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Historic ‘haunted’ hotels embrace lore, but offer more

Hoteliers at properties known for their haunted histories share how they embrace tales of the supernatural in their marketing while still welcoming guests who aren’t interested in ghost stories and sightings.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Harvey Parker opened his hotel in 1855 and was involved with operations until his death in 1884—but some would say his presence is still felt in the hotel to this day.

Larry Horwitz, executive director for Historic Hotels of America, said Parker’s Boston hotel, now known as the Omni Parker House, is one of the longest-operating hotels in the United States, and guests have reported sightings of the original owner.

“People for over 100 years have reported seeing somebody to help them along the way,” he said. “They couldn’t find the right room (and would say), ‘this nice man helped me.’ When they saw a picture of him downstairs, (staff) would say, ‘that’s Harvey Parker; he’s been dead since 1884.’”

Historic Hotels of America has been documenting haunted hotels for more than 20 years, but in 2012 it started compiling these spooky places into official lists such as the “Top 25 most haunted historic hotels.”

This year’s list of haunted hotels can be found here. Also check out HNN’s interactive map of haunted hotels in the U.S.

There are a few qualifications hotels have to meet to make a haunted hotels list with Historic Hotels of America, Horwitz said. The hotel has to document paranormal sightings and experiences and mention them on its website. From there, Historic Hotels looks to see if other third parties have documented sightings or if stories and sightings told by the hotel match up with events and people in history, he said.

An example of this is the Concord’s Colonial Inn in Concord, Massachusetts. Spirits have been reported at the hotel, which was once a private home that housed wounded soldiers during the Battle of Concord in the Revolutionary War, he said.

“The history books have documented that in the Battle of Concord, 49 (American) people (were) killed in that first battle … 39 were wounded, so it makes sense to us when they say over the last century people report hearing or seeing spirits of people who fought at the Battle of Concord.”

To help haunted hotels with marketing efforts, Horwitz said Historic Hotels places a ghost icon next to properties in its annual directory and digital directory at the request of the hotel. The icon signals those hotels have been reported by others to be haunted, he said.

The Lord Baltimore Hotel
Another hotel on the list, the Lord Baltimore Hotel was built in 1928 and was said to be one of the tallest buildings in the city during that time.

Twenty-two reports of “jumpers” are documented from around the time of the Great Depression from the hotel’s 19th floor, said Lee Johnson-Lowe, director of sales at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. It’s said that a couple attended an event at the hotel during the Great Depression with their daughter, Molly, and all three jumped to their deaths. Today, guests have reported seeing Molly in the hallways and sometimes in the hotel’s ballroom.

Ghost stories and sightings aren’t for everyone, which is why the hotel staff is careful about touting its haunted past, Johnson-Lowe said.

“We do have little storybooks throughout the hotel, we do have a little hint in our elevator that shares a little teaser, but most often, the stories are done through guests engaging with the staff,” he said. “We focus heavily on history. When history comes up and the jumpers come up during (talk about) the Great Depression, it’s natural to mention the ghost. Depending upon reaction, we continue on. If it’s not something (guests) are interested in, then we don’t.”

He said the hotel welcomes paranormal investigators four to six times a year to do investigations, which helps market the hotel.

“They do their investigation, and then of course, they put that out on their social media and to their audience,” he said.

The hotel really plays up its history during the fall, starting with National Ghost Hunting Day, on the last Saturday of every September. Investigators come in to do ghost hunts and the hotel also has ghost tours as a fundraiser for a charity organization, he said.

He added that all ghostly events at the hotel are more for marketing purposes than a revenue stream.

La Concha Hotel & Spa Key West
Multiple ghosts are said to haunt the La Concha Hotel & Spa Key West in Key West, Florida, with the most famous of them being Ernest Hemingway.

Mike Rice, GM of La Concha, said Hemingway spent a lot of time in the hotel and requested to stay in the same suite each time he visited.

“After his passing, the hotel recognized the room as the ‘Hemingway Suite,’” Rice said in an email interview. “Guests who dared to spend the night in his room were frequently awakened in the night by moving objects and the TV being turned on.”

The hotel has also been the site of a few tragedies over the years. In the 1980s, a waiter who was helping clean up a New Year’s Eve party accidentally backed into an open elevator shaft and fell to his death. Today, guests report hearing his screams and “whimpering sounds from unknown spirits,” Rice said.

Rice added that the hotel, which is the tallest in Key West, “has also served as the location of a number of suicides.”

“We used to house a rooftop bar, and one story tells of a man who ordered a glass of white wine, drank the wine and then jumped to his death,” he said. “Over the years, bartenders have claimed to have white wine knocked out of their hands, possibly as the amusement of the ghost.”

In addition to its haunted happenings, the hotel is situated in the heart of the island.

Some guests visit the hotel seeking a supernatural experience while others are drawn to the hotel for its proximity to Key West entertainment. The staff at the hotel aims to cater to both, Rice said.

“Whether a guest is visiting to manifest a supernatural experience of their own or just to enjoy the easy access to lively Duval Street, La Concha Hotel & Spa’s tropical, colonial architecture and contemporary comforts provide a versatile experience that complements any occasion,” he said.

Fall is the busiest time of the year for the hotel, not because of its haunted past, but because that’s when the annual Key West Fantasy Fest takes place, he said. The hotel has balconies that overlook Duval Street where parades and other festivities around the event take place, which brings in guests from across the country, he said.

Key West does host ghost tours, and La Concha is a stop along the way, Rice said. The hotel does not offer special packages or promotions around the tours, but the hotel staff is happy to talk about the supernatural history of the hotel with anyone who stops in, he said.

“We pride ourselves on providing the absolute best guest experience with comfortable accommodations. … While we will never be able to prove the ghost stories our beloved guests share over the years are undeniably true, we have been pleased to see the tales become an official part of our hotel’s history and culture,” he said.