Haunted Lodgings: Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado

Hotel del Coronado. Image from the Hotel del Coronado website.

The locals call this ginormous hotel “The Del”. Its iconic Victorian style is one of the last remaining monuments to American architecture. The Hotel del Coronado is an elegant resort hotel perched on an island overlooking the Pacific Ocean at 1500 Orange Avenue. No matter which direction you gaze, you can’t beat the views from this palace by the sea.

Hotel del Coronado has a nostalgia and charm that takes you back in time. It is a place of romance, a place of love and a location that offers the experience of a lifetime, even if a lifetime lasts forever…

On December 19, 1885, Elisha S. Babcock, H. L. Story and Jacob Gruendike, made a $110,000 investment and purchased all of Coronado and North Island in California. In 1886, architect James Reid was given the task to build a resort hotel which would be “the talk of the Western world.” In March of 1887, Mrs. Babcock had the honor of breaking the grounds and the construction on the great hotel began.

Building the Hotel del Coronado was no small task. Building materials were scarce, and Babcock’s first order of business was to secure a steady flow of lumber. He purchased exclusive rights to any and all lumber cut by Dolbeer and Carson Lumber Company. All the lumber was finished and cured in San Diego, where architect Reid had built his own planning mill.

The hotel structure is built completely from wood– Douglas fir, sugar pine and redwood. This was a dangerous endeavor considering how detrimental fire could be to such a structure! In light of the fire dangers, the architect thought to include water tanks on the upper story of the hotel which connected to gravity flow sprinklers. (These sprinklers would later be replaced in 1916 with pressure sprinklers.)

Hotel del Coronado Stationary

Stationary from the Hotel del Coronado.

Two years before it was finished, in February of 1888, the Hotel del Coronado opened for business. Nearly 1,500 people came to witness the monumental opening of this grand hotel.

Management boasted the hotel had a whopping 750 rooms with 7.5 acres of floor area. It had an 11,000 square foot ball room, 34 billiard tables, 2,500 incandescent lights, four 85 foot bowling allies and a dining room that could seat approximately 1,000 people.

Presidents Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and several others have all stayed at The Del. The Hotel has also played host to several Hollywood actors including Tom Mix, Charley Chaplin, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe. It has also been a “must see” place for famous persons and not-so famous persons to stay.

With its reputation as THE place to go for the experience of a lifetime, the Hotel del Coronado has attracted many people to come and stay the night. Some of those who chose to visit have never left…

The Beautiful Stranger of “The Del”

On Thursday, November 24, 1892 a young, educated and refined woman under escort checked into Room 302 at the Hotel del Coronado. The name she gave was recorded in the hotel register by the front desk clerk– “Miss Lottie A. Bernard”.

Guests and hotel staff said the young woman appeared ill and depressed– her hope, she assured the hotel, was that her brother, a physician, would soon arrive to care for her. When hotel staff suggested the house doctor tend to her, she flatly refused.

Days passed and the hotel began to question their guest’s ability to pay her bill. When confronted about her tab, the guest of Room 302 instructed management to contact Mr. G.L. Allen in Hamburg, Iowa. Allen, she said, was in charge of her finances.

American Bulldog

Cheap, American made "Bull Dogs" of the late 19th and early 20th century.

The guest of Room 302 briefly left the hotel, traveling into San Diego on November 28 to buy a gun. Later inquiries would locate the gun shop where she purchased, according to the shop owner, a 44 caliber American Bull Dog and two cartridges. The owner also showed her how to load the gun.

The evening of November 28 was a blustery one which resulted in a huge downpour throughout the night. The morning of November 29 was as sunny as ever with the exception of one thing– At approximately half past seven o’clock in the morning, on the exterior steps leading to the beach near the north corner of the hotel, the lifeless body of “Miss Lottie A. Bernard” was found. She had been shot in the head. Her death was ruled a suicide by the coroner, after conducting an inquest on November 30. Unfortunately, the tragic story of this young woman only begins here.

Police could find no information to confirm the identity of the body. Members of the staff and other persons who were interviewed only knew the deceased as “Lottie Bernard”. Without knowing who she was, there was no one to expense the cost of burial. As the mystery of her identity began to grow, the press began to refer to the woman as the “beautiful stranger” of the Hotel del Coronado.

A sketch was released to the press in the hopes of confirming the identity of this poor woman. The following description of the deceased was also provided:

Height, 5 feet 6 inches; complexion, fair, but sallow; medium length black hair; two small moles on left cheek; broad features; high cheekbones; brown eyes; weight, 150 pounds; age, about 26; good teeth, plain gold ring on third finger of left hand; ring of pure gold, with four pearls and blue stone in center; black corset.”

(Source: Hotel del Coronado Press Release)

Eventually, San Diego police and Los Angeles police would connect the deceased to a missing woman fitting the description of the beautiful stranger– a Kate Logan from Los Angeles. When Logan had gone missing from her place of employ, the police were notified. Police searched through “Kate Logan’s” belongings, where they found a marriage certificate for a “Kate Morgan”.

Once the connection to Kate Morgan was made, possible relatives were contacted. Maternal grandfather to Kate Morgan, J.W. Chandler, replied from Iowa indicating that the body identified as Kate Morgan should be buried in San Diego at his expense. The remains of the “beautiful stranger” were interred in Mount Hope Cemetery in Division 5 Section 1 under the name “Kate Morgan”. You can view photos of the headstone here.

The police consider the questions concerning the young woman’s identity and her untimely death solved, but many people still speculate upon the conclusions drawn by local law enforcement because some of the facts just don’t seem to line up.

Coroner's Inquest of Kate Morgan's Death.

A page from the coroner"s inquest into the death of Lottie Bernard (Kate Morgan) 1892, which concluded that she committed suicide by shooting herself.

A key witness was not interviewed during the coroner’s inquest. This witness was rumored to have seen the alleged Kate Morgan on a train heading away from San Diego. If the beautiful stranger is not Kate Morgan, then who was she?

There are several different theories which include names like Charlotte “Lottie” Anderson Bernard, Lizzie Wiley of Detroit (who was apparently found in Ontario), Kate Logan and Kate Morgan– The variety of names inspires me to leave the beautiful stranger’s identity veiled, which is why I’ve attempted to refrain from using names when referring to the beautiful stranger in my accounting of her story.

Other facts also cause speculation. Firstly, the position of the gun. Modern forensics govern that those committing suicide by gun shot to the head are, more often than not, found with the gun caught posthumously around their thumb. The gun found at the scene was laying on the steps near the body, and the body’s position in conjunction with the gun do not suggest suicide. Secondly, the upward trajectory of the bullet is also cause for speculation that this woman was shot from below and did not, in fact, shoot herself. The third bit of speculated information is based on the caliber of bullet. The coroner’s inquest reported having found what appeared to be a 38 caliber bullet in the cranium of the deceased. Yet, the beautiful stranger had purchased a 44 caliber gun, which would have not only done more damage to the body than was reported by the coroner but, at the close range as necessitated by suicide, the bullet surely would have exited the head as well! Controversy over time of death is also present. The beautiful stranger had to have been shot in the early morning because the clothing on the body was dry. If she had died earlier, she would have been wet from the storms

All of these questions make this death a mystery and people love mysteries– especially where they concern ghosts.

The Ghost of the Beautiful Stranger

While the mystery of the beautiful stranger lives on so, it seems, does her spirit.

In the period since the beautiful stranger’s death, Room 302 has been renumbered several times. It was changed to Room 3312 and then again to Room 3327, which is what it is as of January 2011. This room has been called “haunted” by several who have stayed the night– employees will even turn down the room in pairs.

Some of the reported phenomenon include self-flushing toilets and instances where the television and lights have turned on and off through their own volition. Others have seen objects fly across the room and smash into the wall. Couples who stay in the room experience aggression towards each other while other couples have reported having their sheets torn from the bed as they were sleeping. Some guests have even reported seeing the shadowed figure of a woman standing beside the window.

One doorman, Wayne Wright, was interviewed for a Travel Channel special on the hotel. He shared his experience taking a group of curious visitors to see this particular room. When he went into the room, he saw an indentation on the bed. When he attempted to straighten the bed sheets to smooth out the indentation, the sheets would not budge.

Though the room boasts a reputation for being haunted, it is still the hotel’s most requested room and is booked over a year in advance to customers dying to catch a glimpse of the beautiful stranger.

The beautiful stranger’s ghost has been seen in other locations in and around the hotel. She’s been seen walking the beach and in the hallways. Some have even reported seeing someone matching her description in the gift shop, which is reputed to be the most haunted location in the hotel.

Karen Lekas, an employee of the Hotel del Coronado, told The Travel Channel about her encounter with a strange Victorian woman in the hallway. Lekas had put her key into the door and glanced over her right shoulder. She saw another woman down the hall also unlocking the door to her room. Lekas and the woman nodded to each other as if to say ‘goodnight’ and then, Lekas opened the door to her room and stepped inside. It wasn’t until after she entered her room that she realized the other woman was wearing Victorian clothing and did not belong. When she checked, the woman was gone.

Strangely, more employees and guests have seen the beautiful stranger’s ghost in the Est. 1888 gift shop. One employee had an encounter– walking past the shop before it opened, she noticed someone inside. The woman she saw was dressed in Victorian dress and was reading through some of the books in the shop. The employee later queried those who worked in the gift shop and was told that upon opening the shop on that particular morning there were several books which had been arranged as if someone had been leafing through the pages.

In this video, another employee recounts their ghostly experiences in the gift shop:

Other Ghosts:

The ghost of the beautiful stranger isn’t the only ghost to haunt the halls of this haunted hospice.

Room 3502 (also called Room 502) is the location of strange reports of flickering lights, cold drafts and grumbling plumbing. Windows and doors have also been known to open and close on their own. Other guests have claimed their bed has shaken in the night.

According to one website:

One maid claimed she slipped a note under the door asking if the occupant wanted the room cleaned. The note was sent back with the answer, “Yes.” When she went inside there was no one there.

There is also a story dating back to May of 1983 that tells of the experience a Secret Service man had while staying in this room. The man claimed to have seen drapes billowing in the breeze, but when he went to close the window– it was shut.

There are stories of an older gentleman who died of heart failure who still wanders the lobby and the top floors of the hotel.

Others have seen a woman in Victorian dress gliding across the ballroom.

The ghosts of two children, a boy and girl, have been witnessed running through the hotel and up and down stairs.

The specter of a caretaker oversees the dining area.

Room 3519 on the fifth floor has had reports of hauntings similar to 3502. Room 3508 is also rumored to be haunted.

Conclusion

With its historic history and stunning views, the Hotel Del Coronado has been ranked as a top-notch place to visit. It has played host to thousands of guests wanting the luxury and experience of a lifetime. Whether you’re looking for a good time, a great view or are interested in the history– or even the ghosts– this is one haunted hot-spot to put on your map.

Hotel del Coronado Official Website: http://www.hoteldel.com/

Sources:
* http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/66january/ladybysea.htm
* http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/2001-1/images.htm
(Source for Coroner’s Inquest)
* http://www.hoteldel.com/PressReleaseTemplate.aspx?id=520
* http://www.ghost-investigators.com/Stories/view_story.php?story_num=1
* http://forums.gunboards.com/showthread.php?25561-American-Bull-Dogs (Photo of American Bulldog Guns)
* View Photos of the Grave of the Beautiful Stranger of “The Del”
* http://www.scaryforkids.com/coronado-hotel/
(This site has a nifty video)
* Travel Channel Video
* http://www.suite101.com/content/haunted-hotel-del-coronado-ghosts-a197538
* http://gothere.com/sandiego/Ghosts/HotelDel/default.htm

More Photos of “The Del”:
* http://www.sandiegohistory.org/communities/hoteldel/hoteldel.htm
(Postcard images of “The Del”)
* http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/83summer/lady.htm
(More images of “The Del”)

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6 thoughts on “Haunted Lodgings: Hotel del Coronado

  1. Kate Morgan is likely not the identity of the Beautiful Stranger, although the circumstantial evidence seems to indicate this. She was in fact a woman of position from Detroit, not a housekeeper from Iowa. The best evidence that she was not Kate Morgan comes from a fellow traveller on the train named Joseph Jones. Jones, who has not been well-researched by most ‘experts’ on this case, said that she was on the train at Denver a few days before both arrived at the Hotel Del. However, Kate Morgan was working in Los Angeles at the Grant household at the same time and so could not have been Kate Morgan. The actual woman was Canadian. Neither Kate Morgan nor another woman named Lizzie Wyllie (identified erroneously at the time) were actually the Beautiful Stranger. This has not, however, prevented this mistaken story from

    • This sounds like a subject you’re very passionate about, John. I try to keep things open-ended because, fact is, no one knows who she is and it’s likely no one will know with 100% certainty. I do agree with you– the body buried in the grave is probably not that of “Kate Morgan”. Police did ignore the statements made by Joseph Jones who saw Miss Morgan on the train… from what I know about law enforcement, they sometimes ignore other leads that don’t fit their current theory. Also, forensic science wasn’t quite what it is now-a-days with the advent of DNA evidence and ballistics.

      Thanks for your comment… looks like it may have been cut off. I’m curious to know what the rest of your comment said…

      • I didn’t realize you had replied. For my full story, please see http://www.coronadoghost.com/ and please note that I have two books out, now in one volume: Dead Move (nonfiction/historical true crime analysis) and Lethal Journey (fiction/noir novel/dramatization of 1892 events closely based on my research plus the legends). Thank you!

  2. well i was there at the hotel wondering up and down the hallways and well i didnt feel no one, i didnt hear any one, i didnt see any one. i just saw the maids cleaning the rooms. Me and my sister were halfway to the room but till we said not to go anymore. so we were just walking in the hallways we passed many many rooms and nothing.it was lonely and quiet.

  3. Pingback: Haunted Hotels

  4. Pingback: 13 Haunted Hotels - ParkSleepFly.com Travel Blog - ParkSleepFly.com Travel Blog

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