Haunted hotels' ghost stories can be good for business
Ygnacio Salinas says he won't forget his brush with a ghost in a Marriott hotel room in Minneapolis during a business trip three years ago.
Sitting alone on a bed working on his laptop, he saw a man more than 6 feet tall wearing a fedora and a long coat. "I did a double-take, and he was gone," says Salinas, who lives in Yorba Linda, Calif., and consults for a computer manufacturer.
Salinas says he later stood up for a drink, and something shoved his left shoulder, pushing him into a wall between the living area and the kitchenette. A few hours later, he awakened to see the same ghostly character wearing clothing from a bygone era staring at him from the foot of the bed.
Salinas' experience — of seeing what he's sure was a ghost or coming in contact with unexplained activity in a hotel — is far from unique. Many frequent travelers, ordinary businessmen and women, and well-known people such as professional athletes, say they've had similarly strange and paranormal experiences on the road. Earlier this year, for instance, New York Knicks basketball player Eddy Curry said he didn't sleep well before a road game because an Oklahoma City hotel was haunted.
Hotels have long served as settings for ghost stories, and many are reputed to be haunted. Horror writer Stephen King helped popularize the notion of haunted hotels when he wrote The Shining, inspired by the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo. Author Bruce Raisch, who wrote Haunted Hotels of the West, says Arizona alone has 24 with the reputation. Hotels are part of ghost tours in New Orleans, San Antonio and other cities.
Some hotels, such as the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Ark., are proud of their reputation for being haunted. The Crescent advertises it in hopes of attracting the curious. Other hoteliers dismiss guests' tales and would just as soon the notion that they're harboring ghosts be exorcised for fear of scaring guests away.
"It's a touchy subject," says Charlyn Keating Chisholm, a travel writer who lists haunted hotels on the About.com website. "Some hotels fear it will scare off customers, and others worry guests who are looking for a supernatural event will feel cheated if they don't experience one."
Chisholm says she's noticed that more hotels are becoming comfortable with going public with ghost stories.
That could coincide with what Dave Howe, president of the Syfy television network, says is growing public interest in the paranormal. He says his Ghost Hunters show, which has investigated reports of sightings in hotels, has "tapped into a phenomenon that's universal." It's opened the door for at least seven other TV shows dealing with the paranormal. A new iPhone and iPod Touch application, Ghost Radar, has even been designed to detect paranormal activity.
Whether a growing interest in the topic is leading to more reports of ghosts or making it easier for people to relate their experiences, there's little doubt that many frequent travelers have plenty of stories of the supernatural from the road.
Elizabeth Toedt, a pilot from Olympia, Wash., who flies for a company that operates private jets, says she's had plenty of paranormal experiences.
Toedt says she has felt cold spots and electrical tingling or heard "vague whisperings" in numerous rooms in old hotels worldwide. She's had them at newer ones, too. At the fairly modern Hilton Savannah DeSoto in Savannah, Ga., Toedt says she's seen movement out of the corner of her eyes in the lobby and in the third-floor hallway when no one else was there. She says she's also heard "very soft whispering noises" echoing behind and next to her.
Toedt, who has spent more than 100 nights at the hotel since 1987, also believes one of the elevators has "a mind of its own." She says it's frequently gone to floors unselected and then stopped when she commanded it to stop.
Something dangerously eerie
Rodney Musselman, the hotel's general manager, says he's worked at the hotel for 15 years and never had anyone report paranormal activity to him. A guest, though, recently posted such activity on the TripAdvisor website, he says. In the post dated Jan. 21, an unidentified woman from Acworth, Ga., wrote that she was awakened by the toilet seat opening and closing, sounds of feet on the carpet and "cracking noises." A "small, childlike arm and hand" moved her hair away from her face and then vanished, she wrote.
At the Crescent in Eureka Springs, Beth Shibley of Burgaw, N.C., says she came across something dangerously eerie at the hotel that raises the question of whether it's "America's Most Haunted Resort Hotel," as it says on its website.
Shibley, 42, says that while sleeping in a double bed with her mother there in April, something held down her legs and arms and began suffocating her.
"It was like a great force of intense pressure pressing down over my whole body, and I couldn't breathe," Shibley, who works as a graphic artist, says of the 2 a.m. experience.
Shibley says her heart was pounding and, in desperation, she tapped her mother. The suffocating feeling stopped, she says, and she could move again. But there was a bad smell in the air, like a mixture of sulfur and the smell of earth and sweat after working in a garden. About 30 minutes later, something grabbed her ankles and pulled her halfway down the bed under the blankets, she says.
Bill Ott, the hotel's director of marketing and communications since 1997, has never seen a ghost but says he doesn't understand what happened there one night several years ago. He and two staff members of the Deal Or No DealTV show were alone in the hotel's dining room. They heard three or four people laughing in the room for 25 to 30 seconds, though no one else was in the room or in an adjacent lobby and kitchen, Ott says. Josh Silberman, a former producer for the TV show, was there and confirms the incident.
"It freaks me out to think about it," Silberman says. "The place was creepy. When you walk up stairs, it feels like you're being chased."
At the Crescent, paranormal researchers Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, stars of the Ghost Hunters show, say they caught on a thermal-imaging camera "the Holy Grail" of paranormal investigation: "a full-body apparition" wearing a hat and nodding. In 20 years of investigating paranormal activity at all locales, a full-body apparition has been captured on the camera only eight to 10 times, Hawes says.
Reports of ghostly activity at the Crescent have been good for business, Ott says. "The haunted reputation gives us awareness."
Other hotels, such as the Hotel Provincial, situated a few blocks from Bourbon Street in New Orleans' French Quarter, say having a reputation for ghostly activity is good for business.
The Provincial "may have shied away years ago" from publicizing the hotel's haunted reputation, says Bryan Dupepe, the owner and general manager. "But I definitely believe over the past few years the fascination with hauntings and ghosts has helped our business."
Dupepe says his family has owned the hotel since the early 1960s, and they haven't noticed any paranormal activity. Guests and employees, though, have reported it. The most frequent involves an apparition of a woman who may be a nurse, he says.
Cassy Scrima, marketing director for The Pfister Hotel and two other Milwaukee hotels, says an equal number of people book The Pfister or stay away because of its reputation.
The Pfister, which opened its doors in 1893, most recently added to its haunted reputation last summer when Minnesota Twins baseball outfielder Carlos Gomez said he was scared to stay in his room there because he heard voices and noises. Gomez, who now plays for the Milwaukee Brewers, ran from his room to the lobby in 2008 after his iPod started playing with a static noise, suddenly changed to music and turned to static again.
At some hotels, more than guests say strange occurrences are common. At The Heathman Hotel in Portland, Ore., for example, the staff has no doubt the hotel is haunted. "I guarantee that if I asked the question, half my team would say they encountered a ghost," says Chris Erickson, The Heathman's general manager, who has never seen one.
According to legend, Erickson says, a woman committed suicide or was murdered by falling out a window of Room 703 in the 1920s or '30s.
About six months ago, a guest on the seventh floor demanded a room change after awakening at about 3 a.m. and seeing a ghost: "a lady sitting in a chair crying," says Erickson.
Hauntings or hooey?
Paranormal investigators debate whether the reports are proof of otherworldly happenings or hogwash.
"I am sure many of them could be explained through natural reasons," says paranormal author and researcher Donald Ryles. "But I believe most of them are genuine paranormal events of some kind."
Hotel rooms, Ryles says, are "opportune environments for paranormal activity" because of "the ever-changing people and energies" in them. He defines ghosts as "energy recordings from past events" and spirits as "human souls." Both are drawn to hotel guests' energies and emotions, he says.
But Joe Nickell, who investigates reports of paranormal activity for the science-based Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, founded in part by Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov, doesn't buy it.
"People are more apt to have an apparitional experience in a hotel or an inn where they are alone and it's quiet," says Nickell, who's been investigating reports of paranormal events since the 1960s and never found proof of ghosts or paranormal activity. "In most cases, the person is tired, daydreaming, falling asleep or waking up."
He says many people making the reports are normal, sane and well-educated. About 4% of Americans have a fantasy-prone personality, he says, and are more apt to have numerous and rich experiences such as ghosts, angels or extraterrestrials.
Salinas' wife, Deborah, says her husband is "as normal as normal can be" and never mentioned other paranormal activity besides the ghost he first encountered in Minneapolis. That ghost has now become a fixture in her husband's life.
Salinas says it's appeared in his California home, at his workplace and in restaurants in six states. It's become so familiar that he calls it "Basil."
Basil appeared once at work, Salinas says, when he was struggling with a spreadsheet formula. It was the only time Basil ever spoke, Salinas says. Basil gave him the answer, then walked out of the room.
Deborah Salinas, and her husband's boss, Dean Garlick, say it was hard to believe Ygnacio when he first reported seeing a ghost. Neither has seen Basil, but they've become believers. Deborah says she's sensed something invisible walking alongside her and standing at the top of the stairs in her home. Garlick says he was at a restaurant in New York when Salinas said Basil was sitting at an adjacent table. Garlick says he turned to look, saw nothing but was struck by cold air in an otherwise warm restaurant.
Salinas says he first met Basil in a section of Minneapolis called The Depot, at the Courtyard by Marriott. It's now a Renaissance Hotel.
Joel Carver, a vice president of the hotel and an adjacent Residence Inn, isn't aware of any paranormal activity. But he says the Renaissance is built on the site of a train depot. Outside it are stone statues depicting individuals of yesteryear called The Ghosts of the Depot.
Despite what many would consider a strange relationship with a ghost he met in a hotel room, Salinas is reluctant to ever see him go. "Basil," he says, "spices life up a little bit."