Friday, October 17, 2014


You call yourself a ghost hunter, but have you read the books on this list? If not, you need to get out and track them down. You won't find them at your local bookstore next to the book "written" by some tool with a TV show. These are books for those who have a genuine interest in the paranormal. Call them "must-reads" if you will, but trust me, you'll be tackling the real thing.

1. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF GHOSTS AND SPIRITS | ROSEMARY ELLEN GUILEY -- It's just that.. an encyclopedia. Rosemary has forgotten more than most of know. If you need to know anything about ghosts, it's in this book.

2. A MAGICIAN AMONG THE SPIRITS | HARRY HOUDINI -- Yes, the escape artist who led a one-man crusade against Spiritualism. But it's years of research into how people are fooled by what they think they believe. 

3. NIGHT STALKS THE MANSION | CONSTANCE WESTBIE & HAROLD CAMERON -- I have a weakness for this one. It was the first authentic first-person account that I can remember about living in a haunted house. It's eerie, genuine and not the over-the-top "demons are out to get me" crap that we get today.

4. THE MOST HAUNTED HOUSE IN ENGLAND | HARRY PRICE -- The first real ghost hunter's seminal work about a year-long investigation of a haunted house. Nothing ever written like it before and presented the very first "ghost hunter's handbook." You may not know it, but every investigation you do emulates Harry Price, so learn your history.

5. PROMINENT AMERICAN GHOSTS | SUSY SMITH -- Sure, it's light reading but it's truly one of the first American travelogues of haunted places. Everyone who has ever written a book like this owes Ms. Smith a debt of gratitude.

6. GHOST HUNTER | HANS HOLZER -- It's the original book on modern ghost hunting and nothing like it was available at the time. He may not have been the first, but he set the stage after Harry Price for a score of people who have followed him.

7. HAUNTED HOUSES | RICHARD WINER & NANCY OSBORN -- I will always recommend this book because it was the book that convinced me to become a ghost writer. Sure, I've found that a lot of stories aren't true and much of the history is wrong, but it made great reading for a 12-year-old and set me on my way to seek out my own haunted places.

8. ESP, HAUNTINGS AND POLTERGEISTS | LOYD AUERBACH -- During the mid-1980s wave of interest in the supernatural (thanks, Ghostbusters!), this book came along to set the standard for what ghost research was really about. It remains a classic today as a serious book in the field and a must-read for anyone who thinks they want to be a ghost hunter one day.

9. THE POLTERGEIST | WILLIAM ROLL -- There have been a lot of books written about poltergeist phenomena over the years, but the late Dr. Roll truly set the standard with his decades of research. It was hard to pick just one of his books, but this one is essential to the library.

10. THE HAUNTED HOUSE HANDBOOK | D. SCOTT ROGO -- Remember how I said that Harry Price created the first real "handbook" for ghost hunters? Well, this was next. Written in the late 1970s and using all of the technology available at the time, Rogo (who wrote several other great books before he died too soon) offers a compelling look at what it's like to hunt for paranormal happenings and its information that's never stopped being useful.

So, there you have it. There are plenty of other books out there that are almost as good, but in my opinion, these are an essential 10 that need to be in every ghost hunter's library. Good luck tracking them all down! You won't be sorry! 

Troy Taylor 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Mystery and Mayhem at the Coral Court Motel

On October 7, 1953, police officers in St. Joseph, Missouri made a gruesome discovery in the backyard of a woman named Bonnie Heady. The blades of their shovels turned up the decaying corpse of a young kidnapping victim named Bobby Greenlease, who had been missing for days. It was the ending to a strange saga that had started on the other side of the state and had direct connections to an infamous motor lodge on Route 66, the Coral Court Motel.

During the glory days of the American highway, Route 66 reigned supreme as the most famous of the country’s motorways. And there were few motels on Route 66 -- or just about anywhere-- that earned the kind of tawdry reputation like that of the Coral Court Motel, which was located just outside the city limits of St. Louis. When it comes to mystery, intrigue and the sheer tawdriness of a “no-tell motel,” you couldn’t beat the place.

The Coral Court Motel during its fading years

The brick motor court, located at 7755 Watson Road, was designed in the 1940s and a classic example of an Art Deco-style motel. The Coral Court first became famous because of its prime location on Route 66. Heading west on the Mother Road, it was the perfect place to stop after a day-long drive from Chicago. Later, it would earn its seamy reputation as a perfect hiding spot for philanderers and for its grim connection to a St. Louis kidnapping and murder case.

The Coral Court was started by John Carr in 1841. It was painstakingly designed by architect Adolph L. Struebig, who was hired by Carr to give him a little something special. There were a lot of “mom and pop” motels in those days, with eight or so units, but Carr didn’t want that. He told Struebig that he wanted something outstanding. Construction was started that summer and by early 1942, the Coral Court was greetings its first guest. The first 10 bungalows were built in a grand style with honey-colored glazed bricks and large glass block windows. Each unit had two rooms and two garages and this helped the Coral Court to become an immediate success.

After World War II, 23 additional units (or 46 rooms) were designed by architect Harold T. Tyre. They used the same materials and varied only slightly from the original units. The new units featured triangular glass block windows, but the overall look of the place remained. Another expansion took place in 1953 with the additional of three more (ordinary-looking) two-story units, also designed by Tyre, at the back of the property. A swimming pool was added in the early 1960s.

The Coral Court Motel

For many locals, the Coral Court was sort of a rite of passage. Attending a late night, post-prom party or swiping a Coral Court towel or matchbook was the thing to do for St. Louis teenagers. For those who wanted to remain anonymous, the motel was the place to go for an illicit rendezvous. It soon began to be known as St. Louis’ best “no-tell motel.” The reasons why were simple -- The rooms could be rented for a rest period of 4 or 8 hours, which was originally created as a courtesy for truck drivers, but had obvious benefits for lovers. Each room had its own garage, so cars were hidden from prying eyes. And the management of the Coral Court was absolutely discreet. Thanks to this, the legend of the motel spread all across the United States.

The notorious moment in the motel’s history, though, was its connection to the Greenlease kidnapping case in 1953. The incident received national attention and became known as one of the most tragic crimes of the 1950s. It also brought lasting infamy to the Coral Court, largely due to the fact that the Coral Court was used as a hideout by the kidnappers – and the fact that half of the $600,000 ransom vanished at the motel.

Bobby Greenlease

Bobby Greenlease, Jr. was the son of Robert and Virginia Greenlease, residents of Mission Hills, Kansas, a prominent suburb of Kansas City. Robert Greenlease was one of the largest Cadillac dealers in the nation. In comparison to the wealth of the Greenlease family, Bobby’s kidnappers, Carl Austin Hall and Bonnie Heady, were dead broke. However, both had known privilege earlier in their lives. It had been at military school that Hall had met Paul Greenlease, Bobby’s older, adopted brother. Hall later inherited a large sum of money from his father, but lost it all in bad business ventures. After that, he turned to crime. He was arrested for robbing cab drivers (his total take was only $38) and he was sent to the Missouri State Penitentiary. In prison, he dreamed of the "big score" and began planning the kidnapping that would help him to retire.

After getting out of prison, Hall moved to St. Joseph, Missouri and he started dating Bonnie Heady. She was no catch, having a reputation for not only sleeping around but also for occasionally dabbling in prostitution. The good news was that she owned her own home and she and Hall often drank themselves into a stupor there, never being bothered by anyone. They had a violent relationship and in fact, when Heady was arrested for kidnapping, she still bore the bruises of her latest beating. Her willingness to put up with Hall’s abuse is probably a clue as to why she agreed to go along with his kidnapping scheme.

Carl Hall and Bonnie Heady

During the summer months of 1953, Hall and Heady made repeated trips to Kansas City to follow the Greenlease family. After some debate, they decided that Bobby would be the easiest prey. At that time, the boy was enrolled at Notre Dame de Sion, a fashionable Catholic school. In the late morning of September 28, Heady entered the school and told a nun that she was Bobby’s aunt. She and Virginia Greenlease had been shopping at the Country Club Plaza, she told the nun, when Virginia had suffered a heart attack. Heady said that she had come to take Bobby to the hospital. When Bobby was brought out of his class, he immediately took Heady’s hand in his, as if he knew her. Heady would later say, "He was so trusting."

Heady met Hall a few minutes later at the Katz Drugstore and they drove across town and then across the state line into Kansas. When Bobby was taken across state lines, the Lindbergh Statute (name for the famous case) went into effect and became a Federal crime. And it was just about to get worse.

In a vacant field in Overland Park, Heady got out of the car and walked a short distance away while Hall killed Bobby. First, he tried to strangle the little boy, but the rope he used was too short. Then, he punched him in the face, knocking out one tooth. Finally, he pushed Bobby down and shot him in the head with a .38 caliber pistol. The boy was dead less than 30 minutes after he had been abducted. After that, they drove back to St. Joseph and buried the body in the back yard of Heady’s home. Hall had dug the grave the night before. After the body was covered, he planted flowers in the freshly churned soil, hoping to cover all evidence of the horrific crime.

The Greenlease family got their first inkling of trouble when the nun who had released Bobby from school called to inquire about Virginia’s health. Soon after, they got the ransom demands from Hall. He also mailed them a pin that Bobby had been wearing when he was taken. The killer demanded a ransom of $600,000 in $10 and $20 bills.

Robert Greenlease called several of his closest friends and he began putting together the money. He also called the head of the local bank, Arthur Eisenhower (brother of Dwight D. Eisenhower), and the two men put together a plan to record the serial numbers of all of the ransom bills. While the money was being accumulated, Hall called the Greenlease residence repeatedly. He continually reassured them that Bobby was alive. Finally, a week after the kidnapping, the money was delivered. Actually, it was delivered two times because Hall couldn’t find it the first time.

Finally, after almost bungling another money drop on a dark country road, Hall was able to get the money. It was just after midnight on October 5 and Hall made one last phone call to a friend of Robert Greenlease, Robert Ledterman, who had been assisting with the ransom payment. He promised Ledterman that the family would have Bobby back within 24 hours.

While Robert and Virginia waited for word of where to find their son, Hall and Heady drove to St. Louis with a money bag that weighed more than 85 pounds. As they traveled, word of the kidnapping leaked to the media and it became a nationwide sensation. When they arrived in St. Louis, Hall and Heady were stunned to find themselves at the center of the story. They ditched their car and started using taxicabs. They rented a small apartment on Arsenal Street in South St. Louis and decided to lay low. Hall quickly got restless and one afternoon, left a drunken Heady in the apartment with a few thousand dollars and vanished. He departed for the "good life."

Hall then hooked up with an ex-con cab driver and a prostitute. The three of them ended up at the Coral Court Motel on Route 66. It was renowned as a place where a fellow could stay for a while with no questions asked. Rumor had it that the motel’s owner, John Carr, was mob-connected and had operated a posh brothel in St. Louis for many years.

Hiding out at the Coral Court, Hall began to lavish money on his seedy new companions. The prostitute would later say that Hall stayed so drunk, and was so nervous, that he couldn’t perform sexually. As for the cab driver, Hall had turned the man into his own personal valet. He gave the man fistfuls of money and told him to buy new clothes and whatever else he thought he might need. What the cab driver brought him was trouble. The owner of the cab company was a man named Joe Costello, a well-known local gangster. When Costello heard about the big spending customer, he contacted St. Louis Police Lieutenant Louis Shoulders. Since Costello and Shoulders always denied stealing the ransom money, it is unknown whether Costello figured out that Hall was the Greenlease kidnapper and gave Shoulders a tip for the arrest of a lifetime -- or whether they simply conspired to rip Hall off.

However, what is known is that Hall, guided by the cab driver, rented an apartment on the edge of St. Louis. A short time after moving in, he was arrested by Shoulders and a patrolman named Elmer Dolan. Hall was picked up for questioning about the large amount of money that he was flashing around. He was taken to the police station on Newstead Avenue and allegedly, the remaining ransom money was stuffed into a suitcase and a footlocker. The footlocker, which contained about $300,000, was recovered, but the elusive suitcase was never seen again.

Patrolman Elmer Dolan shows a revolver, which he and Lt. Louis Shoulders (left) seized after arresting Hall on the night of October 6.

Once he was arrested, Hall almost immediately broke down. Heady was quickly arrested at the small apartment where Hall had dumped her. On October 7, police officers and reporters raced for Heady’s house in St. Joseph, where they dug up Bobby’s body from the backyard.

And once Hall and Heady confessed to the crime, they resigned themselves to being executed for the murder. When a Federal jury in Kansas City returned the verdict, it has been said that Heady actually smiled. On December 18, only 81 days after the kidnapping, Hall and Heady were executed side-by-side at the Missouri State Penitentiary. The pair had declined to seek mercy at the trial and did not appeal the verdict. Missouri authorities had a second chair installed in the gas chamber so that Heady and Hall could be executed at the same time. Heady was the only woman to ever be put to death in the gas chamber and it’s said that she talked cheerfully to the guards and the officials while she was being strapped in. She did not fall silent until Hall finally told her to shut up.

Amidst the widespread anger about the murder of Bobby Greenlease, there was also an immediate investigation into the money that went missing. The glory that should have led to promotions for Shoulders and Dolan became a dirty scandal that highlighted the widespread corruption of the St. Louis police department in the 1950s.

The two officers were later convicted in a Federal court on a charge of perjury, for supposedly lying about the sequence of events from the time they arrested Hall until the time the money was brought to the police station and counted. Various police clerks and officers testified that they never saw the men carrying anything when they entered the station with Hall and they certainly did not see the suitcase or the foot locker. Shoulders stated that the money was outside in the car and that he brought it into the station after bringing Hall inside.

The official theory was that Shoulders and Dolan, who both left the station on personal errands after booking Hall, returned to Hall’s apartment and stole half the money. They brought the remaining half to the station through the rear door. Hall’s statement, not surprisingly, directly contradicted that of Shoulders and Dolan. Hall maintained that the money had been left in the apartment when he was arrested.

Over time, numerous theories have been floated as to who actually took the money. Most pointed fingers at Shoulders and his connection with Joe Costello, while others blamed the corruption in the police department itself. Costello was accused of taking the money by the FBI, who followed him for years, tapping his phones and questioning his associates. They could never make the theft charges stick, but Costello was eventually arrested on weapons charges and sent to prison.

So if the cops and Costello didn‘t have it, then where could the money have gone? Some have suggested that Coral Court owner John Carr may have been involved. If Carr knew about the money (and it’s possible that he did), he could have entered Hall’s room using a pass key and walked out with half the money, believing that Hall would never miss it. And even if he did miss it, what would he be able to do about it? When John Carr died, he was a multi-millionaire. Could any of that remaining fortune have been part of the Greenlease kidnapping money? Obviously, we will never know. Whoever took the money, though, it was gone. For many years after, it was news whenever any of the bills linked to the missing Greenlease money turned up. But where was it coming from? No one knew and now, with so many principals in the case long dead, it can only be realized that the vanished money will always remain a mystery – a lingering stain on the history of the Coral Court Motel.

John Carr died in 1984 and left the Coral Court to his wife, Jessie, and head housekeeper, Martha Shutt. Jessie and her second husband, Robert Williams, operated the place until August 1993 but by then, the lack of maintenance had taken its toll. Even though many Coral Court fans tried to protect the place from destruction, there was nothing they could to protect it from the wishes of the owners. They didn’t want to bother with the Coral Court anymore and they attorney advised them to sell the property.

As the fate of the place became clear, the concern of its supporters shifted to trying to prevent any further damage to the place while it was on the market. Although the motel was roped off and patrolled regularly by the police, it did not prevent “souvenirs-seekers” and vandals from breaking into the rooms. Some even loaded the bricks into their cars, hoping they would become valuable later on. Tragically, this only brought about the definite destruction of the motel.

The Coral Court was closed in 1993 and razed two years later. The motel was on the market for almost three years but no one could afford the steep price tag and the money that would be needed for renovation. Finally, in June 1995, the motel (except for one unit) was demolished. Luckily for Coral Court supporters, the Missouri Museum of Transportation, with help from scores of volunteers, worked for weeks to disassemble a complete Coral Court unit and move it, piece by piece, to the museum. The exhibit opened in May 2000 and remains on display for anyone who wants to catch a glimpse of the motel’s history as it played out on Route 66.

Unfortunately, there is little trace remaining at the site of the Coral Court today. It is now a subdivision called Oak Knoll Manor, although the original, distinctive stone gates are still in place. It’s hard to imagine the drama, passion and excitement that one played out at one of America’s original “no-tell motels” but it’s a story that could have only taken place on Route 66.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


The Florida Keys Hurricane of 1935

In the early days of September 1935, author Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Key West at the time, was making his way through the aftermath of the most devastating hurricane to ever impact the Florida Keys. Florida residents had lived through violent hurricanes before, but they had been nothing like this one. The storm, a Category 4 nightmare, packing winds of 140 to 150 miles per hour with gusts up to two hundred, struck the Keys, with terrifying force. Originating in the southeastern Bahamas, it gained velocity as it moved toward the Keys. It destroyed everything in its path, including buildings, vegetation, and much of Henry Flagler’s famed Florida East Coast Railroad, which connected most of the Keys to the Florida mainland. The storm surge measured as high as fifteen to twenty feet, swamping the islands with elevations of a foot or less.

Hemingway in Key West, 1935

According to the American Red Cross, at least 423 of them lost their lives in the storm. Officials believed that many more people disappeared, likely blown into the sea and drowned. Hundreds of the known casualties were veterans of World War I and other campaigns. Most of them were employed by the New Deal’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration as workers on U.S. Highway 1, which would later link the Florida mainland with Key West. The workers were newly arrived in the Keys and lived in bunkhouses and army tents. The veterans, along with vacationers and the locals, were unaware of the strength of the storm as it approached the islands. The torrential rains and driving winds prevented the local residents from being rescued.

Called by some historians “the storm of the century,” the 1935 Florida hurricane left a permanent mark on the Florida Keys and changed the fabric of the region forever. It not only destroyed Flagler’s railroad, which was the only way to get to Key West except by boat, it also created an eerie legend of a phantom train that still steams its way toward paradise.

The storm began to brew in the Caribbean on September 1. As it approached Andros Island in the Bahamas, less than one hundred miles from the American mainland, it was packing winds of about 75 miles per hour. Bulletins that were issued by the weather service suggested that by the following morning, the storm was likely to hit Havana, 100 miles south of Key West, and pass westward into the Gulf of Mexico. But, of course, nature is always unpredictable and no one had any idea that the relatively benign storm would, less than forty hours later, veer northward toward the Keys and become a Category 5 monster, devouring everything in its path.

Even if anyone had known where the hurricane was going next, little could be done about it. Even with the small population of the Keys, it would have taken at least 24 hours to evacuate the islands in those days. In 1935, weather experts had access to charts that detailed the workings of previous hurricanes, and where they were likely to appear, but they couldn’t say when the next one might appear – or where it might go when it did.

Much of what was known about hurricanes in those days came from the research of Father Benito Vines, a nineteenth century Jesuit priest who was one of the first meteorologists to specialize in hurricane forecasting. Father Vines had established a weather observatory in Havana and while he had little access to instruments, his predictions became so accurate that the locals came to believe that he had supernatural powers. As to what to do about a hurricane that was bearing down on you, though, Father Vines was as perplexed as everyone else. He suggested an appeal to a higher authority – in other words, pray.

Devastation in the Keys after the 1935 Hurricane

And when the people of Key West learned that a huge hurricane was coming in their direction, that’s exactly what they did. Believe it or not, it seemed to work. The island’s most famous resident, Ernest Hemingway, wrote, “… a little after two o’clock [the storm] backs into the west and by the law of circular storms you know the storm has passed over the Keys above us. Now the boat is sheltered by the sea wall and the breakwater and at five o’clock, the glass having been steady for an hour, you get back to the house. As you make your way in without a light you find a tree is down across the walk and a strange empty look in the front yard shows the big, old sapodilla tree is down too. You turn in. That’s what happens when one misses you.”

Whether by divine intervention or plain luck, Key West escaped the worst of it. But for the 1,000 or so residents and workers caught in the Middle Keys, their prayers apparently never made it through. The storm, this time swelled into a massive hurricane, slammed into the Middle and Upper Keys. Islamorada, Craig Key, Long Key, and Upper Matecumbe and Lower Matecumbe Keys suffered the worst. The locals who lived on these islands were hammered by the high winds and rain and lost everything as the seas washed over the low elevations and destroyed their homes. There was simply no escape from the storm.

The outlook was just as dire for the men working on the Overseas Highway. The “vets” as the highways workers had come to be called by the locals, were mostly World War I veterans who had marched on Washington a few years before, demanding payment of bonus money that had been promised by Congress but never delivered. Although President Hoover had dispersed the veterans with armed troops and tear gas, Franklin Roosevelt arranged employment for the men building the new highway across the Keys. He had done this with the best of intentions, never dreaming that he had sent most of them to their doom.

Veterans working on the new Florida highway were among the victims of the storm.

The biggest problem was that the workers were not being supervised by project engineers who knew anything about the Keys, but rather by officials from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, bureaucrats who had little knowledge of that they were getting themselves into. The three work camps that were established for the men at various points along the route were not the kind of sturdy, reinforced barracks that had been built by the Florida East Coast Railroad when the line was constructed years before. The highway workers had tents and flimsy temporary buildings that could be easily taken down and moved as the roadway progressed toward Key West. Certainly anyone with experience in the Keys would have been aware of the danger a hurricane posed, but there was no one with the necessary knowledge in charge and no contingency plan in place.

As the storm descended on the Keys, the tropic paradise became like a little piece of Hell. “You could see nothing. The winds are howling. And the rains are pounding. It was chaos,” a survivor named Bernard Russell later remembered. “It felt like eternity. It could have been thirty minutes. It could have been two hours. Time was nothing then.”

With evacuation by sea from the Keys impossible because of the storm, a last-ditch effort was made to try and save as many as the highways workers and residents as possible. A rescue train was sent from Homestead by the Florida East Coast Railway, the main transportation route linking the Keys to mainland Florida. With J.J. Haycraft in the engine of Old 447, he set off in the evening of September 1 to save as many people as he could. When he steamed away from the station and into the heart of the hurricane that night, he earned his rightful place in the colorful history of the Florida Keys.

The Florida East Coast Railway was developed by Henry Morrison Flagler, an American tycoon, real estate developer and John D. Rockefeller’s partner in Standard Oil. After taking his ailing wife to Florida for the climate in 1878, Flagler fell in love with the region. He began building hotels and a railroad at a time when Florida was a sparsely settled, tropical backwater. The new rail line ran down the east coast of the state, linking St. Augustine with Daytona and West Palm Beach. In 1894, Flagler constructed the Royal Poinciana Hotel and The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, and Whitehall, his private, sixty-thousand-square-foot winter home. The development of these structures, along with the railroad line that reached them, established Palm Beach as a winter resort for the wealthy members of America's Gilded Age.

Henry Flagler

Palm Beach was meant to be the final point on the Flagler railroad, but during the winter of 1894-1895, central Florida was plagued with several hard freezes, during which the Miami area was unaffected. This caused Flagler to re-think his original plan to not continue the railroad south of Palm Beach. He continued to build, turning Miami into a boomtown and developing the Florida coast.

Flagler was widely praised for all of his projects, except for one. In 1905, he began what everyone considered his folly, a project doomed to fail: the extension of his railway to Key West. The Overseas Railway would become Flagler’s greatest challenge but he did not approach it lightly. Extending the railroad to Key West, 128 miles from the end of the Florida peninsula, was a solid business decision. He made his announcement about the railroad soon after the United States announced the construction of the Panama Canal. Key West, as America’s closest deep-water port to the canal, could not only take advantage of Cuban and Latin American trade, but the opening of the canal would allow significant trade possibilities with the West.

The construction of the railroad required many engineering innovations, as well as vast amounts of money and labor. At one time during the construction, 4,000 men were employed to lay the rails, pour the concrete and create the overpasses that took the railroad over vast expanses of water. During the seven years of construction, three hurricanes threatened to halt the project. Despite the many hardships, the final section of the Florida East Coast Railway was completed in 1912. On January 22, a proud Henry Flagler rode the first train into Key West, marking the completion of the railroad’s connection to Key West and the linkage by railway of the entire east coast of Florida.

The Stock Market Crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression were particularly hard on the Florida East Coast Railway, but it would be the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 that destroyed the Key West Extension. Unable to afford to rebuild the ruined sections, the roadbed and surviving bridges were sold to the state of Florida, which built the Overseas Highway to Key West, using much of the remaining railway infrastructure. Today, U.S. Highway 1, following Flagler’s dream, continues to provide the link between mainland Florida and Key West, America’s southernmost point. 

During Labor Day weekend of 1935, the Florida East Coast Railway was the only connection between the Keys and the mainland and there was little choice but to send a rescue train to bring back as many people as possible from the Upper Keys. It was nearing 8:00 p.m. when Old 447 approached the Islamorada station on Upper Matecumbe Key. There had been no power to the station lights or the approach signals for hours and with wind-whipped sheets of rain pelting the engine and waves sweeping over the seven-foot right-of-way, engineer J.J. Haycraft was traveling blind.

He was slow to stop when he approached the station. A group of refugees had gathered under the overhang of a cluster of buildings along the track but Haycraft feared that the station house, post office and warehouse were liable to come crashing down in the high wind. Despite the cries of those who feared he was leaving them behind, he ran the engine nearly a quarter mile past the station, finally coming to a stop at a point where the landmass of the island was the widest. He later told reporters that he believed if he had stopped at any other point, the train would have ended up at the bottom of the ocean.

Rain-soaked figures chased after him, dimly lit in the engine’s headlamp, fighting against the ferocious winds to get onto the train. Haycraft, with the train in reverse, watched as men, women and children struggled past his cab to the passenger cars, where his crew frantically pulled them aboard. For a few moments, Haycraft must have felt a glimmer of hope, that all of his efforts had been worthwhile, but then he felt a terrible rumbling under his feet and spotted a gigantic “wall of water” bearing down on the train.

As the hellish winds howled and the tidal surge rushed toward the train, Haycraft threw open the throttle in a desperate attempt to save those who were already on board. But the engine lurched forward only a few feet before it came to a sudden halt. The train’s conductor, J.F. Gamble, flung himself into the cab and blurted out the horrifying news --- one of the hundred-ton boxcars at the rear of the train had been knocked over by the wind and the waves, automatically locking the brakes on the entire train. There was no way to move as the huge wave advanced on them. Haycraft believed they were as good as dead.

The train, headed by Engine Old 447, was swept completely off the tracks.

As the water wall slammed down on the train, Haycraft felt a great lurch as the remainder of the eleven cars attached behind the engine toppled over. The linked cars went over sideways. The windows of the passenger cars shattered inward and the interiors were instantly filled with water. The scores of men, women and children inside, who thought they were safe, now found themselves trapped in what must have seemed like watery coffins. In the surging darkness, desperate parents groped for the children that had been torn from their arms. Panicked people flailed blindly against the water and a few did manage to escape from the cars through the broken windows. Ironically, most of them were swept out into the storm-tossed sea to die.

Engine 447, an old workhorse that had been built for duty and not for grace, was simply too heavy for the tidal surge to overturn. Haycraft and the crew in the cab, including conductor Gamble and fireman Will Walker, emerged alive from the battering of the giant waves. But for forty miles flanking that single, sixty-foot stretch of tracks where Engine 447 sat, the bed of the railroad had been completely obliterated. It was gone – as was everything else that had been in the path of the storm, including the station, the solidly built homes of the locals, and the nearby Long Key Fishing Camp. The islands had simply been wiped clean. Engine 447 was eventually returned to Homestead by way of a sea barge.

The Keys were a scene of total devastation. Survivors on the fringes of the storm told chilling tales of men disemboweled by sheets of metal roofing that had been torn loose in the wind, of skulls crushed by fifteen-pound rocks that were hurled through the air like pebbles. The darkness was often illuminated by flashes of “ground lightning,” a phenomenon generated by the wind lifting millions of bits of sand into the air, where they clashed and created eerie static charges.

Witnesses reported seeing an entire roof lift off a house on Windley Key. Moments later, the walls of the house collapsed, disappearing when hit by a tidal surge. Sofas, chairs, tables and household goods of all kinds churned away in the raging water, followed by a piano. This was strange enough but then the onlookers realized there was a desperate woman clinging to the piano. She was draped over it, clinging tightly to it as she rushed past at incredible speed. She was hurled two hundred yards inland before the wave crashed down against the railroad embankment. The massive piano fell onto the woman and crushed her underneath it.

The first doctor to arrive in the Matecumbes after the storm was G.C. Franklin of Coconut Grove. He discovered the bodies of 39 men in the first pile of debris that he encountered. Corpses were scattered everywhere, many of them swelling and decomposing in the heat.

A mind-boggling account of the hurricane’s aftermath described a victim who was found on the day after the storm. He was impaled by a two-by-four that had passed completely through him, just beneath his ribs and somehow missing his kidneys and surrounding organs. The man was still alive and appeared calm as a doctor prepared to remove the piece of wood. The doctor offered the man a shot of morphine to dull the pain but the man refused. He was sure the operation was going to kill him and he said that he would rather have two beers instead. He was given the beers and he ordered the doctor to pull out the board. The doctor yanked the timber out of the man’s body – and he died.

Victims of the hurricane at Lower Matecumbe Key

Ernest Hemingway, trapped in Key West by residual winds until the second morning after the storm, joined one of the first rescue parties to reach the Middle Keys. He later wrote a stunning article on what he found in New Masses magazine. Hemingway wrote, “When we reached Lower Matecumbe, there were bodies floating in the ferry slip. The brush was all brown as if autumn had come, but that was because all of the leaves had blown away. There was two feet of sand over the island where the sea had carried it and all the heavy bridge-building machines were on their sides. The island looked like the abandoned bed of a river where the sea had swept it.”

Soon, the rescue party found greater horrors: “The railroad embankment was gone and the men who cowered behind it were all gone with it. You could find them face down and face up in the mangroves… Then further on you found them high in the trees where the water had swept them.”
“On the other hand,” Hemingway also wrote, “there are no buzzards. Absolutely no buzzards. How’s that? Would you believe it? The wind killed all the buzzards and all the big winged birds like pelicans too. You could find them in the grass that’s washed along the fill.”

In a letter to his friend and editor, Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway presented the most disturbing things the rescue party found, in terms that would have made it impossible for any publication of the time to print: “Max, you can’t imagine it, two women, naked, tossed up into the trees by the water, swollen and stinking, their breasts as big as balloons, flies between their legs. Then, by figuring, you located where it is and recognize them as two very nice girls who ran a sandwich place and filling-station three miles from the ferry. We located sixty-nine bodies where no one had been able to get in. Indian Key swept absolutely clean, not a blade of grass, and high over the center of it were scattered live conchs that came in with the sea, crawfish, and dead morays. The whole bottom of the sea blew over it… we made five trips with provisions for survivors to different places and nothing but dead men to eat the grub…”

The official Red Cross death toll from the hurricane was four hundred and eight but most agreed that the official count was too low. The Islamorada coroner put the figure at 423 but the final tally will never be known. With an uncertain Keys census and scores of people being washed out to sea and vanishing without a trace, we’ll never know just how many residents and workers lost their lives in the storm. Some twenty years later, an Islamorada developer was digging out a rock pit when he unearthed three automobiles with out-of-state license plates dated 1935 – with the skeletons of their owners still inside. And to this day, those poking about on one of the hundreds of small, uninhabited islands in the region will still uncover remains suspected to be victims of “Hemingway’s Hurricane.”

Strange, haunting stories later began to be told about Islamorada and spectral memories of the 1935 Hurricane. One of the most frightening accounts involved sightings of a group of people that have been spotted wandering through the swamps and woods at night. Many locals believed these people were actually the spirits of those who perished in the storm.

For three weeks after the hurricane, the decomposing bodies of hundreds of victims were pulled from the swamps and creeks. Although the search was thorough, many bodies were never found, perhaps trapped under the roots of cypress trees or simply washed out to sea. To this day, government land workers and environmentalists will still find an occasional skeleton lodged in the swamp beds, a grim reminder of the storm. Eerily, though, there have been a number of reports of large groups of people trudging through the swamp at night. They are hunched over and slow, as if beaten down or injured. They always seem to disappear into a thicket – or simply vanish. The figures are always seen staggering to the north, as if trying to escape from the storm-wrecked Keys, and are perhaps re-living their final hours on earth.

And they are not only the ghosts of those who died in the Labor Day Hurricane. They also seem to seem to serve as a foretelling of future horror. Legend has it that they were seen several times just before Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead, Florida in 1992.  

And these shambling spirits are not the only phantoms that remain from the hurricane. According to numerous accounts, witnesses have also spotted a ghost train lumbering along railroad tracks that no longer exist. Most believe this is a ghostly re-enactment of the Engine 447 rescue train as it tried in vain to save the residents of Islamorada on the night of the hurricane.

The Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway was never rebuilt after the storm but in the early 1940s, weird events began to be experienced along the old line. The sound of a steam engine and a train whistle could sometimes be heard later at night and occasionally, a headlight could be seen silently rolling by in the early hours of the morning. An old man once told of fishing near a railroad bridge and hearing a train whistle that was so loud that he had to hold his ears. He heard the rumble of the engine and actually felt the vibration of a train as it passed over the bridge – but there was nothing there. No train had passed over the bridge in years.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Compiled by April Slaughter and Troy Taylor

If spirits are truly the personalities of those who once lived, then wouldn’t these spirits reflect whatever turmoil might have plagued them in life? And if hauntings can sometimes be the effects of trauma being imprinted on the atmosphere of a place, then wouldn’t places where terror and insanity were commonplace be especially prone to these hauntings? As an answer to both of these questions, we need point no further to the crumbling remains of the former state hospitals that dot the landscape of America.

In the final years of the mostly abandoned old asylums, after the last patients had departed, staff members in the buildings started to report some odd occurrences. Could events of days gone by still be lingering here? What macabre history occurred in these now crumbling building? There are many tales to tell about these sad and forlorn places. They are strange stories filled with social reform, insanity – and ghosts.

Rolling Hills Asylum
E. Bethany, New York

In January 1827, the Genesee County Poorhouse was opened to house and provide means of work for individuals struggling to make their way. The mentally ill, physically disabled, orphans, those struggling with addictions, and vagrants and paupers were all residents of the asylum. With an estimated 1,700 bodies buried in unmarked graves on the property, it is no wonder that Rolling Hills has attracted a great deal of attention from both the living and the dead. Visitors often report seeing the apparitions of many peering out from the windows above. Resident and benevolent ghost Roy Crouse, a patient who passed at the asylum in 1942, often interacts with investigators and seems to keep a watchful eye over the property owners. It is not uncommon for visitors to witness shadow people moving about the rooms and hallways of the asylum, to be touched by unseen hands, and hold conversations with the disembodied.

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Weston, West Virginia

Originally designed to house and care for a maximum of 250 souls in 1864, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was bursting at the seams with patients numbering over 2,400 by the 1950s. The massive 242,000 square foot facility was intended to treat the mentally ill, but it is alleged that its history is riddled with incidents of abuse and neglect. These horrors, combined with the sheer number of deaths that occurred within the walls of the asylum, have left an indelible supernatural mark on the property since its closing in 1994. Screams reportedly emanate from the area of the facility once used to administer electroshock therapy. The sound of gurneys being pushed down the hallways, whispered conversation, and the sightings of various apparitions are all commonplace. The fourth floor is particularly active, though experiences have been reported throughout the entire building.

Norwich State Hospital for the Mentally Insane
Preston, Connecticut

Opened in 1904 on the Thames River, the original hospital was a single building resting on 100 acres that was later joined by an additional twenty structures stretching the property lines to nearly 900 acres. A series of tunnels were constructed below the buildings for easy passage and access to each. The hospital was responsible for the care of the mentally insane, the chemically dependent, those stricken with tuberculosis, as well as some of the state’s most violent and disturbed criminal offenders. The number of patients admitted peaked in the 1950s at over 3,000, but steadily declined until the hospital was finally closed in 1996. The structure now sits vacant and rotting, but is allegedly still inhabited by patients who, even after death, call Norwich home. Curiosity seekers report hearing items moving about on their own. Faces appear and disappear through broken windows, and an unexplainable mists form and move throughout the building. Blood-curdling screams and sounds thought to be inhuman are just a few of the paranormal experiences reported to occur here.

Bartonville Insane Asylum / Pollak Hospital
Peoria, Illinois

Construction on the first buildings here actually began in 1885 and were completed in 1887. The hospital, when completed, resembled a medieval castle with battlements and turrets. It was a foreboding structure and one not fit for the kind of progressive medicine that was planned for it. Despite the huge costs involved in building it, it was never used and was torn down in 1897. In 1902, Pollak hospital would reopen with Dr.  George A. Zeller, a pioneer in mental health, at the helm and with 33 different buildings used to house patients. The hospital’s burial ground eventually grew to include four cemeteries, which were located behind the main buildings. By 1973, the Pollak Hospital was one of the last buildings on the grounds of the asylum that were still in use. During the hospital’s years of operation, hundreds died within its walls and according to stories and eyewitness accounts, scores of their spirits stayed behind to walk the wards and hallways of the crumbling building. The atmosphere of the place alone is more than enough to justify the reports of the apparitions and strange energy encountered there.

Danvers State Hospital
Danvers, Massachusetts

This elaborate and massive 700,000 square foot gothic structure was built in 1874 to help ease the overcrowding of local area hospitals caring for the mentally ill. 2,000 patients filled every available space by the 1930s, which was an issue considering that it was only designed to house a maximum of 450. Lack of funding produced the minimum amount of care, and patients often underwent ‘therapies’ to subdue and control behaviors, including lobotomies, insulin and electroshock therapies, and many were placed in straightjackets. Patients were eventually removed to other facilities and the state officially closed Danvers in 1992. Since then, the overwhelming energy of the property has attracted attention from those who believe it is haunted by the souls who once lived and suffered within its walls. Apparitions of past residents, unexplained footsteps, disembodied screaming, and the sudden and violent movement of objects within the building are not uncommon. Danvers was the filming location for the eerie 1999 horror film, "Session 9."

Topeka State Hospital
Topeka, Kansas

This facility was opened in 1879 to help ease the issue of overcrowding at the nearby Osawatomie State Hospital. As with a great deal many of these facilities at the time, TSH eventually gained a reputation for patient neglect and mistreatment, mainly attributed to a lack of proper funding. Stories of patients being left to spend their days confined to rocking chairs in the hallways were common. It was also alleged that at least one patient was left in leather restraints so long their skin had begun to grow around them. Forced sterilizations for certain patients came into practice beginning in 1913 and carried on until 1961 when they ceased altogether. Therapist Stephanie Uhlrig was murdered on February 23, 1992 by patient Kenneth D. Waddell and discovered in a facility bathroom. These incidents alone would be enough to spark stories of paranormal activity on the property, but the existence of a 2.8 acre unmarked cemetery on the grounds has certainly added to the mystique. The state of Kansas closed TSH on May 17, 1997. The main building, as well as others, were ultimately demolished in 2010, but those who’ve spent time on the grounds believe it is still a hotbed of paranormal activity. Mist-like apparitions have often been photographed, and the sound of crying/sobbing has been captured on digital audio recordings. Music is also often heard in real-time emanating from the area where the main hospital building once stood.

The Ridges
Athens, OH

The Athens Lunatic Asylum (as it was originally known) first opened its doors to the mentally ill on January 9, 1974. Its picturesque setting was thought to aid in rehabilitation, but patients most often lived out the remainder of their lives in the facility once admitted, and many were subject to treatments that could hardly be deemed as anything less than cruel. Patients were commonly subjected to ice bath and electroshock therapies, the most unfortunate among them given lobotomies. In December of 1978, patient Margaret Schilling was found missing. A maintenance worker discovered her lifeless body over a month later in an area of the facility that hadn’t been in use for quite some time. A permanent impression of her body is still visible on the concrete floor. Margaret’s ghost allegedly haunts the Ridges to this day. Her apparition has been seen roaming about the hallways and peering out of windows. The on-site cemetery is also said to be frequented by the ghosts of those who passed away at the asylum and whose remains were left unclaimed by family members.  A peculiar circular arrangement of headstones in the cemetery is rumored to be a sacred meeting place for practicing occultists. The Ridges saw the last of its patients in 1993, and the buildings became the property Ohio University. The Kennedy Museum building is now the only remaining structure open to the public.

Pennhurst State School & Hospital
Spring City, Pennsylvania

Pennhurst originally opened in 1908 as the Eastern State Pennsylvania Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. As with most institutions of its kind, it quickly became overcrowded with patients. The facility’s administrators and staff were not only unable to adequately care for those placed at Pennhurst, many of them became neglectful and highly abusive over the years. In 1968, Bill Baldini of CBS10 exposed many of the institution’s atrocities in a five-part television news report entitled “Suffer the Little Children” in which he referred to Pennhurst as a ‘monument to apathy.’ In 1983, nine employees were charged with assaulting patients as well as arranging and encouraging altercations between the patients themselves. The neglect and abuse continued for years until the facility was finally shut down in 1987. The amount of suffering that occurred within its walls is inconceivable. It is no wonder that a certain type of energy still hovers over the property today. Disembodied screams of pain and agony are often heard emanating from the buildings. Full-body apparitions walk the premises, and have allegedly engaged visitors to the site. Doors inexplicably open and slam shut, objects move without explanation, and a heavy, oppressive feeling is nearly palpable. Many asylums and hospitals are said to be haunted, but few have a reputation as deserving as Pennhurst.

Essex Mountain Sanatorium
Verona, New Jersey

In 1902, the Newark City Home for Girls was opened to house and care for young delinquent females, but within a few short years, the number of those in need of assistance declined and the building was left vacant. With a steadily rising number of individuals in Newark battling tuberculosis, the facility reopened as the Newark City Home for Consumptives in 1907. As the need grew, so too did the number of buildings constructed on the property. In the 1950s, with the discovery and development of antibiotic treatment for tuberculosis, the number of patients dwindled, and the empty buildings were used to house the overflow of mental patients from Overbrook, a psychiatric treatment facility nearby. The sanatorium closed its doors with the release of its last patient in 1977.  Over the years, rumors have circulated that the souls of escaped lunatics haunt the tunnels below ground. Trespassing on the property is forbidden, but that hasn’t kept eager ghost hunters from sneaking inside to experience the phenomena of Essex for themselves. The ghostly apparitions of children reportedly run through the hallways and dart into rooms on the third floor of the main building. Strange mists appear and dissipate without explanation, and people often report hearing screams of agony throughout the property.

Manteno Mental Hospital
Manteno, Illinois

Manteno admitted its first patient in December of 1930 and operated for fifty years before being closed in December of 1985. Unlike most preceding asylums, this facility was laid out in a cottage plan to create a community-like setting. The mentally ill were treated here along with those stricken with typhoid and tuberculosis. “Mittimus” patients (individuals found innocent of a felony due to insanity) were also placed at Manteno beginning in the 1960s. As was so often the case with such facilities, overcrowding and a lack of competent staff led to a decline in the quality of care and contributed to the rise of patient neglect. The residents of Manteno were no strangers to suffering. Many died here, including those who fell victim to murder and suicide. While most of the cottages and facility structures are no longer standing, the Morgan cottage remains. Those who venture inside to investigate (despite the fact that trespassing is forbidden) have experienced a wide range of paranormal phenomena. A shadow figure has been seen and photographed in the cottage, and sounds of various kinds, seemingly without origin, are often heard inside. EVP recordings demanding visitors to ‘GET OUT’ are common, and an unmistakable sense of foreboding leaves a lasting impression on many who enter.

State Lunatic Asylum No. 2
St. Joseph, Missouri

The asylum in St. Joseph opened in November 1874 with 25 patients. Dr. George C. Catlett was the hospital's first superintendent. Demand caused rapid growth. The original 275 beds filled quickly. An additional 120 beds were added, and then another 350. Relatives who could no longer provide for their family members' special needs admitted most patients. A devastating fire in 1879 only temporarily slowed that growth. When the hospital reopened in 1880, it became a sanctuary not only for the mentally ill, but also for tuberculosis patients, syphilitic patients, alcoholic patients, and patients with physical disabilities. By the early 1950s, the patient population had grown to nearly 3,000, which made the hospital one of the largest employers in St. Joseph. It was not until the 1970s that the hospital began to downsize in order to concentrate on treating the mentally ill. Patients who suffered from physical illnesses were transferred to other hospitals for specialized treatment. Although closed for many years, the former hospital is now home to the Glore Psychiatric Museum, which is named for its founder George Glore, who spent most of his 41-year career with the Missouri Department of Mental Health nurturing its collections into arguably the largest and best single exhibition explaining the evolution of mental health care in the United States. It has since been named one of the "most unusual museums in the U.S.” and it’s also one of the most haunted. The building is very actively haunted by spirits from the past and scores of paranormal encounters have been reported, from running footsteps, slamming doors, voices, cries and even apparitions of patients, nurses and doctors that are present one moment and vanished the next.

Friday, August 8, 2014


Where Guests Check in – and Never Check Out!
Compiled by Troy Taylor

Haunted hotels can be found all over the country. As we consider how many people pass through hotels and motels each year, it isn't hard to imagine that there might be a ghost or two around. There are places where people often do things that they wouldn’t do at home, which means that even newer hotels have more than their share of murders, rapes, assaults and mysterious deaths. Needless to say, such events can cause ghosts to linger behind, meaning that people check in, but they don’t always check out.

Estes Park, Colorado

One of the most famous haunted hotels in the country is the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. However, much if its infamy comes not from the hauntings but from the fact that it inspired novelist Stephen King to write THE SHINING in the early 1970s.

The Stanley Hotel was built in 1909 by Freelan Stanley, the co-creator of the Stanley Automobile. He came to Estes Park for his health and stayed at a cabin with his wife, Flora, for the summer of 1903. They fell in love with the region and Stanley’s health improved. He decided to invest his fortune in the area and opened the Stanley in 1909. It took two years to complete, all built from natural wood and rock from the area. Equipped with running water, electricity, and telephones, the only amenity the hotel lacked was heat, as the hotel was designed as a summer resort.

The hotel opened on July 4 and catered to the rich and famous, including Titanic survivor “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, John Philip Sousa, Theodore Roosevelt, the Emperor and Empress of Japan, and a variety of Hollywood personalities. Although it enjoyed great fame among wealthy tourists for many years, its greatest infamy came when the Stanley inspired Stephen King to write THE SHINING.

In the early 1970s, King and his wife spent the night at the hotel thanks to bad weather. He had been working on a book idea about a family trapped at a haunted amusement park, but it was going nowhere. Then one day, he saw a sign in the mountains that warned of roads becoming impassable after October because of the snow. The story of THE SHINING was moved to the mythical Overlook Hotel after King checked into the place just as it was closing down for the season. The empty hallways and deserted guest areas inspired him to write a man who goes mad after agreeing to act as a caretaker in a haunted hotel for the winter.

But according to local lore, the Stanley itself was actually haunted. There have been a number of reports of ghostly activity, primarily in the ballroom. Kitchen staff have reported to have heard a party going on in the ballroom, only to find it empty. People in the lobby have allegedly heard someone playing the ballroom's piano; employees investigating the music purportedly found nobody sitting at the piano. Employees believe that particular ghost is Stanley's wife, Flora, who used to be a piano player. In one guest room, people claim to have seen a man standing over the bed before running into the closet. This same apparition is allegedly responsible for stealing guests' jewelry, watches, and luggage. Others reported to have seen ghosts in their rooms in the middle of the night, simply standing in their room before disappearing.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

The Crescent Hotel was built in Eureka Springs, Arkansas between 1884 and 1886 to take advantage of the local boom time of the Frisco Railroad, which was bringing people in to take advantage of the “healing waters” in the area. The gothic-looking hotel was fitted with numerous towers, overhanging balconies and granite walls that are more than eighteen inches thick. The dining room seated up to 500 people and it included electric lights, bathrooms and modern plumbing.

The hotel flourished for a time and then went in and out of business for years. It boomed again in the 1920s and early 1930sm but on July 31, 1937, the doors were closed at the Crescent Hotel and the building was sold to Norman Baker, who remodeled the place. Once he purchased it, the structure underwent a strange transformation and thus began the most bizarre chapter in the history of the Crescent. Baker made his first fortune in 1903 by inventing the Tangley Air Calliope, an organ that played with air pressure instead of steam. He made millions of dollars with his invention, but Baker was a born charlatan, who was never happy without his next scheme. He considered himself something of a medical expert, although he had no formal training. He claimed to have discovered a number of "cures" for various ailments but he was sure that organized medicine was conspiring to keep these "miracle medicines" from the market. He was also sure that these same "enemies" – namely doctors from the American Medical Association -- were trying to kill him.

Baker opened his first hospital in Muscatine in 1929 but ran into legal problems over his “cure” for cancer. He was convicted of practicing medicine without a license in 1936 and all of his medicines were condemned by the American Medical Association. Nevertheless, he purchased the Crescent Hotel with plans to turn the place into a hospital and "health resort" for cancer victims.

Baker’s remodeling of the hotel reportedly cost almost $50,000 and he tragically destroyed much of the original decoration that remained on the structure. After the remodeling was completed, Baker moved his hospital staff and 144 patients from Iowa to Arkansas. He advertised the health resort by saying that no X-rays or operations were performed to save his patients’ lives. The "cures" mostly consisted of drinking the natural spring water of the area and various home remedies. Needless to say, no one was cured. Eventually, federal authorities caught up with Baker and he was charged with using the mail to defraud the public about his false medical claims. He was convicted in 1940 and sentenced to four years in Leavenworth. The hospital closed and Baker vanished into history.

The brooding old hotel stayed closed until 1946, when new investors took it over and began trying to restore the place. The hard years still showed and the hotel was described as being "seedily elegant." Since then, however, it has started to regain its lost glory and it remains an odd and historical piece of Ozark history. It is also, according to staff members and countless visitors, a very haunted place.

A myriad of ghosts (including Dr. Baker) are believed to inhabit the old hotel. A number of rooms (including the previously mentioned Room 218) are said to have their own resident ghosts who checked in, but never checked out. Doors are opened and closed, lights turned on and off and phantom figures have been seen in the corridors. It’s possible that the era of Baker’s hospital may have left the greatest ghostly impression on the place. In July 1987, a guest claimed that she saw a nurse pushing a gurney down the hallway in the middle of the night. The nurse reached the wall and then vanished. It was later learned that a number of other people had witnessed the same vision and had seen it reenacted in just the same way. An apparition that is believed to be Baker himself has been spotted around the old recreation room, near the foot of the stairs going to the first floor. Those who have seen him say that he looks lost, first going one way and then another. It seems that Baker may still be lingering in his old hotel, wandering forever for the crimes he committed against those who trusted him to save their lives.

Hollywood, California

The Knickerbocker Hotel was built was in 1925 in the heart of Hollywood. It first opened as a luxury apartment building and became a hotel later on in its history. One of the attractions of the place was the Renaissance Revival bar, which played host to the cream of the Hollywood crop. One frequent guest was Rudolph Valentino, who reportedly loved to dance the tango to the live music performed in the saloon. The hotel served many guests, and was home to many scandals over the years.

The hotel lobby features a huge crystal chandelier, which cost over $120,000 in 1925, and it was under this chandelier that epic film director D.W. Griffith died of a stroke in 1948. At the time of his death, Griffith, who was a pioneer in the Hollywood film industry, had been largely forgotten by his peers. He eked out a painful and lonely existence at the Knickerbocker, spending most of his time in the hotel bar, talking to anyone who was willing to listen to him. His dismissal by Hollywood was as great a tragedy as his death and it would not be until years later that he would be regarded as the genius that he undoubtedly was.

Another Knickerbocker tragedy was actress Frances Farmer, whose all-too-brief career electrified Hollywood in the 1930s. She was only 27 years old, but her star was soon to fade – and then plummet from the sky in a haze of alcohol and mental illness. Farmer was arrested at the Knickerbocker in 1943 after reports that she had started a drunken nightclub brawl and was running through the streets topless. The police broke into her room and dragged her half-naked through the hotel lobby. She was sent to a mental hospital and endured horrible conditions for years. When released, she got a job at a hotel in Oregon sorting laundry. Her career rebounded for a time but after another nervous collapse and more arrests for drunk driving, things fell apart. She died from cancer in 1970. At the time of her death, the once beautiful and headstrong star was penniless, broken, and alone.

Tragedy and legends continued to be born at the Knickerbocker as time went by. The stories say that author William Faulkner and Meta Carpenter, a script girl from the Fox studios, began their lengthy affair at the Knickerbocker. Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio honeymooned there in 1954. Elvis Presley often stayed at the Knickerbocker and in 1956, when he was filming “Love Me Tender,” he posed for “Heartbreak Hotel” photos in one of the rooms. Other stars who lived or stayed at the Knickerbocker included rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, Mae West, Lana Turner, Cecil B. DeMille, Frank Sinatra, Laurel and Hardy and many others.

Character actor William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz on the “I Love Lucy” show, lived at the hotel for decades. In March of 1966, he was walking into the Knickerbocker when he dropped dead of a heart attack on the sidewalk outside. His nurse carried him into the lobby and attempted to revive him, but it was too late.

Perhaps the strangest tragedy took place in November 1962 with the suicide of Irene Gibbons, an actress and costume designer at MGM. As a friend of actress Doris Day, she confided in her that she had fallen in love with Gary Cooper. When Cooper died a short time later, Irene was unable to get over the loss.

On November 15, Irene took a room at the Knickerbocker Hotel, checking in under an assumed name. She cut her wrists but when this did not prove to be immediately fatal, she jumped to her death from her bathroom window on the 14th floor, landing on the extended roof of the lobby, where she was discovered later that same night (not two days later, as is often reported). She had left caring notes for friends and family, for her ailing husband, and for the hotel residents, apologizing for any inconvenience her death might cause.

Undoubtedly, the first thing of a supernatural nature to occur at the Knickerbocker was the anniversary séance to contact the spirit of magician Harry Houdini. During his life, Houdini had been an opponent of the Spiritualist movement, but made a pact with his wife and friends that should contact be possible from the other side, he would attempt it. For 10 years after his death, his wife, Bess Houdini, continued to hold séances in hopes of communicating with her late husband. The last "official" Houdini séance was held on Halloween night of 1936 – on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel. Attempts were made to contact the magician but all failed – or did they? As the moment the séance came to an end, a tremendously violent thunderstorm broke out, drenching the séance participants and terrifying them with the horrific lightning and thunder. They would later learn that this mysterious storm did not occur anywhere else in Hollywood --- only above the Knickerbocker Hotel! Some speculated that perhaps Houdini did come through after all, as the flamboyant performer just might have made his presence known by the spectacular effects of the thunderstorm.

Although Houdini’s ghost has never been reported to make an appearance at the Knickerbocker, the place has long been considered to be haunted. The most “spirited” spot was always thought to be the hotel bar, so not surprisingly, when the Knickerbocker closed in 1971 and became a senior citizen’s retirement building, the old bar was sealed off. The rooms remained closed and unused for nearly 25 years until the early 1990s, when it was re-opened as a nostalgic coffee shop.

Many believe that celebrities from the past often put in appearances here as well. The ghost of Valentino has occasionally been reported, along with that of Marilyn Monroe, who has been seen in the women’s restroom. Other anonymous spirits sometimes show up as well and staff members are quick to recall instances of lights turning on and off and things moving about on their own. Even after all of these years, the Knickerbocker remains a glamorous, and often mysterious, place.

San Diego, California

When the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego opened in 1888, it was the largest resort hotel in the world. In the middle 1880s, the San Diego area was in the middle of a real estate boom. To draw people to the area, several wealthy businessmen went together and built the Hotel Del Coronado. The massive undertaking ran into numerous problems, not the least of which was the lack of lumber in the area, fresh water, skilled craftsmen and men who could handle the “new-fangled” electricity that the owners wanted installed. The electric wires were eventually installed inside of gas lines, just in case they didn’t work.

The popularity of the hotel was established before the 1920s. It already had hosted Presidents Harrison, McKinley, Taft, and Wilson. The hotel went on to host presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

By the 1920s Hollywood's stars and starlets discovered that 'the Del' was the 'in place' to stay. Many celebrities made their way south to party during the era of Prohibition and used the Hotel Del as their personal playground. Tom Mix, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, and Ramón Novarro were a few of the many actors who stayed at the hotel during weekend getaways. Other notables have included Marilyn Monroe, Thomas Edison, L. Frank Baum, Vincent Price, Babe Ruth and many others.

During World War II, many West Coast resorts and hotels were taken over by the U.S. government for use as housing and hospitals. The Hotel Del Coronado housed many pilots, who were being trained at nearby North Island Naval Air Station on a contract basis, but it was never commandeered. General manager Steven Royce convinced the Navy to abstain from taking over the hotel, because most of the additional rooms were being used to house the families of officers. The hotel did start a number of victory gardens on the grounds.

By the end of the war, the neglected hotel had started to age and while millions were spent to refurbish it, a new owner in 1963 planned to tear it down. But he changed his and remodeled and expanded it instead. It remains today as one of the most beautiful resorts on the west coast – and many say, one of the most haunted.

There are a number of hauntings associated with the hotel, including the ghosts of a little boy and girl, a former hotel caretaker, seen in the dining room, and a Victorian woman who has been seen dancing in the ballroom.

Room 502 (now 3502) was rumored to be the love nest of hotel builder and early owner E. S. Babcock. The ill-fated mistress staying in this room took her own life soon after learning she was with child. The body later disappeared, perhaps removed by someone wishing to avoid an ugly scandal. Today, lights sometimes flicker in the room, and outside the door, an icy chill may be felt. In 1983, a Secret Service agent was assigned to room 3502 while he was at the hotel to protect then Vice-President George Bush on an official visit to San Diego. The agent did not last the entire night in room 3502, complaining of feeling a breeze and seeing billowing drapes despite the windows being closed, gurgling sounds, and finally a ghostly glow that clung to the entire room.

Apparitions have been seen in the hallways and there have been numerous reports of whispers and voices of people who are not there. It is not unusual for the cleaning staff of the hotel to arrange to work in pairs, to avoid being anywhere alone. But there is no ghost story at the Del more famous than that of a beautiful young woman, Kate Morgan, who stayed at the hotel around Thanksgiving, November 1892. 

Hotel guests and employees believe that most of the paranormal events that occur at the hotel can be connected to Kate Morgan. Witnesses report flickering lights, televisions that turn on and off by themselves, dramatic shifts in room temperatures, odd scents, unexplained voices, the sound of strange footsteps, mysterious breezes which cause curtains to billow when windows are closed, and objects which move of their own accord; and some claim to have seen the ghost of Kate Morgan herself.

Kate Morgan, a pretty woman in her mid 20s, checked into the Hotel Del Coronado alone on Thursday, November 24, 1892 (Thanksgiving evening).  During her stay, hotel employees – many of whom had frequent interactions with Kate – reported that she had appeared ill and very unhappy.  She had also told quite a few employees that she was waiting for her brother (who she said was a doctor) to join her - but he never showed up. Five days after she checked in, Kate was found dead on an exterior staircase leading to the beach.  Kate had a gunshot wound to her head, which the San Diego County Coroner later determined was self-inflicted.

A search of her hotel room revealed no personal belongings.  In fact, there was nothing to identify “the beautiful stranger” except the name she used when she registered: Lottie A. Bernard (from Detroit). After her death, police sent a sketch of Kate’s face and information about her death to newspapers and police stations around the country, in the hopes that someone could shed light on “the dark mystery surrounding the suicide of the unknown girl at the Coronado Hotel.” Eventually, Lottie Bernard was identified as Kate Morgan, originally from Iowa, and the wife of Tom Morgan.  Reportedly, Tom Morgan was a gambler, who may have made his living gambling on the railroad.

After the inquest into Kate’s suicide, a gentleman came forward to say that he had seen Kate arguing with a man (thought to have been Tom) on a train en route to San Diego. The witness said that Tom disembarked before reaching San Diego, and Kate continued on to the Hotel Del Coronado by herself, where, it is assumed, she waited – and waited - for Tom to join her.  When he never showed up, Kate took her own life.

Since that time, paranormal activity has been reported in the room Kate stayed in during her 1892 visit – room 3327 --- and in other areas of the hotel. She is the most enduring ghost of the grand hotel and continues her hold on the place more than 120 years after her tragic death.

Cimarron, New Mexico

The St. James Hotel was built in 1872 by Henry Lambert. First known as Lambert’s Inn, its saloon, restaurant and 43 guest rooms saw at least 26 murders during the wilder days of Cimarron. There was little in the way of law and order in those days and gunfighters like Clay Allison and Black Jack Ketchum left their mark on the place. The saloon was wildly popular to cowboys, traders, miners and the many travelers of the Santa Fe Trail. The saloon did so well that Henry added guest rooms in 1880, and the hotel was soon considered to be one of the most elegant hotels west of the Mississippi.

Many well-known people stayed there over the years. Wyatt Earp, his brother Morgan, and their wives spent three nights at the St. James on their way to Tombstone, Arizona. Jesse James stayed there several times, always in room 14, signing the registry with his alias, R.H. Howard. Buffalo Bill Cody met Annie Oakley at the hotel and began to plan and rehearse their Wild West Show. When Henry’s son Fred was born, Buffalo Bill nicknamed him "Cyclone Dick” because he was born during a blustery snow storm, and he was soon asked to be Fred’s godfather.

As Fred Lambert grew older, Buffalo Bill would be one of the first to give him instruction in the use of guns. Fred Lambert would spend his entire life upholding the law as a Cimarron Sheriff, a member of the tribal police and a territorial marshal. When Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley left Cimarron to take their show on the road, they took an entire village of Indians from the Cimarron area with them.

Other notables who have stayed at the historic inn include Bat Masterson, General Sheridan, Kit Carson, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, artist Fredrick Remington, Governor Lew Wallace, and writer Zane Grey. The Hotel was later renamed the St. James and continues to cater to travelers today – along with a number of ghosts.

Both the owners and the guests of the hotel tell of the haunting with many unexplained events.  The second floor of the hotel is the most active, with stories of cold spots and the smell of cigar smoke lingering in the halls (smoking is not allowed in the hotel.) A report from a former owner, states that she walked into the dining room and saw a pleasant-looking cowboy standing behind her in the mirror on the front of the bar.

Room 18 at the hotel is kept locked because it houses the ghost of an ill-tempered Thomas James Wright, who was killed at his door just after winning the rights to the hotel in a poker game. Having been shot from behind, Wright continued on into the room and slowly bled to death. Wright’s angry, malevolent ghost continues to haunt the room and he does not like company. One former owner said she was pushed down while in the room. This room is considered by the staff to be the most haunted and people are rarely allowed to enter the room, much less sleep in it. Rumors abound that when the room was rented, a number of mysterious deaths occurred there.

Other entities are also said to roam the hotel, creating a host of paranormal activities. Staff members report that items constantly fall off walls and shelves and electrical equipment at the front desk behaves unpredictably. Others have reported cold spots throughout the historic inn, lights that seemingly turn on by themselves, feelings of being watched by unseen eyes, and cameras that cease to work inside the hotel, strangely return to normal after leaving the St. James.

San Antonio, Texas

The famous Menger Hotel in San Antonio is one of the best-known and oldest hotels in Texas. Opened by William Menger on February 1, 1859, the hotel was constructed on the site of Menger′s brewery, the first brewery in Texas. Said to have been the finest hotel west of the Mississippi River, it once hosted such notables as Sam Houston, Generals Lee and Grant and Presidents McKinley, Taft, Eisenhower, and Roosevelt; Babe Ruth, and Mae West. The hotel saw great success and Menger died in the building in March 1871, and his widow and son took over the management.

When the Civil War and Reconstruction were over, and especially after the railroad arrived in 1877, the Menger became the best-known hotel in the Southwest. It was praised for the cuisine offered in the Colonial Dining Room, which included such specialties as wild game, mango ice cream, and snapper soup made from turtles caught in the San Antonio River.

Hermann Kampmann became manager in 1887 and supervised the installation of a new bar, a replica of the taproom in the House of Lords Club in London. The solid cherry bar, cherry-paneled ceiling, French mirrors, and gold-plated spittoons were the marvels of San Antonio. Theodore Roosevelt first visited the Menger in 1892 on a javelina hunt; he returned to recruit his Rough Riders at the hotel in 1898; and in 1905 he was back for a banquet.

The hotel was a center of San Antonio social affairs and a meeting place for visiting celebrities. It declined during the Great Depression, but since that time, it has been remodeled and restored several times and still greets scores of guests every year. Some of them, of course, never leave…

The Menger Hotel is said be called home or visited regularly by some 32 different ghosts, including former president Theodore Roosevelt. It was here, in the Menger Bar, that Roosevelt recruited hard-living cowboys to his detachment of Rough Riders. Reportedly, Teddy would sit at the bar and as the cowboys came in, he would jovially offer them a free drink (or several) as he worked his recruiting strategy upon the unsuspecting cowpoke. Many sobered up the next morning to find themselves on their way to basic military training at Fort Sam Houston before joining in the Spanish-American War. Over the years, Roosevelt has reportedly been seen having a drink at the dark little barroom off the main lobby.

The most often sighted spiritual guest is a woman named Sallie White. Long ago, Sallie was a chambermaid who worked at the hotel. Her husband was abusive and one night, March 28, 1876, he attacked her at the hotel. Badly injured, she held on for two days before dying of her injuries. Today, Sallie apparently continues to perform her duties in hotel. She has been seen numerous times wearing an old long gray skirt and a bandana around her forehead, the uniform common during her era. Primarily, appearing at night, Sallie is generally seen walking along the hotel hallways, carrying a load of clean towels for the guests.

Another apparition that is often reported is that of Captain Richard King, one time owner one of the largest ranches in the world – The King Ranch. A frequent visitor to the Menger Hotel during his lifetime, he had a personal suite within the hotel. When he learned of his impending death from his personal physicians, Captain King spent the last months of his life, wrote his will disposing of his great wealth, and bade farewell to his friends in his suite at the Menger.  On April 15, 1885, King’s funeral was held in the Menger’s parlor. Today, the room in which he stayed is called the "King Ranch Room.” He is often seen entering his old room, going right through the wall where the door was once located before it was remodeled. Display cases and photographs on the walls of the first floor lobbies provide a glimpse into the Menger’s colorful past.

And those ghosts do not walk here alone. Ghostly staff members have been seen, objects move about in the kitchen, and even soldiers from the Alamo – located next door – have wandered through the building.

Chicago, Illinois

Built in 1893 to accommodate the scores of tourists arriving in Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition, the Congress Hotel was regarded as the most elegant establishment of its kind in the city. The ballrooms and restaurants inside of the hotel were the finest in Chicago and attracted both travelers and city-dwellers to its doors. History has left quite a mark on this old hotel in the way of both triumph and tragedy - and has left a myriad of ghosts behind.

The Congress was a major attraction during the World's Fair and it was designed by Clinton Warren, a former employee of Burnham and Root, the firm that had constructed the magnificent buildings and pavilions of the White City, as the exposition had been dubbed. After the fair, the hotel began to expand. The south wing was constructed between 1902 and 1907 and part of the new construction included the Gold Room, a massive ballroom that was the first venue of this type to be air-conditioned in the city.

One floor above the Gold Room was the Florentine Room, a slightly smaller room decorated with reproductions of Italian paintings on the ceiling. This room became a favorite of politicians. It was in this room that Theodore Roosevelt made the startling announcement that he was leaving the Republican Party, under which he had served as president from 1901-1909. Six weeks later, Roosevelt was back in the Florentine Room and it served as his headquarters during a bid for presidency as the nominee of the Progressive Party, which, after a remark made by Roosevelt to reporters in the room, became known as the Bull Moose Party. The Florentine Room eventually became a popular spot for women's suffrage meetings, as well as dances, skating parties, and banquets.

Another hall, the Elizabethan Room (later re-named the Joseph Urban Room), became known all over the country when Benny Goodman played a six-month stand with his integrated orchestra in 1935-36, and, through a series of NBC broadcasts, introduced much of the nation to swing music.

But not everything about the Congress was happiness and light. The hotel had a dark side, as well. Over the years, the place has been plagued by an inordinate number of bizarre occurrences and strange deaths, many of which have led to rumors and whispers of ghosts lingering in the hotel.
In 1900, a U.S. Army officer named Captain Louis Ostheim was found in his room at the Congress, dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot to the head. He had suffered from night terrors and friends speculated that he shot himself in the middle of one of his violent nightmares. Tragically, he was supposed to be married the next morning.

Hotel guests witnessed an elevator operator fall four stories down an elevator shaft to his death in 1904. In 1908, a murder-suicide occurred over a love triangle, just outside the hotel's front door. A husband and wife, shot by a jealous lover, reconciled as they lay bleeding on the sidewalk. Also in 1908, a man named Roy Gormely came to drink in the Pompeiian Room and asked the orchestra to play "The Dead March from Saul." The conductor didn't have the music, so, instead, Gormley bought drinks for every musician - and paid for another round to be served the following Monday. Having enjoyed a drink with the band, he retired to his room and shot himself. A girl was poisoned at a party in the Pompeiian Room in 1919 and narrowly survived. The same year, opera singer Charlotte Caillies tried to commit suicide by ingesting poison in her hotel room.  In 1930, a showgirl named Jean Farrel died of mysterious causes in the hotel.  A 15-year resident of the hotel named Hoyt Smith shot himself in his room in 1932.

In 1938, a Czech refugee named Adele Langer who had been forced out of her homeland with her family when Hitler invaded went insane, purportedly because of the persecution she and her family had suffered. Out of her mind with dementia, she threw herself out of a window - taking her sons Karel, 6, and Jan, 4, with her.

And these weird stories are just a sample of the tragedy that the Congress Hotel has seen. The list of murders in the hotel is long, the list of suicides even longer, and the list of those who died of natural causes in the place longer still. Many of the murders and deaths never even made the newspapers. 

Not surprisingly, there are numerous ghosts associated with the hotel. Rumor has it that Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison and Frank Lloyd Wright all haunt the place. These rumors appear to have no basis in fact, but the staff has plenty of stories of their own. Several staff members are not shy about admitting that there are certain floors or rooms that they prefer to avoid at night.

Guests of the hotel have told of lights and especially televisions turning on and off by themselves. This activity is usually attributed to the ghost of "The Judge", one of the last elderly people to live in the hotel full time. In his declining years, the Judge would entertain himself by wheeling around in his wheelchair with a remote control, confusing people by turning their televisions off and on from the hallway outside.

There have been several reports of a little boy and girl running up and down the hallways. The boy is far more commonly seen than the girl. He has been seen all over, including in the kitchen and in guest's rooms in the middle of the night. He is most active on the 12th floor of the north wing, which is commonly said to be the spookiest floor of the hotel. There are a couple of theories as to the boy's identity - some say that he may be the ghost of Karel Langer, the six-year-old who fell to his death along with his mother and brother in 1938. Another theory is that the boy and girl are Donald and Zudel Stoddard, two children who were killed in the Iroquois Theatre Fire. Their mother spent a frantic day searching for them before retiring, semi-conscious, to her room at the hotel, where she soon learned that their bodies had been found. Some say that the ghosts are her children coming to find her.

The Gold Room, the largest remaining ballroom, is not without ghosts of its own -- a phantom piano has been seen, and a well-dressed ghostly couple is sometimes spotted overseeing the ballroom from the balcony. Shadow figures sometimes show up in photographs taken of the southeastern corner.

As spooky as the Gold Room can be, it is the Florentine Room that the staff seems to regard as the scariest. At least three security guards have reported hearing old-fashioned music coming from the room in the middle of the night. Some attribute this to music played in the room when it was used for roller skating parties years ago. Others have heard the piano in the room play of its own accord. Still others have reported seeing phantom dancers, and many have reported the feeling of a hand on their shoulder.

Regardless of who all of these ghosts might be, it's obvious that the Congress Hotel is one of the most haunted places in Chicago -- a place where guests check in, and some of them never check out!

Okawville, Illinois

The Original Springs Hotel got its start after “healing waters” were discovered under the small town of Okawville. In 1884, the wife of Reverend J.F. Schierbaum of Edwardsville came to Okawville to take in the waters. At that time, she was said to have been a hopeless invalid and had visited all of the best doctors in St. Louis, who offered her no relief from her pains and ailments. She came to Okawville, bathed in the water and was restored to perfect health. She was so overjoyed that she convinced her husband and several other ministers in the German Evangelical Church to buy water business in town and build a hotel on the site.

As the years passed, the town of Okawville and the hotel both prospered. The hotel changed owners a few times and then in 1892, burned to the ground. It was soon rebuilt and expanded and by 1898, the owners were bottling the water and shipping it out all over the state, bringing more fame to the Original Springs Hotel.

Around 1900, the hotel was sold back to Reverend Schierbaum. After his death in 1904, his family continued to run the place, making changes and expanding the operations through the early 1900s. Business continued to be brisk through 1911, when Anna Schierbaum, the Reverend’s wife, died after a lengthy illness. She had been managing the hotel since her husband’s death and it fell to her son, Ben, who had been a clerk for several years, to take over.

The following year, Ben married Alma Schulze, the daughter of C.L. Schulze, who operated a store in the brick building across the street from the hotel. Their marriage was apparently a rocky one and while no details of their troubles have been found, Alma left Ben in November 1916, not long after the hotel closed for the winter season. Not having any idea where she had gone, he spent several days searching for her. He soon returned home, depressed, and late one evening went to see her parents at their store across the street. They were unable, or unwilling, to help the young man and he returned to the empty hotel.

Five days later, a traveling salesman, who had been looking for another hotel in town and was directed to the Original Springs by mistake, walked into the lobby of the place. Even though the hotel had been closed for the season, he found the front door unlocked and he called out to see if anyone was around. After a short search, he found the body of Ben Schierbaum, slumped against a wall. He had killed himself with a single shotgun blast. Several letters and his wife’s photograph were lying on the floor. Ben had taken his own life in despair over losing his beloved Alma.

The hotel was sold off in 1919 and began a period of decline that resulted in the hotel becoming a hang-out for Southern Illinois gangsters during the 1920s. The Great Depression caused hardship all over America but it actually revived Okawville and the hotel. Radio ads brought in large crowds from St. Louis and the surrounding area. The hotel was constantly filled during the early 1930s but started to slack off by 1933. Business became so bad that owner, Conrad Paeben, committed suicide by poisoning himself. The management of the hotel was taken over by two of its employees, Tom Rogers and Louis Elardin. With the help of a local banker, they were able to keep the hotel open.

The hotel continued to draw weekend visitors, even during the difficult days of World War II, but it far from the capacity crowds of the hotel’s heyday. Owner Tom Rogers became known for being increasingly stranger and more eccentric. He took to wandering the empty corridors of the hotel each night until one morning in March 1962, he was discovered lying dead in one of the upstairs rooms. A search for heirs was started but none were ever found. His estate was settled in October of that year and the hotel was sold to Albert and Doris Krohne, who updated the hotel and saw a rise in business.

The last change in ownership for the Original Springs occurred in May 1990 when the Krohne’s sold out to the present owners, Don and Mary Rennegarbe, who continue working to restore the hotel to its former glory. The Original Springs has weathered fires, the Great Depression, suicides, changes in management, two world wars and the changing tastes of the American people and through it all, the hotel still stands as a monument to the past.  Even today, people come here from all over the region to take in the healing Okawville waters and to soak up some of the ambience of days gone by. Healing waters and good food are not the only things that people come here looking for either – some come looking for ghosts. And thanks to the unusual history of the hotel, and the colorful parade of characters that has passed through it, ghosts are something that many of them find.

Over the years, many apparitions have been seen, notably a woman in a white dress from the 1910s. Staff members and desk clerks started to tell of strange noises that they heard in the building at night, including pacing footsteps in otherwise empty hallways, figures that were sometimes seen out of the corner of the eye, doors that opened and closed by themselves, the tinkling sound of old-time music that echoed in the corridors and as one of the employees recently told me, the constant feeling “of someone watching you.” Many of the staff members at the hotel refuse to go upstairs and into the older wing at night. They have often heard strange noises in some of the locked rooms, as well as footsteps tapping in the hallways. One particularly unsettling room is a large suite that was converted from three smaller rooms. Coincidence or not –- one of those rooms was where former owner Tom Rogers was found dead back in March 1962.

Who haunts the Original Springs Hotel? Could the figures seen here, as well as the odd sounds that are heard, simply be memories from the past, repeating themselves over and over again? Or could there be conscious spirits from the glory days of the hotel, simply refusing to cross over to the other side? Might Ben Schierbaum, Tom Rogers or other characters from the building’s history still be lingering here? And if so, who is the mysterious woman in white who has been seen on numerous occasions? Perhaps she is Alma Schierbaum, Ben’s wife, still haunting the hotel where her husband met his tragic end --- trapped by guilt over having been the reason for his death.

Excelsior Springs, Missouri

In 1888, the Excelsior Springs Company built the first Elms Hotel amidst the rolling lands and lush trees on the edge of a small town that was also known for its “healing waters.” It was strategically located close to the salt of a mineral well that was already a popular tourist attraction. The three-story hotel hosted scores of visitors every season, offering large, shaded verandas on all four sides, a live orchestra, large heated swimming pool, bowling alley, billiards room, a target range for skeet shooting and a four-lane bowling alley.

Unfortunately, in 1898, the beautiful hotel was destroyed by fire. Although no one was injured, the structure was a total loss. The fire began in the basement in the Elms bakery and quickly spread throughout the building. Fire crews were quickly sent to the scene but could do little to stop the blaze because the coupling on the fire hoses didn’t fit on the hydrants located near the Elms.

Plans were made to rebuild the place but due to various delays, construction did not begin on the new Elms until 1908. In July 1909, the new Elms had its second grand opening and the popularity of the place continued to spread – but only for two short years. On October 29, 1910, the hotel burned down again. Following a large party in the Grand Ballroom, a boiler ignited and spread a fire throughout the interior and set the roof ablaze. The hotel was lost once again, but thankfully, no one was killed – no guests anyway. Rumor has it that staff members who were working on the boiler in the basement died in the blaze. Their ghosts are still said to be haunting the hotel, banging on the pipes in the walls. Those who have dismissed such stories as nothing more than pipes that make noise when the heat turns on have to be told that those pipes are no longer connected to the heating system.

Once again, the owners were determined to rebuild. In order to do this, they had to sell off some of the property surrounding the hotel to raise the funds. Work began on the new structure soon after, this time working to make the hotel as fire-proof as possible. Missouri limestone was used for the principal work, along with steel frames and reinforced concrete. The hotel had its final grand opening on September 7, 1912, drawing a crowd of more than 3,000 people.

Business at the hotel boomed during the Prohibition era, since it earned a reputation as a very popular speakeasy, serving alcohol during a time when it was illegal across the country. The Elms attracted all sorts of guests during this time, from average folks to the cream of Kansas City society. It also played host to a number of gangsters, including Chicago mobster Al Capone, who was known to conduct all-night drinking and gambling parties in his suite of rooms. Whenever he stayed at the Elms, Capone would line up all of the staff members when he was ready to depart and tip each of them with a $100 bill. Needless to say, he was one of the more popular guests of the 1920s.

One of the guests from this era has never checked out of the hotel. He is reportedly a ghost that haunts the European lap pool, killed during the violent Prohibition days. Gangsters often stored their booze and held parties in a blocked-off section of the hotel and this unlucky spirit was a man who crossed the wrong bootlegger and got a bullet for his trouble. During prohibition, the gangsters used to store their liquor and hold their all-night gambling parties in these blocked off rooms. The spirit is said to be that of man killed by the mob during one of these illegal drinking events.

During the Depression, the hotel fell on hard times and closed down for a time. In the late 1930s, though, it was open again and thrived during the World War II, again both hosting famous guests and ordinary people who came to take in the legendary waters. During the 1948 presidential election, Harry S. Truman sought refuge at the hotel when it appeared that he was losing his re-election bid. However, in the wee hours of the morning, he was awakened by his aides informing him that he had, in fact, won the election. A short time later, he was photographed holding the now-famous copy of the Chicago Tribune that mistakenly declared Dewey the winner. 

The year 1961 dealt a serious blow to the Elms when the U.S. government ruled that mineral water treatments could no longer be covered by insurance. People largely stopped coming to town and most of the local water sources were capped. Other hotels in town were closed, boarded up and abandoned – but not the Elms. While much of Excelsior Springs was closed down, the old hotel has managed to endure, fully restored to its former glory and still hosting hundreds of guests every year. And many of those guests simply never leave.

The Elms seems to be filled with unearthly guests. Both guests and staff report the feeling of mysterious presences throughout the building. A chandelier has been reported shaking in the Grand Ballroom and once, a manager chased the sound of a phantom vacuum cleaner as it traveled about one floor of the hotel. Could it have been in the ghostly hands of the maid who has been seen in the 1920s-style uniform? She has been seen many times by guests and employees and staffers feel that she is only there to watch today’s housekeeping staff to ensure that they are doing their work correctly.

Another resident ghosts seems to be that of a former guest. The spectral woman walks through the hotel looking for her child. Distressed, she has been known to pull people’s hair or throw things across the room in despair.

There are two allegedly “haunted rooms” at the Elms, Room 505 and Room 501. The presence in Room 505 is said to have once bumped a staff member and then locked him inside of the room. According to reports, the employee eventually managed to get out of the room but refused to ever go back into it again.

One early morning, around 2:00 a.m., the hotel’s fire alarm went off and a phone at the front desk began ringing while everyone was waiting for the fire department to arrive. There was no one on the other end of the line. It rang again and once more, there was no one there. The call was coming from Room 501. One of the front desk managers went up to the room, but it was empty. Thinking that perhaps there was something wrong with the line, he unplugged the phone from the wall and went back downstairs. Before he made it to the desk, staff members reported that the telephone had rang once again – after he had unplugged it.

Who haunts the Elms? Staff members from the past, former guests, or both? While their identity may remain a mystery, it’s no surprise that they chose to stay behind at this fascinating and atmospheric spot, where the past is never far away from the present.