What happens after we die? Do we ascend to an empyreal paradise full of angels and light? Are we reincarnated? Or do our souls spend eternity wandering like petulant teens through the halls of hotels, slamming doors, knocking tchotchkes off mantels, and harassing the guests and staff who enter our rooms?
A spectral presence in a hotel is a mixed blessing: hauntings are often great for business, drawing clientele who view ghosts as an extra amenity, like a well-equipped gym or a plush bathrobe. But for hotel staff, ghosts can be metaphysical nuisances. They’ve been known to scare away maintenance workers and nag housekeepers who are just trying to turn over a room before the next visitors arrive. Ghosts, it seems, feel no compunction to help tidy the spaces that they have occupied free of charge for several decades. (A perk of the afterlife, I suppose.)
Hotel workers have different ways of dealing with these apparitions. Some ignore them, some befriend them, and some threaten them with exorcisms if they misbehave. But all who have peeked beyond the veil have one thing in common: a really good story.
Melissa Hall is the senior concierge and ghost tour guide at the Grand Galvez, formerly the Hotel Galvez & Spa, thought to be one of the most haunted hotels in Texas. In the six and a half years she’s worked there, she’s collected more than fifty photos of the specters that wander its halls, some of whom, she says, “are as clear as me and you.”
It took almost five years before I saw my first ghost. I think that’s because I was looking in all the dark nooks and crannies, and that’s not where they are. Here at the Galvez, they’re right in front of you. Right beside you.
I was bebopping through the kitchen one day, and I just happened to glance over to my right to see which manager was on duty. And right next to the wall, there was a little bitty old man. He probably stood five foot, if he was even that tall. Probably weighed eighty-five, ninety pounds. He had his hands crisscrossed and hanging down in his lap. I could see the wrinkles on his face. I could see the darkness, the tanness of his skin. I could see the texture of his long-sleeve black shirt. He had on what I refer to as, like, skinny jeans—what the kids are wearing now—and they were a burnt orange, like a Carhartt jacket, that was a really thick material. His head was leaned down a little bit, and his hat was made of woven palm fronds, and it was still green in spots. That’s how clear he was.
Everything just registered instantly. And then, when I went to take a second look, he was gone. I felt more privileged than anything that I was able to see something like that. Some people go their entire lives and never see anything like that.
I had one experience that started in the lower levels of the hotel, and it was pretty intense. I walked through a cold spot, but what stopped me in my tracks was that when I went to take a step to go upstairs, I felt electricity shooting through my entire body. I stopped, and I said out loud, “Is there anyone here with me?” I don’t know what I was expecting. Once that feeling passed, I went up to the front desk, put my stuff in the back office, and started straightening up a table that’s next to the desk. As I was straightening, I felt something small come up and bear-hug my legs. I looked down to my left; nothing was there. I looked to my right; nothing was there. I’ll never forget that one. That was one of our little ones, and I think they really pick up on my energy as a grandmother. —Melissa Hall
Susan McCain has owned the Ott Hotel since 2002, when she and her husband bought it from an Ott granddaughter. In researching the building’s history, McCain found that about twenty people had died in the hotel and that it had supposedly been erected atop burial grounds. “Today it would be like, ‘Don’t build that building there,’ ” she says. “But a hundred years ago they didn’t know any better.”
Twenty years ago, I would’ve told you there’s no such thing as ghosts: “These people need a therapist and some Prozac.” Now I can tell you that there are some things we cannot explain that go on around here.
When we first bought the hotel, it had been condemned. About nine months later, after the fire marshal came and we got our permits, I was on the east side of the building. I was putting up curtains and putting the bedspreads on—making everything really pretty. I was in room 201, which is Miss Lucy’s room. The story is that her ex-husband came banging on doors and he was extremely jealous. (Sometimes you can hear cowboy boots walking down the hall.) He found her in one of the hotel rooms with, supposedly, some other man. We’re not sure who shot who, but Lucy got in the way, and she was found dead on the floor.
I had the air conditioner on, and it started out fine, but then it got really, really hot. I looked down the hallway; I was the only person up there. Well, about that time, somebody touched the side of my face. And I freaked out. I won’t use the words I used, but I basically said: “You can clean your own freakin’ room! You’re not going to touch me!” That was my first one.
Many years later, my husband and I were down in the maintenance room, and we were both leaning over and digging through this box, looking for something, and I got this stab in my leg. I started crying and screaming: “Somebody’s just stabbed me!” I dropped my pants right there, and you know those old ice picks with a wooden handle that make a perfect little hole? I had a perfect ice-pick hole in my leg.
After that I was just kind of like, “You know what? If you’re going to do stuff like that, we may have to exorcise you from the building if you can’t behave and follow the rules.” I talk to the ghosts. I know it sounds strange, but I talk to them like my kids or my grandkids.
It doesn’t freak me out anymore. We’re one dysfunctional family. I guess I’ve lost my mind in twenty years. —Susan McCain
When Erin Ghedi and her husband bought the Magnolia Hotel, in 2013, it had been vacant for nearly twenty years. It took them six years to restore the place to its original nineteenth-century glory, during which time the couple became well acquainted with the deceased former tenants who loiter in the building. Now Ghedi is unruffled by her ghostly squatters. The contractors who visit the hotel? They’re not so laissez-faire.
There are thirteen spirits in the place. We know a lot of their names because they either died there or were murdered there. We know they’re there by smells, and they’ll touch you. You can feel their tingling on your arms. And the children hug our legs. We hear laughter. You get to know them, just like you get to know your friends.
We have several that remain because they owned the hotel. Like Colonel Thomas. He was in the Battle of San Jacinto. The building was built in 1840, and so when we bought it, we had to update all the plumbing, and the plumber said we had to hire an actual tunneler to tunnel underneath the hotel. So we hired a tunneler, and he tunneled all the way in. It lasted about a week and a half.
Then, the last day, before they started filling the tunnel back in, he asked me if I would like to go inside. I went in the tunnel, and I looked all around. I came back out and the tunneler went back in, and all of a sudden he screamed bloody murder. I thought the tunnel had collapsed.
He wiggled out, and he looked at me with these big eyes. Then he ran to his truck, and he peeled off. I called the plumber, and I said, “Man, something happened to the tunneler.”
He says, “Okay, let me find out.” He calls me back, and he says, “Well, you’re never going to see that tunneler again.” I said, “What happened? I was just in there.” He says, “Well, after you got out, he went in, and something tapped him on his shoulder and said his name, and then when he looked up, he was looking at a woman’s face.”
That was just one of a dozen. We’ve lost a lot of contractors. —Erin Ghedi
Jeff Ossenkop has been the general manager of the Tremont House since February. This is actually the third Tremont House; the first, which was built in 1839, was destroyed in a fire, and the second fell into disrepair after the 1900 Galveston hurricane.
When I moved here, I lived in one of our hotel rooms for about three months. We have a building called the Quarters, with one- and two-bedroom penthouses that are fully furnished loft apartments, and that was where I was living. It was just me and my dog.
Being over there right after the snowpocalypse, I was the only one in that building. Often, late at night or early in the morning, my dog would randomly start barking, like something was in the room. When I would get up and cross the street to work, I would shut the bedroom door so that she wouldn’t get in and jump on the bed. And when I would come home from work, the door would be wide open. It led me to believe the ghosts were playing with me.
I would also walk the building while we had a lower occupancy—between 8 and 9 p.m.—just to see all the different types of rooms. One night, I was walking one of the suites in the original part of the hotel. When I got to the bedroom, I turned around and walked into the living room. I was about to exit the suite, and the bedroom doors slammed shut. That was my first encounter on that side of the building, besides the stuff going on in the room I was in. It was like, “I know you’re here, and I feel like you want me out of this room.” So I graciously left.
A few days after that, I would hear guests at the front desk come down and talk about lights turning on and off. So I brought it up in a staff meeting, and everyone got real silent and they said, “We don’t normally talk about the ghosts.” —Jeff Ossenkop
Jeromy Jones and his wife bought the Historic Jefferson Hotel a year ago. It had been closed for three years. Of the couple’s five children, two live in the hotel with them. Their thirteen-year-old daughter loves the ghost stories, but their nineteen-year-old son is petrified. “He won’t even come out of his room,” Jones says.
It was about three in the morning. It was during a week that we didn’t have any guests. My wife was asleep. I’m a night owl, so I was working downstairs. We have about fifty motion-activated cameras; whenever they detect movement, I receive a little video clip. This time, they said that they detected a person in the hallway. I looked at the clip, and sure enough, I saw a person walking across the hall by our exit door upstairs. I ran upstairs, and I peeked around to make sure nobody was there. Because the place has a haunted history, we’ve had people climb our balcony and try to get in. They don’t realize we live here, so they’re trying to do an urban-exploring type of thing. That’s what I thought it was.
I told my wife, “Hey, stay here. Call 9-1-1.” So I walked down to room 19, at the end of the hall. That’s where I saw the person enter, and that’s our famous room. That’s where a spurned bride who was staying here in 1912 hanged herself from a bed—a bed with a twelve-foot-tall headboard that is still in there to this day.
I was waiting for someone to pop out. I looked in, and nobody was there. I was like, “Oh my God, I know I saw somebody!” I got everybody gathered up because we still thought somebody was in the building. We did a two-hour sweep, and nobody was there. We pulled up the footage, and it’s the craziest footage you’ll ever see. It’s this black humpback shadow that you can see through. It has the weirdest gait too. It walks right through the wall and goes into room 19. At the time, looking at my little phone, I didn’t notice all that. I thought it was an intruder, but it was more of an apparition.
We bought this place because we knew it was haunted. I was like, “Wow, this is going to be fun.” Well, it’s fun until it happens to you. —Jeromy Jones