When the sun was at its highest peak I drove through the main road in Guánica in my way towards Ensenada. As soon as I made the turn as if I was going to the beach called Playa Santa, I was captivated by some monumental chimneys and some ruins of the fallen buildings made of rusty zinc to my left. These ruins were, in its peak moment, the principal precinct of the Sugar Mill known as Guánica Central. Guánica Central was founded in the year 1903; just five years after the American soldiers entered the island through Guánica, as one example of the American mega corporations. Its establishment marked what would be a big economy impact to Puerto Rico in the first half of the twentieth century.
There are hundreds of stories inspired and kept by the ruins of the antique Central Sugar Mill, but one in special captivated the townsfolk over the past few months. The Central has been signaled by many as the dwelling place of a strange tall and dark creature, called by everyone as the gargoyle. According to police reports, people have seen this horrific creature posted on the Central’s chimneys. The alleged gargoyle has been described as black, more than six feet tall, gigantic bat-like wings, red piercing eyes and it emanates a strong putrid stench mixed with sulfur. The gargoyle’s presence it’s linked to the deaths of many animals, as well as attacks to people and residencies close to the sugar mill.
The area of the Central is a very dangerous zone so it is closed to the general public, not only because of the alleged gargoyle, but because of the instability of the ground and the unseen deep black water wells all over the area. From a safe distance I can see many old, rusty and fallen buildings, but not in appreciative detail. Shielding my eyes from the sun with my hand, I marvel at the height of the chimneys just across the street from where I was standing. I start my walk through the sidewalk across the street from the Central and try hard to see across the high bushes that surround the ruins. There’s not much that’s still around of the central’s glory, but what’s there can tell a story. A broken down cyclone fence marks the boundaries of what’s left of the sugar mill, which ads to the eerie feeling you get by just watching the Central on this deserted and peaceful day. Only a chirping bird can be heard near by, no cars, honking or yelling; well after all it is midday Sunday.
Suddenly a gust of wind envelops me from the front and the stench of the unknown to me engulfs my nostrils. My heart stops instantly as the thought of the gargoyle pops into my mind, but I calm myself breathing rhythmically.
“Stupid Deborah, that’s just a story.” I tell myself. But warily I looked around just to make sure the gargoyle wasn’t near me.
“What’s that? You talking to yourself about a story?” that was an old lady passing by.
“Yeah, I was just thinking about the stories of the gargoyle.”
“Those aren’t stories. Those are facts, and I know because I’ve seen it.”
“Really? That’s really hard to believe.” I give her an incredulous look.
“It’s true I tell you. I was walking home one dark night from a friend’s house around here when I saw the gargoyle standing on a kiosk roof. The eyes were glowing deep red, the wings and head were like a bat’s, although the body resembled a muscular man’s body covered all over with fur. It was looking around; suddenly it was looking in my direction. I got scared, but couldn’t move. Then it flew away.”
“Ok, I have to go now.” I moved away hurriedly from her. I shoved myself into my car and left.
What can I think about this? Is it true? Did she make it up following up what others said? Does the Central really hold the true to the gargoyle mystery? More importantly, what can be done to put an end to this gargoyle madness that plants fear into people’s hearts, specially children?
I decided to return to the sugar mill ruins on Saturday evening to talk to some people. Hopefully I’ll find someone who lives nearby the sugar mill. The sun is almost gone for the day while I walk towards the frappe stands, just across the street from the Central, to buy one of those satisfying and delicious drinks. I bought a strawberry frappe, a favorite and popular flavor, and it looked so refreshing, and so it was. As I’m enjoying my frappe, someone calls my name nearby so I look around and see it is Mrs. Ana Iris, a woman I know who lives here in Ensenada. We greet each other and talk about what’s happened since we last saw each other, not long ago. It finally comes down to me asking her about the gargoyle stories and the sugar mill.
“Oh, I haven’t heard about that in a while.”
“Is there anything you can tell me about it? Did you see it or know of someone who’s seen it?”
“Of course I never saw it. Besides, I never believed in it.”
“I don’t believe in it either. I just want to know what others have experienced.”
“Well, my father that lives in a house close by in this street claims he saw it. He was actually a worker in the sugar mill as a young man.”
“Really, what did he say about the gargoyle?”
“He told me that on a December night he heard sounds like when a bird is flapping its wings, just that it sounded like it was a very big bird, because when it flew by the house’s zinc roof it rattled. Followed by a rotting smell.”
“And what about the sugar mill? Has he told you any stories about it?
“Well, I remember that he would explain to us how he worked along with his father. It was a very hard work, from sun up to sun down, but at the time it was what they could do. He also said that the sugar canes went as far as the eye could see.”
The information that the old lady on Sunday and my friend on Saturday told me made me more wary when I looked at the abandoned buildings of the sugar mill at this twilight hour. The sky was illuminated with dark and deep shades of purple and red orange. Now more than ever it looked like a hunted place surrounded by ghost stories, in this case gargoyle stories. Anyhow, how can I believe the gargoyle really exists if I didn’t see or heard it? This kind of reminds of the Chupacabras back in the 1990s. Whatever happened to it? The theme of the gargoyle is not new. There are reports and stories that go back to the 1980s, just after the sugar mill was closed in 1982. Could it be that the Gargoyle influenced in part the closing of the sugar mill or was it used as a possible excuse? The official reports say that the sugar mill in Ensenada was closed because in Puerto Rico the economy was changing from Agricultural to Industrial.
I lived my childhood in Maunabo, the town right in the Southeast corner of Puerto Rico, where my grandfather had a plantain plantation with a few sugarcanes. He used to take me there and he’d give me canes to suck on. I remember liking the sweet syrupy nectar as it entered through my lips, grazing my throat and finally settling in my stomach. Sitting with my grandfather in his house’s balcony, I remember seeing trucks loaded with sugar canes to the point that some canes would fall down to the street, making me wish to never be behind one of those trucks. My grandfather would explain to me how the sugar cane industry worked and how it helped the economy of Puerto Rico. I never got tired of listening to him, even if he was repeating himself; he was one of my favorite persons after my mother of course.
The monumental remnants of the Central sugar mill have been deteriorating over time giving the message that the sugarcane belonged to an era and an industry lost in Puerto Rico. The silence reigns, the only sounds are the musical notes of the wind passing through the Central fighting against time and oblivion. Let’s get up and make a travel through time trying to revive an important part of Puerto Rican history.