Deep into the southwestern edge of Texas lies Terlingua, a small and intimate community of desert dwellers, artists and some retirees who romanticize this mining town from the early 1900s. Terlingua marked the dawn of the mercury rush, mush like California and Alaska did for the gold rush. The mines went bust by the 40s and the residents abandoned the cinnabar infused American dream leaving Terlingua to slowly morph into a ghost town. Today, the town is seeing a revival of sorts, attracting creatives, free spirits and eccentrics – individuals who seek no attention to the point of hiding in anonymity. Yet, Terlingua is a tightly knit community where members hold on to each other dearly, and this bond is out on full view on Day of the Dead. November 2nd is a day of remembrance every year at the local cemetery where four hundred graves are honored – many of old time miners, but some of recently departed souls as well.
The Terlingua Trading Company porch is the social hub every afternoon. The daily tradition of “come grab a beer, find a spot on the bench, start a conversation, play or listen to music, make friends and watch the sun go down” is core to Terlingua. Even on November 2nd, people first commune here over a few brews, get their face painted and sing some songs before going down to the cemetery. Local residents describe Terlingua as “a town of misfits that fit in, all of ’em misfits but not in the same way.”
For Terlingua and its residents, Nov 2nd is not a day of mourning. In fact far from it. It is a time of paying respect, sharing and feeding each other. This is not a community that exchanges gifts – even in Christmas! They feed, support and hold on to each other. They purposefully reflect on the lives of those that they have lost and introduce them to their children. And everyone is welcome to join them.
It’s a surreal sight to be in the cemetery with hundreds of candles below and millions of stars above. It’s a way to teach the community to not fear death as residents dress up as skeletons – alive, dancing and dressed up in brightly colored outfits. Children are introduced to their family members who have passed. One can walk past each of the four hundred graves that are lit with candles, to have a private moment of remembrance and prayers. The moment is pure, spontaneous and unembellished, much like the stark Texas desert that serves as a fitting backdrop.
A version of this post with alternate images first appeared here