Ghosts of the Emily Morgan Hotel

     “Good evening, Mrs. Maca,” the desk clerk smiled as she handed me my room key card. “We’ve booked you in a suite on the haunted floor.”

     It definitely wasn’t the usual greeting I receive at a hotel check-in, but obviously someone on staff had Googled my name . . . and I have to say I was pretty delighted.

     I was in San Antonio speaking about cemetery symbolism at a paran
ormal conference, of all things. My books about Galveston cemeteries and ghosts have certainly opened up some unusual venues for me. And although I must admit that my choice to stay at the Emily Morgan was based on an admiration for its elegance and location (right next door to the Alamo, for heaven’s sake!), the stories of its hauntings may have played a part in the decision to choose it. It is known as one of the three most haunted hotels in the city.

UNUSUAL PAST

     Now a part of the luxurious Doubletree by Hilton chain (yep, that means their famous fresh cookies at check-in), the thirteen-story building wasn’t always a hotel.

     The striking Gothic Revival structure opened in 1924 as the Medical Arts Building, with the first four floors being doctors’ offices and a pharmacy. Other levels included a psychiatric ward (seventh floor), the top two floors served as surgical wards, and of course – a morgue in the basement.

     The towering building features unique ornamentation and a copper roof with wood ribs. The most unusual adornments are undoubtedly a variety of gargoyles (actually “grotesques” since they have no downspouts) that surround the building, each portraying a medical ailment that might have been treated within. They’re slightly reminiscent of some stone carving from the movie “Ghostbusters” about to come to life. There are even flying monkeys for those who look closely.

     One of the more “princely” – though certainly not handsome – examples wearing a crown was perched right outside a window of my room, and it was fascinating to see him so close-up.

     It remained a hospital for about 52 years before being converted into an office building in 1976.  Luckily for those who appreciate her beautiful architecture, the Emily Morgan (named after the Yellow Rose of Texas) was recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Alamo Plaza Historic District the following year.

     In 1984 it opened as a luxury hotel, and in 2012 it underwent a multi-million dollar renovation before being reopened as part of the Doubletree group.

     I suppose that should be our first clue, since one of the common superstitions about spirits . . . or is it a fact . . . is that they tend to get “stirred up” during renovations of their surroundings.

     Considering the amount of suffering and death the walls witnessed for so many years, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that “energies” from the past are reported to remain.

SPIRITED ROOMIE, ANYONE?

     Throughout the weekend I heard hotel guests inquire of each other if they had had any ghostly experiences, anxiously hoping to hear the answer “yes.” When comparing room numbers, my answer was usually met with a lot of interest, and I invited people up to check out my room for themselves whenever my timetable allowed. There was even a YouTuber who took video. More often than not, the visitors ended up being just as intrigued by the beauty of the view and the room as any otherworldly roommates I might have.

     I found it amusing that even a few attendees of the paranormal convention, which was held at a reputedly haunted mansion, left before all of the festivities were over to return to the Emily Morgan to seek out their own “encounters” in impromptu ghost hunts.

     Would you stay on the 13th floor of a notoriously haunted hotel or do you think that would be bad luck?

     Poppycock, you say – hotels don’t have a 13th floor! Ah, but we all really know the truth, don’t we? A glance at any hotel elevator board and you’ll see they’ve conveniently skipped from the 12th to the 14th when numbering floors to avoid any superstitious guests being uncomfortable. So the 14th floor actually is the 13th.

     The Emily Morgan has taken these superstitions into account at an entirely new level by omitting the room number 1408. You see, when you add those numbers together you would realize they equal 13 on the actual 13th floor.

     Regardless, there have been reported ghostly occurrences on almost every floor, with the 7th, 13th and 14th being the most active.

12th & 14th FLOORS

     Guests on the 14th floor have often specifically requested to stay on this notoriously haunted level. As one of the former surgical wards where numerous deaths occurred, the expectation of ghosts is somewhat understandable.

     Room occupants in the past have reported opening doors to the hallway only to see hospital scenes playing out in front of them, complete with nurses pushing squeaky-wheeled gurneys.

    When they shut the door to gather their wits before reopening it, the scenes vanish.

    Much more unpleasant is the report of a lingering scent of antiseptic, which I was quite grateful not to have noticed.

     The perception something cool brushing up against guests has been noted on both floors. Would it be a relief on a hot summer night, or send unwelcome chills?

     Utilities seem to be of special interest to spirits on the 12th floor, including flashing lights and impish water faucets. Dripping noises can be heard in the middle of the night, with investigating occupants discovering the bath faucets to be completely cranked open.

     I must admit that I heard an incessant dripping of water as I was admiring the full moon outside my window, but after investigating I decided that someone on the floor above me must have a slow draining bath, as there was no water actually running in my room.

     Bathroom doors visibly opening and shutting have also been witnessed, which is odd since the extensive renovations should have taken away any explanation of “off kilter” doors.  

     Having heard these stories, I considered myself pretty darn brave to take a soaking bath both nights of my stay . . . but I just couldn’t resist the immense “champagne Jacuzzi” tub. Thankfully, the spirits left me to unwind in peace.

     I even heard one report that the Emily Morgan’s swimming pool, a triangular feature situated on an outcropping of an upper floor, was constructed out of the stainless steel from the medical center’s operating tables. Though I couldn’t find anything to confirm this, it sure makes a great story and would have been an ingenious (if eerie) example of repurposing materials.

IT HAS ITS UPS & DOWNS

     One ”phenomenon” at the Emily Morgan that I can confirm through personal experience is that the elevators seem to have a mind of their own.

     The elevators are said to often to ride up and down without a single rider or skip past a floor that a rider has requested by pushing the button, because . . . c’mon, ghosts just wanna have fun.

     When you step onto one of these conveyances, take a bit of patience and be ready to accept an adventure if it should present itself.

     Front desk attendants are said to receive phone calls –from these same elevators-even when no one is inside.

     One of the creepiest experiences reported by visitors is that the elevators (regardless of which floor was requested) have taken their passengers below ground to the basement level, where the morgue once was.

     Meeting rooms and housekeeping are the only things housed there today, but it is said that even employees keep their time there to a minimum. Among the things reported to have been experienced there are dancing orbs (there are no windows, so they couldn’t be reflections) and disembodied voices. I wonder what they have to say?

     The most dramatic – verging on unnerving – experience I had at the hotel involved the elevators. It was witnessed by numerous other guests and staff, but I’ll keep this one to myself (sorry).

OTHER “RESIDENTS”

     Other floors in the hotel come with reports of a woman’s shrieking cries in the middle of the night, transparent apparitions moving from room to room and passing through walls or even gazing into the mirror as guests check their appearance. Which of these would you be brave enough to see or hear?

     The staff confirms that occasionally guests request to switch rooms, citing that the activity in theirs is too much to endure.

     Did they actually experience something paranormal or did they take the hotel’s ghostly tales too close to heart? Only they will know for sure, but I suggest you check in and decide for yourself.

     Employees of the hotel are happy to share their own experiences or stories they’ve heard, and if they aren’t scared, why should we be?

     Ghosts or not, the Emily Morgan Hotel remains high on my recommendations for accommodations in the city of San Antonio. The beautiful architecture and interior spaces and gracious staff are unparalleled.

Group Experiences Mix It Up at Hotel Valencia

Do you chimichurri?

     I recently had the opportunity to visit with Executive Chef David Rapozo at Hotel Valencia Riverwalk in San Antonio about activities and unique group experiences for groups traveling together.

     

     In response, he treated our group to a chimichurri making competition. Chimichurri is an uncooked sauce (like a pesto in Italy or salsa in Mexico) that originated in Argentina, which was particularly appropriate as this beautiful hotel is designed with a stunning Argentinian theme and restaurant menus.

     Chef Rapozo demonstrated how he uses a variety of ingredients to make a chimichurri similar to ones that he personally found in Argentina, and then let us sample it. Once we saw that it wasn’t as intimidating as we might have thought, he presented us with a table filled with portioned seasonings and oils to try making our own. We were split into teams of two, and got busy mixing.

     Though some of the participants were a bit hesitant at the start of the event, we were all quickly caught up in the fun, while getting to know each other better. The light-hearted approach encouraged everyone to experiment and laugh at any mishaps along the way.

     Much to our surprise, even though we were all working with the same variety of ingredients, each team’s efforts had very different results . . . even different colors.

     To our delight, a variety of grilled meats arrived from the kitchen to try the sauces on. Chef Rapozo went first with tasting all the “entries” of course, to act as our judge. And although he did declare a winning team (which just might have been mine!) he gave nice feedback to everyone.

   Now, truth be told, I thought they were all really tasty and it was fun (and delicious) trying all of the varieties. We all went away anxious to try it again once we returned home.

VIDEO OF INGREDIENTS TABLE

     Activities like this would be a great addition for a group girlfriends getaway or used as a corporate team building event during business travel. Be sure to contact the hotel several weeks ahead of your arrival to allow the staff to present possible ideas (maybe a guacamole making competition?) and allow you time to choose and them to prepare for the experience.

     Try it the next time you travel in a group!