And Then Along Comes Mary

Down in southeast Colorado, the Virgin Mother has gone Holly-ward.

None of the regulars at the Trackside Bar on the outskirts of Holly has seen the Virgin Mary on Yolanda Tarango's bedroom wall. Most have seen the TV reports, though. A few even saw the news helicopter land. And no one is shy about throwing their two cents in.

"I don't have no plans of going over there and checking it out," says Jerry Watkins, a water-well driller in this town on Colorado's southeast plains. "I think it's just a stain." Far from resembling the Virgin, adds Watkins, who saw the stain on TV, "it looks like Alice Cooper."

"It couldn't be a stain," jokes Verne Schweitzer. "It hasn't rained much here in February."

But these days, anyone--even the dubious Tracksiders--is welcome in the Tarango household, where no one raises an eyebrow when yet another pilgrim knocks hesitantly on the screen door.

Tarango, a thirteen-year resident of the town, discovered the vision this past February. And she's been a dutiful host to the tourists who've been trooping through her living room since she broke down and called the Lamar Daily News with the scoop a few weeks ago. On a recent weekday afternoon, the 26-year-old Tarango gets a glass of water for someone's child and tells her story again and again with what appears to be a great reserve of patience. The melodramatic strings of the Days of Our Lives theme play on the television in the next room as visitors are ushered in.

"Oh, my God! I'm gettin' chills major! You can see her eyes and mouth!" says Janice Sorrow, a Lamar resident who has brought her mother and two children with her.

"The break on the wall," says her mother, Fabby Cluck, pointing to a hairline crack that's barely visible, even up close. "That's the sacred heart of Mary. It is so awesome."

As the ladies stare intently at the stain, their eyes grow more discriminating. A newspaper picture of the stain is taped right next to the image, and Cluck swears she can see a cross above the Virgin--but in the news photo, not on the wall.

The pair are no strangers to the supernatural. Cluck's niece Mona saw a porcelain statue of the Virgin in Kansas crying blood. "I've heard of that one," Tarango says with a nod. "I want to get up there and see that."

"I think a scientist or whatever checked to see if it was blood," notes Sorrow, who adds that the scientists concluded it was not, say, red dye, but the genuine article.

Cluck wants to touch the image, but she can't. Less than a foot high, it is encased in a glass frame that has been glued to the wall. Peering through the glass, one can make out what looks very much like a hooded head, and a white triangle that could well be hands clasped in prayer.

Tarango says she put up the frame because she was worried that kids might accidentally rub the stain off the wall--or that a disbeliever would deface the Virgin. Then she surrounded it with Christmas lights, which stay on at all times. "It feels natural, like I'm adding to my collection," she says, gazing at the image.

In fact, Tarango has been collecting likenesses of the Virgin Mary in one form or another for years. The first item was a Mary silkscreen when Tarango was seven. Today she prays every night before a shrine she has nailed into one corner of her bedroom.

Skeptics say Tarango drew this latest Mary on her wall to attract attention. "I'm not an artist," she responds. Others say it's just a water stain. There are pipes on the other side of the wall, she counters, but the stain was dry when she found it and resisted smudging.

One Denver radio host compared Tarango's brief spot to a friend's claim that he could see Elvis in his throw rug. Tarango doesn't mind the ribbing. "I know it's there," she says with a shrug. "I'm not gonna force anybody else."

When Tarango first saw the stain, she says she knew who it was but figured nobody would believe her. So she didn't tell a soul--not even her husband, Raymundo, who apparently didn't notice it.

It wasn't until one of her sisters, visiting from New Mexico, spotted the stain and announced that it was, indeed, the Virgin of Guadalupe that Tarango says she knew she wasn't nuts. "After that, my sister spread the word around quickly," she adds.

More sisters came (Tarango has five, plus two brothers). Then a few neighbors. Then came Father William Doll, who lives across the street from Tarango and runs the Catholic church in Holly where Tarango and her husband worship. He asked her the usual questions:

Was it wet? No, she replied.
Had the roof leaked? It hadn't.
Next came the crowds, whose arrival marked the first time anybody had paid much attention to Holly, population 877 and the boyhood home of Governor Roy Romer, in a long time. "The biggest excitement we ever had before was the flood in '65," comments retiree Manford Notestine, a resident since 1950.

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