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Elisha S. Babocock and H.I. Story were out rabbit hunting in California, when they came up with the idea of luxury hotel. The locale would make a wonderful location for a resort. The climate was like heaven. So the idea of the Hotel Del Coronado was born.
In early advertisements, the hotel promised an “environment free from malaria, hay fever, mad dogs, cyclones, or cold snaps.” The Hotel was open for business in February of 1888.
Hollywood’s glamour years of the 1920’s and 30’s had many stars vacationing here— Sarah Bernhardt, Mary Pickford, Mae West, and Tallulah Bankhead. They found Hotel Del Coronado enchanting. It was also used for movie sets like silent film, The Flying Fleet 1927. Another was Some Like It Hot with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. Author, Richard Matheson’s novel “Bid Time Return” or better known as Somewhere in Time, the character, Richard Collier stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado. (Due to difficulty with filming, the movie set Somewhere in Time, was moved to Mackinac Island.)
Legends differ about the spirits that haunt the Hotel Del Coronado, but I have compiled a few of interest.
1950 a little girl named Melissa was staying there with her aunt. She was playing out in the hall with her favorite doll when she suddenly took violently ill. She was rushed away to seek medical help and her doll was left behind. Melissa did not recover. Her ghost is often seen sadly roaming the hallways still looking for her beloved doll.
One psychic has come across a little girl and boy that run up and down the stairway between the second and third floors. The crown room’s first caretaker can sometimes be seen roaming around tapping the floor with his cane the way he did when he was alive. There is a vision of a beautiful woman in an elegant Victorian Dress floating effortlessly across the dance floor.
The mistress of one of the employees of the Del haunts the halls. Another is E.S. Babcock himself haunts it. One story is that the unfortunate mistress of the manager found herself with child and committed suicide while staying in room 502. When the authorities show up, the body of the woman disappeared. Another version has the management disposing of the body in the area where the swimming pool is today. Anything to avoid a scandal, I suppose. One account is that the young woman who died in that room was married to a sea captain.
The most popular story is about Lottie A. Anderson Bernard, or otherwise known as Kate Morgan. She and her husband Tom ran a con game in the late 1800’s. They would ride the trains going from town to town posing as brother and sister. Kate was very beautiful, and she had no trouble attracting rich male suitors. The men wanted to please her and they would enter into a card game with her husband. Of course, they would lose.
When Tom Morgan found out Kate was pregnant, he wasn’t pleased, thinking this would ruin their con game.
Kate and Tom were on their way to Coronado. It was late November 1892 when Tom got off the train in Orange County, telling Kate to go on without him. He said he would join her in a day or two. She never saw him again.
Legend has it that she checked into 302 as Lottie A. Bernard. She spent five lonely days including Thanksgiving, waiting for her husband. Many hotel employees grew concerned about her. She appeared pale and vulnerable from the day she arrived.
In vain, Kate went to some of the other hotels in San Diego to see if her husband (she referred to him as her brother at the hotels) had checked in. She grew more and more desperate as days went by. Kate went to a store and bought a gun. The next day she was found on the steps leading to the beach, dressed elegantly in black. She was dead from a gunshot wound.
At the coroner’s inquest on November 30 ruled Kate’s death a suicide. At the time of her death Kate’s undertakers described Kate as follows: “Height, 5 feet 6 inches; complexion, fair, but sallow; medium length black hair; two small moles on the left cheek; broad features; high cheekbones; brown eyes; weight, 150 lbs; age about 26; good teeth, plain gold ring on third finger of left hand; ring of pure gold, with four pearls and blue stone in center; black corset.”
For years, a suicide was accepted as the cause of death. It wasn’t until 1990 that Alan May published a book called, “The Legend of Kate Morgan” and producing another theory.
Alan May, an attorney who specialized in murder cases was convinced that Kate did not take her own life, but rather she was murdered by her husband, Tom. He claims the bullet in Kate’s head was of a different caliber than the bullets for the gun she purchased in San Diego. Also, he claimed the positioning of her body on the steps was not consistent with a suicide suggesting that she was shot first then dumped on the stairs. The gun was planted nearby with her blood on it to make it look like a suicide. The attorney also believed that the maid, who took care of Kate, might have perished due to a cover up. The maid mysteriously disappeared the day after Kate’s funeral, but no one knew where she had gone. No one ever heard from her again. Another story claimed the maid was found dead and the hotel staff removed the body to keep publicity at a minimum.
Before Kat was positively identified, she was only known as the “Beautiful Stranger.” Her tragic story was covered in all the California newspapers around county, but it was San Diego, who was taken with Kate. The female residents paid their respects at the morgue where her body could be viewed.
The authorities tried to find a relative, but no one responded to the posts. At the time, Los Angeles police was looking for a Kate Logan, who had disappeared. She had left her employee to travel to San Diego, but never returned. The San Diego and Los Angeles police worked together and concluded that Kate Logan and Lottie A. Bernard were one and the same. There was a trunk left by Kate Logan that contained both aliases. One was a marriage certificate for Kate Morgan. The authorities sent word to her Iowa family, but none of her relatives claimed the body. Kate was interred at Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego.
Kate’s room was a popular room at the time in 1892. After her death, it was not rented again until Christmas Eve. Today Kate’s room is the most requested room in the hotel.
There have been many accounts of strange occurrences in room 3502, which would room 502. Reports range from feeling of uneasiness to out and out fear. Lights have known to flicker on and off in the room. Some feel an icy cold draft outside the door and windows open and close by themselves. The plumbing seems to groan and gurgle all night. Even the bed has shaken on occasion.
One maid claimed she slipped a note under the door asking if the occupant wanted the room cleaned. The note was sent back with the answer, “Yes.” When she went inside there was no one there.
A secret service man of George Bush (then Vice President) stayed in the room. Well, he stayed in it most of the night until he saw the drapes billowing in the breeze though he swore they looked like a skirt of a Victorian dress. He got out of bed to close the window but it was already shut.
Until recently, everyone took it for granted that the haunted room was 3502 but now strange occurrences have been happening in 3312. A man has seen two feminine eyes glowing on the television screen along with a soft smile. The eyes grew brighter and brighter. He ran to the hall to grab someone else to see what he was seeing. When they returned the eyes sadly followed him. It was as if the spirit was sorry he had revealed her to another person.
Below room 3312, they have to keep replacing one of the lights at the end of the stairway. It lasts no longer than two days before it burns out. This is said to be the place where Kate Morgan met her demise. They have to replace the screens in room 3312 also for they seem to always blow off.
Research shows that the hotel has undergone two major renovations in its history. Room numbers have changed over the years. Old registers found at San Diego State University reveal that Kate Morgan checked into room 302 in late November of 1892, which is now 3312. Not room 502 like they previously believed.
Alan May, an attorney did research on the room 302 versus room 502 question of why they are both haunted, but found no clear cut answer. He felt sorry for the wandering spirit and erected a gravestone on previously unmarked sight of Kate Morgan at Mt. Hope Cemetery.
So why is 3502 and 3312 haunted? It was revealed that room 3502 belonged to the maid who stayed at the hotel at the time Kate was a guest.
Kate has become so familiar with the staff, that to this day, they still leave her an invitation to the annual Christmas party.
Special note: Kate Morgan’s room was listed as 3312 until it was updated again with the new room number of 3327. I used 3312 so not to confuse the reader when referring to Alan May’s account.
There wasn't a ghost tour available, but the historical society offers a wonderful tour of Coronado Island.
Books of interest:
The Legend of Kate Morgan by Alan M. May
Beautiful Stranger The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel Coronado by the Hotel Coronado Heritage Dept.
Hotel Del Coronado
1500 Orange Avenue - Coronado, CA 92118