Note: Apparitions and ghouls need not apply.
At The Hermosa Inn, pocketed in a residential neighborhood in Scottsdale, amid the Sonoran Desert, I feel a presence that raises a few hairs. “Oh, that’s Lon,” says a member of the hotel team, referring to the former owner of the outpost, who had built the hacienda with handmade adobe bricks in the 1930s, complete with tunnel escape route for those prohibition era raids. A renowned cowboy artist and notorious gadabout to boot, Lon was a bigger than life character who surely resented the fact that he was forced to sell his ranch due to gambling debts. He left everything behind, including tons of his original artwork, so famous it appeared as the trademark inside of Stetson hats. No wonder he feels the propensity to come back, to provoke the guests and haunt the workers and generally just make himself a veritable nuisance.
“Oh, Lon’s everywhere,” says a waitperson, who has worked at the hotel for years. She soon relates her personal encounter with him, a saga in which she and the chef stand in the kitchen, transfixed in awe as all of the kitchen knives prise themselves from the wall and dance through the air toward them. As they watch, the knives land alarmingly close (mischievously close?) to their feet as she recalls. “The joke was on us.” She grins, noticing how I relish the story. She leans in: “Lon loved a good joke.”
If you have a penchant for phantoms as I do, I can suggest a few other haunted spots, each one eerie enough to bedevil your sound mind and make you question your faculties. Isn’t that what Halloween is all about? Get thee to venerable Cooperstown in upstate New York, ripe for ghostly gatherings. Home to both James Fenimore Cooper and the National Baseball Hall of Fame, its luxurious Otesaga Resort perches on glistening Lake Otsego. Here, behind the imposing, column-adorned, Federalist-style structure some eerie inhabitants make their presence known. Ensconced beneath high ceilings and amid creaking age-old floors, a cadre of affable ghouls haunts the halls. Built in 1909, the Otesaga once served as a private girl’s school long before it became a luxury hotel. Apparently, some of the students never graduated because guests have seen them walking hand in hand, donning period clothing. Some people report hearing children giggling, and opening and closing music boxes, an act that sends old-fashioned tunes wafting down the third floor hallway. Staff periodically have heard their names called out from unseen sources, and a security officer once heard people stomping above him from an inaccessible floor. The haunting just goes on and on.
The haunted hotel in Colorado which inspired Stephen King to write The Shining will test your tolerance for the terrifying when you check into the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. This grand dame hotel, built in 1909, has been recently refurbished. In spite of its renovations, the ghosts of the long dead live on, walking its halls. Maybe they cherish the spectacular mountain views guests can see from every direction; perhaps they derive pleasure from the distinctive old world charm; or, perhaps they feel pride that this historic hotel holds a lauded spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Whatever urges them to linger, phantoms frequent The Stanley. Find most of them on the fourth floor, the former servant’s quarters. In room 418, Flora Stanley, the first owner’s wife, continues to play the piano — though it’s been nearly a century since her passing. Do gather the courage to sleep in room 217, where King stayed and where guests have returned from dinner to find their suitcases packed or unpacked by an unknown source. King himself reported seeing a child walking the hallways calling for his nanny. Enjoy the hotel’s spooky sojourn when you stay — a tour that relates all the ghost stories and takes guests through a secret tunnel.
The Fairmont Hotel group tends to operate in properties packed with gravitas. History gives their resorts a texture that can’t help but attract phantoms and creatures from the other side. Who wouldn’t want to stay in such places for eternity? For example, the round room at the The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa has hosted the ravishing Victoria for decades. Her family can be traced back to the founding fathers of Sonoma Valley. Most often, she strolls through the lobby in the wee hours of the night, sipping red wine from a fragile glass. In Toronto, a former steward at The Fairmont Royal York wanders the silver room in the hotel’s basement. At the Fairmont Empress in British Columbia, the tragic story of a hotel maid who fell to her death in 1908 has led to several sightings of “The Maid.” Her ghost, harmless and gentle, can be seen meandering in the corridors and guest rooms. At Quebec’s Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac, lugubriously searches the halls for his soul mate. When he died there, he had his heart sent in a box to his fiancé in Europe. She was so sad, she sent it back and the Comte has been searching for her in the hotel ever since. In Banff Springs, the Fairmont swells with two picturesque ghosts: The Dancing Bride and Sam the Bellman. The bride dances a wedding waltz nightly in the Bow Valley Grill. Like most ghosts, she died tragically, tripping up the stairs on her train en route to meet up with her family and new husband. As she was about to dance the “first dance,” she compensates by dancing incessantly and sadly throughout the night. Less melancholic, Sam McAuley, head bellman, warned colleagues he would return in the hereafter to haunt the hotel he loved. Shortly after his death, Sam sightings began. First, he helped a rookie bellman with guests. Then, he assisted two elderly ladies who had been waiting for a bellman to help them unlock their door. When the actual bellman arrived ready to assist, they told him that a white haired gentleman, dressed in green plaid pants had appeared out of nowhere and come to their aid. Only Sam was a dead ringer for that description.