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.
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.
HOTEL DEL CORONADO
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.
ST. JAMES HOTEL
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.
CONGRESS PLAZA HOTEL
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!
ORIGINAL SPRINGS HOTEL
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.
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