Myths for Monday -- La Casa del Diablo

In the city of Cienaga, in the department of Magdalena (today's department), there is a fairly modern legend -- dating back to 1908 -- surrounding a man by the name of Manuel Varela. And now,

La Casa del Diablo -- The House of the Devil

Manuel Varela was a thin, brown, indigenous looking man, who arrived in Cienaga, Magdalena, around the middle of 1908. At the time, the town was an economic center on the Coast. This was because it was the headquarters for the multinational firm, the United Fruit Company.

After his arrival, Varela quickly accumulated a great deal of wealth. This was inexplicable by the inhabitants of city, who wondered how the mysterious stranger had managed to accumulate so much wealth in such a short time. Soon, Varela's properties were so extensive that he built his own railway line to transport his bananas, something very surprising in those days.

When he managed to build a mansion practically overnight, send his children to study Europe, and purchase his own street car, a myth that he had done so with the help of a pact with the devil was born.

Varela welcomed men from all over the region, into his home. His visitors included famous acordeoneros like Sebastián Guerra and reportedly "Francisco el Hombre" (though one must wonder what a devil fighter and a devil pact maker would be doing together).

In 1916, the corpse of a 13 year old girl was found on one of his properties. The discovery lead to the growing rumor that he sacrificed souls to the devil in order to maintain his wealth. Some people began to claim that they had seen the ghosts of agonized souls wandering about Varela's properties.

The rumors were further fueled every time their was an unexplained death. In one instance, a lady who went to his house stated that through a window she had seen a black boy smoking tobacco while riding a tricycle. When the boy turned toward her and opened his mouth, she saw that he had a mouth full of gold teeth. Terrified, the woman, carrying her baby, left the house running. Unfortunately, the baby died a few days later.

Other people claimed to have seen sorceresses, ghosts, and even the devil on the property. In addition, every time someone went missing, the general public thought that Manuel Varela was the culprit.

Whether or not there was any truth to the story, Varela continued to prosper. Years later, he sold part of his lands in order to build the San Juan National Institute in Cordova, the most important school in the region. According to a historian, that while Varela lived a student there died nearly every year.

While Varela died in the middle of the 1950's, thirty years later, his legend resurfaced. In 1984, while on a school excursion to the beach five students drown.

The history of Varela has been recreated in the play the Escarpín de Señore, by Guillermo Henríquez, released in Spain. Also, it has been the source of numerous documentaries made for television like one by the BBC of London, called My Macondo (1990) and Macondo, by the ZDF in Germany (1980).

The ruins of Varela's house were declared National Monument in 1998.



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