Haunted Hotels: Hotel del Coronado

Sunset view above a bar at the Hotel Del Coronado.

Sam Antonio Photography / Moment Open / Getty Images

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Honestly, I was looking forward to ghost hunting at the Hotel del Coronado. I'd seen pictures of this historic grand hotel, set on one of the best beaches in the United States in Coronado, California, just across the bay from San Diego. So in the daylight hours when ghosts are scarce, I could fit in some R&R.

When I arrived, I met with the hotel's own historian, Chris Donovan. She has written a book about the hotel's resident ghost, Kate Morgan. Kate was a young woman who checked into the hotel over Thanksgiving weekend under an alias, stayed a few nights, and killed herself on the steps of the hotel leading to the ocean.

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Looking Out at the Beach

Hotel del Coronado, San Diego spas
Hotel del Coronado

To this day, no one really knows why Kate chose to kill herself at the Hotel del Coronado. It is suspected that she and Thomas separated, and she took a job as a domestic in Los Angeles. It is possible she was on the train to San Diego with Thomas, but they quarreled and became separated. Quinine was found in her possessions after her suicide, which caused many to speculate that Kate was pregnant and trying to have an abortion. Whatever the true story was, she took it to her death on the steps leading to the ocean at the Hotel del Coronado.

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02 of 07

Chris and Mary at the Gift Shop Established in 1888

Chris and Mary at the Hotel del Coronado
(c) Charlyn Keating Chisholm

The ghost of Kate Morgan has been seen or felt in many areas of the hotel, including the beach, her guest room, and some retail shops. Chris and I visited one of the shops, "Established in 1888," where some strange events have occurred. Mary, who works in the gift shop, confirmed several stories I had heard about unexplained events in the shop.

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Marilyn Monroe Shelves

Marilyn Monroe Shelves
(c) Charlyn Keating Chisholm

Mary pointed out a shelf that used to hold a display of Marilyn Monroe products. The classic movie, "Some Like It Hot," was filmed on the hotel's beach. They literally couldn't keep the Marilyn Monroe memorabilia on the shelves. "Things would fly off the wall," Mary recalled. "Not just fall off. Fly off."

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Flying Off the Shelves

Haunted Shelves
(c) Charlyn Keating Chisholm

The shop staff reasoned Kate was jealous of Marilyn, the other famous female in the hotel's history. The Marilyn Monroe merchandise was moved to a less visible spot behind the counter, where they have been left alone. The "haunted" shelf now holds wine bottles, wine glasses and ceramic mugs. So far, nothing more has fallen off the shelf.

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Someone Sees a Ghost

Hotel del coronado
Wikimedia Commons

Chris and I headed downstairs to another gift shop, where we heard another employee had actually seen Kate's ghost. The woman, who seemed embarrassed by the story, hadn't even told her coworkers anything. So she clearly wasn't making up the stories to get attention.

She told us the story of what she had seen. Her second day on the job, she was arriving early for work, around 7:00 a.m. "I was walking past the shops, which were all closed," she explained. "I happened to look into 'Established in 1888' and saw a woman behind the counter. She was looking down, like she was looking for something. She wore a long black dress with a high collar." Scared, she hurried past the shop and on to work.

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The Haunted Counter at Established in 1888

The counter at Established in 1888
(c) Charlyn Keating Chisholm

Later that day, she asked the manager of that shop if anyone had been inside early that morning. The manager had been the one to open the shop, and had not arrived that early. She did notice, however, that all of the books on a shelf at the bottom of the counter were in disarray. She noted the books looked as if someone had been leafing through them, and left some open on the floor. A few had been pushed back on the shelf.

The manager noticed the books in particular because she had locked up the night before, and had taken care to neaten the row of books herself.

I asked this woman if she had ever seen the "ghost" again. "I don't look into the store anymore," she admitted. "I just sort of rush past it."

Hoping to see the ghost of Kate Morgan myself, I woke up very early the next morning and retraced the woman's steps. At about 6:00 a.m., I walked past the store, peeking into the window of "Established in 1888." I also walked past Kate's room, #3327, and out to the steps leading to the beach. I didn't see any signs of Kate's ghost, and everything looked to be in its place.

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07 of 07

The Beautiful Stranger

My junior suite at the Hotel del Coronado
(c) Charlyn Keating Chisholm

The room with the most reports of paranormal phenomenon, #3327, has become so popular, it's hard to reserve. I stayed down the hall in a Junior Suite overlooking the swimming pool and the ocean.

Before my meeting with Chris, I read her book about Kate Morgan and the ghostly activity at the Hotel del Coronado. According to the records, a young woman claiming to be Lottie Bernard checked in to the hotel just before Thanksgiving, 1892. She seemed upset and ill, and had no luggage. She explained that her brother, Dr. Anderson, had the claim ticket for her luggage. They had been traveling together by train and had become separated. As soon as he arrived, she assured the curious hotel staff, he would bring her suitcase and take care of her.

Over the next couple of days, the hotel staff became increasingly concerned as she appeared sicker and sicker, and her brother never arrived. One day, she took a streetcar into San Diego, where she purchased a pistol and ammunition. She was found dead early the next morning, just outside the hotel.

The investigation into the death of this "beautiful stranger" turned up more questions than answers. The newspapers reported that Lottie Bernard was an alias. The mysterious woman was finally identified as Kate Morgan, who traveled with her husband, Thomas, on trains across the country. The couple made their living conning fellow passengers by posing as brother and sister and setting up poker games.

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