Frightening true story behind the headless statue near the San Antonio Zoo

Sophia Lopez Buckner (left) worked for Dr. Urrutia for many years. On the site of his garden stands this headless statue of an angel. (Graphic by Jack Dennis: Photos by Debbie Buckner Grona, Jack Dennis)

Without anesthetic, Dr. Urrutia cut his tongue out as a message to everyone…

Smuggled two rail cars filled with gold and currency from Mexico to San Antonio.

One of the most remarkable treasures in history was discovered in April 1863 on the Greek island of Samothrace by an amateur archaeologist named Charles Champoiseau. His unearthing of the eight-foot high statue, Winged Victory of Samothrace, sometimes referred to as the Nike of Samothrace, was a monumental find.

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Champoiseau, working as a French consul, had the celebrated statue shipped to Paris after it was securely packed. Today, the 200-190 BC creation is proudly displayed in the Louvre and distinguished with such pronounced works as the Mona Lisa.

The best known reproduction of the sculpture stands at the famous water fountains outside the Caesars Palace Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Other replicas are located prominently around the world in places like Ohio State University, Syracuse University, the Estrugamou Building in Buenos Aires, and at the Cape Town Cenotaph.

Dr. Aureliano Urrutia (San Antonio)

Just nine years after the finding of the angel-shaped marble figure, a baby was born to a Mestizo Indian woman and a Spanish Soldier in the “town of the floating gardens,” Xochimilco, just south of Mexico City. The parents name him Aureliano Urrutia. Young Urrutia grew up to be especially charismatic and intelligent. In 1895, he graduated first in his class at medical school. The president of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, selected him to be his personal physician at age 22.

Urrutia’s Indian background, coupled with his skills in medicine, gained the respect of the highest levels of Mexico’s hierarchy. He became a champion surgeon and doctor in the eyes of his countrymen. To some, Urrutia’s healing powers were considered both mystical and magical in their competence. Anyone of prominence who needed serious medical attention, clamored for the services of Dr. Urruita. Such was the case of a notorious military officer, Victoriano Huerta. When the heavily drinking Huerta was told he needed eye surgery, Dr. Urartian was selected to perform the procedure in 1910.

Little did the charming doctor know that soon, President Diaz, after leading the country for over 30-years, would be replaced by Francisco Madero. Under the rule of Madero, Mexico became a nation of vicious revolutions, violent rebellions and sweeping conflict. After a year of these revolts, Madero’s brother was cruelly slain by a sword lunged in his eye. Soon President Madera was assassinated by a shot in the neck. Huerta became his successor.

 not to speak against the president or him.

In 1912, new President Huerta chose Urrutia to be his Minister of Government. With Huerta’s habitual drinking, Urrutia became the de facto president behind the scenes. By the next year, the trusted doctor found himself knee-deep in fending off Huerta’s political enemies and dealt with their attacks by attempts of passing legislation that would help control and reform the government.

The doctor arranged the successful smuggling of two rail cars filled with gold and currency. (San Antonio)

One of these enemies was a federal senator from the Mexican state of Chiapas named Belisario Dominguez. The story goes that when Dominguez was arrested at the Jardin Hotel on Oct. 7, 1913, he was taken to a local cemetery. Without anesthetic, Dr. Urrutia cut his tongue out as a message to everyone not to speak against the president or him.

After Huerta had eighty congressmen sent to prison, Urrutia made preparations to leave Mexico. With the help of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, American battleships were sent to Veracruz. By late 1914, with the government crumbling, Huerta arranged to have his political and rich allies sneak out through Veracruz. Dr. Urrutia was arrested by U.S. General Frederick Funston but was permitted to escape by ship from Veracruz to Galveston, Texas. While Urrutia arranged to travel to San Antonio by train, he successfully planned the smuggling of two rail cars filled with gold and currency across the U.S.-Mexico border to fund his new life.

Funston immediately dropped dead on the Persian rug beneath his feet.

A few years later, Urrutia acquired his revenge against General Funston, in an almost paranormal type incident that served to only raise the doctor’s stature in the peculiar world of supernatural myths. While walking in the lobby of the downtown San Antonio St. Anthony Hotel, Funston saw Urrutia about to cross his path (some accounts indicated it was in the restaurant of the hotel). Immaculately dressed, complete with a top hat and opera-like black cape, Urrutia stopped and glared directly into the General’s eyes. Funston immediately dropped dead on the Persian rug beneath his feet.

By 1922, Dr. Urrutia built a prominent home on River Avenue, on what is now known as the southwest corner of Broadway at Hildebrand, near the Zoo and across form University of the Incarnate Word. On this 15-acre property, he established a stunning garden he called Miraflores. There he erected his sanctuary of water fountains, Artesian well filled pools, a guest house and library inside a tower.

The Headless Statue near the San Antonio Zoo. (San Antonio).

Legend has it, that in retaliation of cutting the tongue out of Dominguez’s mouth at the Mexican cemetery, his enemies kidnapped one of his daughters and sent her body to Dr. Urrutia in San Antonio. When the casket, or shipping box was opened, the girl’s body was missing her head.

In memory of his daughter, the doctor decided to honor her in the lavish garden. He commissioned a replica of the Nike of Samothrace angel statue to be shipped from Europe. When the cement sculpture arrived at the docks of Galveston, the shippers noticed the missing head and returned it back to Europe with the notion it had been broken during the sea voyage. It took three attempts, after the Urrutia family informed the shippers the statue was intended to be headless, before it finally arrived and placed in the garden.

“His history and charisma are remarkable, including his being an unapologetic womanizer, having five wives and innumerable children, several of whom went into medicine as doctors and dentists,” said Debbie Buckner Grona on Wednesday.

Grona’s mother, Sofia Lopez Buckner, worked for Dr. Urrutia many years. “He wore a black opera cape and a large hat cocked to one side in public so that his appearance alone commanded attention wherever he went.”

Buckner’s “Mexican family needed all the help they could get and she was drawn to medicine, so she applied for a job in Dr. Urrutia’s office at the age of 17 right after high school at Tech,” Grona explained. He tried to “convinced her to go to nursing school, but during her time working for the great doctor, she saw him close a clothespin under fluoroscopy in a baby’s stomach. She said he wasn’t popular with other doctors because he didn’t stick to his ‘surgeon’ status and covered all specialties.”

“He told my mother one of the reasons he hired her was because of her extraordinary beauty, and the fact she had one green eye and one blue eye, which he felt to be very good luck.”

“He told my mother one of the reasons he hired her was because of her extraordinary beauty, and the fact she had one green eye and one blue eye, which he felt to be very good luck,” Grona continued. “He was in his mid-40s when mother worked for him, but it didn’t keep him from trying his best to woo her and had she succumbed, she likely would have been one of his many wives.”

Urrutia’s fifth wife was almost 40 years younger than him and out of these unions there was said to be 18 children. Dr. Urrutia was one of the first surgeons to separate Siamese twins and became well known as developing new medical and surgical procedures. In total, he practiced medicine for 81 years and died in his sleep at the age of 103 in 1975.

Today, ghost hunters, paranormal investigators and the curious visit the garden hoping to see the reported apparitions and ghosts that supposedly frequent the cemetery-like patch of ground. The headless statue of Nike of Samothrace still stands as a prized San Antonio fable equal to other creepy local traditions including the Donkey Lady, The Butcher of Elmendorf, Woman Hollering Creek, and the Torso Ghost at Gunter Hotel.

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