came to Mesilla in the 1870s.
Ritter’s heritage includes grandfathers named Charles and Winfield – his first and middle names. To avoid confusion, his parents started calling him “Buddy.”
Ritter and his staff have had “some very, very weird experiences that there’s no way I can explain,” he said.
In 1988, a couple celebrating their engagement were the last patrons in the restaurant one night. They left an unfinished bottle of wine in the Carlota Salon. The manager, Bill, was the last employee in the building. He left the wine on the table and “told the ghost to have a good time,” Ritter said. Bill set the burglar alarm and motion detector, locked up for the night and left. The first person in the building the next morning, Bill unlocked the door, turned off the alarms and, upon visiting the Carlota Salon, discovered the wine bottle empty and lying on its side – there was no stain on the tablecloth – and two broken glasses.
“He flew out of the building,” Ritter said, and came to Ritter’s office in Las Cruces. He threw his keys on the desk and told another Ritter employee, “I’m outta here. I’ll never walk in that building again. I really like Mr. Ritter, but I’m not going to work there.’
“Bill told me the story himself,” Ritter said.
Ritter needed a food and beverage manager at his property in Tucson, and Bill took the job. He hasn’t been back in the Double Eagle since.
The ghosts have likely been in residence since the 1860s, when the Double Eagle was the home of an affluent Mexican family (portraits of Señor and Señora Maese hang on the salon wall) whose teenage son fell in love with the maid, much to his mother’s distress. She came home one afternoon to find the two lovers in bed in the son’s room (now the salon). Enraged, she stabbed the maid to death with a pair of scissors, accidentally stabbing her son in the attack as he tried to save his lover. He died the next day. It is said that the ghosts of the young lovers inhabit the Carlota Salon to this day.
There are two upholstered Victorian armchairs in the room that are rarely used. Yet the cut velvet fabric is worn in the shape of human bodies, and one chair in particular shows continuous wear that matches the description of the petite young maid and her lover, Ritter said.
“There’s got to be some reason they’re wearing out,” he said. “The room is really alive.”
Many New Mexico governors and prominent local businesspeople have dined in the salon.
“A lot of multi-million-dollar deals have been negotiated in that room,” Ritter said.
The salon’s gilded brass and cut crystal lamp once lighted the boudoir of famed red-light madame ‘Silver City Millie.”
Robert O. Anderson restaurants
In addition to the Double Eagle, Anderson owned the Silver Dollar steakhouse in Tinnie, near Lincoln, New Mexico, the Maria Theresa in Albuquerque, the Legal Tender in Santa Fe and the Palace in Las Vegas, New Mexico.