Barrio Viejo holds many secrets and has seen many things. Its Main Avenue is a remnant of El Camino Real, or The Royal Road, which extended as far south as Mexico City and served as a highway for the first Spaniards who entered America. Even Father Eusebio Kino, known for founding area missions in the 1690s, trotted along this very street – home to an equally fascinating relic.
Situated in its third location, on Main Avenue between Cushing and Simpson Streets, as though slumbering in timeless repent, is El Tiradito – known as The Wishing Shrine.
The temple-like presence of its crumbling facade seems to protect the ever shifting constellation of votive candles placed before it. This adobe structure, soaked with wax from perpetual vigils and adorned with countless written wishes cautiously stuffed into its nooks, has been a site for spiritual guidance, political fervor, and superstitious notions, some say as far back as the 1870s when this legendary story supposedly took place.
There are more than twenty versions of the legend, all which center on a love triangle where a man falls in love with his mother-in-law and is murdered by her husband in a jealous rage.
The most commonly accepted version of the story says that the murdered man was Juan Oliveras – and due to his sin – was disallowed burial on consecrated ground. Left to rot where he fell, Juan was given the nickname “The Castaway.”
The story goes on to say that Juan’s lover felt such remorse for his death that she buried him at the stoop of her house and built a shrine above his grave.
El Tiradito invites anyone wanting to make a petition to Juan’s ghost to bring a candle; it’s said that if one’s candle remains lit throughout the night their wish will come true.
As legends often go, it’s a tough one to substantiate. What is certain, however, is that Juan, Old Jack of the Barrio, has become something of a folk anti-hero, and perhaps the only sinner recognized on the National Historical Register.
The people of Barrio Viejo have passed on the story for generations, each varying in detail, but all ending in a similar magical tone: All things might be forgiven if only we place our bets on the unknown.
Whether it’s a matter of faith or sheer curiosity for anyone visiting, El Tiradito remains a symbol of the community’s enduring history and a voice for things sacred.
Located at 400 S. Main Ave., El Tiradito was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. This article originally appeared in the May 2011 edition of Zocalo.