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CityPASS Home  »  City Traveler Blog  »  Checking in with Haunted Hotels

Checking in with Haunted Hotels

Recreation of Kate Morgan. Courtesy Hotel Del Coronado.

One might think that having a haunted hotel would be something to hush, but across the country, many hoteliers are making their resident apparitions a part of their marketing pitch.

San Diego’s splendid Victorian beachfront Hotel del Coronado is heralded as one of the country’s best beach resorts on the best beach. It features amazing brunches, memorable wedding celebrations and it has a 120-year history of entertaining the country’s most legendary stars, from Charles Lindbergh to Marilyn Monroe.

But the Hotel del Coronado also entertains another guest, a long-time specter, Kate Morgan. She was a beautiful young woman who checked into the hotel in 1892 and spent five lonely days waiting for a man who never arrived. Kate was found dead on an exterior staircase leading to the beach with a gunshot wound to her head.

Apparently, Kate is still waiting. According to the hotel’s press release, Christine Donovan, The Del’s historian and author of the book Beautiful Stranger: The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel del Coronado, Kate is a relatively harmless ghost. “She generally limits her activity to fleeting appearances and inexplicable antics,” says Donovan. “Guests in Kate’s room report everything from breezes that come from nowhere to having to deal with a television set that turns on and off by itself.”

Donovan, who keeps files on guests’ paranormal experiences, received the following from a visiting business executive: “At about 2 a.m., I was awakened by exceedingly cold temperatures and the ceiling fan working at high speed. The fan remained on for about 30 seconds and then stopped. Later, I awoke to find that all of the bed pillows had been stacked pyramid style on top of my computer.”

One of the most “active” areas of the Hotel del Coronado is the resort’s gift shop, Established 1888. This specialty store — which also collects the hotel’s vintage history — has a hard time keeping glassware from “flying” off shelves or pictures from falling off walls.

Contacted further, Donovan told me that hotel guests are a little reluctant to share what they’ve experienced.

“For the most part, the experiences themselves are rather benign, such as odd blips with their cameras or laptops; inexplicable breezes or noises,” Donovan said. “What's interesting is that many of these guests are a little self-conscious about contacting me — they don't want me to think they're crazy or that their accounts are unreliable, which I think attests to the sincerity and the validity of their experiences.

“In fact, some visitors don't reach out to me until well after their encounters with Kate,” she said. “These guests (many who admit to being total nonbelievers when it comes to ghosts) give a lot of thought to their revelations.”

Another Southern California site that touts its haunted traditions is the Queen Mary, which gets gussied up every October for its 15-night bash, the Dark Harbor Haunted Halloween Event. It’s more of a party than anything else, with mazes, live music, food, drinks and other surprises. I remember touring the Queen Mary as a young child when it was docked in New York, but couldn’t recall anything that ever made me shiver. Others, however, have reported hearing children crying in the nursery room and a mysterious splash in the drained first-class swimming pool, among other things. The ship's paranormal disturbances were even detailed in episodes of both Unsolved Mysteries and Ghost Hunters.

Queen Mary. Photo credit: Dorset Ghost Investigators.

The Heathman Hotel in Portland, Ore., seems both proud and amused by its haunted past. Built in 1927, the Heathman is one of the Rose City’s finest properties, and the hotel’s candor about its hauntings reflects the city’s humor and quirkiness.

Both its guests and workers have felt strange breezes, heard the sound of footsteps descending the hotel’s grand staircase and whispering voices. The gutsy may wish to choose a room ending in “03,” since that’s where legend has it that a guest jumped from the window of 703, and haunted all the rooms ending in -03 as he passed them. The hotel provided information that, in 1999, a celebrity psychic, Char, staying in room 803 claimed to see a ghost at the end of her bed.

But happily, there is no chain clanking or blood-curdling screams to report.

“We commonly hear references or stories from our guests about TV’s changing channels, ‘visions’ of people sitting in guest room chairs or dancing on our mezzanine,” said Chris Erickson, general manager for The Heathman. “The visions or paranormal sighting are much more active during busy sold out nights.”

Dancing, breezes, a vision here or there – nothing as annoying as a couple next door making too much noise or someone smoking on the balcony. I asked him if the questions about it ever got annoying.

“We believe our ghosts are friendly with a bit of a sense of humor,” he said. “We are always happy to give background about the history of the hotel and confirm that they are not the only guest who may have had a close encounter.”

The Stanley Hotel, with ghost child shown in inset. Credit About.com.

You’d think the hotel where Stephen King wrote The Shining would earn the property some notoriety, and The Stanley in Colorado does just that. The hotel, which opened in 1909, is haunted by Flora Stanley, the wife of the owner, who likes to play the piano late at night. It’s also where The Shining television miniseries was filmed. According to Rob Kittler, tour operator at the hotel, they keep ghost seekers busy almost round the clock.

“We operate a 90-minute ghost history walking tour that leaves every day, a two-hour nighttime tour that deals with the paranormal, and then we have a five-hour ghost hunts with ghost-finding equipment, from 8 p.m. to 1 p.m. three nights a week,” Kittler said. “We sell those out every time.”

Room 217 is the Stephen King room, but the haunted one is Room 408. People who have stayed in the Room 408 reported hearing children playing and laughing loudly outside their door, and when they leave their the room they return and find the room a mess with hand prints of small children on the mirrors. I’m not sure I’d want to run into those creepy kids in The Shining though.

Other hotels are less forthcoming.

Scrolling down the list of amenities at the Hotel Provincial in New Orleans, it listed plenty of standard features, from the free breakfast to the valet parking, but I didn’t see anything about ghosts. That’s funny, because even a cursory Google search of haunted hotels invariably puts this charming, old, boutique property at or near the top of the country’s most haunted hostels.

Talking with Esperanza in housekeeping, she told me that part of the hotel served as a Confederate military hospital in the 1800. “Yes, there are guests who said they’ve seen ghosts,” she said. “When I first started working here, I’ve had the feeling that someone was passing by or at the door.”

She said that the hauntings seem to be limited to certain rooms and areas of the hotel, particularly in the section known as Building 500. Websites cite the same tales, with reports of guests seeing confederate soldiers and doctors wandering the corridors or reaching out to guests for help. Others report moans and groans, and voices are heard through out the complex of buildings. An oft-cited tale is of a country music-loving soldier in full uniform with a hat and medals. Were these all-to-real apparitions or perhaps guests just going with the hype? It sure would make for an interesting visit around Halloween.

“The guests enjoy it and come looking for it,” Esperanza said.

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