Going down? Hotel Monterey (1972) in New York City. Image Source: She Blogged By Night.
Now, here is an odd coincidence. A few days ago when I was writing this piece on haunted hotels, I kept thinking all morning of a friend of mine who is a travel writer. I wondered if he has seen any ghosts in his many travels, especially at inns and B. & B.s. Later that night, we happened to chat online. He mentioned he was staying, at that moment, in a haunted hotel. He described where he was (the residential part of the hotel was a converted house), and what was happening (noises, poltergeist activity in the room). The management jokingly mentioned the house was haunted. I suggested maybe they were responsible, but he didn't think so. He said no one else was there in the building. He said, "I can't believe I am live chatting a real haunting." I talked to him through the night to keep him company. "Just remember, you're not alone," I said. He said, "I know. That's the problem."
We shared some personal stories about hauntings that have rational, scientific explanations. The thing that seems to make 'haunted' experiences transcend their explanations is the feelings they inspire. For example: the sensation of being watched; or an electric, really bad, unsettled mood in a location.
I have only two personal haunted stories to tell. One of them is partly described here. The other involved a ghostly hotel. Years ago, I was backpacking through Scotland with a friend of mine. We got into Edinburgh late, as the sun was setting. We had not booked ahead and there was some kind of civic holiday going on, so all the hotels in or near the centre that we could afford were full.
Finally, I found a Bed and Breakfast right near the end of our list. It was in a district quite far from the centre of town, and they had one room available. By the time we got there, it was almost dark. It was superficially a modern house, but inside the walls were quite thick and made of stone. The doorways were arched. The building gave the impression of being much older, possibly early modern, beneath refurbishments.
We checked in and were directed upstairs to our room. The key was a large, old-fashioned, handmade key. The door was a thick wooden door with iron bracing and big iron hinges. The room was dingy and damp (it had a small shower installed in the corner) with two single beds against the opposite wall with about three feet between them. That night, I had a dream about a woman in a long white gown, wrapped head to toe in bright green lace over the gown and her hair and face. She was sort of luminous. I could see through the holes in the lace that she had white skin and long black hair. She stood at the foot of my bed watching me all night long. I could see her eyes, shining bright green like emeralds through the lace. There was an incredibly malevolent light in her eyes. I can remember it even now quite clearly, not a pleasant memory. It felt like I kept falling asleep and half waking up and seeing her. It was not how I would have imagined an encounter with a ghost as in the movies, a melodramatic experience. The green lady was just there. Her presence was extremely threatening. The mood in the place was bad, unsettled and electric. I had an indelible sense that the phantom was Irish.
In the morning, my friend who was sleeping in the other bed, woke up and told me, before I said anything, that she had had a nightmare about a woman standing at the foot of her bed all night.
I tried to chalk it up to us both having seen the same image somewhere the previous day. I am not, or try not to be, superstitious, but I was very unnerved and rushed the next morning to leave. My friend wanted to ask the hotel staff about it. But I didn't want to. I wanted to get the hell out of there. I had no desire to stay one second longer in the building. In retrospect, this was the aspect that made the experience genuine. I was not curious, and I was accutely aware, then and now, that that was out of character. Normally, I would have asked about the history of the building. Years later, researchers from the Koestler Parapsychology Unit interviewed me about this incident, which was apparently unusual because a second witness observed the phantom.
And after that, I found out about sleep paralysis as a verified scientific phenomenon (see my post on that here); when I read about it, I was relieved. Having a rare, horrific waking REM hallucination is only slightly better than being confronted by a hostile undead entity. But underneath that, the desire to find a rational explanation only bolstered my uneasiness that this was something truly nasty that could not be simply explained. And that, my friends, is a true haunted hotel story.
Below are some great creepy photos of hotels that have paranormal reputations. Hotels' anonymity, their function as a human crossroads, their troubling histories, all combined with the experience of sleep, a moment of private vulnerability, conjure up phantoms. In the movie 1408, based on the Stephen King short story about a cynical writer who reviews haunted hotels, the hero's skepticism is rooted in his conviction that hotel keepers gain added revenue from claiming their property is haunted. So do haunted hotels pay? And are ghost hunting investigations on television and the internet merely part of hotel publicity? My friend the travel writer says that in some cases, hotels do try to bank on guests' and staff members' reports of paranormal activity. Sometimes, they openly try to create them. In other cases, they want to play down the rumours and conceal them.
Hotel Monterey (1972) in New York City. Image Source: But What She Said.
There are two Hotel Montereys with haunted reputations. One is in New York City, the other in California. In 1972, the fledgling Belgian film maker Chantal Akerman made her first feature in the New York hotel, which: "was apparently built around 1909, and by the time of ... Akerman's 1972 silent experimental film, had been turned into lower-rent apartments in the midst of a somewhat run-down neighborhood."
Hotel Monterey (1972) in New York City. Image Source: She Blogged By Night.
Hotel Monterey (1972) in New York City. Image Source: Vancouver Art Gallery.
Akerman experimented with holding the camera still for long periods, sometimes focusing on the hotel's few guests, sometimes emphasizing the building's emptiness. It was this technique that engendered a psychological tension: "The result is minimalist yet rich: the viewer, wandering these mostly vacant hallways, elevators, and bedrooms, grows hyperaware of her or his own physical presence. A hotel is a place meant to be occupied, yet this one is largely drained of visible people, so it often seems like a way station on the road to some netherworld. At a little more than an hour in length, Hotel Monterey was Akerman’s first sustained experiment in duration. Her interest in making the viewer engage with the passage of time, as well as the boundaries of space, would fuel the rest of her films in the 1970s."
Akerman's technique is something that has long fascinated me. Just playing with perspective is enough to create psychological discomfort, which I've blogged about here. Whether that involves staring at something for a long time until it begins to reveal its secrets - until you start to notice little details that a flighty attention span will usually miss - or having a camera take a 'bird of prey' angle, or seeing something watching you, off in the distance, it's enough to give you chills without anything actually happening. Our minds fill in all the blanks.
Hotel Monterey (1972) in New York City. Image Source: But What She Said.
A reviewer explains how the film builds a sense of growing unease:
The film may have influenced David Lynch's Inland Empire (2006). The technique of freezing the camera for several minutes on a stationary subject without the dramatic help of any music, or any noise at all, has often been used by Sofia Coppola, especially in the film Somewhere (2010).Just over an hour, Hotel Monterey is an intoxicating formalist experiment. Akerman shoots footage throughout a hotel from evening until dawn, usually an extended, static shot, but occasionally she’ll bungee down a hallway and back. With no sound, not even a score, the film is essentially a tour of an often eerily deserted building, starting at its inviting lobby bar where patrons stroll past the camera working up to a room that seems empty until the disturbing surprise of its guest and building to the roof where we breathe deep the morning air and luxuriate in the surroundings of familiar civilization. It’s the oldest haunted house story in the book, and we survived until morning.
Hotel Monterey isn’t exactly as frightening as all that, but after minutes at a time staring down a long, dilapidated corridor or holding on a floor whose doors ever so subtly rattle in reaction to the air conditioning, you can’t help but get the creeps. I mentally supplied the drone of the air, the hum of the lights, the creak of the floors. Meanwhile, the occupants are sometimes ignorant of the camera, as in an elevator scene with the biggest scare—we’re in the dark inside as the doors close on a woman racing to make it in time, and suddenly an arm reaches across our view from the left and is just as quickly supplemented by a neighbor on the right—and sometimes they gaze at the camera with the stillness of a living portrait, usually the guests in their rooms.
From Chantal Akerman's film, Hotel Monterey, portraying the NYC hotel in 1972. Video Source: Youtube.
Caption for the above video [music was added on Youtube, the original film is silent]: "In the first of Akerman's longer feature films the camera becomes the actress who, with extended takes and tracking-shots, is moved through the empty spaces of the New York hotel of the same name—creating an architectural study likewise a psychic space."
Come and stay the night. Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, USA (for the history of the hotel, go here). Image Source: Haunted Sites in North America.
Caption for the above photograph: Labeled as America's most haunted resort hotel this location used to be a former school for girls, then a summer hotel and a hospital certainly is one of the most haunted hotels in the southern US. Dr. Norman Baker ran a very controversial hospital and health resort here in the 1930's promising miracle cures which consisted mostly of just drinking pure spring water. Dr. Baker was a inventor and not a doctor at all (apparently he was run out of the state of Iowa for practicing medicine without a license). This time as a fraud hospital seems to be the origin of most of the paranormal activity still witnessed to this day.
Michael, an Irish stonemason, fell from the roof to his death and now haunts room 218 which is on the spot where he met the floor. He is said to bang on the walls and turn the TV on and off in this room. Rooms 202 and 424 are also said to be centers of paranormal activity. Dr. Baker seems to be unable to leave his hospital and is often seen outside of the recreation room looking confused. A nurse in an old fashioned white uniform has been seen wandering on the third floor. A woman in room 419 has introduced herself to both staff and guests as a cancer patient before disappearing right before their eyes. A ghost of man hangs out in the lobby bar or at the bottom of the stairs. A butler has been witnessed carrying a tray on the elevator and following a group taking a ghost tour out at the third floor before disappearing. In the dining room apparitions are seen in Victorian clothing either sitting at the tables or in the mirrors. In one particular incident staff left a Christmas Tree and presents in the locked dining room only to return to find everything set up in a semi-circle. There also a story of a female patient who was molested by a doctor and jumped to her death from a second floor balcony and now wanders the building. Other stories concern a man pushing his wife to her death down the stairs and of a school girl being pushed to her death from a window. Dr. Baker is also seen in the basement where it is said he buried his cancer patients underneath the morgue floor so as not to tarnish his reputation as a miracle healer. Dr. Baker also owned 2 St. Bernards who supposedly still haunt the hotel; guests have reported the feeling of being licked by phantom cold tongues. The ghosts of two old ladies are said to pull rocking chairs into the hall at night and have a conversation.
Nowadays, tourists actually build their vacations around visiting or staying in haunted hotels and castles. Ghosts are part of the attraction. Visitors take electronic gadgets to capture proof of spectres. Having had one creepy hotel experience of this nature, I don't understand why travelers would go looking for trouble, but maybe they don't know any better. Below are a few examples.
Decked with haint blue, which doesn't keep out the haints: Haunted Myrtles Plantation, St. Francisville, Louisiana. Image Source: Strange News Daily Blog.
On Haunted Myrtles Plantation: "It was a spectacular place to stay, if you keep an open mind. While taking the guided tour, I saw what looked like a heavyset African-American woman wearing an apron walk by the door, on the porch. Thinking it was a worker in period dress, I peeked out and no one was there. We stayed in the children's bedroom, and my best-friend (who was a non-believer at the time) experienced quite a bit of paranormal phenomena. She was held down in the bed and constantly poked all night. She was unable to move or cry out for help. She didn't think the stay was as great as I did. They let you ghost hunt on the grounds whenever you like, but you can't ghost hunt in the main house without an escort. I suggest setting up a video camera in your room and bring a tape recorder to obtain EVP."
Inveraray Castle, haunted seat of the head of the Campbell clan. Image Source: Hotel Club Travel Blog.
Equestrian vacations offers "Scotland's Valley of Ghosts Ride": "There isn’t a more perfect place than Scotland to surround yourself in the Halloween spirit. Ride along ancient haunted drove roads through the “valley of ghosts” – a valley of ancient burial cairns, some of which can be entered if you dare! You will also pass “Temple Wood” a 5000 year-old stone circle bubbling with mystery and a dark history. Tour Inverary Castle, home of the Duke of Argyll and the ghostly 'Harper of Inverary.' The Duke is long gone, but the Harper remains—in the form of a noisy apparition of a victim hanged long ago. You’ll dine in the Castle’s eerie basement kitchen, and enjoy a guided evening tour of the haunted Inverary Jail. We recommend taking a sweater as there are reports of unexplained temperature drops within certain areas of the old prison!
Ride carefully, as the guardian spirits of the trees, the Ghillie Dhu, protect the ancient woodlands you enter as you ride to the ruin of Carnasserie Castle, the 16th century home of Bishop Carswell with high fortified towers and steeped in Scottish legend. Steady your nerves before exploring the ruin – the nooks and crannies are hidey holes for all sorts of ghouls that don’t want to be seen!
Along these trails you’ll even stop for lunch at a deserted bothy at the village of Carron and build a fire. The fire is ideal for warming your lunch, but more importantly it keeps the evil spirits at bay.
A traditional Burns Supper awaits you back at the farm on your last night – complete with a Piper accompaniment and an array of Scottish delights such as Haggis and Ale, and of course a wee dram of whiskey to ease your frightened spirits before heading back home! ... Cost: $3799 per person."
Glamis Castle Crypt, Shakespeare used as the model for Macbeth's castle. The Ogilvie family are rumoured to have been walled up alive inside it and left to starve to death. Image Source: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
Description of the Castle Crypt, above: "The castle’s Crypt is said to contain a secret chamber in which ‘Earl Beardie’, the 4th Earl of Crawford, lost his soul to the Devil over a game of cards. The legend goes that the Earl, having already lost at cards against his host, the Earl of Glamis, returned to his rooms in a drunken rage calling for another partner. As it was now the Sabbath, no one would take up the offer and the Earl cried out that he would play the Devil himself.
Later that night a tall stranger in dark clothes arrived at the castle and asked if the Earl still required a partner. The Earl agreed and the two retired to the secret room to begin their game. The ghost of the Earl is said to remain in the chamber, gambling with the Devil for all eternity, and visitors to the castle have reported hearing loud swearing and the rattling of dice.
The crypt forms one of the oldest parts of the castle and was, in fact, used as the servants’ dining hall. Like much of Glamis it has undergone several alterations over the centuries. A stone well, once the only source of water within the castle, can still be seen at the foot of the stairs."
Paranormal Tours pushes Glamis Castle: "Glamis Castle is one of the most well known and most haunted castles in Scotland if not in the UK. There are many stories, legends and alleged hauntings about this site. Owned by the Earls of Strathmore, the Bowes-Lyon family, given as a gift by Robert de Bruce in 1372. It was also the birthplace of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.
There are many alleged ghosts in and around the castle from a servant boy who haunts the Queen's bedroom to the spirit of Lady Janet Douglas who is attributed to the castles 'Grey Lady'. Lady Janet was burned at the stake as a witch in Edinburgh 1537 accused of plotting to poison the King. She is said to be seen haunting the family chapel and above the clock tower on numerous occasions.
There is also the phantom of an unknown woman pointing to her mutilated face, her tongue having been cut out! One of the more infamous tales is that of Earl Beardie. He is said to wander all over the castle, people waking to see him peering at them in bed.
It is said that he is imprisoned in the castle and is destined to gamble for all eternity with the Devil, people hearing the rolling of dice, shouting and swearing from within a secret room! It is also in this secret room that the bodies from murders and consipiricies are said to be hidden. Visit Glamis at your own peril!"
Ghosts are big business. The Guardian travel section recommends top 10 haunted places to visit in the UK. HauntedHouse.com has an entire directory of reportedly haunted locations where you can stay the night (see here). Lantern Ghost Tours, an Australian company, combines paranormal investigations of haunted towns and houses with vacation packages. Specifically staying in a hotel, house, or castle with the hope of encountering ghosts remains a big attraction. Real British Ghosts advises: "You can also discover details of real haunted places to stay. Spending a night or two in a haunted room, in my opinion, offers you the best chance of experiencing real ghosts." See suggestions for haunted accommodation here, here, here and here.
Image Source: Haunted Places to Go.
The centre of Washington Irving's famous Legend, Sleepy Hollow NY, has its Tarrytown Chamber of Commerce here; the village offers a Hallowe'en Hayride. A list of its hauntings is here. The whole region is famous for its ghosts, with lots of haunted hotels to choose from.
There's even a false Web rumour going around on tour sites claiming that the US Government once had a certified list of 'official haunted houses' as determined by the 'Department of Commerce.' This rumour is repeated with great authority on ghost sites. It was thoroughly debunked by Salon.com here as a fun, early pamphlet on 'ghostly' places people might like to visit. But this little publication in no way constituted the US Government's official recognition of the existence of supernatural occurrences, as some sites would have Web surfers believe.
Perhaps the crowning glory of the haunted hotel is a true Millennial novelty: the fake haunted hotel. The recession has seen developers move into many crumbling factories and other similar abandoned institutions (asylums, hotels, houses) and turning them into giant fake haunted resorts. Visitors pay sizeable sums to be scared right out of their wits by actors dressed up as ghosts, zombies, vampires and monsters, while they (the guests) role play in ghosted-up environments. A good example is Wolfe Manor Hotel on Andleberry Estate in California. Its reputation is being established by a ghost hunt investigation by Jeff Dwyer (see here).
Wolfe Manor: The Making of a Haunted Hotel, Part 1. Video Source: Youtube.
Caption for the above video (2007): "Zombie House Productions has teamed up with Todd Wolfe who is the owner and director of the Andleberry Estate better known as the Insane Asylumn/Scream If You Can Haunted House. Located in Clovis, California.
Todd Wolfe has been scaring and entertaining the people from all around the state of California for the last nine Halloweens. Unfortunantly the city of Clovis, California put a hault on the Halloween event. Everyone thought that it was the end of this amazing historical landmark until Todd Wolfe contacted Zombie House Productions.
Everything was filmed on location in Clovis and Fresno, California. Todd Wolfe's main goal is to capture the true and eerie reality that once took place at the Andleberry Estate. We hope everyone is as excited as we are about this once in a life time opportunity for half of the historical estate will be torn down and rebult into a grand hotel. Welcome to Wolfe Manor!"
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