Edna McKinnon’s “Casa de Los Huertas Huespedes” guest book is missing all of its pages. What a story they might have told.
Lobster thermidor and the “Dog Lady”
—Bob Gajkowski, Placitas History Project
Did you know that General Douglas MacArthur and President Dwight Eisenhower stopped by Pearl and Robert Healey’s house in Placitas for dinner?
Well, maybe that statement needs to be clarified.
That was some time ago, and although the house is the Healey home today, back then it was actually the home of Mrs. Edna McKinnon. This 1840s adobe with its high adobe garden wall and distinctive iron gate, beautiful trees, vegetation, and gardens crossed by the community acequia, enjoys the tolling of the bell of the San Antonio Mission ringing out on Sunday mornings. The original one-room adobe was added onto many times over the years and is now a gracious, lovely “hacienda,” called today, as it was back then, Casa de las Huertas Huespedes.
After working in the public health field in France, Ecuador, and Puerto Rico, Edna McKinnon decided to return to the Bernalillo area where she had previously worked with the health department. Remembering the sun-washed adobes of Placitas, she found her “casa” in the old Village and proceeded to make it home. She often gathered friends at her home, and her hospitality became known throughout the area. Her passion for cooking grew, and soon her kitchen was catering to guests from Albuquerque as well as from other areas of New Mexico, Colorado, California, and Milwaukee and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin!
Anxious for Mrs. McKinnon’s wonderful meals, patrons would call an Albuquerque phone number to make their reservations. A friend would accept the reservation and wait for Mrs. McKinnon. Since there was no phone service in the Village, Mrs. McKinnon would drive to Bernalillo to contact her friend and find out how many guests were coming and what they wanted for their dinner.
To this day, many Village residents recall working in the kitchen, dining room, or in the gardens at Casa de las Huertas Huespedes for “la vieja de las perros” (“the dog lady”), a name Mrs. McKinnon earned for keeping many Samoyeds. Bert Vinland who lived across the road from Mrs. McKinnon recalled in a note to the Healeys that she also raised hybrid irises. Bert said his mother had been a close friend of the “dog lady” when he lived there in 1946.
So, what about Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower?
Many villagers report that both men dined at Casa de las Huertas Huespedes. Through her past associations at the then Sandia Army Base and Kirtland Air Force Base, and perhaps with Los Alamos, many of the personnel from these facilities began frequenting Mrs. McKinnon’s by-reservation-only restaurant. This special place attracted many individuals and families for special events. Enticed by the likes of her lobster thermidor or chateaubriand with twice-baked potatoes, people made the drive up the long gravel road from the valley into the mountains to enjoy the food, her hospitality, and the charming atmosphere of the “Casa.” Business was good.
Among the many guests from Albuquerque and the surrounding area were officials from the nearby military bases, sometimes in two or three car motorcades. Perhaps Eisenhower was coming to visit his old friend General Kenner Hertford, who headed the Atomic Energy Commission office at Kirtland Base and had a cottage high above the Village. Eisenhower’s motorcade was spotted along Tunnel Springs Road. Villagers who worked at McKinnon’s restaurant report that the Hertford-Eisenhower party dined at the restaurant. On another occasion, word spread that General Douglas MacArthur also dined at the restaurant.
In an undated newspaper article provided by Elaine Slusher, the participants at one of many Christmas celebrations at Casa de las Huertas Huespedes are mentioned. Mr. and Mrs. Claude Lewis of Albuquerque recalled in a recent interview that they celebrated their wedding rehearsal dinner on the Saturday before Christmas 1952 at the Casa. Mr. Lewis had just returned twenty days earlier from service in the Korean War.
The Placitas History Project (PHP) continues to seek further information about Mrs. McKinnon and her contributions to the history of our community.
I would like to extend the PHP’s thanks to Pearl Healey and Elaine Slusher for generously taking time to talk about their experiences in Placitas and for donating materials that will be archived at the Placitas Community Library. Thanks also to the authors of articles listed below for their help in this continuing effort to document our community’s history.
If readers have questions about the history project, wish to share their experiences of living in Placitas, or have materials of historic interest to the community that the project might review, please contact Bob Gajkowski at (505) 771-0253.
The next meeting of the Placitas History Project will be held at the Placitas Community Library on November 18 at 6:30 p.m. We will review new material and information gathered on the 60s and 70s era in Placitas and on past residents of the Village. Everyone is welcome.
—Su Casa Magazine, Spring 2001, Charles C. Poling, Pgs. 39-45
—Anonymous newspaper article, “Prominent People are Attracted to Placitas By Artist-Cook,“ Pg. 8 (Date?)
—El Cronicón, Sandoval County Historical Society, June 2003, Ouida A. Anderson, Pgs. 2-7
The Goromonzi Project is a Zimbabwe based non-profit organization providing access to education and health care for the vulnerable and orphaned children in Zimbabwe. The organization is committed to supporting programs that are locally sustainable, environmentally sound, and respect the cultural values of the communities with which they partner.
The surprising success of the Goromonzi Project
—Janet Shaw, President and Founder
I first wrote about the Goromonzi Project for the Signpost when we started the charity in December 2005. In October 2005, I was visiting my Mum and sister who live in Zimbabwe when I came face to face with the full impact of the AIDS crisis. My sister was visiting an old man who lived in the Goromonzi rural area, and I asked him why there were so many children who were running around and not in school.
“I take care of 16 of them,” he told me. “Some are the children of my deceased neighbors, and some of them are my orphaned grandchildren. The others just come here because they have nowhere else to go. It is difficult enough to find the money to feed them, let alone to pay for school fees.”
“And how much would that be?” I asked
We worked out that it would be about $350 a year per child to provide them with school uniforms, school fees, and some extra food.
“That is ridiculous!” I exclaimed. “Somebody should do something!”
Those were fateful words. Within two weeks of returning to Placitas, I had asked 16 of my friends to sponsor the children and started the process of forming a nonprofit organization. And I have been “doing something” ever since.
One thing led to another. We streamlined and refined the program. We now concentrate on the littlest and most vulnerable of the children, the three to five year olds, the ones who are most likely to die. We work with existing government run preschools where there is already strong leadership in place. We will not go into a community unless the adults agree that they will actively participate in and contribute to our programs. For example, if the community decides that their children need latrines at school, they will dig the hole and provide the bricks, and we will provide the cement and pay for skilled labor.
As with any organization, much of our success is due to the people we employ. Our traveling nurse, Isidore Magodhi, started as a volunteer in 2006. There are probably not many people on this earth who are as sincere and committed to the children orphaned by AIDS. Our program director in Zimbabwe, Patrick Makokoro, is passionate about early childhood development. In fact, he is so passionate that in November, Patrick has been invited to speak at the International Forum for Child Welfare (IFCW) Worldforum in New York. After New York, he will visit New Mexico, and on November 20, he will give a presentation on the surprising success of the Goromonzi Project at the Placitas Community Library at 10 a.m. All are welcome.
Cavalry Uniform Design Drawn by Ramón Murillo, August 26, 1804. Mounted forces stationed along the northern frontier of New Spain were known as “leather-jacket” soldiers because of the multi-layered leather coats they wore instead of armour.
Spain and the United States: The (usually) untold story
—Josef Diaz, New Mexico History Museum
Over the next two years, New Mexicans will mark the remarkable confluence of events and peoples that shaped our history: Santa Fe celebrates its founding 400 years ago; Mexico celebrates 200 years of aspiration to independence; and New Mexico celebrates 100 years as a state. Underpinning these events is the role that Spain played not only in New Mexico’s history, but in helping to establish the United States.
For the next three months, New Mexicans can see the crucial documents that helped make our state the enchanting place it is in a new exhibit, The Threads of Memory: Spain and the United States (El Hilo de la Memoria: España y los Estados Unidos).
Just as geology molded the physical landscape, the multiple aspects of human history have created our political and cultural landscapes. Many of today’s issues—immigration, land grants, cultural traditions, and complex interrelationships among cultures—can be traced to how our predecessors responded to Spain’s role in the American story.
History books and even pop culture tend to overlook that role. The fact is, Spain governed the land now called New Mexico, and much of the New World, for 309 years, profoundly changing the many peoples of this hemisphere. Spain’s actions—exploring, colonizing, developing, financing, and laying a cultural foundation—should be enough to give today’s New Mexicans pause about just how Spanish we are.
Many of us were taught how important France’s aid was to achieving U.S. independence, but far fewer know that Spain’s financial aid essentially underwrote the American Revolution.
We also know that President Thomas Jefferson purchased Louisiana from France, but we may not know that, just one month prior, Spain had ceded Louisiana to France.
This skewed view of history blurs our understanding of the interrelationship we have today with descendents of Spain in our state, the strong bonds with immigration from Mexico, and the sensitivities to historical events among Native Americans and nineteenth century immigrants.
In Sevilla, Spain, the General Archive of the Indies holds millions of documents from the Americas. These fragile papers, bearing direct witness to the history of the Spanish Empire in the United States, were exhibited in Sevilla, bringing to light this important link to our past. Spain decided that this exhibit should be shared with Americans—and chose the New Mexico History Museum for its U.S. debut.
From October 17 to January 9, 2011, we can see, firsthand, a 1598 field drawing and description of buffalo—called cíbolos, after the Seven Cities of Cíbola (gold) believed to be in New Mexico. Documents will show how and why the Spanish founded Santa Fe, Texas, and the missions of California. And the intrigues of the Spanish court funneling money to American patriots through New Orleans (then a Spanish colony) will come to life.
This exhibit provides new perspectives and reflections about our history. Expanding our knowledge of who we are and how we got here can only deepen our understanding of what it means to say, “I’m a New Mexican, too.”
The Threads of Memory: Spain and the United States is on exhibit from October 17 to January 9, 2011. For information, go to www.nmhistorymuseum.org.
Josef Diaz is curator of Southwest and Mexican art and history at the New Mexico History Museum, Santa Fe.