Looking for a to-die-for hotel this spooky season? Let’s begin in Nevada at the cemetery-adjacent Clown Motel (need I say more?), which is packed with 2,000 leering clown dolls and offers head-swiveling stays in the Exorcist Room alongside puking Linda Blair decor. For a quainter fright, the supernatural spirits are so strong in New York at the Fainting Goat Island Inn that even pet goats Laverne and Shirley keel over. Further south in Miami, a murdered mobster named Fatty flits about a luxury Biltmore Hotel and once sabotaged Bill Clinton’s TV.
No need to wait for Halloween. Throughout America, there are boo-coo hotels bedeviled by hauntings year-round, likely because flatlined occupants never checked out. Turndown service means unseen hands yanking the covers off you.
I admit, I’m a believer. A few years ago, my electromagnetic ghost detector spiked as I swept my jilted-bride-possessed room where the Lady in White hung herself at the Hotel Alex Johnson in South Dakota. I swear up and down (and yes those are my teeth chattering) that during overnights a red lipstick mark appeared on a towel and a half-dozen blood drops splattered a mat in my bathroom. Another creepy time, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, my cell phone somehow re-located from atop my suitcase to deep inside of it in Room 928, notoriously haunted by moody dead Oscar nominee Montgomery Clift.
This summer in Alaska I braved the Historic Anchorage Hotel, which keeps a thick log of guests’ bone-chilling encounters — their feet being poked at the edge of the bed, the reflection of a black-clothed man in mirrors, wine glasses sliding together to clink, invisible children crying. Much is tied to Anchorage’s first police chief, “Black Jack” Sturgus, who was fatally shot in the back with his own gun outside the hotel 100 years ago, a mystery that remains unsolved.
“I’ve seen a smoky silhouette dance around and disappear into a lampshade,” general manager Terri Russi says. “A painting flew across the room so hard it shattered the whole frame. How do you explain that?”
The night I dozed with one eye open, Black Jack returned to the scene of the crime — or used my toilet. Around 4 a.m., the bathroom door slammed shut. (My husband plead the Fifth.)
While some hotels lay low, others market the macabre. The upscale castle-like 1886 Crescent Hotel in Arkansas was once a “cancer-curing hospital” run by quack “doctor” Norman Baker in the late 1930s. Nightly ghost tours now take visitors to the spine-tingling former morgue to ogle Baker’s body-slicing autopsy table and corpse-storing walk-in freezer. Upstairs, guests have reported seeing visions of Baker in a white linen suit strolling hallways, along with gurney-pushing nurse Theodora who croaked in Room 419. Fortunately, you can calm your jitters in the bar by downing Baker’s Bloody Mary, an amaretto Autopsy and Theodora’s Spicy Secret made with ghost pepper vodka.
In Pennsylvania, Historic Hotel Bethlehem, which has hosted Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Amelia Earhart and disembodied entities, proudly touts its ninth-floor “Room with a Boo.” Rattled guests of Room 932 have told of papers flying off the desk, glowing orbs, a male apparition in boxer shorts and the bathroom wallpaper suddenly turning pink. A paranormal investigator supposedly recorded a phantom voice stating, “I’ve locked myself in the closet.” (Hopefully it wasn’t a desperate real human in the adjoining room.) Also, fitness fans take note: Resident specter and opera singer Lady Francis Hope wafts about the third-floor exercise room, a bonus for your treadmill workout. Imagine your cardio rate when she hits the shrill octaves.
Two words: Clown Motel. Enough to scare the bejesus out of anyone with a Bozo phobia. More than 2,000 clown figurines and dolls jam the lobby of the jester-infested motel in tiny Tonopah, Nevada, between Vegas and Reno. Paintings of smirking clowns adorn colorful walls. Film crews have captured a tall chalk-faced clown doll moving its hands and the former hotel owner claimed a guest awoke to a fully costumed red-nosed jokester hovering over him. Chuckling voices drift from vacant rooms.
But “Clown Motel CEO” Hame Anand tells me all spirits are friendly.
“They are happy, happy. They never scare anybody. Nobody has ever freaked out in the middle of the night.”
He blames eerie events on the dilapidated Tonopah Cemetery, right next door, closed in 1911 and filled with plague victims and miners smothered in a fire. To double the fun, Anand re-did the motel’s four most “active” rooms with horror movie themes. So if you bunk in “Friday the 13th,” you’ll snuggle up with serial slasher Jason in addition to killer clowns.
Maybe it’s the high-desert dust. Because also in Tonopah, the 1907-built Mizpah Hotel features a Lady in Red Suite, an ode to the prostitute who was strangled and stabbed by a jealous boyfriend outside the room. While you’re resting (and I don’t mean eternally), she may shake the chandelier or plop a pearl from her broken necklace on your pillow.
Next we have goats with heebie-jeebies. Marnie Streit didn’t believe in the paranormal when she bought the Fainting Goat Island Inn, a five-bedroom 1850s’ railroad lodge in Nichols, New York. Then Streit witnessed hair-raising happenings: an old knife with fingerprints was discovered in a ceiling, footsteps echoed from unoccupied rooms, a chain seemed to drag overhead in the attic, and tunes played on their own from a music box. Patrons sleeping in the ominous-named Fainting Room told of being roused by two Victorian-era women whispering and sipping tea.
“Since 2017, we’ve had four rooms of guests that left in the middle of the night,” Streit says.
Eight cud-chewing pets live on the grounds, all of the fainting goat breed that naturally stiffens and falls over when startled, then quickly rises back up.
“A paranormal expert told us a ‘man’ wanders the property. I’ll look outside and see a goat upside down. If it fainted because of spirits, we wouldn’t know.”
Terror-smitten history buffs may be more inclined to book the Duff Green Mansion, an antebellum B&B once used as a Civil War hospital in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Floors are still blood-stained. The “cheery” Dixie Room was the former operating room and “a rollaway bed is not recommended as the fireplace area is often shared with the Confederate soldier missing his legs but rocking through the night,” according to the B&B’s website. Sweet dreams!
And finally, poltergeist groupies should pilgrimage to Coral Gables, Florida, because bombastic mobster Fatty Walsh made the grand Biltmore Hotel his permanent address after being gunned down there while gambling during Prohibition. No surprise Fatty didn’t want to leave since he was often surrounded by showgirls such as Hotsy-Totsy Dore in his speakeasy-casino on the ill-omened 13th floor. Onetime guest Bill Clinton fingered Fatty for interfering with a TV broadcast of a football game, although the post-mortem wise guy is most fond of sending unsuspecting elevator passengers straight to the 13th floor.
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