Thursday, November 19, 2015

HGB Podcast, Ep. 83 - Emily Morgan Hotel

Moment in Oddity - Charlie Chaplin's Body Stolen

Charlie Chaplin was a star of the silent film era in old Hollywood. He is best known for his role as The Tramp in which he donned a bowler hat, square mustache that was hitler-esque, a cane, over-sized shoes and a quirky little walk. His acting career spanned 77 years. He died on Christmas Day in 1977 and was buried in the hills above Lake Geneva in Switzerland in the village of Corsier. He would not be at rest for long. In March of the following year, two grave robbers disinterred the coffin and the body of Charlie Chaplin. The grave robbers were a Polish man named Roman Wardas and a Bulgarian named Gantscho Ganev. They took the coffin and buried it in a field a mile from the Chaplin home. After all, hoisting a coffin and a body around would be a bit conspicuous. The men then demanded 400,000 pounds for the return of the body. Charlie's widow refused to pay claiming that Charlie would find the situation ridiculous. The police put surveillance on 200 phone banks in the area and tapped the Chaplin house's phones. It took 11 weeks, but they finally found the criminals and recovered Charlie's coffin and body. He was reburied, but this time in a coffin of concrete. Charlie no doubt would have found this footnote to his life quite odd.

This Day in History - Boss Tweed Convicted

On this day, November 19th, in 1873, William Tweed, also known as Boss Tweed, was convicted of 204 counts of defrauding New York City out of $6 million. Boss Tweed was a politician who had risen to the level where he was considered the boss of Tammany Hall. Tammany Hall was basically the Democratic powerhouse in New York. It was an organization that played a major role in politics in New York, both the city and the state. Boss Tweed was the third largest landowner in New York and had been elected to the House of Representatives. At the time that he served as boss of Tammany Hall, he was on the New York County Board of Supervisors. Boss Tweed ushered in a time of political corruption. He installed friends to high places and used construction projects as payoffs and an opportunity to make big profits. The Orange Riot of 1871 started the downfall for Boss Tweed. Newspapers started writing exposes after getting insider information after Tweed's supposed friends started talking. It was discovered that Tweed had defrauded the city and he was put on trial for 220 counts, finally being convicted on 204 of them. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The sentence was later changed to one year. After his release, the city filed a civil lawsuit. Tweed couldn't pay the $3 million in bail, so he was locked up again. He escaped during a home visit and ran away to Spain where he worked as a seaman. He was discovered and returned to America. He made a deal that he would tell all about the inner workings of Tammany Hall is he would be freed. An agreement was reached and Tweed told everything. The Governor changed his mind on the deal and Tweed was returned to jail where he died of pneumonia.

Emily Morgan Hotel

The city of San Antonio is beautiful. It is home to the infamous Alamo. And right next to the Alamo sits the Emily Morgan Hotel. The hotel is considered the official hotel of the Alamo. It was once a state of the art medical facility. Today it is a DoubleTree by Hilton hotel that offers luxurious accommodations in a beautiful historic building. Those accommodations offer more than just luxuries. There are reportedly ghosts in this building. Some believe that the hotel is far more haunted than even the Alamo, where so many more people died. Join us as we explore the history and hauntings of the Emily Morgan Hotel.

San Antonio is the third largest city in Texas and estimated to be the seventh largest city in America. This city is the heart of Texan independence. The Battle of the Alamo was fought here. The city was named for Saint Anthony of Padua. When Europeans first arrived, the Payaya Indians were in the area and called it Yanaguana, meaning refreshing waters. The San Antonio River is sometimes still referred to by that name given it originally by the Native Americans. Spanish Franciscans leading military expeditions were the first to arrive here. Missions were built throughout the area and many still stand today.

The Emily Morgan Hotel got its start as a medical facility in 1924. The building was designed by the architect Ralph Cameron and developed by JM Nix. It was built in the Gothic Revival style with cast iron accents. The roof is copper with ribs made of wood. A distinct tower is located at one of the building's triangular shaped corners and gargoyles line the building. The gargoyles each depict different medical ailments. The building had thirteen stories and was called the Medical Arts Building. Inside were medical offices, a hospital and crematorium. In 1976, the building was converted into an office complex and the following year it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1984, the building was remodeled and opened as a hotel. It was given the name "The Emily Morgan Hotel" and it was named for a special woman.

Emily D. West is a folk hero in Texas. She was born some time in 1815 in New Haven, Connecticut. Emily was a free woman of color, but she would not really remain free. In 1835, a man by the name of James Morgan took Emily on as an indentured servant and she was employed at one of his hotels in Morgan Point, Texas called the New Washington Association's Hotel. On April 16, 1836, a Mexican calvary stormed the hotel in search of the President of the Texas Republic, David Burnet. Burnet had already left, so the calvary kidnapped the black servants at the hotel, including Emily. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna arrived and helped his troops loot and then burn the hotel. He then decided to go after Sam Houston and his troops. On April 21st, the Texans charged the Mexican camp and General Santa Anna was caught with his pants down. Literally. Legend says that the General was in a compromising position in his tent with none other than Emily West. And even though Emily did not plan it this way, she is given credit for helping to defeat the Mexican army.

William Bollaert was an Englishman who was traveling through Texas when he met up with Sam Houston. He wrote the following about what he was told by Houston at that meeting: "I [Bollaert] left Galveston with a friend for a trip to the Trinity River by land (for observations to Geographical Society). Buffalo Bayou may be compared to a deep canal, its shores thickly wooded with Pine and the Magnolias in flower.  We gazed with some interest on the battle field of San Jacinto. The following is a copy of an unpublished letter written by G’l [i.e., General] Houston to a friend after this extraordinary battle: “The Battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans,owing to the influence of a Mulatta girl (Emily) belonging to Col. Morgan who was closeted in the tent with g’l [i.e., General] Santana, at the time the cry was made, ‘The Enemy! They come! They come!' and detained Santana so long, that order could not be restored readily again.”

Was the story true? It has grown and been added to through the years, just like urban legends. Many have claimed that the song "Yellow Rose of Texas" was written about Emily. For our episode, it's not really important whether Emily helped in the defeat of Santa Anna or not. What is important is that Texans believe she did. She really did live. And for that reason, the hotel was named The Emily Morgan. They used her employer's surname rather than her own as was the custom to do with servants.

The Emily Morgan was remodeled extensively in 2012 and joined the Hilton family of hotels under the DoubeTree branch. The rooms are luxurious and modern. No one would imagine that this was once a hospital where people died. And others have died here in more recent time. In April of 2008, Juan Ignacio Gutierrez stabbed a woman named Elvira Hernandez-Moreno to death with a steak knife. Later that same year, Justin Cardenas came out of a room on the 14th floor with blood on his shirt and hands. Cardenas had rented the room with a friend who brought a gun. The friend emptied the gun of its clip, but forgot that a bullet was in the chamber. He held the gun to his temple and told Justin to pull the trigger. It fired and killed the man. 

The Emily Morgan Hotel sits in an area that is prime territory for hauntings. After all, the Alamo is right next door. Employees and guests report many unexplained happenings. The televisions and lights turn off and on without assistance. The phones ring in the middle of the night with no operator or anyone on the other end. And being situated next to the Alamo means sightings of soldiers in military garb are seen outside. Six hundred soldiers lost their lives here and their bodied were burned.

And there is, of course, a woman in white here. People will see her and think she is real and then she suddenly disappears. A senior sales manager at the hotel once rented a room for an overnight and returned from dinner to find the bathtub full of water. She had not run the bath. There is both a woman and little girl on the third floor. This little girl has a penchant for music. She is said to wake people in the middle of the night with her humming. She sometimes asks people if they would like to sing along. One guest heard a little girl humming, "Row, row, row your boat," while she was in the restroom. When she investigated, she found no little girl anywhere. The woman on this floor is heard singing.

Shadow figures and apparitions that walk through walls are seen on the seventh floor. Wine bottles slide off tables on the ninth floor and toilet seats get banged up and down. A hospital gurney is heard being wheeled on the eleventh floor and the spirit of an elderly woman is seen weeping in a hospital gown. The twelfth floor housed surgery. The smell of alcohol is detected on this floor and unexplained noises are heard. As if surgeries are still ongoing in a residual manner. The elevators are haunted as well. People blame faulty wiring, only faulty wiring has never been found. The elevators sometimes don't stop at the floors chosen by riders. They'll just pass right on by. Sometimes they'll shoot people down to the basement where the morgue was once located and then sit there, refusing to move. KCC Big Country wrote on her HubPage about experiences she had on a stay at the hotel and one of those experiences was on the elevator.

Michelle related the following chilling tale from her stay at the hotel:
"The Emily Morgan is indeed haunted. The first weekend I stayed there I really had no expectations. I thought the hotel was fantastic when I arrived. My friend and I checked in and hopped on the elevator to get to our room so we could unpack. When we got on the elevator and hit the third floor. The elevator kept going and opened on an entirely different floor. We giggled nervously but didn't think too much about it. After a little shopping and entertainment we settled in for the night. At some point in the night I was woken up by an incredible chill and humming. I woke up to find a little girl sitting on the end of my bed. She was swinging her feet off the end of the bed and humming. When she saw I was awake she giggled and said, "Do you want to sing? Do you want to play with me?". I immediately froze and then started to cry. I was terrified. I actually couldn't even talk about it for weeks after it happened. I pulled the covers up over my head and never made it back to sleep. The following night I decided I would try to stay up later and maybe have a glass or two of wine before trying to go to bed. I again found myself waking up to a cold chill. This time I laid very still with my eyes closed and could feel someone lying next to me..almost leaning against me. I slowly opened my eyes to make sure I was awake. I could still feel someone against me and again I cried. As soon as I started to cry, the feeling left but you could still feel the cold."
 Lisa wrote about her stay at the hotel:
"I stayed at the Emily Morgan a few years ago (on 7th floor near elevator), unaware of its reputation for being haunted. The room had sliding doors to the bathroom, which I closed before getting into bed. Nothing paranormal has ever happened to me and I’m 45 years old. Later that night I was lying in bed awake and I felt a weight “sit” next to me on the bed, even felt the pressure against my leg above the knee, as if a smallish person sat down. I freaked out and said, “Please leave now!” I didn’t sleep after that but when I got up, the sliding doors were open. I won’t be staying there again, but it was a beautiful property."
Do ghostly soldiers still hang out near the Alamo? Are those who died long ago in the Medical Arts Building, still at the hospital, waiting for their surgery? Is the Emily Morgan Hotel haunted? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
Paper on Emily West:
KCC Big Country's experience:


  1. My daughters and I stayed at the Emily Morgan last month (September, 2017). Our room was on the 8th floor. During the night our door handle started rattling. It happened three times ... several minutes apart. I thought maybe someone in the room next to ours got locked out. The next day we ran into them as they were leaving their room and we were leaving ours. I asked one of them if they had gotten locked out and were rattling/jiggling the door handle. She said "no, we were asleep". I asked her if they had ordered room service? She said no, that they had not. Then she said, "Don't worry. It's not just you. Last night our jacuzzi jets turned on by themselves." The next thing was the elevator. My daughter and I got on the elevator at the lobby level. We pushed the buttons for floors 7, 8, 9, and 14. The elevator stopped on 7. The door opened and closed. It then went up to the 8th floor and stopped. When the doors opened I said "There better not be any ghosts on this floor!".. joking around because we were staying on the 8th floor. The doors closed. Instead of going on to the 9th floor, the lights for both 9 and 14 turned off, and the elevator went down to the 7th floor. We got out and stood there, laughing at the fact that that just happened, and waited a few more minutes for another elevator to take us back up to 8. We got off the elevator and went straight to our room. So... the elevator stories are true. Next thing... Even though the hotel has been renovated several times in the last 40 years or so, the top floor still smells like a nursing home/hospital. Finally, as we were leaving (again, riding in the elevator) a couple mentioned that their TV turned off by itself SIX times. SO... there ya go. It's haunted. The employees will tell you their stories. It's very interesting, to say the least, and if you're into staying at a haunted hotel whose ghosts are not physically threatening, the Emily Morgan is the place for you. (Not to mention, it's a really nice hotel in a great location!)

    1. Thanks for sharing. We finally got to see it in person on our last road trip and it is wonderful. Good to know people are still having some really weird experiences there!

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  5. I stayed there this past weekend. Close to 4 in the morning I heard the door next to ours open and a woman yelling about her baby getting out. I heard her voice trail off as if going down the hall yelling, "My son!" The next morning I heard the people leaving so I walked out and asked about their baby. The looked puzzled. They didn't have a baby, they said.
    Before that, my partner stayed up till midnight playing on his phone and watching TV. I had a pounding headache earlier, so by 9p.m. I was in bed. When I woke to find him still awake, I asked him how he was doing. He said,"I've been hearing voices all night. You can't make it what they're saying, there's just different groups conversing right outside the window. All different cultures." We were on the 12th floor. So I was drifting back off to sleep and I heard him so a long complete sentence. I woke up and asked him to say it again, I was sleeping. He said,"I never said anything.. You see?"